Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blasting Your Legs with Hindu Squats

Many people think to work their legs they have to go to a gym, hit the power rack, and do a bunch of barbell squats. Or they feel the need to use leg press machines or something similar. While weighted squats are great muscle builders, you can really work the legs with body weight squats, especially Hindu squats, which add a conditioning component. Here's a short video by Steve Maxwell:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dealing With an Injury

A couple of years ago, I managed to herniate a disc in my lower back. The circumstances were embarrassing: I was doing Hindu Push-Ups on the beach and my hand slipped in the sand. When I tried to catch myself I somehow managed to slip a disc.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds. The pain subsided quite a bit after a week or two. And, according to the doctor, since my back is essentially healthy and strong, my recovery was a matter of weeks, not months.

Even with a rather quick recovery, I had to make changes to my own workouts. Overhead lifts were out, as they compress the spine too much. No running either, as it's just too jarring. My MMA (and especially my BJJ) training had to be put on hold for a bit. So, while healing, my workouts mainly consisted of yoga, chins, and ocean swims. After a few weeks I added Kettlebell Swings.

I think it's important to consider why this injury did not prove more debilitating. As I mentioned, the doc said I seemed to have a healthy and strong back. I credit certain aspects of my training for this:
  • Yoga
  • Planks and Side Planks
  • Kettlebell  Swings
All of these greatly contribute to having a strong core and powerful posterior chain. And while my own experiences show that having a strong core and solid posterior chain aren't a guarantee of not getting a lower-back injury, they sure seem to lessen the effects of those injuries.

So protect your back. Make sure Kettlebell Swings, Planks, and Yoga are part of your fitness regimen. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How I Nearly Halved My Body Fat in 18 Months

My Meaty Gym-Rat Days.
For a couple of years I was a gym rat. I followed the training advice in magazines such as Muscle & Fitness. I followed the diet advice as well, eating more meat than I would have really liked to, downing whey protein, and so on.

My Lookalike.
The result? I put on some muscle, but also quite a bit of fat. I always felt bloated and gassy. I got a bit stronger, but also slower. I got sick all the time from hanging out in germ-infested gyms. And I looked like Young Frankenstein.

Then, in late 2006, I decided to make some major changes in my life. A longtime animal-lover, I'd flirted with vegetarianism before, but always managed to trick myself back into eating meat. This time I decided to get serious. I read books I knew would turn me off meat (such as Dominion by Matt Scully and assorted stuff by Peter Singer). Come New Year's Day, 2007, I had finally gone vegetarian for good.

Around this time I also cancelled my gym membership. The cost and the hassle just were not worth it. Instead I decided to do all my training outside at a local park. I jogged anywhere from three to eight miles, four or five times a week. I did yoga poses. For strength training, I concentrated on Chin-Ups, Push-Ups, and Dips.

I don't know if it was giving up meat or giving up the gym, but the results were impressive. In about six months my waist dropped from 36" to 34". My endurance improved, and I found myself getting stronger and faster. This reflected in my martial arts training, as my skill level went up considerably. I no longer was feeling sick and bloated. In fact, I felt better than ever!

At 18 months my waist had dropped to 32. My body fat percentage, which had been about 24 or 25 percent, was now under 15 percent. I'd gone from a flabby 215 lbs. to a lean 180 lbs.

While I'm very happy with my results, looking back, I could have done a few things differently and had even better results.
  • I was mostly jogging for cardio. I should have added sprints to the mix.
  • Kettlebell training would have greatly accelerated my results.
  • My vegetarian diet was good, but could have been better. Like many new vegetarians, I went a little overboard on pasta. I got away with it because, for some reason, my body can take a lot of simple carbs without putting on fat and I was running so much. Still, I should have limited pasta to once a week and consumed more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Plant-Powered Kettlebell!
Between the two, I don't know if it was the change in diet or the change in fitness strategy that contributed to my great 18 month results. My guess, it was probably a combination of both. Though the specifics of my workout and diet have changed, I am still a vegetarian*, and I still do most of my training at the park.

