Tag Archive for training

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.

Training Around Injury

I screwed up my left arm in a judo match about two months ago. Nothing went “pop,” nor was there any obvious sign of injury. About an hour after class a muscle in my forearm started to burn. It lasted a few days, but I didn’t let it bother me much. Because I’m a stubborn asshole, I went back to judo class a week later and had another match.

I could feel the same muscle aching during that second match. Once again, an hour later, it hurt like hell. Any pinching motion with my fingers felt like a hot poker to the forearm. It settled a little, going from burning to aching over the course of a few weeks, right up to and through my black belt test.

With the test coming, I couldn’t stop training altogether. Not a chance. So I trained around the injury. I had no trouble with kata. I had to be careful grabbing and pulling, and I put a pad on my forearm for partner work, but I could do just about anything else in class and practice.

The sophisticated medical device I was given to rehab my arm

Sophisticated medical equipment: a giant, snapped rubber band

Flash forward a few more weeks to today and I saw the athletic trainer at my day job. He diagnosed what I already suspected: tennis elbow. He told me keep doing the stretches I found, then suggested adding ice, massage, and some exercises with a giant chunk of rubber band. I asked him if I could keep training, and he told me to keep working around the injury until it heals up (which, unfortunately, could still be a while).

The key is finding out what you can do. Too many people have a small, nagging injury and declare it couch time. This doesn’t do any good. Can’t run? Do some upper body exercises. Hurt your arm? Run. Hangnail? Suck it up, buttercup.

A back injury may be an exception, but there’s generally a way to work around injury. One of our black belts screwed up her knee, so she did kata from a chair, just working the upper body movements. After her surgery, she did kata while staying in one stance to rehab the knee. It paid off: her doctor was shocked at how quickly she healed.

Succumbing to a small injury is just finding an excuse to skip workouts. Cultivate the opposite and find an excuse to work out, and you’ll be able to accomplish more than you think.

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.

Beaten, Not Broken

Coming down to the wire on something for next month. The prep has been taking its toll.

My mornings look like this now:

Morning Remedy of Champions

Every pro knows you need to work with injuries

This event has been consuming my time since August. On the downside, it’s put me farther behind on some of my writing projects. On the upside, I feel ready for this. If I get through it, it will have been worth it.

I’ve got a problem with my left elbow and grip, and I have assorted other dings and bruises. One of my training partners has bad knees. One of the guys on my team has a leg injury, and another is about to be taken out by a surgical procedure.

We’re adapting. We train around or through the weak parts. Giving up and walking away isn’t an option. Treat and rehab the nagging injuries: that’s how a pro does it. Tape and ibuprofen and therapy and stretching.

“You’re getting old,” they say. “You don’t recover quick anymore.”

So I should sit and rot? No way. Pass me that brace and get out of my way.

Business note: I’m switching hosting providers. The site and my email may be inaccessible for a short period as a result. I don’t plan to lose anything, but one never knows with these things. I’ve had it with all the spam getting through my current provider’s filters and it’s time for a change. See you on the other side.

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.

Measures for Success

I found something that might interest the many, many people who made weight-loss resolutions for New Year.

Too many people focus on numbers on the bathroom scale to measure their success. We hear alleged ideal numbers thrown around all the time, but people rarely take into account their height and age. In fact, studies are showing that it’s better to be fat and fit than thin and unfit. I’ve also read recently that thin people in poor shape may have hidden fat; the fat hides inside muscle and around the organs rather than between the muscles and skin where we’re used to seeing it.

This same focus on the scale makes some people drop out of their programs. I’ve seen a few fellow students drop out of my karate school because they don’t feel it was worth the money or they didn’t lose any weight. They’re amazed to learn I lost 30 lbs my first year, but can’t figure out why it’s not working for them. Then I explain I also work out on my own at home (not to mention I show up for class far more regularly), and they’re disappointed.

“You mean this weight loss thing takes work? Aww, man.”

