Monday, February 25, 2013

Men Training Women: It's About Trust and Respect

Read a forum post today about some bad gym behavior. Apparently, a trainer was training two young women and was trying to come on to one of them:
 “He obviously wanted to hit on the one girl so he ingratiated himself by ‘correcting’ her lat pulldowns - and in the process made her technique worse! Now her back exercise is a jerky, could-strain-her-shoulders bicep exercise.” 
To make matters worse, the above was followed-up with the following comment:
“..nothing wrong with hitting on a hottie. It's not her lats that he was interested in.” 
Here’s my response:

Under the circumstances, yes, it is wrong.

I am a certified fitness trainer and a martial arts instructor. To use my position to hit on a client during a training session would be unethical. A woman should be able to train in peace. Besides, in the situation described, the trainer sounds as if he was more focused on hitting on his clients than training them, which means he was essentially robbing them of time and money. Plus, he taught bad form, which is inexcusable.

This sort of training requires trust.
The relationship between a trainer and trainee is built on trust and respect. Consider that several of my friends and I teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Some of our students have been very attractive women. Few things are more physically intimate than BJJ, and it is hard enough to get a woman (or even a man, for that matter) to feel comfortable in some of the positions required without her worrying that the guy straddling her on the ground has ulterior motives.

This might be a shock for those who inhabit the juvenile wasteland known as “bro culture,” but plenty of women go to they gym to workout, get strong, and better themselves. They aren’t looking to be harassed by some horny jackass.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Conditioning with Hindu Push-Ups and Squats

Readers of this blog know I'm a fan of Hindu Push-Ups and Squats.

Recently, I've had a few people ask me about putting together a good conditioning routine based on theses two moves. Here are some thoughts...
  • 15/15s: Set a timer to go off every 15 seconds for at least 10 minutes. Do Hindu Push-Ups for 15-sec., rest 15-sec., Hindu Squats for 15-sec., rest 15-sec., etc. Don't worry about reps; just try to maintain a steady pace.
  • Escalating Density Training: Set a timer for somewhere around 10-20 minutes. Go back and forth between Hindu Push-Ups and Squats. Go at your own pace. Keep track of your total reps, and try to top that next time around.
  • Ladders: This one is real quick. Do 10 Hindu Squats and 1 Hindu Push-Up. Then do 9 Squats and 2 Push-Ups, etc., until you finish with 1 Squat and 10 Push-Ups. 
  • Another ladder variant: Do 1 Hindu Push-Up and 2 Hindu Squats. Than 2 and 4, 3 and 6, etc. until you start getting near failure. Then restart at the beginning.
  • For a really grueling workout, do 10 Hindu Push-Ups, 20 Hindu Squats, and 30 Kettlebell Swings. Repeat, resting as needed. When my friends and I do this one, we go to 11 sets, in honor of Spinal Tap.
Many of these workouts can be used as a warm-up or a finisher, or as a quick routine when you are pressed for time. Experiment, make changes, and create your own workouts. The possibilities are endless!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

John Rain's Watch

For my money, Barry Eisler's books about half-American/half-Japanese assassin John Rain are some best thrillers since the glory days of Ian Fleming and Adam Hall. I can't help but be enthralled by the adventures of this jazz-loving, Scotch-drinking, neck-breaking killer.

Like Fleming before him, Eisler doesn't shy away from mentioning name-brands in his novels. Some critics deride this sort of thing as gimmicky. I disagree. I think it just roots the series in the real world, and gives me a better connection to the character. I'd prefer to know that Rain drinks Laphroaig and listens to Bill Evans than merely be told he drinks single-malts and listens to jazz.

In the third book of the series, Rain Storm, we learn what type of watch John Rain normally wears: a Traser P5900. As something of a watch enthusiast, this was a key revelation. It was also not an arbitrary decision on Barry Eisler's part. In the book's acknowledgements, he specifically thanks a bunch of real-life operators for inspiring him to issue Rain a Traser wristwatch.

The P5900 is an interesting choice of watch for an international assassin or would-be international man of intrigue. It's black, lightweight, and rather nondescript. The bright lume means it should be readable even in the darkest environments. And it isn't too expensive, so one wouldn't shed tears if it was lost or damaged during a mission. Really, it rather strikes me as the Glock of analog watches.

Would I ever buy one? That's a tough question. It's a nice watch for all the reasons I mentioned above, thought a bit smaller than I'm used to. Also, I am a bit of an automatic purist, and the P5900 is a quartz watch. For the money, I would be tempted to just get an Seiko 5 auto, which are probably the best budget watches on the planet. Still, I don't deny being tempted by the Traser. It would feed into my John Rain fantasies, and whenever I checked the time I would no doubt be tempted to sip some Laphroaig, listen to a bit of Bill Evans, and go practice Jiu-Jitsu.

BJJ... for the Street

Here's a couple of photos of my training partner Jerry and I testing for our first stripes on our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belts. (I'm the bald guy.) These shots are from Spring 2010.

You'll notice we're wearing MMA gloves. We train under Burton Richardson, and this is part of his BJJ for Street Self-Defense curriculum. Unlike more traditional Jiu-Jitsu, striking isn't just encouraged, it's mandatory!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How My Mom's Lessons Saved Me from a Child Molester

I believe anyone serious about self defense (as opposed to just “martial arts”) must be informed about subjects such as the nature of violence and the mindset of criminals. 