Will my methods work for you? I think so. You don't necessarily have to go to the extremes that I did, but embracing a mostly plant-based diet along with fun fitness outdoors is a proven way to get fit, lose weight, and feel great!

(* Update: I went full vegan about four years ago.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Discovering Evil

This is a darker, more serious post.

I remember when I first really grasped the idea that there was true evil in this world.

It happened when I was a young child, not even old enough to read. My mother was in nursing school at the time, and I enjoyed browsing through her textbooks because they included pictures of cool things like skeletons.

But one picture wasn’t cool. It was of a young girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old. Her face was blurred, but you could see the rest of her. One of her arms was missing at the elbow. I asked my mother, “Mommy, what happened to the little girl?”

My mom looked over my shoulder and read the caption. She didn’t believe in lying to me or hiding things from me, but she still paused a bit, taking time to formulate how exactly she was going to phrase her answer.

“Her father did it to her,” she finally said. “He told her to stop getting into the peanut butter. She did it again, and he chopped her arm off.”

I was instantly very sad, and my mom hugged and comforted me.

Writing this, I can still feel a tinge of that sadness I felt all those years ago. And since then, my knowledge of evil has grown exponentially.

Yet I don’t let the darkness consume me. I try to acknowledge it, deal with it, and move on. I also use it as motivation. As John Lydon once sang in “Rise,” the classic song by PiL, “Anger is an energy.” There is a direct connection between that abused little girl’s photo and my martial arts training. I can’t prevent all the evil in this world, but I will do my damnedest to be capable of preventing evil from occurring in my proximity. As I wrote in an earlier post...
I don't have a hero complex. I hope I'm never in a situation where someone is being assaulted and is in need of help. But if I am, I don't want to be helpless and unable to do the right thing.... In a way, I practice hurting people because I cannot stand seeing people get hurt.
A word about my mother and my upbringing: Some people might think my mom was irresponsible to honestly answer my question about the photo. I do not. As I mentioned earlier, she didn’t believe in lying to me or hiding things from me. I asked a question, and she answered. If I hadn’t asked, she would have never brought the whole thing up. It isn’t as if she was purposely exposing me to dark and disturbing things. In fact, I had a very happy and joyful childhood. I just didn’t have a needlessly sheltered childhood.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stronger Legs Without a Barbell

Most bodybuilders and strength athletes would thing this is a heretical thing to say, but here it goes: I hate barbell squats. Yes, I know they work a gazillion muscles and build strength and burn fat and so on and so on. I've just always hated doing them. It may be partially a bio-mechanical thing, as I'm 6'3" with about a 36" inseam. Or I might just not like them.

It's been years since I've seen the inside of a gym, so it's been years since I've been anywhere near a barbell. And surprise... my legs haven't shrunken to toothpicks. Granted, I've always had fairly solid legs, which I owe to a lifelong love a very long hikes and walks. But I've found you can get very strong legs without ever having to step into a power rack. In fact, my own legs have gotten quite a bit stronger, bigger, and more muscular this year even though I hardly ever do weighted squats. How did I do it?

There are two major exercises I've added to my routines over the past several months, and I think they are the key factors to my improved leg strength.

The first is the Hindu Squat, which in recent years has been popularized by Matt Furey. This is essentially a very deep, bodyweight-only squat. It's excellent for not only strength but incredible endurance as well. The best written explanation I've found is on Fitness Black Book:

How to Do The Hindu Squat

  1. Start with your hands pulled into your chest and feet shoulder width apart.

  2. Squat down while keeping your back straight and bring your arms down behind you for balance.

  3. Unlike the Prisoner Squat, you are going to want to roll up onto the balls of your feet as you lower down. At the very bottom you will almost be up on your toes.

  4. At the bottom, swing your arms forward as you push up of your toes.

  5. Your arms will reach out in front of you as you approach the top. Once you reach the top, your heels should be touching the floor again and then you pull your hands back in towards your chest. At this point start the movement over.

