Archive for Martial Arts

Photo Friday: The Karate Seminar

I selected two pictures from the International Shuri-Ryu Association’s martial arts seminar in Fort Wayne, Indiana last weekend to illustrate a point: karate is not just about standing up with an opponent and punching and kicking.

Yes, that’s where the concentration is, and to look at most of our kata, it’s easy to assume that’s all that’s going on. However, karate, and Shuri-ryu especially, can include takedowns, pressure point attacks, joint locks, pins/holds, and more. In the following photos, Shuri Cup tournament competitors can be seen demonstrating takedowns mixed into the bunkai (simply put, a demonstration of application) of the kata.


Mr Nate England takes down Mr Joey Johnston, a student and an instructor respectively at the Academy of Okinawan Karate.

While we do incorporate judo techniques into the curriculum, we don’t necessarily turn kata demonstration or sparring  into a judo match. In both cases, the demonstrators took their opponent down, but they did not go to the ground with them. Sure, they could get down and submit the opponent in an armbar, but there’s already another opponent ready to come in and attack. As such, the demonstrators stayed on their feet while eliminating their opponent.


Mr Gustavo Lugo eliminates his opponent with a throat strike.

Grappling was a heavy component of the seminar, especially in the sessions I attended. I picked up several new techniques, especially some ground fighting techniques in Shihan Joseph Walker’s Haganah session. Fortunately a lot of the basic concepts were familiar to me, and that made it a lot easier to understand what was demonstrated. I saw and learned a lot, and I feel like my own karate will be better for it.

I only took pictures during the Shuri Cup, as the rest of the time I was too busy practicing to carry a camera. In the downtime between sessions I was too busy getting a drink and jotting notes. The Friday & Saturday sessions, as well as the tournament, took place in a Masonic Lodge hall, and with the available light I opted to use my 50mm prime lens. I knew I’d be shooting rapid fire to catch karate techniques, so I opted against RAW. I set a custom white balance using my instructor Sensei Miller’s gi as the white model, then fired away. I’m happy with the above pics, as I was mostly shooting to capture the moment rather than look for a great photograph. I only carried so much over to the practice hall and had no idea what to expect in terms of lighting, distance, crowds, etc. I also didn’t want to be the guy distracting competitors with a bright flash in their face, especially when they’re supposed to be blocking punches and then aiming their own punches and kicks back at their opponents.

You can see the rest of the set on Flickr, including pictures of the rest of the competitors and the judges. There was a lot of talent out there, and it was a lot of fun to watch.

All in all I had a blast, and finding a gyro joint serving both Kronos Gyros and Vienna Beef hot dogs until four in the morning was a nice bonus. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

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.

Yes, I Survived the Seminar

I attended the 20th annual International Shuri-ryu Association Martial Arts Seminar in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this past weekend, and I’m just now coming up for air. The seminar was up against the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, and though it would have been nice to see John, Cullen, and the rest of the Evileye crew, I think I made the right decision.

This is the first year the Academy of Okinawan Karate brought brown belts to the seminar, and I really learned a lot. I didn’t get a lot of new techniques, but I refined a lot of what I already know and I was able to make a lot of new connections and look at some of my karate in a whole new way. It reinforced how good my teachers at the AOK are, and how fortunate I am to have such a great school so close to my home.

This was a Square Sculpture...

This was a square sculpture until Shihan Joseph Walker struck it with a backfist punch.

The seminar structure is simple: students (mostly black belts) spend three days attending workouts and breakout sessions with the top instructors from our style, as well as from other instructors who had worked with or been influenced by Grand Master Robert A. Trias. It was amazing watching some of these guys move and soaking up their knowledge, and it’s clear these guys have a true passion for the martial arts.

Friday night also included the Shuri Cup, a kata tournament open to black belts. I’m told the competition was small this year, but the competitors put on a good show. I took several pictures, and I’ll be talking more about that for this week’s Photo Friday.


This Bench...

This was a solid stone bench until Shihan dropped a hammer fist on it.

We enjoyed our time in Fort Wayne, too. It reminded us a little of Peoria, and though we didn’t stray far from the hotel and convention center, we did find a local bar that became our favorite haunt, and I found a joint that served Kronos Gyros and Vienna Beef hot dogs until the wee hours of the morning. For a while there, I thought I’d discovered Heaven.

Like the writing and comics conventions I attend, I came back exhausted but re-energized and excited about what I do. I already look forward to the next one.

For now, though, I best get a good night’s sleep. I’ve got a lot of writing to do if I want to keep being able to afford these things.

