Archive for Martial Arts

Old School Punching

I’ve come to enjoy playing with some old school training tools at our karate dojo. One of my favorites is the makiwara, or “wrapped board,” a tool made to train one’s punches. Most makiwara are a rigid board with a pad at the top. With the right application, they flex and push back.

Ask enough karateka and they’ll give you a number of reasons why a makiwara is one of the best tools to train punches:

  • It strengthens the knuckles, wrists, etc. for striking
  • It strengthens the hips and stabilizing/delivery muscles
  • It reinforces good punching technique by offering resistance
  • It replicates the resistance of an opponent’s body
  • It helps reinforce proper bone alignment
  • It helps reinforce stability in stance and delivery
  • It helps deal with the reactive force to the punch (Newton’s third law)
  • It trains proper control and targeting of technique

I’ve seen a few martial artists claim a makiwara is only for one specific purpose, but I think that’s limiting the utility of the makiwara. Slight changes to the way you strike can change what you get out of it. I’ve also seen karateka tout it as the best striking tool out there, but I’m sure a boxer or MMA fighter could get all of the same with proper use of a heavy bag. Also, a speed bag has a totally different purpose, so it also depends upon your goals.

This is one of the problems of traditions: they exist for a reason, but when they’re not questioned, their original purpose can get lost.

When it comes down to it, my feeling is some martial artist built a makiwara a long time ago, maybe because it was easiest to build with available materials, maybe because it’s just an idea he came up with. There’s a good chance it evolved over time, too. In any case, it got the job done, students started using it, and a tradition was born.

I like it, it gets the job done, so I’m going to keep punching it.

What gets a little fuzzier is what to do after punching the makiwara.

After a good session, the knuckles will be a bit sore or swollen (blood means it’s time to take a short break). Most of the time, I’ll just let them recover naturally. However, I’ve been reading a lot of about martial artists using dit da jow, or “drop hit wine,” an herbal remedy that’s supposed to sooth the swelling and even strengthen the striking area, depending upon who you ask.

This particular bottle says it’s for use after striking a wooden Wing Chun dummy, which can produce some swelling and bruising on the hands and forearms, and at a very basic level isn’t all that different from punching a makiwara. There are a number of dit da jow recipes out there, most involving some combination of herbs, an alcohol (sometimes just vodka), and a bit of aging. You can buy the herbs on their own, or you can buy the final product.

I look at these, and my first reaction is they’re just old versions of Icy Hot, Bengay, and similar analgesics. However, because they’ve been around forever, there’s a lot of mysticism attached to them, too. Maybe modern analgesics simply hit upon the chemicals and compounds that worked best, and maybe there’s some aspect the modern stuff is missing from the old remedies (like toughening the flesh).

Because it’s traditional, there are a lot of martial artists who swear by it, but even they don’t always agree on its application. This particular bottle says to put a little on a cotton ball and rub it on the affected area after training. Conversely, I watched a video by a guy who covered his arms and hands with the stuff like sunscreen before and after punching a makiwara and doing forearm strikes against similar tools.

So does it really work? Beats me. Everything I’ve read is anecdotal at best. My instructor has been curious as well, so he picked up a couple bottles. Recently, he gave me the one pictured above. He doesn’t have a strong opinion on its effectiveness, so I’m going to try to be a little more scientific: I’m just going to put the stuff on one hand and see if there’s a difference over time.

Like Bengay, this stuff’s pretty pungent. It’s not as strong from afar as the modern medicines, but it has a sharp odor like a bad wine. If it works, great. If not, I guess my knuckles will stink for a bit.

Time will tell.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

You’ve Gotta Keep Moving

They say Sunday’s supposed to be a day of rest, but that’s not been true for me for a long time. It’s the only day of the week I have no work obligations at either of my jobs, so it’s become a day I get my longer workouts done.

My family is gone in the morning, so that’s when I hit the dojo for practice. I always work kata or other elements of my style (Shuri-ryu), practice some kobudo, and sometimes work in some calisthenics or makiwara work. I do more teaching than practicing these days, so it’s become an important time to get my own practice in and work on corrections and advice from my instructors. In general, though, I’m aiming to get a good sweat.