  6. The breathing is important and different than other exercises. Exhale on the way down and inhale on the way up. Do this for each and every rep. The breathing is as important as the movement.

  7. Start with 20-30 reps and slowly work up to 500. Within time, you will want to do this for 500+ reps for 15 minutes straight. This is easier said than done…and is a serious cardio workout.
And here's a video of the Hindu Squat performed by Steve Maxwell:

I currently do Hindu Squats as part of my warm-up for Kettlebell training, and frequently do them on off days to stay limber. Hindu Squats have definitely improved my grappling, which isn't surprising as they have long been popular with Indian wrestlers.

The second major exercise I've added to my routines that has helped to improve my  leg strength is the Long-Cycle Kettlebell Clean & Jerk. This is a fairly technical move, and is difficult to explain in writing, so I'll sit back and let Scott Sonnon do it for me via video:

While at first this might seem primarily like an overhead lift, a great deal of leg and hip work is involved. Just because you aren't squatting very deep for the Clean & Jerk doesn't mean your legs aren't getting a work-out. They are... trust me! The Clean & Jerk is very much a full-body exercise.

Like the Hindu Squat, Long-Cycle Kettlebell Clean & Jerk are great for improved athletic performance because they incorporate so much of the body and greatly improve both strength and conditioning.

To be honest, if you're looking to build enormous bodybuilder legs, you will definitely need to do more than these two exercises. But for those of you who are looking to build solid, functional strength in you legs, give Hindu Squats and Kettlebell Clean & Jerks a try!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Diet for Staying Lean and Healthy

A good friend of mine is training hard for some upcoming grappling tournaments. While in overall very good condition, he asked my advice for tweaking his diet. Below is my list of recommendations. This is pretty much what I live (and thrive) by:

  1. Keep a detailed food log. Write down everything you eat or drink that contains calories. It's also a good idea to note how you feel after a meal, i.e. “ate a salad; feel energized” or “ate a pizza, feel sluggish.”

  2. Keep a training journal. This doesn't have to be super specific. Just write something down to get an idea of what you did and how you felt. Examples: “Hindu stuff and KB Clean & Presses/Swings. Moderate intensity. Worked up a good sweat.” “Practiced BJJ. Worked lots of armbars and did some light rolling. Felt tired after but not too tired.”
  1. Cut back or eliminate simple carbs (pasta, white rice).

  2. Eat lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Be sure to get plenty of dark, leafy greens.

  3. Try to go as plant-based as possible. Avoid dairy. If eating meat, the best choice is seafood, followed by poultry. Stay away from pork and red meat.

  4. Give up sports and energy drinks; too much sugar and caffeine. Switch to water, coconut water, or green tea.

  5. Eliminate or reduce coffee consumption. Too much caffeine overtaxes the adrenal glands and boosts cortisol levels. Switch to tea, which has been shown to provide more sustained energy for athletes than coffee. Green tea has a proven fat-burning effect, and both black and green teas can boost the body's immune system.

  6. Limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 servings a day. A serving is: 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of liquor.

  7. Supplement with smoothies when needed. I suggest this smoothie before and after hard training sessions.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Four Ways to Improve Your Conditioning

A balanced training program includes both strength training and conditioning. Yet there are times when you might just want to rally ramp up the cardio aspects of your workouts. Maybe you want to really trim your body fat before going on vacation. Or perhaps you're preparing for some sort of athletic event.

For a good example of the latter, I just have to think back to my certification test to become a martial arts instructor. The test consisted of seven brief but intense rounds of combat, including weapon work, kickboxing, and groundfighting. I knew I'd have to ramp up my conditioning to avoid getting gassed. Do you know the saying, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all?" Well, there's a lot of truth to that. I don't think I've ever seen someone lose an MMA fight or a boxing match because of a lack of strength, while plenty of losses can be blamed on poor conditioning.