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: Slammin’

I went to the East Peoria Throwdown MMA event last Saturday, and despite previous headaches with my photos due to a combination of lighting and the cage fence, I talked myself into bringing the camera once again.

And once again I had some of the same headaches. Despite shooting over 400 shots (to be fair, I use continuous shutter a lot to capture action), I only uploaded 16 to the Flickr set. I could still have been pickier, but then I wouldn’t have had as much for you to look at.

On to the pic. I like this one because it captures the action nicely, and the cage isn’t as distracting.

One Slam, Coming Up

One Slam, Coming Up!

I think it demonstrates the constant give-and-take in the cage, too. The fighter on top has jumped guard to attempt a guillotine choke. The risk now is the standing fighter can slam him to the ground. The fighter on top may be able to keep his grip, and may be able to pull guard by wrapping his legs the rest of the way around his opponent’s hips (thus controlling them). Or, if the standing fighter slams him hard enough, he’ll lose his grip and the advantage. If he hits his head, he could be knocked out, or at least be stunned long enough for this opponent to pound him into the mat for a TKO.

I used my 50mm prime lens that night, opting for lighting and speed (lower aperture) over the zoom capability of my telephoto. I found using continuous autofocus helped with focusing through the fence a little, but I still had plenty of shots of a nice, crisp, black fence and two blurs battling it out on the other side. Ah well.

There will be one more sport-themed photo next week as a friend of mine has tickets to the Peoria Rivermen hockey game. They’re hosting the Chicago Wolves, so it should be a great time. We’ll be a lot closer to the ice than I’ve sat in the past, so I’ll probably go with my 18-55mm lens.

Bonus: the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders will be at the game, too! Will Photo Friday feature cheerleaders or some hockey action? Tune in and find out.

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.

Push It

I’ve decided to take another crack at the One Hundred Push Ups plan, a six-week course designed to get you able to do 100 pushups. I can do enough pushups that they recommend I start on week 3, and I’ll start tracking it again tomorrow.

This will be my second time around. Last time, results were mixed. I did match the timing of the program, but I hit a plateau near the end and then moved on to other things. I was still happy with the gains I made, but I didn’t officially complete the program. Let’s see if I can’t fix it this time around.

Trimming the Fat


I’ve been meaning to get started on this again for a few weeks now, but Charles Goodin’s “Get in Shape” post on his Karate Thoughts Blog helped me pull the trigger. I don’t believe my weight has hampered my karate in terms of things I can and can’t do, but there’s no doubt I would look and perform better without it. Swapping muscle for fat and toning up would be a big help, and I need to work some cardio.

I have also decided that if I were to move away from my current karate school, I would probably start my own karate program at a gym or community center. It’s a lot more motivating to work out with other people, and I’ve found teaching others is a huge help in retaining everything that I have learned. I’m thinking it would be a lot easier to attract students if I didn’t look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in my gi.


I had myself a bad food binge this weekend. Between UFC 126 on Saturday and the Super Bowl earlier this evening, I put away more wings and beer than I would on a normal weekend. I shudder to get on the scale tomorrow. However, this was partially by design as I’m revisiting The Abs Diet and will be saying goodbye to that stuff for a little while. Despite the stupid name, The Abs Diet is a solid plan of eating right and exercising, and it’s easy to follow. It’s the book that first got me motivated to start working out again, even before I started karate.

In fact, the push-up picture above was taken right before I signed up. That was nearly four years ago and I was twenty or thirty pounds heavier. I’ve done a little bouncing since then, but have stayed mostly consistent since completing my first year of karate. I’m fit for my age and weight, but I keep telling myself I need to step things up and correct that one final, nagging issue.

It’s time to push it.

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: Karate

Deadlines trump photography this week, so I chose to use this week’s graduation at the Academy of Okinawan Karate to take some pictures for Photo Friday. I decided to use two of them this time around.

Jimmy Bassai Dai

Backfist to the groin in 3... 2...

Here, Jimmy is near the end of a kata our style calls Bassai Dai. I tweaked the exposure a bit to get his gi nice and crisp, the goal being a photo his parents could print and frame if they chose. Then I noticed the four gentlemen watching from the background. From left to right, they are Sensei Trent Miller (2nd degree black belt), Sensei Joey Johnston (4th degree black belt), Josh Carter (1st degree brown belt, AOK employee), and Tim Mangan (Senpai, or senior student, Peoria dojo). All four of them are keeping a close eye on Jimmy’s performance.