Some people then turn to body mass index, or their doctor and/or insurance agents rub it in their faces. Unfortunately this, too, is a fuzzy number as it makes no distinction between muscle mass and fat. When people described me as skinny, I weighed 185 lbs. I’m a little short, so my BMI worked out to 28.5 at that point, which is labeled overweight. In fact, to get down to a BMI at the upper limit of “normal,” I’d have to get down to 163 lbs, which I haven’t been since the 8th grade. It might have been a little more accurate at that time, but through high school and for a couple of years after graduation, I converted a lot of the pudge to muscle mass.

To get down to 163 lbs now, I’d probably have to cut off a leg.

Which is exactly why I’m glad I found this home body fat test. It takes into account your age, weight and gender, then looks at different body measurements to calculate an estimate of your lean body weight and your body fat percentage. If I was skinny at 185 and I’ve gained/recovered muscle while studying karate, my numbers looked pretty damn close, even allowing for a modest margin of error.

Keep in mind, however, this is an approximation of your lean body mass. In other words that would be your approximate weight at 0% body fat, which is not a realistic goal. The chart supplied with the test says as a white male, 15% body fat would be healthy for me. To get a target, then, I would just take the supplied lean body weight number and divide it by .85. (See that? Algebra comes in handy after all.)

As luck would have it, based on these figures my goal to lose another 20 lbs by October 1st is a realistic goal. Not too shabby. Maybe I’ll add the body fat test to my Weight Tracker worksheet and see how I’m doing from month to month.

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.

New Belt, New Kata, New Challenge

Last night I earned my purple belt in Shuri-ryu.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. A lot of new material comes with the purple belt, and several of our higher ranks have told me purple belt is when our karate really starts to come alive. I’ll also learn a new kata called Empi Sho (aka Enpi).

The Shotokan version of the kata is a bit different from ours, but the general steps are the same (reminding me once again that I need to take a video camera to my dojo and post some of our kata). I’ve been watching purple and brown belts run this kata in class for months, and I served as an attacker during another student’s point method interpretation of the kata, so I understand the basics. While I think my green belt kata, Naihanchi Sho, is more interesting, Empi Sho looks like a lot of fun.

However, it brings a new challenge with it: the jump.

About 56 seconds into the video, you’ll see him execute a double palm-heel strike (or so it appears to me) and then perform a 360-degree jump in the air. Our version of the kata includes that same jump, though starting from our style’s signature low horse stance and then landing in that same low stance. Now, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phrase “white men can’t jump,” correct? I am the personification of that phrase.

There’s a saying I heard about karate the other night: “The only time our feet leave the ground is to kick.” Welcome to the first exception. Because we don’t jump, I have not been doing a lot of jumping in my training. We’ve done it occasionally during workouts (mostly to help our existing purple belts’ jumps), and I’ve done a little bit of leg training at home in preparation for this kata myself, but despite huge improvements in my fitness this past year and a half, I’m still a far cry from being a jumper.

I’ve tried a couple of times on my own. While not terrible, it’s definitely not sharp. Also, about every fourth jump or so ends in disaster. I’ll have to make sure to clear some space on the mat when I run this kata so I don’t crush a yellow belt. In the interpretation for the jump, the practitioner is jumping over a fallen opponent; I’m going to have to practice on BOB so I don’t crush a fellow karateka.

The next few months will be interesting.

Assuming I don’t break an ankle.

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.

Wandering Karateka

I had a good time at Wizard World, but man did I miss karate class.

I walked into the dojo for the first time in a week tonight, and I hadn’t done so much as a punching exercise or push-up in the meantime. A week may not sound long, but I felt out of touch. I found myself reviewing my kata, Naihanchi Sho, in my head while I stood in line. Lucky for me muscle memory kicked in as I bowed in and I made it through my kata and its interpretation without difficulty.

It’s going to get worse, though. I’ll miss three consecutive classes visiting family and attending a wedding this month, and then I’ll miss three consecutive classes again in early August on a family vacation. That also includes a review week, which may cause me to miss an opportunity to advance a stripe (and thus throw off my goal of achieving sankyu, or 3rd degree brown belt, by the New Year). In order to help keep things sharp, or to at least get a workout on the road, I started looking for karate schools in the areas I’ll be visiting.

As with many things martial arts, there are those for and against the idea.