So what are the best ways to get in top condition? Here are some my favorites:

Sprint Intervals

Simple but effective. There are many different ways of doing sprints intervals, from the Tabata Protocol to 100-m dashes. My suggestion is to do what works best for you. Craig Ballantyne had a good article discussing the various approaches to interval training that is well-worth reading.

Burpee/Boxing Intervals

I did lots of these to get ready for my certification test. Ross Enamait wrote a great article about combining boxing and burpees for a fantastic conditioning workout. In a nutshell…
Burpee Intervals are one of the best conditioning drills. These intervals consist of Burpees and shadow boxing. For example, you will perform…

* Burpees x 30 seconds

* Shadow box x 30 seconds

* Continue for 2 – 3 minutes

Click here to learn more.

Kettlebell Swings

Another personal favorite. Chris Lopez has a great post on KettlebellWorkouts.com about the effectiveness of kettlebell swings on cardiovascular conditioning. He mentions research that revealed…
Continuous kettlebell swings can impart a metabolic challenge of sufficient intensity to increase Vo2max. Heart rate was substantially higher than Vo2 during kettlebell swings. Kettlebells provide a useful tool with which coaches may improve the cardiorespiratory fitness of their athletes.
My preferred way to do swings is 30/30 style, as in 30-sec of swings followed by 30-sec of rest. I usually do this for about 10-min, but if I'm really trying to improve my conditioning, I'll go for 20 or 30 minutes.

Kettlebell Long Cycle Clean & Jerks

Very popular among competitive kettlebellers, this is also one heck of a conditioning tool.  I recommend checking out Scott Sonnon's excellent video:

If you're looking to seriously ramp up both your cardio conditioning and your fat burning, give one or several of these techniques a try. You will be impressed by your results!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Workout Isn't Complete Without Swings!

I don't believe a kettlebell training session is complete without Swings. Why?

Though they are considered a rather basic move, Swings remain one of the most powerful tools in the kettlebell arsenal. They strengthen the oft-neglected posterior chain and help build hip power and mobility. And they are simply fantastic for conditioning. As Chris Lopez explained in a great post on KettlebellWorkouts.com about the effectiveness of kettlebell swings on cardiovascular conditioning. He mentions research that revealed...

Continuous kettlebell swings can impart a metabolic challenge of sufficient intensity to increase Vo2max. Heart rate was substantially higher than Vo2 during kettlebell swings. Kettlebells provide a useful tool with which coaches may improve the cardiorespiratory fitness of their athletes.

I can vouch for the effectiveness of Kettlebell Swings for conditioning. My JKDU/MMA for the Street instructor test involved several hard rounds of fighting. To prepare, in the weeks before the test the only workouts I did involved Swings, burpees, bag work, and the occasional swim. This helped immensely, improving my performance and keeping me from getting overly gassed during the test.

If you want to see a good, simple demonstration of the Kettlebell Swing, check out this video by the KB Queen herself, Lauren Brooks:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Build Strong Shoulders!

Mike Mahler demos the KB Bent Press.
For some reason, many American men obsess over their pecs while treating their shoulders as secondary. If anything, it should be the other way around! Your shoulders not only need to be strong as part of functional fitness, they need to be strong to prevent injury. And I've known countless people--men and women--who have managed to seriously injure their shoulders at some point in their lives. This is especially true for martial artists and bench press-obsessed weight lifters.

Step away from the pec deck and work your shoulders! One of the best tools for this purpose is the kettlebell. The distribution of weight is different than that of a dumbbell, and allows more fluidity of motion than a barbell. This helps the shoulders to grow stronger.

Eric Moss over at Dragon Door has a great article on developing powerful shoulders with two key exercises: the Bent Press and the See-Saw Press. Here's a quick clip of Steve Maxwell doing the Bent Press.

Like many kettlebell moves, the are deceptively challenging. Check our Eric's article and start building real shoulder strength!

