Tag Archive for karate

Photo Friday: Headshot

Portrait headshot, anyway.

The high school I work in wanted a picture of me in my karate uniform. They’re doing a “Did you know?” section and they’re putting me in there with a “Did you know Mr Oliveri studies karate?” They may also mention my dojo, the Academy of Okinawan Karate. I brought the camera along and took a few quick shots.

Karateka

"I'm your huckleberry."

I took it from farther away with a remote, but wasn’t happy with the result so I cropped way in and made it a headshot. I should have gone with my first instinct and used my 50mm prime lens, but I brought the 18-55mm kit zoom and played with and without the flash unit.

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.

Thanks for, you know, “Stuff”

I am thankful to be alive after trying the BK Chef’s Choice Burger from Burger King last night.

We did our first round of travel Wednesday night and hit fast food on the way out. Despite knowing I should have stuck with the safe chicken filet sandwich, I tried this new burger. Utter crap. The sauce is okay, but the bun and burger patty felt like mush and whatever seasoning they use to create that faux charbroil taste overpowered everything. It tasted like a broiled turd going in, and it came out far worse. I spent most of Thanksgiving Day listening to my guts gurgle.

I am thankful my mom is a much better cook. Turkey, stuffing, corn, potatoes and biscuits. Pumpkin pie and ice cream. Om nom nom nom. Tastebuds and innards much, much happier.

I am thankful my editor at Evileye Books rocks. I mentioned via Twitter that writers love having an editor they can trust and an editor who trusts them in return, and that’s what I have. After spending most of Wednesday and a chunk of the road trip poring over Lie with the Dead edits, I received far fewer corrections than I anticipated, and he pointed out a handful of areas that could use a few tweaks. All very sensible and easy to deal with.

I am thankful for my friends & family. No mushy stuff, I’ll just throw up the horns for them all. \m/

I am thankful for my karate school. My workouts and studying have helped me get healthy and inspire me to do even better. Twenty pounds down since summer and counting. Rock.

I am thankful 2011 is almost over. What a pain in the ass this year has been. Gonna finish it strong, though.

And now, I leave you with the following words of wisdom and a video to reinforce it:

Angel dust is a helluva drug.

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: Karate!

Tonight’s Photo Friday is just a hit and run photo drop to show that yes, I did it! Tonight was graduation night at the Academy of Okinawan Karate, and I brought my camera along to capture some of the action.

I kind of like this one:

Gold Belts Kiai

Attack of the gold belts!

Okay, technically they’re still white belts just getting promoted to yellow, and there are some things I’m sure their instructors might adjust, but it’s fun watching their enthusiasm when they walk through a basic punching form and kiai together.

Shot with a Canon 18-55mm kit lens, bouncing a SpeedLite 430EX flash off the ceiling.

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.

Course Correction

Despite an impending deadline for The Pack: Lie with the Dead (sequel to Winter Kill — shill, shill), I’ve spent most of the week obsessing about health and fitness.

I started by thinking about diet again, both what I eat and the quantity I put in. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still not what it should be. I’ve stalled out on weight loss since my first couple of years in karate, and my doc would like to see my cholesterol figures improve. Make no mistake, my karate training keeps me fit for my size. If I lost a few extra pounds, though, it would help prevent future problems.

I also need to put running off for a bit. While I did get a run in the other night, I woke up the next morning and discovered my plantar fasciitis had gone into overdrive. I’m working on some stretches out of a Men’s Health sports injuries book to correct it, but I see no sense aggravating it in the meantime, especially because it will interfere with my karate training. I’m going to wait until late Spring or early Summer to reevaluate. (In the meantime, I did pick up another Nike+ sensor and it’s ready to go when my damn foot is.)

That’s when I started thinking about my body type. I’m short and stumpy, not built for speed at all. I can fool myself into running when my foot’s up to it, but I can accept it’s not something I’ll ever be good at. I am, however, built for power. I’ve been doing well with the One Hundred Push-ups plan again, and in karate I can pick up a 220-pound classmate, spin him on my shoulders, and set him down to mimic a throw without dropping him. My karate instructor and I have been talking about supplementing our karate workouts with strength training, and this week it occurred to me strength training may get the best benefits for me for the time being.

Unfortunately my karate instructor and I couldn’t make our schedules jive, so he joined a gym near his home. I checked out two local gyms, but they were all about machines. To get a full range of traditional weight gear, I’d have to drive a half hour or so and I wouldn’t have 24-hour access. I have a bad habit of waiting until late to get my home workouts done. It’s not uncommon for me to be doing karate in the living room at 10:30 or 11:00pm, and I’ve even been out for runs at midnight the last two summers.

So, it’s time to look at getting my own bench. I found a folding bench set on Amazon, and the Wife and I measured my office and it will just fit.

Bench Set

If I turn it into a coat rack or book shelf, she'll shoot me.

We’ll be ordering it soon. I don’t need to get huge or buff, but if I can tone things up and trim off some more fat like I did when I worked out with a pulley machine in my old garage, I’ll be happy. It’s also right here in the house, putting off excuses like having to travel, going out in the rain, etc. I just have to fit it into my existing home workout schedule.