It’s a good example of the scrutiny students receive. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just that when we’re running kata, chances are somebody is watching and is ready to provide some helpful advice. Or in other cases, a junior student is watching a senior perform a kata so they might learn something. Even back when we did karate on the beach in Hawai’i, Shihan Walker gave us several pieces of advice, two of which still come to me frequently in class. If you need help with something, or just need a little encouragement, there’s going to be someone there for you.

Newest Ikkyu

Shihan, Jimmy and Sensei Miller

Jimmy, now wearing his new belt, poses with Shihan Walker and Sensei Miller. This is how the hard work and paying attention to that advice pay off. As a first-degree brown belt, Jimmy is done with reviews and promotions for a while. It’s a huge milestone in our style, and it’s a great feeling to finally make it to that point. (I learned that last summer.) There’s still new material to learn, and there’s a lot of studying to be done, but it’s at this promotion on realizes just how far they’ve come.

These photos are also an illustration of the difference between the direct flash and a bounce flash. In the first one, Jimmy was actually at least fifteen feet away from him, and the gentlemen behind him another fifteen or so feet away. The flash does a somewhat passable job of illuminating Jimmy, but it falls of drastically on the other side of him.

In the bottom picture, I still stood about 10 feet away, but this time I bounced the flash off the drop ceiling. There are still some oddities, like shadow vignette on the wall behind them, but for the most part the light, especially on the three subjects, is a lot cleaner and smoother.

Just like karate keep learning and keep improving.

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.

Bounce Flash and Timing

The Academy of Okinawan Karate ran their Winter Tournament earlier this month, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, I decided to go back to shooting with flash rather than mess with focus problems due to uneven lighting. Rather than let a good lens continually compensate for rough skills, why not improve those skills, right?

Here’s what a nice bounce flash got me:

Mr Johnston Kanku Sho

Mr Joey Johnston, 4th-degree black belt, Shuri-Ryu

The lighting is soft and uniform, his gi is crisp and white, and there are no harsh shadows in the background or redeye problems in the audience.

The nice thing you wouldn’t catch right away about this shot, though, is it was easy to capture. I’m familiar with the kata he ran in the tournament, and I knew he would hit this pose and hold it for a moment. As soon as he struck the pose, I was ready with the shutter.

Where it gets tricky, however, is timing action shots. Continuous shooting modes help, but it takes a real toll on the external flash and I’m lucky to get bursts at all out of it sometimes. The more I fire it, the longer it takes to recharge the capacitor, especially as the batteries start to drain.

That’s when it takes good timing and a bit of luck. Consider this photo:

Ms Walker Kanku Sho

Ms Bree Walker, 2nd-degree black belt, Shuri-Ryu

Ms Walker ran the same kata, and there’s a point where the performer leaps into the air, kicks their hand (representing a kick to the head), and lands on one knee to scan for their next opponent. I knew when the leap was coming, tried my best to time the shot, and caught the moment of impact.

Once again I bounced the flash, so I have the smooth lighting I sought earlier, and a nice capture of the action.

I should add, too, that I do have RAW versions of each of these pictures. I shot RAW+JPEG for the convenience of getting these pictures posted to the web quickly. I’ll take the time to go back and play with the RAW files in the near future, but probably not until I finish writing The Pack: Lie with the Dead.

Another lesson learned: remember fresh AA batteries for the external flash. It became useless about halfway through the tournament, and I had to switch to the on-camera flash. Its recharge rate wasn’t wonderful, either, and even worse it wouldn’t let me shoot at all while it was recharging. (With the external flash, the camera just adjusted the settings to shoot without flash when it couldn’t fire.) Should’ve been a no-brainer, but I didn’t take the prep time the night before, and that morning I hurried out the door to make it on time because I lost an hour shoveling the drive first.

Ah, well. The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is always improving. The remainder of the tournament photos can be found on Flickr.

UPDATE: John made a good point in the comments — I haven’t mentioned my rig! I use a Canon Speedlite 430EX IIexternal flash. Though it’s capable of use off-camera, I’ve not experimented with that yet. May not be a bad idea at tournaments, but it’s not an expense I’m ready for right now. The dojo has a standard, white-panel drop ceiling, and I just angle the head of the flash toward the ceiling. It’s not straight up, it’s at about 45 degrees. In fact, I’ll bounce the flash about every chance I get, as that generally gets the most pleasing results to my eye.

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.

A Sanchin a Day

Back in Hawai’i this summer, I woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to hit the beach and work out with the crew from my karate school. We’d spend about 45 minutes or so running kata and doing partner drills, then go back to the hotel, clean up, and regroup for breakfast. Despite the early rising, it felt great. I’d have plenty of energy for the day, and I felt a hell of a lot less guilty about some of the big meals we had.