Flashback: Kali Demo for Charity

In May, 2011, I was honored to participate in a demo of Filipino martial arts organized by Guro Burton Richardson at the Ganbatte Japan Fundraiser to raise money for victims of the recent disasters.  Here are some pictures (I'm the tall guy in the olive shirt)...

Stick and shield.
Stick and shield
Knife vs. knife.
Knife vs. knife.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Viva Citra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!

I had the pleasure of spending a month touring Italy back in the summer of 2001. Every night at dinner (and often at lunch), my friends and I would enjoy a bottle or two of wine. Most of the restaurants we ate at offered cheap house wines, often made by the restaurant owners themselves. These wines were far from fancy or complex, but they were very tasty and very inexpensive, and the perfect compliment for a casual dinner with congenial companions.

Upon returning to the United States, I tried a variety of budget Italian wines in hopes of finding something similar to the house wines I drank in Italy. My favorite of the bunch is Citra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It's a simple red sold in rather large bottles, usually for under $10. Smooth without being too heavy, it easily brings to mind those table wines found in great trattorias. 

Apparently, I'm not the only fan. The Wall Street Journal had this to say about Citra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in an article they did about jug wines:
We really enjoy this wine, which was a favorite in a tasting of jug reds several years ago and also in a broad, blind tasting of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (which is a great bet in general, by the way). It has a dark color that looks rich and serious, with some minerals on the nose. The taste is blackberries and blueberries, with good tannins and some body. Too many jug reds seem heavy to us, with unidentifiable tastes and plenty of creamy, vanilla wood stuff. Summer is an uncomplicated time and we like uncomplicated wines that taste like fresh fruit—and this one does. But its extra depth means it’s perfect with a rare burger off the grill or a big, thick steak.
Give this Italian red a try. You certainly can afford to.

Outdoor Training: Good for the Body, Good for the Spirit

Near Queen's Beach in Waikiki.
I love training outdoors. Giving up the gym and embracing workouts at the park was one of the best things I ever did for myself. USA Today reported in 2010 on research that found exercising outside may have a potent impact on our emotional well-being:

As little as five minutes of "green" exercise -- activity in the presence of nature -- benefited all types of people, according to the researchers, who analyzed data on 1,252 people from 10 prior British studies.

The benefits? Improved self esteem and mood. Read the story here.

I am so fortunate to live in Hawaii, where I can train outside nearly all year long. Makes the high cost of living here worth it.

Burpee/Boxing Intervals for Turbocharged Conditioning

Tired of jogging, jumping rope, and running sprints? Ross Enamait wrote a great article about combining boxing and burpees for a fantastic conditioning workout. In a nutshell...
Burpee Intervals are one of the best conditioning drills. These intervals consist of Burpees and shadow boxing. For example, you will perform...
  • Burpees x 30 seconds
  • Shadow box x 30 seconds
  • Continue for 2 - 3 minutes
You will begin with 30 seconds of Burpees, and immediately follow with 30 seconds of shadow boxing. Continue this pattern for a full 2 or 3-minute round. You will then rest 1 minute (or 30 seconds) between each round.

You can wear a wristwatch to monitor time. You can also determine the number of Burpees that you can perform per 30 seconds. For example, if you perform 15 Burpees in 30 seconds and throw 100 punches in 30 seconds, you will not need to keep track of time. Counting repetitions may be helpful if you train alone.
To get ready to take my test to become a mixed-martial arts instructor, I did this sort of workout several times a week for about two months. It really improved my conditioning.

To read all of Enamait's article, click here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rolex and "I Spy"

My all-time favorite American TV spy show is by far "I Spy." It had great locations, believable espionage stories, and—most important of all—the chemistry and wit of stars Bill Cosby and the late Robert Culp. And one minor bonus: Cosby and Culp wore really cool Rolex Pepsi GMTs.

The enthusiasts over at watchsrolex.com wrote a nice piece in memory of Robert Culp, who passed away in 2010. You can read it here.

