Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Today, after a group class, I asked one of the instructors I've sparred with several times what I need to work on the most.

"Relax," he said. I'm getting better, he told me, but I'm still too nervous/anxious in sparring.

Technically, he also said I sometimes over commit--my shoulder may be actually farther out than my foot on a punch. Then it takes a moment for me to recover--and in that time, my opponent can move away, counter strike, etc.

But mostly, he said, relax. "We're not going to break you in half," he said.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Learning New Things

I had a very good private lesson Thursday. The style of this school encourages a very wide stance, and a very tight hook punch; I worked on both in the class. I will need to practice both.

My trainer, Mike, is very focused on teaching, which is great.

Yesterday, I went very late to lift weights at work, then rushed home without taking a shower so I could catch a train. It is often very hard in the heat of the action during the workday to get to the gym. I'm going to keep trying; if I can't, I might come in early, but even in my commute, I'm very busy via Blackberry. If it weren't for exercise, the stress would just be completely overwhelming.

Also, because I was rushing out, I didn't get the protein immediately after lifting that is recommended. I don't know how critical it is to eat/drink protein right after lifting, it's not a world I'm accustomed to.

I've got a group class today. I want to keep more control over my sparring, and hence my partners'. My left leg still hurts a bit from a roundhouse kick to the thigh; one issue, I think, is that my partner didn't have on shin pads, so I got hit with a very hard shin. It doesn't have to be a very hard kick to hurt with a shin, I now see.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Continuous Life

My stomach has been bothering me all day, and I'm skipping class tonight.

So, for something completely different, here is a wonderful poem about being a parent and a human being; I suppose it is also about middle age, since that's generally when you're raising children. It has absolutely nothing to do with martial arts.

I discovered this poem inscribed on a children's fountain in Manhattan a number of years back when I was having a terrible day and went for a walk.

The author is Mark Strand; the book it appears in has the same title as the poem, "The Continuous Life."

Here's a link to the Amazon page with the book: http://www.amazon.com/Continuous-Life-Poems-Mark-Strand/dp/0679738444/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253147907&sr=1-1

And here's the poem, from Answers.com:

The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? Oh parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows, tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost — a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

"The Continuous Life (Poem Text)." Notes on Poetry. Answers Corporation, 2006. Answers.com 17 Sep. 2009. http://www.answers.com/topic/the-continuous-life-poem-1

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Discouraging Pursuit Of Perfection

I finished the first week of my new martial arts/health regime with a 20-minute jog at a school track, followed by eight wind sprints of roughly 50 meters.

My weekly plan is to attend two group martial arts classes, one private lesson, two weight lifting sessions and one run/sprint. I missed one weight lifting session at the gym at work because I left my packed gym bag at home. Otherwise, I did all the training I planned.

After seeing an instructor named Mike at my new school for two private lessons and one group class, I attended a group class on Saturday with two other instructors. One, named Derrick, is a professional kickboxer.

As before, the group class was very different from my old classes, but an intense workout. At the end, I sparred with Derrick and Justin, the other trainer. They said they understood I did leg kicks and light head contact; I said yes, because that's what I'm used to.

I finished the class feeling a bit discouraged, and a little banged up.

I was hearing from the two instructors many of the same things I had heard before at my other school; my combinations pretty soon become predictable, and therefore easy to anticipate and counter; I back straight up instead of moving to the side; etc.

Why this should be depressing to me, I'm not sure. I certainly couldn't expect that those problems would disappear just from trying out a new school. I'm there to learn and improve. Still, I did feel discouraged.

Once I got hit pretty hard to the head; I was told it was after I had hit my sparring partner pretty hard to the head myself. It's hard for me to know when I'm hitting hard sometimes; I will feel better myself if I don't hit too hard, inviting an escalation from the other side.

I also got a dead leg from a perfectly placed roundhouse kick to my thigh. It still is sore a day later. Perhaps I should try, like most of the other students, only contact below the neck and above the belt (no head contact or kicks to the legs). But that would feel like I'm moving backwards.

One thought an instructor had was that the goggles I wear--to protect my eyes and to see better--interfere with peripheral vision; and it is true that I often don't see what's happening when people get angles on me. In any case, once I put on my headgear, I can't see out of the goggles because they fog up. Maybe I will try sparring without them, the headgear should provide my eyes with some protection.

Derrick did tell me I used my jab very well, making it difficult for him to get inside, and I threw a couple of good round kicks to his leg; I did slip a jab from the other instructor to begin an attack once, which he complimented.

It sounds simple, but I need to keep reminding myself: I'm here to learn, so don't expect to be perfect. It's a difficult lesson for me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Plan

I am trying some new things.

I've started attending a new martial arts school. I'm adding some basic weight training to my exercise regime. I want to see how these changes affect my health and my skills and enjoyment in martial arts.

My old school is terrific; it got me into excellent shape, taught me a lot, introduced me to new friends, and provided a path to get my black belt. I still have classes I paid for there that I will use.