The main problem is a question of style. Attending a kung fu or tae kwon do class probably wouldn’t do me much good, but there are Shotokan karate clubs not far from where I’ll be. I study Shuri-ryu, and both styles have their roots in Shuri, Okinawa. They each have a signature style, but they share a large part of their lineage.

In a recent blog entry, Sensei Charles Goodin says he doesn’t take students from other styles. He has several reasons for the policy, but in general he compares it to mixing gasoline and diesel fuel in a car: it just doesn’t work. The visitor will not gain anything from the visit, and their presence may only be a distraction to the dojo’s regular students. He describes it further:

“There is a saying that ‘you can’t catch two rabbits.’ The rabbits tend to run off in different directions. For this reason, if a student wants to join our dojo, I would expect him to only practice our style of Karate. Practicing two styles at the same time is very difficult. You have to empty the bucket before you can fill it.”

On the other side of the coin, Sensei Stephen Irwin compares karate to driving lessons: no matter your style, you’re learning the basics and it’s up to you to apply them. To pull a quote from his blog entry:

“Regardless of the vehicle driving is driving. Regardless of the art fighting is still just fighting. The presentation of driving/fighting skills might vary, but the underlying principles are the same regardless.”

Sensei Irwin’s post does not address the issue of visiting students, but I would guess from this post that he isn’t opposed to the idea. Which one is right? Both, I suppose. They each follow what works for them in their respective dojos, and I understand both points of view.

Personally, I think I would enjoy working out with another school. My school also teaches Haganah and Judo, and it’s always fun to get a glimpse of those arts. I like seeing how other karate styles interpret their kata, and it would be interesting to get a taste of their kumite or self defense methods.

From a student point of view, however, would it be a good idea? My sensei once said he would welcome students from other styles, and they would run their kata their way so we could discuss the differences. However, would other sensei tell a student his style is wrong? It hardly does me any good to show up at a Shotokan school if the sensei in question were to just turn his nose up at the way I’ve been taught. Even if I get a good physical workout, it wouldn’t be any fun to walk out of that dojo hurt or angry. In that case I’d have been better off skipping a week.

So what’s a rookie karateka to do? Two things:

  1. Work harder to get off my butt and get those personal workouts in. It’s not like I’ll be facing a con schedule during the next two trips.
  2. Call those dojos, talk to their instructors, and hope for the best.

Some of our school’s black belts travel frequently for their jobs, and they tell me they have attended classes with other dojos and it’s gone well for them. With luck it will be the same for me.

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.

Is There a Trainer in the House?

I had a good run tonight. I’m repeating Week 3 of the Cool Running Couch-to-5k-Run Progam, and as I burned through the first 200-yard stretch tonight I thought I was toast. I got my head right by the end, though, and pushed through the last 400 yards and stacked on a few extra yards for good measure.

The problem is my right leg is killing me. My left’s a little achy, but my right is hurtin’. It might be shin splints, but I’m starting to worry it’s skeletal rather than muscular this time around. Each impact brought a zap of pain, so I started concentrating on the way my foot hit the track. I’m not 100% sure, but it feels like I’m landing flat-footed and rolling onto the ball of my foot a little too quickly.

I’ve read a few sources discussing the proper stride, but my question is how do you train that stride. I try to alter my stride on the track, but it’s tough; I keep falling back into the bad habit. That makes me wonder if I’ve got tight muscles or screwy joints that are preventing me from doing it right. If so, what should I be doing to correct this?

I let an ingrown toenail get out of control a decade ago, and I dealt with it for far too long by limping around. Then I did it again with the other foot a year or so later. That screwed up my gait for a long time. I caught myself walking on the outside edges of my feet and not rolling off the front of my foot, and I’m worried this may be a lingering problem.

So, again, any trainers in the house?

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.

Blue Belt, Blue Kata

We just finished review week at my karate school, and I’ve officially been promoted to rokyu, or blue belt, in Shuri-ryu. With it comes a new kata called Anaku, which I learned in class yesterday and which I’ll be practicing intensely for the next few months.