Later in the evening, when there’s nothing going on at the school I work for, my eldest son and I to sneak into their weight room for squats and related leg exercises. My middle son and I have karate together, so this has the added bonus of spending time with his brother.

I’ve been lifting consistently for about five years, and now that he’s old enough, my son’s caught the bug. I have an Olympic bench and barbell set in my office, and we use that at home for separate workouts. We can do leg curls and extensions on my bench, but nothing beats squats, and I don’t have space at home for a power rack or squat stands.

I’ve thought about hitting the school gym on my own for some time now, but for safety’s sake I waited until I had a partner available. My son’s still a bit small to spot me, but now he’s there to call for help if I have an accident and go down.

Funny thing is, most people still tell me, “You’re too old for that stuff.”

I don’t claim to be a paragon of health, but I’ve seen results. I move better than most people my age. I can lift more than most guys half my age. My heart’s strong, and my doctor doesn’t ride me about my weight. My gut doctor remarked on how much muscle I’m carrying, and even my friends have noticed a difference.

My goal isn’t to get down to 5% body fat and compete in fitness competitions, nor do I intend to step into a cage and fight. I just want to stay healthy. Some of the martial arts instructors I train with are in their 60s and 70s, and when I get to be their age, I want to be active and moving like they are. They may have slowed down a bit, but they’re in far better shape than most of their peers. When people say “move it or lose it,” those are the men and women I picture. They stayed active and it’s paid off for them.

Meanwhile, the naysayers are all trying fad diets or cleanses. They don’t look for the shortcuts because they’re lazy, they just buy into the “you’re too old for that” bullshit and are looking for another solution.

 

A big part of cutting fat is exercise. It’s not just common sense, it’s proven science:

The other part of it is diet. My own diet can still use a few tweaks, and it doesn’t help that I’ve got a bum thyroid. However, fad diets and cleanses are unsustainable. What’s more is some of them prompt the body to tear down muscle, because muscle is expensive to maintain (calorically speaking). So while those weird shakes might result in temporary weight loss, they can also leave people in worse physical shape.

Most of us think about fat and muscle when we’re talking about fitness, but as we age we should also be thinking about bone health. I’ve seen several older folks with shattered wrists and hips after simple falls. Even moderate activity helps keep bones strong. It’s called Wolff’s Law, and the most obvious example of it I’ve witnessed is in the protruding knuckles of a karate practitioner who has spent a lot of time punching things.

You feel the difference when they punch you, too.

“Too old for this stuff?” Not by a long shot.

Find whatever makes you move and do it! Run. Hit a gym. Join a softball or soccer team. Play racquetball or tennis. Take yoga or spin classes. Ride a bike. Do you. The martial arts just happen to work for me, and it inspires me to dabble in other things like yoga and running so I can be better at karate and judo. There’s bound to be an art that fits your interests, and a good martial arts instructor can often double as a personal trainer.

You’re not too old. My oldest student is 69 years young and trains alongside his grandson. And yes, you have time.

Get to work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Booze and a Book: Karate & Rye

The Booze: Templeton Rye (4 year)

I dig bourbon, but I’ve started to flirt with ryes and rye blends and Templeton makes some good stuff. It’s sweet, with notes of caramel and just a bit of a burn when it goes down neat. I’ve tried the six year as well, and my only regret is not trying them side by side.

This is also the first time I brought out one of the Glencairn whiskey glasses I got for Christmas. They claim the shape of the glass concentrates the aroma, and they weren’t wrong. Would I use them every time? Probably not, but I’ll definitely run a few more drinks through them to get a better sense of their nose.

The Book: Dynamic Karate by Masatoshi Nakayama

One of my students was a Shotokan practitioner twenty years or so back, and he loaned me this book. I have a shorter, sort of companion book by the same author, Best Karate Volume 1: Comprehensive. Both books deal with basics and fundamentals, and another student asked why I’d need to read it if I already knew most of what’s in them. The rest, he felt, would probably be specific to Shotokan or at least be handled differently in our style.