German Volume Training, or Why 10X3 May Be Better Than 3X10

How often do so many fitness magazines and trainers encourage people to do three sets of 10 when lifting weights? It's one of those unquestioned bits of Conventional Wisdom that deserves to be questioned.

One trainer who is wise but far from conventional is Mike Mahler. His website has a great article about German Volume Training, or GVT. As Mike explains it, he first learned of GVT from strength coach Charles Poliquin. In its original form, it is a brutal workout:

Here is how it works. Take 60 percent off your one rep max on an exercise and do ten sets of ten reps. Use the same weight on all ten sets and do not increase the weight until you can do ten sets of ten with the same weight.

This is probably a bit too brutal for most people. Mike Mahler suggests starting with something along the lines of 10X5 or even 10X2 instead of 10X10. You can always work your way up.

One great thing about German Volume Training is it encourages better form. Lots of weightlifters who use a 3X10 scheme tend to get awful sloppy on those last few reps. Dropping the number of reps while increasing the number of sets gives you a chance to quickly reset and recharge, ensuring that your form stays consistent. Good form leads to good results.

There are of course many rep schemes that are proven effective: 8X8, 6X6, 5X5 (aka the Faith workout for all you Buffy fans), etc. The trick is not to get stuck in some sort of never-changing groove. Mix up your training, and consider adding German Volume Training to your fitness arsenal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Long Cycle Clean & Jerk Demo

The kettlebell One Arm Long Cycle Clean & Jerk is a great full-body exercise, and one of my favorites. It also is very functional, and can improve your performance in all sorts of physical activities. I think it's especially good for martial artists, as it really helps develop explosive power. Here's a video by top trainer Scott Sonnon explaining how to do it, step by step.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Favorite Smoothie Recipe

Smoothies are great. They can replace a meal if you're trying to lose weight, or serve as a serious snack for those training hard or trying to put on muscle.

Depending on what I've got planned, I usually have one or two smoothies a day, in addition to my main meals and other snacks. I always have one before and after any serious strength training workout. I also make sure to have a smoothie about an hour or so before my martial arts training. It's a great way to fuel up without feeling heavy or overly full.

Here's my go-to smoothie recipe.
  • 8-10 oz. cold green tea or water

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk

  • 1 banana

  • 1/2 cup frozen organic mixed berries

  • 1/2 cup frozen organic spinach, kale, or both

  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and/or chia seed

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons protein powder

  • 1 teaspoon powdered greens or spirulina (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)

A few quick points...
  • Add more green tea (or water) if the smoothie is too thick.

  • I use NutriBiotic rice protein powder. My smoothies tend to have 20-40 grams of protein.

  • Sometimes I substitute frozen tropical fruit (pinapple, papaya, mango, etc.) or acai in place of mixed berries.

  • You won't taste the spinach or kale.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Beefeater, A Gin Lover's Gin

Gin aficionados these days are prone to look down their juniper-loving noses at brands other than Bombay Sapphire, Plymouth, Boodles, and so on. Not me. I retain a strong preference for good, old-fashioned Beefeater. There's just something about the balance of botanicals that appeals to me. And the traditionalist in me still likes the fact Beefeater is a true London gin, manufactured in Kensington. It's also my favorite Martini gin.

I'm not the only one with a fondness for this fine, underrated gin. Famed spirits and beer guru Michael Jackson said it was his favorite for gin and tonics. Some friends of mine back when I lived in Washington, D.C. held a blind tasting party, and found that Beefeater consistently beat pricier brands such as Bombay and Tanqueray. And finally, the Beverage Testing Institute gave Beefeater a score of 93 out of 100, and had this to say:
Clear with a nickel cast. Complex, layered aromas of fresh lemon cream pie, subtle floral juniper, and honeyed herbs and spices follow super smooth and round entry leads to a fruity medium-full body with excellent depth and balance. Finishes with creamy vanilla bean, brown spice, and pink peppercorn fade. A delicious, vibrant and instantly appealing gin for all occasions.
I couldn't agree more.