You can get a look at Anaku (aka Ananku) on YouTube. Shorin-ryu and Shotokan are similar to Shuri-ryu in many respects, and as such our interpretation of the kata is very similar to what you see in the video. The pattern is the same, but some of the blocks and strikes along the main axis are different. I’ve been practicing the yellow belt kata Wansu (aka Wanshu) for 18 weeks, and there are two adjustments that I’m going to have to work hard to change for Anaku.

First is what we call an augmented shuto uke. This is a knife-hand block, and we bring both hands together at the ear to build tension before firing the block. If you watch the linked video, it’s the slow technique where Shimabakuro moves his hands outward with his fingers straight (we execute it fast like a block, but I’m guessing their interpretation is a scan). In Wansu, this technique is executed from the left side and is used a total of four times. Running a quick-and-dirty calculation, I’ve executed it that way a minimum of 1600 times since becoming a yellow belt, but probably closer to 2000 or more.

Now I have to execute it from the right side. One wouldn’t think such a small change would feel so awkward, but it really threw me the first few times. It’s the first movement in Anaku following the opening gestures, and if I’m not concentrating I automatically fall into doing it from the left. This throws off the entire kata.

The second change comes at the finish. In Wansu, there are three points where you execute a simultaneous oyugo uke (swim block) and punch, then immediately follow it up with a reiken zuki (backfist punch) to the groin. I now automatically flow from the combo to the strike, especially after several runs of Wansu in rapid session, or with attackers. Like the knife-hand block, I’ve probably done that 1500 to 2000 times now.

In Anaku, the swim block-punch combo is the final technique before doing the augmented shuto uke (and a return to the left side) as a scan for more opponents. Furthermore, it involves a 180-degree turn rather than another step forward. This too has really thrown me for a loop.

This is after day one, of course, but it’s a good demonstration of how muscle memory works, how it develops, and how strong it can be. The retraining will probably be tough for the first couple of weeks, but that’s no different from how it felt learning Wansu the first time. It also proves that in a few months it will all become second nature, particularly if I continue to run Wansu with Anaku (which I intend to).

In addition to the new kata, I’ll be learning several new techniques, more self defenses, and some judo. It will almost double the variety of moves I can practice in a workout session, making my home workouts that much more interesting and engaging. This variety keeps me working, which in turn keeps the movements from stagnating. That, in turn, keeps the body from stagnating.

Which was the whole point of this endeavor in the first place.

For those who are curious, there are five more steps before black belt in my style: green belt, purple belt, and three degrees of brown belt. It’s at ikkyu, first-degree brown belt, that things slow down. As my sensei put it, it’s when things “come to a screeching halt.” If I nail every review from here on, I’m looking at about a year and a half before I hit ikkyu. From what I’m told, it could be three to five years after that before I’d be looking at black belt, dependent upon when Shihan Walker decides I’m ready. In that sense, it’s almost like going through a college program, and thus it’s not hard to see why some think the martial arts is a young man’s game.

A lot of people get their black belt and drop out, and there have been several ikkyus in our program who got tired of waiting and gave up. There are several black belts at my school, however, who are as passionate as ever about their karate. They approach their new katas with the same excitement and energy I approach mine, and they still find they learn new things in all they have learned thus far. These are the people who feel that, at black belt, they are just beginning to learn.

I hope to be one of them.

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.

Never Too Old

When I first started thinking about joining karate with my son, I wondered if I was too old.

I am not.

After I joined, a couple of people asked if I was too old to start learning karate.

I am not.

Today I read a 50-year-old man named Walter Miyanari just earned his black belt. The writer believes Mr. Miyanari started is training at age 44.

That’s impressive. It’s also a good reminder you’re only as old as you feel. Right, Cullen? Right, Brian?

A woman just joined my karate school this summer at age 49. Like Mr. Miyanari, she joined her daughter on the mat. There are two other dads who come to the dojo to watch their sons, and they’ve been thinking about signing up. They’re a little older than I, and feel too old and out of shape. Maybe this article will give them a little more incentive.

John once told me a 60-some year old joined his kung fu school. I know you’re out there, John: was he new to martial arts, and do you have any idea how he’s doing?

If I can do it, if they can do it, we all can do it. Even if it’s not martial arts, get up and move while you still can!

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.