I told him that’s not exactly true. Sure, the basic techniques—the punches, kicks, blocks, and stances—are effectively identical, but fundamentals are always important and I’ve already picked up a few differences in language and a few nuances that might help explain techniques to students having trouble picking things up.

In short, even if it doesn’t enhance my own training or karate knowledge, it will at least help my instruction, and that alone makes it a worthwhile read.

I tell my students, “The day you stop learning is the day you stop living.” Practice is important, but studying is also important, especially for advanced students. It applies to more than just the martial arts, too. Writers, for example, should be studying their craft and learning from others. I have friends in their 30s and 40s going back to school and taking new career paths.

It’s never too late.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2015 in the Rearview

You know, 2015 wasn’t half bad. I didn’t get any new writing projects out there, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve been tied up with so many other things that I’m not going to sweat it right now.

Cheers, 2015!

A photo posted by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

Most of my time went into my karate training and my students. I took over as instructor of my old dojo (one of three dojo with my karate school) a year ago this weekend, and I’ve grown my enrollment quite a bit.

I enjoy teaching a lot more than I thought I would. Watching students grow in their karate and make connections is amazing, and I get a lot of good feedback from their families. If I’ve had a rough day at the day gig, or I’m just in a bad mood, that fades as soon as the first students walk in the door.

I put a lot into training for my own test in August, which consumed my otherwise free time through the first half of the year and into late Summer. The test itself was a long day, but I passed and earned my second degree black belt and my instructors were happy with my performance.

Fitness-wise, I sorted a few things and lost some weight, which is always a good thing. Progression on the weight lifting is slower than I’d like, but I’m also not quite eating the best way to build muscle because I’m trying to control the weight gain. This Summer, I ran non-stop for 5K (three miles) for the first time.

Ever.

This New Year, I’m not even going to look back at the goals I set last year. I had a lot going on, and a lot of good things went down. The direction probably changed, but I’m calling the year a win and I’m looking forward to 2016.

Let’s do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Clearing Hurdles

I’ve spent the last six months practicing for my latest rank test last weekend, and that prep consumed a lot of the time I’d otherwise have spent writing. The good news is I passed the test, and I’m now a nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Shuri-ryu karate. The bad news is the only real writing I got done in that time is for the papers I had to write for the test.

But hey, the test’s done. Hurdle cleared. While the school year has kicked off at the day job, things are going a lot smoother than they did last year. Between the two, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted.

San Cho Sai

Shedding some of the extra body weight has been nice, too.

Now it’s back to productivity. Not having the time to sit down and hammer on the keys has been driving me crazy, and has only served to compound other stresses. The harder, smarter decision was to wait, though, because the writing would have suffered, too.

That’s not to say I wasn’t working on anything. I’ve been chatting about ideas with artists, there’s a pitch out there, and I’m going to have to pick a prose project to concentrate on by this weekend. I also plan to get a few short stories to some editors in the coming months.

The next step is to establish a writing routine as solid as my workout routine. I’ve got an idea of what it will look like, and it feels doable. I’ll tweak it over the next few weeks, and with luck, I’ll have something to share with you all soon.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

You’ll Believe a Fat Man Can Fly

I tell people I like karate because there is a lot less high kicking and jumping than in an art like taekwondo.

Then I made black belt, and last week I learned this kata:

We run this one slightly different, but there’s still a 360° jump and a jump kick into a 180° turn with a four-point landing. Swell.

I’m not giving up, though. I’ve said “I can’t” in karate before, and before long, I could. This is why I’m still doing leg day this morning, even though my publisher is on his way down for a meeting. This is why I’m thinking about investing in a solid stand for box jumps. This is why I’m looking at tweaking my stretching routine.

I may not be as graceful with kicks and jumps as some of my instructors and fellow black belts, but I will be able to do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

White Belt Wisdom

Inspiration comes from the strangest places.