Think I can capture that same discipline at home? Not so much. Being a late tinkerer and a not-so-early riser is one thing, but then I allowed a number of other things to derail my home workouts. No fun, especially with the scale telling me the three workouts a week in the dojo may not be enough.

Yesterday I found an article on developing a strong morning practice. It got me thinking about those days, about how much better I felt. I hate dragging ass going in to work, and that’s exactly how it’s been for several weeks now. The end of the article mentions starting simple, with maybe just five minutes of exercise at first. That would be a piece of cake, even with my current, slow-moving habit of moping in front of the computer, thinking about the work day ahead instead of trying to be productive with my own time.

The other day, I posted a note that said “A Sanchin a day keeps the doctor away.” I was mostly being facetious, but Sanchin really is not a bad workout. It looks like this (the Shuri-ryu interpretation I practice is very similar):

It’s a tension kata, which means all of the muscles are tensed through most of the movements. It’s like doing a long isometric exercise, and when executed properly, the performer really feels it in all of the muscles and is a bit winded upon completion.

It occurred to me that it can take a few minutes to complete the way we run it. A warmup, a set of pushups, and a Sanchin, then, could be a great way to clear the mind and wake up before I jump in the shower. Then I can build from there.

It would have the added benefit of improving my Sanchin. Of all the kata I know, I feel like Sanchin is my weakest; the stances are different, the posture is tough (for me) to maintain, and if I’m already winded I have a real tough time performing the breathing properly. That all needs to be fixed.

I’ll start tonight. It’s way too easy to say “I’ll start tomorrow” over and over again. Hell, I should already be in bed to get an early start, not fooling around on the laptop and watching Terriers. It may be a great show, but come on, it can wait until tomorrow on DVR.

Off I go.

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 Weeks 28 & 29: Violence

Let’s try a little catch-up, shall we?

First, two weeks ago I hit East Peoria Throwdown Round 6, and this time I decided to try the 18-55mm kit lens to allow for a little more zoom range than the 50mm prime I normally use.

Looking for an Opening

Looking for an Opening

Once again, the fence played havoc with my focusing. The view through the viewfinder looks sharp, but when I uploaded everything to the computer, I noticed most of the pics were out of focus or had selected the fence over the fighters. Not cool. I really need to practice with my manual focus and figure out how to get finer control over what I see through the viewfinder.

I think I’ll go back to the prime lens next time, too; the speed advantage trumps the zoom flexibility.

Last week a friend got some tickets for opening night for the Peoria Rivermen AHL hockey team at Peoria’s Carver Arena. This time around, I was much happier with my lens selection, bringing my 55-250mm. It brought me right in on the action.

Fists Fly

Fists Fly (or, as my son called it, "UFC on ice!")

We were on the upper deck and this fight went down on the far end of the arena, but I was able to zoom in and, with the camera on continuous mode, just fire away. The lighting in the arena was great, making it easy to grab a good shutter speed for freezing the action.

The only thing I might do different here next time is to set a custom white balance off the rink (some came in a little yellow), or even — at last — shoot in RAW and set the white balance in post. I feel like I should finish writing the sequel to Winter Kill before I start dabbling in all that, though.

In all a disappointing night, followed by a good night. It all balances out in the end.

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.

Karate Hermit

This old man comes off as a little nuts, but he does have some amazing nunchaku skills:

japan – probe
Uploaded by Japanherpderp. – More video blogs and vloggers.

Found via Mario McKenna’s blog.

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.

Fat Guy in a Little Gi

All in all, I’m in good health. I’d like my cardio to improve, but I’m ahead of many people my age and most people my weight. Despite a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure, my blood sugar has been consistently good and my blood pressure has dropped from borderline to just a tick above normal (for systolic, anyway) in the last couple of years.

Cholesterol has been a tricky animal, but it’s under control. I take 20mg of a statin every night, and while my HDL is three points low, everything else is aces. I think part of the problem was the glucosamine chondroitin I was taking for my joints, but I’ve been seeing many reports about it elevating cholesterol and I stopped taking it the same time I started on the statin. Boom, my cholesterol dropped like a rock. (The studies may show the cholesterol isn’t going up, but I suspect it’s at least causing false positives.)