After eight-and-a-half years of training at my old school, I now want to see what I can learn at another school, and see how I like a different approach to health.

My new school is also a mixed martial arts school; I have entered as a non-belt student (the school also teaches a more traditional martial art, complete with belt rankings; I'm not doing that). At the moment, I'm focusing on standup/striking, the part of martial arts I have usually liked most.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, publishes suggestions for physical activity; based on those, I'm trying to get 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, and also do weight training muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week. I'm doing the weight training at the inexpensive and convenient gym at my workplace twice a week; it provides a nice break to the stressful day at the office.

The weekly aerobic activity I'm trying to get through my new school and, one weekend day a week, a jog, run and/or sprint session. This schedule would allow me one day of rest a week (probably Mondays).

At the moment, I'm going to two one-hour group classes a week at the new school. The classes are quite vigorous, as my prior school's group classes were, though there are of course lots of differences in how the classes are vigorous.

Also, my new school offers a half-hour private lesson each week as part of its curriculum. I'm hoping that these private lessons will be a way for me to learn quickly.

There's a lot to learn. This new school approaches things differently, starting even with how you place your feet in the basic stance. We train in orthodox and southpaw stances, which is so new to me I was laughing at how awkward I felt in the southpaw stance. The school places more emphasis on wheel kicks, hook kicks and side kicks than I'm accustomed to; it has different ways to place the hands defensively than I'm accustomed to.

And all this I've noticed in only a week.

Whether I can, at 53, learn how to DO all these new things is another question--I'm not sure I have the flexibility to do all these new kicks well, for instance. And in my darker moments I wonder if, even with private lessons, I just can't learn how to move properly in stand-up sparring at this age.

My hope, however, is that, with the private lessons, I can reach new levels of skill and knowledge, while also finding new friends--without losing or forgetting the old friends.

Wish me luck!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The 50-Plus Martial Artist: "Older, Wiser, Slower"

A fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal last week was called, "Older, Wiser, Slower: After 50, Avid Athletes Find That to Stay Healthy, They Must Let Go of the Need to Win." (Note, this may be a subscription website.)

I felt relief from some unrealistic expectations after reading it.

The gist of the article is encapsulated in this quote from a 51-year-old famous triathlete: "If you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground and become stressed out, bitter and unhealthy."

It goes on to argue there are satisfactions and thrills to athletics in one's 50s that don't require more than an aging body can give.

These messages don't get a lot of air time in some corners of athletic culture. What I've heard more often is: "Age is only a number."

I find that, while I feel as competitive spirited as ever, I can't match the speed of a well-trained, athletic 20- or 30-something in sparring. It also takes me longer to recover my breath after sparring a round.

And if I make myself injured, frustrated and miserable trying to match that level of performance, I'm eventually going to give up something that has brought me health, friendship and joy.

I truly think I can continue learning in martial arts, and finding ways to improve what I do, for years to come. But I believe that to do so, I need to take the wise route of recognizing limitations, and striving for achievable goals.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Martial Arts and Fitness in Middle Age

I know it's obvious that martial arts promote fitness, but there are a lot of counterexamples. I've met black belts who came equipped with dangerous-looking beer bellies--dangerous to their own health, that is.

I recently signed up with the gym at my workplace, which costs the incredibly low sum of $7 a week. I got an evaluation coming into it, which gave me a quick reading on how I'm doing in terms of fitness. Martial arts are my primary way of exercising.

The results: My cardio signs were excellent--resting pulse of 57, recovery pulse of 80 per minute after three minutes of a timed stepping exercise. Disturbingly, the tester said about half the people he tests can't finish the 3-minute step test.

He told me, whatever I'm doing in terms of cardio, keep it up. Interesting that it's a very anaerobic workout, not typically aerobic (i.e. my classes involve bursts of high activity, and then rest, rather than steady activity like jogging or an aerobics class).

For strength testing, I did 30 military-style pushups; the tester was looking for 11 to 16. I did 100 crunches, he was looking for something like 20 or 25.

I do have some stiffness, particularly in the hamstrings, quads and rotator cuff, the tester said. And my body fat percentage (calculated with calipers) is high--24%, which to me sounds horrible, like I'm a stuffed Christmas turkey or something. The top of the recommended range was 23%, the tester said. Online, I've seen all sorts of ranges suggested.

(My wife thought it was hilarious that I got stressed out because my body fat was one percentage point high.)

The gym manager suggested a half-hour weight program twice a week, and stretching the quads and hamstring twice a day when I'm warm (one AM option--stretch in the shower). I've never consistently lifted weights, so I'm enthused about trying that out, especially since a half-hour workout is all I can spare at the office. And it doesn't take time away from home.

One argument I've often heard is that when you build muscle, you burn fat. Maybe weight lifting (and a little more discipline in eating) will reduce that body fat percentage.