Three of us were promoted to black belt together, and last night it was my turn to demonstrate at the dojo’s graduation night. I chose to demonstrate an empty hand kata and a sai kata, then break a few boards. I could probably run these kata in my sleep at this point (I certainly had enough dreams about them as I was first learning them), and I’ve done this break before, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Yet I’m not a fan of demos and tournaments. I can do readings, panels and presentations at conventions all day, but put me in a gi in front of everyone—especially families and strangers—and I get this funky self-consciousness thing going on. I also have this added false pressure that says, “You’re a black belt now, don’t screw this up.” The demo reflects on me, my instructors, and my school. As such, I had a case of the shaky nerves as we got closer to showtime.

Shortly before I was set to take the mat, we had the white belts all lined up and ready to walk out for their demonstration and promotion. This seven- or eight-year-old boy looks out at the crowd and asks, “We don’t have to go out there by ourselves, do we?”

We assure him that no, they will all be out there demonstrating their punches and kicks together, and he breathes this huge sigh of relief. I tell him I have to go out there all by myself, though. Kid says:

Yeah, but you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have! It should be easy for you.

Kid was dead on.

So I went out there and rocked the shit out of that demo.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Black Belt, One Week In

It’s been a week since my black belt promotion ceremony, and I’ve noticed more change around me than within me.

Learned and taught in it for the first time today. Pretty cool.

First week teaching and learning as a black belt

Sure, it’s a big accomplishment, and I’m honored to be wearing it. But am I a different person from a week ago? Am I suddenly enlightened, or has my technique suddenly improved since last week? No, not really.

The recognition in others is the biggest change. I’m Mr. Oliveri in the dojo now, rather than Senpai (senior student) or just Mike. Students bow to me when we meet, and their demeanor and etiquette has changed, particularly with those students I didn’t know very well to begin with.

To me, that’s what the black belt symbolizes: accomplishment. It’s almost like a diploma. I am now recognized as an authority on Okinawan Shuri-ryu Karate. Not the authority, and certainly not a master or an expert, but simply someone whom other students and martial artists should be able to ask questions of.

It’s toughest to explain this to someone not in the martial arts. The week before my test, I had my kids in the dentist’s office and he saw me reading The Pinnacle of Karate, the manual for Shuri-ryu. We chatted about my upcoming test for a bit, and he wished me luck. Flash forward to yesterday, and I had my own dental appointment. My dentist asked about my test, congratulated me, and he said it must be nice to have more confidence as I walk down the street.

He’s not incorrect. I do feel more confident in strange places, or if someone gets in my face, but I had that before my instructor wrapped the belt around my waist. Six years of training is not trivial. There’s a huge difference between my skill and technique now and when I received my yellow belt, of course, but again, the belt is more about recognition.

What’s more, it’s an indicator of what I have done so far, as there’s a lot more training to come. I’ll be learning three new kata before I’m eligible for nidan (2nd degree), for example, and I’m expected to continue practicing and refining my technique. The black belt is a milestone, not a destination.

There’s some responsibility that comes with the black belt, especially in the dojo, and I’m sure I’ll adjust to them. In the meantime, I’m still just another martial artist.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Flicks I’d Like to See Made

The Kickstarter campaign for The Search for Count Dante failed, but I would still love to see this flick get made. The subject, John Keehan (aka Count Dante), was part of the crazy period of the martial arts world of the ’60s and ’70s, and he would have made a great comic book or pulp novel character.

I’ve also just learned there’s a Count Dante app on iTunes. 99c to help support the flick? I’m in. I was hoping it would include the actual Black Dragon Fighting Society book Count Dante peddled through comic books, but instead it has information about Count Dante, the film, and a few other bonuses like a jujitsu for women film from ’40s.

Meanwhile, the sample footage for the proposed The Goon flick is making the rounds again.

I don’t care who you are, the trailer sells itself. If goddamn Battleship can get green lit, how can The Goon not get just a portion of its budget?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Kobudo

Once again we have a photo taken on Friday, but not posted until Saturday due to my schedule. I once again shot photos during graduation at my karate dojo, and I rather like this photo of fellow karateka Bob Terry performing a bo (staff) kata called Shushi No Kon Sho.