The only nagging problem I have is my weight. Now, to be fair, I’m still forty pounds lighter than I was in 2005. I also don’t put any stock in body mass index (but of course my doctor does because my insurer does), and I’ve never been the “ideal weight” for my height, even when people would have called me thin. As such, I don’t put a lot of stock in the actual number. However, I do concern myself with the extra padding I have around my gut, my sides, and my thighs.

It’s not so much a vanity thing (though I’ll admit, there’s some of that there) as it is a concern that this extra weight is starting to affect my knees and is generally slowing me down. When I spar, for example, I don’t think I’m getting beaten on skill, I think many of my opponents are simply faster. Blowing a knee isn’t going to do me any favors, either, and I don’t need this extra padding contributing to other health problems in the future.

My weight has been relatively static for the past couple of years. Here’s a picture of me from January 2008:

Wow. Its tough to look at myself in a blue belt.

Wow. It's tough to look at myself in a blue belt now that I wear brown.

I should take a new picture for comparison, but really, it wouldn’t look much different. A year later I weighed seven pounds more, and today I weigh eight pounds more. That’s a small fluctuation given my weight, and I’ve been stuck right within that range.

I credited some 2008 weight loss to running, when I dropped down even lower than where I was above. I gained a few pounds back when I stopped running over the winter, but then I ran at least as often this year with no effect. I’ve tweaked my diet a bit, but perhaps not enough. One speculation is I’ve swapped heavier muscle for fat, but my pants still fit the same so I don’t think it’s that simple this time.

I think it’s time to change up the home workouts, get in some more cardio/aerobic exercise. That’s very easy to do with karate, switching over to bag work (I bought the damn thing I may as well get back to using it) and sparring drills on top of kata and wazas. Not to mention I need to start practicing my ju ju undo (free exercise) to music, which I need to do at least once to get to ikkyu (first degree brown belt).

In fact, it’s probably time to revamp the whole after-work routine. I’ve got a few ideas here that involve both karate workouts and writing. I’ll have to ponder it some before I move on to next year’s goals.

Meanwhile, it’s also time to take a harder look at my meals, both content and portion. I’ll get started right after the family goes out for Chinese tonight…

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.


I finished my sparring requirements this evening and I am officially a Nikyu, or second-degree brown belt, in Shuri-ryu Karate.

Next week I’ll start learning a new kata called Bassai Dai, and I’ll be going through several more requirements for my next few stripes as I work toward Ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt. My goal is to finish that sometime next year.

After that comes the long slog toward black belt. That could take anywhere from two to ten years, depending how hard I continue to work. I’m in this for the long haul, though, so I don’t see it being a major problem in my karate development. I’m committed to the short end of that scale, with a personal goal of testing for black belt by sometime in 2013. If I’m asked to test earlier, that would be great, but I won’t let myself take longer than that. In the meantime I plan to start some Judo work, and finish some of the kobudo (weapons) requirements.

Tonight’s celebration is short-lived. I have writing to do.

Tonight’s soundtrack:

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.

Revisiting Goals

We’re just about halfway through the year, so I thought I’d revisit some of the goals I’d set for myself for this year.

Goal 1: Cut 20 more pounds by October 1st.

So far not so good, but I’ve still got all summer to run. The knee is feeling better, so I may give it a shot next week after we get through this week’s karate review and the extra practice I’ve been putting in to prepare for it. I actually ran home in the rain today with a loaded backpack and didn’t feel any knee pain, so with luck the track won’t give me any more trouble than that.

Goal 2: Make Nikyu in Shuri-ryu Karate-do by Halloween.

That’s 2nd degree brown belt for those unaware, and I can say so far so good on this one. I had a setback during the previous review because I made some mistakes the first night and missed the second night due to a family incident. This week I was able to finish the process and I should receive the first of three stripes required to hit Nikyu on Thursday. If I bust my ass practicing this summer, I can still make it.

Goal 3: Complete 25 themed photos by December 31st.

Uh oh. Unless I make them all karate-themed, I’m in big trouble. Between the writing in general, the setback with the graphic novel, work, family, and of course karate, I haven’t made time to surf Flickr groups or read the snazzy photography book I bought, much less take the camera out and about. Maybe a karate theme is just that simple a solution, with portraits and pics like my Karate Moleskine (below).

Taken with my old camera, but I still dig it

Taken with my old camera, but I still dig it

I’m glad I revisited these goals now, as there’s still plenty of time for all three if I put in the effort. But that’s the whole point of goals, isn’t it? If I can still get the immediate writing commitments completed, I can also participate in National Novel Writing Month this year as I hoped. It’ll take some effort, but it’s not impossible.

Too bad I don’t have a Staples easy button.

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.