Hindu Squats and Push-Ups

If you're tired of standard, Western-style bodyweight exercises, give Hindu push-ups and squats a try. Here's the great Clarence Bass discussing some of the moves popularized by Matt Furey.
After receiving quite a number of emails from people telling me about their positive experiences with Matt Furey’s system of bodyweight exercises, I decided to order his book and video and check it out for myself. Guess what? They’re right. I believe his calisthenics have value. His "Royal Court" of three bodyweight exercises is demanding – and fun. I’m not prepared to say that his system is better than a combination of weight training and high-intensity aerobics for producing functional strength and endurance, as he suggests, but it definitely deserves a place in a well rounded training program, at least occasionally. I can even see doing his bodyweight exercises exclusively when you need a change of pace, as we all do from time to time, or when traveling.

It only took two sessions with Furey’s Hindu Squats and the Hindu Pushups to convince me that he’s onto something worthwhile....
Read the rest here.

I really love these exercises, especially the Hindu push-ups. They really work the upper body and feel good, too. My back always feels nicely stretched afterwards. Also, Hindu push-ups and squats have made a noticeable difference in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, helping me to feel more loose and fluid on the ground.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tapping Nature's Medicine

I'm a big fan of training outdoors, especially since I live in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. Yet nature has strong restorative benefits whether you live in the tropics or somewhere a bit colder, like Finland.

In an excellent article, John McKinney addresses the concept of Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which posits that a walk in the woods helps refocus the mind and revive the spirit, has been a growing field of research for the past 20 years. New studies are quantifying the restorative powers of nature and suggesting how the restorative process works.

Here's where the Finnish come in. A study by psychologist Kalevi Korpela with Finland’s University of Tampere found that
The self-rated restorative benefits gained by venturing into the woods and along natural shorelines — “an early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day,” as Thoreau said — were judged as significantly stronger than ventures to other favorite places in the city, including developed parklands. The results revealed links between the need for restoration (relief from worries and stress about money, jobs and the hectic pace of modern life) and the use of favorite places — what the social scientists call “environmental self-regulation strategies” — to achieve restorative benefits.
Exposure to nature even helps sick people recover faster.
Nature’s value in the recovery from illness has been quantified repeatedly. Studies have shown that post-surgery patients resting in rooms overlooking trees recovered better and faster than those in rooms with a view only of a brick wall. Another study demonstrated that women with breast cancer who walked in a park, watched birds or tended gardens recovered more quickly and were in better spirits than those with little or no contact with the natural world.
McKinney's article ends with an apt quote from Thoreau: “We can never have enough of nature.”

You can read the complete article here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lots of Reps with Pavel's Ladders

Pavel Tsatsouline is always a great source of inspiration and ideas. One of his concepts that I find especially useful is his use of ladders in training. No, not the kind you buy at a hardware store. It's a technique to really get in lots of reps without risking overtraining... or tedium, for that matter. The always-interesting Clarence Bass provides an explanation of this technique on his excellent website.
Here’s how Pavel describes the technique used by special forces personnel to work pull-ups into their busy classroom and training schedule: "We would file out to the pull-up bars and perform what we called ladders. I do a pull-up, you do one. I do two, you match me, etc. until one of us cannot keep up. Then, if we still had time, we started over. One rep, 2 reps, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. We totaled hundreds of pull-ups almost daily without burning out, and the extreme PT tests of our service were a breeze.
And if you train alone? No problem!
If you train alone, you can simply time your breaks by estimating how long it would take a partner to match your reps. That’s what I do, and it works fine. In fact, Pavel says it’s better that way, because "your odds of burning out are lower." To maximize volume without overtraining, you should stop each ladder one or two reps short of your limit. In other words, if you can work up to 10 reps at the top of the ladder, it’s best to stop at about 8, and then begin at 1 again. The non-competitive approach allows you to stop at a preset number that suits your capacity, not that of your partner.
As you can see, you end up doing many, many sets without burning out. It's a great way to get stronger, and can be applied to all sorts of movements, from push-ups to kettlebell lifts. I've used them quite a bit to improve my chin-ups. Pavel's ladders should be a part of any serious strength training regimen.