Of course, it reminds me of the Joe Piscopo reference in Family Guy. I’ll just work out when I’m not writing. D’oh.

I guess that’s my long, rambling way of saying it’s time to change things up. If I can’t run without threatening the primary exercise, it’s time to find another way to supplement it. I can always use more strength for both karate and judo, and as artist and gym rat Mike Henderson tells me, I can still get a good cardio workout if I do it right.

I’m not giving up on anything, just making a course correction. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more push-ups to bust out before I get back to the keyboard to write.

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

Puuuuush!

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.

"Wa-taaahh!"

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.

Bring On 2011

2010 started off just fine, but man did it go downhill fast. I’ve managed some course correction in the last month, so there’s at least hope 2011 is headed in the right direction.

In revisiting my 2010 goals, the only ones I nailed were my karate goals. That shouldn’t be surprising, though, given I spent 510.5 hours in the dojo this year. The rest of my goals sank with just about everything else in July and stayed there.

This year’s focus will be discipline in all of my goals. If I can manage the same discipline and dedication I apply to my karate to the rest of my goals, achieving them will be a given. I need to stop allowing external stresses to affect my primary goals.

Hell, I need to stop allowing external stresses to affect me, period. Ulcers are no fun.

So here we go, folks. Out with the old, in with the new. Onward and upward. So on and so forth.

And with that I think I’ll set the tone by doing a bit of work on Lie with the Dead before I crash out. Happy New Year, folks.

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.

Officially an Ikkyu

Friday night, I was officially awarded the rank of Ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt, in Shuri-ryu karate at the Academy of Okinawan Karate.

Shihan and I

The director of the school, Shihan Joseph Walker, and myself

The black stripe down the center of the belt signifies the next step is Shodan, or black belt. This means I’m done testing for rank for a while, and it’s up to me to keep going to class, refining my technique, and helping other students until the big test comes.

Ten years ago, I never would have imagined I’d come this far. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I was 19. (Yeah, I still cringe when I see pictures of myself in a gi or running kata, but I’m working on that, too.) I’m very fortunate to have found a school of this caliber so close to home, one that offers equal measures of instruction and inspiration.

Now I’m going to go cut that obnoxious white label off my snazzy new belt.

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 on the Beach

Every day for the week we were in Hawai’i, we met at 6am for a karate workout on the beach. I didn’t look forward to getting up every morning, but once we got rolling it was very invigorating. I’d return to the hotel ready for a shower and hungry for breakfast, but full of energy for the day ahead.

Wa-taaaahhh!

Wa-taaaahhh!

Running kata in sand was very different from the carpet, mats, or even grass I’m used to. I expected the sands to shift beneath my feet, but I didn’t realize the surface would be different every single time I ran a kata. One step would be fairly solid, the next would be wet mush. I’d plant my foot in a mound to get a good footing, then I’d jump and land in a hole left from a previous kata. It was challenging and a tough workout, but it was also a lot of fun.

Throwin Down

Throwin' Down

After kata, we ran our wazas, which are sets of prearranged responses to attacks. The sand didn’t make as much of a difference there, only landing on sand after a throw or fall isn’t quite as soft as you’d expect. Slapping is a little more like hitting water, where if you hit it too fast it doesn’t quite yield right away and you get a bit of a sting.

On the last day we took things a bit farther. We visited a different beach, and we got right down into the water. We ran kata with waves crashing down around us, then again went on to our wazas and even added sparring to the agenda.

Plowing through the sand for a double punch

Plowing through the sand for a double punch

Kata in the sand then felt like practice for kata in the ocean. The currents pushed and pulled as we moved, and oftentimes the undertow would wash the sand out from under our feet. One moment I’d have firm footing to execute a kick, the next I have to hurry up and move before I lost my footing completely and fell over.

And yes, we did get smoked once. We were standing there running kata at one point and a seven-foot wave came rushing in at us. We braced ourselves as best we could, but it knocked us right on our asses. The Wife was laughing too hard to catch all of the action, but you can see the aftermath here.

Finish him!

Finish him!

Sparring on the beach was also a lot of fun. We had to time our attacks with the current, we had to keep moving in the shifting sands, and we used our environment by throwing water at one another for distraction. I never did get close enough to my opponent to try to sweep him, but we traded blows and I came out the winner.

Many martial artists recommend practicing in a variety of environments, and I’d like to recommend sand and water become a priority. I’ve run kata in pools at various depths in the past, but the beach was a whole new experience. On the physical side, it engages several more muscles to retain balance and execute technique. On the mental side, it requires a lot of focus to anticipate shifting surfaces and time movements with the current. A beach may not be convenient for many people, but if the opportunity should present itself, don’t let it slip away!

As an aside, be glad I can’t push scents out to you through the Internet. A karateka’s belt is supposed to retain the blood, sweat, and dirt of his practice, so we never wash our belts. I dried my belt in the sun, but the ocean has given it a rather unique funk and an almost greasy feel. I’m told it will fade in a couple of weeks, but I feel sorry for the next person I roll in a Judo match with.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford a return to Hawai’i, but when it happens, I’m sure I’ll be right back on the beach. I can’t wait.

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.