Bob Sukui

This covering movement gets one clear of an opponent's weapon

I stuck with my Canon 50mm 1.8 prime lens during the graduation, and this time had an additional challenge of a couple of burned-out lights in the ceiling. After a few tweaks to white balance to several of the photos, though, I was happy. Next time I may camp out on the other side of the dojo, though, as much of the action came a bit close for the lens to capture.

The rest of the set can be found on Flickr.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

If Cost A < Cost B, Then VIOLENCE!

Today I learned I can mathematically justify karate.

This weekend, the Wife locked the back door into the garage. Note: we have no key to this lock.

Last night the Rugrats left the van’s gate open, then closed the garage door on it. This morning, the garage door opened two inches, the rails on the door hit the van’s gate, the opener felt the resistance and quit. We had a 2″ gap to attempt to squeeze a van and a motorcycle through.

The windows on the side of the garage are locked. We have no other way in.

Locksmith? Nobody local, going to cost bucks. Furthermore, the Wife has no sick or vacation time. The hours waiting mean lost wages.

The cost of a door? Not too bad. We almost had to replace it once already.

Cost of Locksmith + Cost of Lost Wages < Cost of New Door

Therefore?

Karate!

I delivered a front thrust kick just right of the door handle. Bang, crack, crash. Wood flies, door opens.

And thus violence is mathematically justified.

Update: The photo requested in comments.

The busted door jamb.

Oops.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Use It or Lose It

Now that we know how to practice and how to get feedback, we circle back to practice, practice, practice.

You’ve all heard it before: use it or lose it. You’ve got to keep at a skill to stay sharp.

Every Spring before I get back on the bike, there’s that brief moment of readjustment before I hit my stride and really take off. I know several motorcyclists who took a decade or two off their bikes, then caught the bug again. They remember how to ride, how to shift, but the little things like looking through the turn (something you don’t have to worry about in a car) take conscious effort to bring back.

Eve

Not that we'd ever forget our first ride

I know several people who took martial arts as a kid or a teenager. Ask them to demonstrate a kata ten years later and they have no idea. Some barely remember how to throw a proper punch. It’s no different from people who took Spanish in high school, never had cause to use it, and now don’t remember a word.

It doesn’t take decades to lose it, either. A good friend and fellow karateka missed a lot of class time last year due to injury and a return to college. He remembers the basics, but when he performs one of the more recent kata for his rank, he’ll stop in the middle of it and get that blank “oh shit” stare as he tries to remember the next step.

Karate Moleskine

The knowledge is locked away, waiting to be rediscovered

My instructors use a phrase frequently: “Practice makes permanent.”

On the motorcycle or in karate class, muscle memory will often take over. I don’t think about shifting gears, it just happens. If I consciously think through the steps of a kata, my body will often be three steps ahead already. I’ve learned to relax my mind and let the body take over.

In a sense, this works for writing, too.

Staying in the habit of writing makes it easier to slip into the groove. Your mind knows “this is writing time” and things click into place. Some writers need a trigger, like a walk around the block or a song playlist. Others have a specific time of day to write, such as right before work or after the family goes to bed. Full-time writers may have a set routine; Richard Laymon said he wrote in the morning, had lunch and a nap, wrote in the afternoon, and spent the evening with his family.

Brainstorming

Even brainstorming flexes the creative muscles

Practice brings routine. I ride the bike to and from work. I have class three times a week. I write… well, I’ll admit that routine is often shaken up by my schedule. But now that it’s warmer, if I sit outside with a cigar and the iPad I’ll be able to produce some serious word counts again.

Writing in a write-when-I-can method means taking a few minutes to shake off the rust, even if it’s just been a few days since my last session. I fiddle with iTunes, scroll through email, maybe open up Instapaper and see if there’s a short article or piece of flash fiction I saved. I have to find a trigger. If I sit outside on a warm night, though, all I have to do is light a cigar and connect the keyboard and I’m off to the races.

We learn a skill or take up a craft for a reason. Keep using it, keep learning, keep practicing.

Stay sharp.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.