Earning a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt

In March 2009, my training partner Jerry Chang and I earned Blue Belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from our instructor, Burton Richardson. And I'm not exaggerating when I say "earned." We prepared for several months by drilling, rolling, and going over techniques. The test itself consisted of several hard rounds of groundfighting. Jerry and I were very proud to have passed and to receive our Blue Belts from Burton. I was particularly happy, as when I first started training back in 2002, I really wasn't very comfortable on the ground. It took me around two years to feel even semi-competent grappling. But eventually things started to come together, and, with lots of hard work and dedication, my ground game began to improve. 

Recently, both Jerry and I earned our third stripes on our belts. It was a long-time coming. During 2012, we were both sidelined by injuries ranging from sprained ankles and hyperextended elbows to herniated discs. Within a few months, we should be testing for our fourth stripes, and hopefully by the summertime we can go for our Purple Belts.

I look forward to my future Jiu-Jitsu training, and to constantly improving.

(Pictured: Jerry Chang, Burton Richardson, and Yours Truly)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Seiko on My Wrist

While I fully respect the beauty and craftsmanship of fine Swiss brands such as Rolex and Omega, I must admit to having a real love of Seikos, especially the automatic divers. They are well-made, with fantastic lumes that seem to glow forever.

My first Seiko was a 009 Pepsi given to me by my step-father. It was also my first "real" (i.e. automatic) watch after years of quartz Casios.

A few years ago I purchased a Seiko Black Monster, which has barely left my wrist since. 

I love this watch. It's built like a tank, and as you can tell from the photo, the lume is superb and the face is very readable. The bezel rotates smoothly and easily, which is something I can't say for some Omega Seamasters I've handled. 

While Seiko may not have the quite the panache of some of the Swiss makes, it's good enough for me, and for Sir Roger Moore in his non-Bond guise of Rufus Excalibur ffolkes.

Bruce Lee’s Top 7 Fundamentals for Getting Your Life in Shape

There's a great post on The Positivity Blog that's perfect for New Year's Day. It's entitled Bruce Lee’s Top 7 Fundamentals for Getting Your Life in Shape.  Here's the list in a nutshell:
1. What are you really thinking about today?“As you think, so shall you become.”
2. Simplify.“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
3. Learn about yourself in interactions.“To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.”
4. Do not divide.“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.”
5. Avoid a dependency on validation from others.“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”“Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory."
6. Be proactive.“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”
7. Be you.“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

As a Jeet Kune Do instructor, I of course love this. The above is just a highlight. I highly recommend reading the full post.

A Martial Artist Who Hates Violence

I don't like violence. Yet I train in pretty violent martial arts. Is this contradictory?

To my mind, it isn't. Learning how to deal with and even commit violence does not mean one is personally violent or likes violence. We don't expect someone who has trained in CPR to like heart attacks. Heart attacks, like violence, happen whether we want them to or not. It's best to be prepared.

Also, while I dislike violence, I hate cruelty and evil even more. Have you ever been in a situation where someone was being victimized and you were unable to do anything about it? I was, as a child. A friend's mother was giving me a ride home early one evening. We drove past a parking lot where I clearly saw an elderly woman being attacked by a gang of teenagers. I told my friend's mom what I had seen and asked her to pullover and call the police. She refused, saying I didn't really see what I thought I saw. That happened over 30 years ago, but I still remember it vividly.
I don't have a hero complex. I hope I'm never in a situation where someone is being assaulted and is in need of help. But if I am, I don't want to be helpless and unable to do the right thing. Hence, my martial arts training. Similarly, I value my own life, and have no intention of letting someone take it away from me or causing me injury.

I respect and honor life. That is why I stopped eating meat. It's also why I'm a martial artist. I practice hurting people because I cannot stand seeing people get hurt.