To that end, I’ve recently been reading the book Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders by Anna Salter. It’s just as grim as you might imagine. Importantly, Salter doesn’t simply focus on the predators themselves, but their victims and their communities. She doesn’t dwell too much on why predators do what they do, but how they choose victims and how they get away with it. Children, for example, are vulnerable because they have often been taught to be subservient, unquestioning, and obedient to adults, especially figures of authority.

I was not raised to be unquestioning. Quite the contrary; my mother encouraged me to think independently and to question things. Don’t get me wrong. This didn’t mean I could simply refuse to do what I was told. I knew I could question rules, but that in the end I had to obey them. I was, after all, still a child. But if I did question something, I usually got an answer besides just “because I said so.”

(Incidentally, my mother’s non-fascistic style of parenting makes children less susceptible to peer pressure. Research from the University of Virginia shows that young teenagers who are taught to argue effectively are more likely to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol later in adolescence.)

I was also not taught to be mindlessly obedient. There is one example from when I was quite young that comes to mind, perhaps because it would later have a profound effect on my life and spare me a great deal of pain and misery.

Befitting someone with reddish hair, as a 3- or 4- year old little kid I had very rosy cheeks. It looked like I was wearing blush. Adults frequently would comment on them, and then proceed to pinch them. I hated it.

Eventually, I said to my mother, “Mommy, I don’t like grown-ups pinching my cheeks. Tell them to stop.”

“No,” she said. “You tell them to stop. No one has a right to touch you if you don’t want them to.”

“What should I say?” I asked.

“Just say, ‘Stop doing that. I don’t like it,’” she answered. “You don’t have to explain yourself.”

So I started to stand up for myself. Some adults were a bit taken aback. Some thought it was cute. But, in general, they listened. I recall one time when a waitress just laughed at me and started to try to pinch my cheeks again. My mother intervened, saying loudly and clearly, “Did you not hear him? Do not do that.”

Fast-forward a couple of years. I’m now about 5-years old. I sometimes played with a neighborhood teenager named Bobby who did some yard work for our family.

As smart and worldly as my mother was, neither she nor anyone else thought it was odd that an adolescent would want to spend time with a preschooler. No one wondered if he had an ulterior motive. He did.
For some reason, at the time I had a faux U.S. mailbag that I kept toys in as well with a kid-sized postman’s cap. One day, I was in my backyard carrying my bag and wearing my cap. Bobby came by and asked if I wanted to play. I said yes.

Some of the specifics of what followed are blurry, while others are all to clear.

We managed to end up in the small barn at the far end of the yard, far away from the main house.

Bobby noticed my postal-themed gear, and suggested we play post office. At first, the game was harmless and innocuous, with me going outside the barn, knocking on the door, and pretending to make a delivery.

Then it turned creepy. Without getting into the sordid, disturbing details, suffice to say Bobby at some point got his penis out, and suggested I “lick his stamp” and he could “lick mine.”

I knew nothing about pedophilia or child molesters at the time, but I knew this was weird and wrong. Remembering what my mom had said about standing up for myself, that’s exactly what I did. I said I didn’t want to play anymore and that I was leaving. Bobby still tried to convince me. I was afraid he might try to force me to stay. He was, after all, much bigger than me. Yet I resisted acting fearful, and instead acted assertive, even angry. “I am going home NOW!” I said as assertively as I could. Bobby apparently decided it wasn’t worth it for him to continue, and I left.

I don’t think I ever saw Bobby again after that afternoon. My family vaguely wondered why he didn’t come around anymore, but didn’t really give the matter much thought.

I am embarrassed to say I didn’t tell anyone what happened. I know now that I should have, but at the time it was just too uncomfortable to talk about. For what it’s worth, I later found out that Bobby ended up in prison serving a lengthy sentence for being involved in a car theft ring.

(As an aside, I think if I had told, someone in my family might very well have killed Bobby. My late grandfather, who was a D-Day vet, in particular would have been tempted to take action. And he probably would have gotten away with it.)

I can’t help but think that if my mother didn’t teach me to question and to stand up for myself, if she hadn’t taught me to say “No!” than the situation in the barn with Bobby would have gotten much worse. I could very well have ended up being molested. But I did say “No!” and I wasn’t molested, and have my late mom to thank for that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Through a Predator's Eyes

Here’s an experiment for the next time you are in a crowded environment such as a grovery store, shopping center, or busy downtown area. Try looking at everyone as if you were a predator. I don’t mean scowl and attempt to look menacing. Instead, imagine yourself as a predator and use that mindset to assess the people around you.

What do you notice? Which people look like potential victims? And what makes them potential victims? Maybe it’s because they are not paying attention, instead talking on their cell phones or texting or reading their Kindles as they walk. Perhaps they are walking facing down, their eyes focuses on the ground. Or it could be something in their body language that hints of timidity.

This experiment isn’t just a way to tap into your inner serial killer. There are two valuable lessons to be learned:
  1. By taking some time to observe and consider the actions and behaviors in others that make them appear to be potential victims, we can develop a better understanding of our own actions and behaviors, altering the ones that make us vulnerable.
  2. Looking at the world through a predator’s eyes forces you to be engaged with your surroundings. Predators on the prowl probably aren’t doing a lot of texting. By being engaged, you are in fact decreasing the odds of being victimized. Plus, by shifting ever slightly towards a predator perspective, you are sending a message to other predators that you are not prey.
Again, I want to stress that I am not encouraging anyone to walk around pretending to be a psychopath. No, this exercise is primarily one of awareness of both yourself and your environment.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gordon's Gin: A Tasty Bargain

I've always had a bit of a soft-spot for Gordon's. It was the very first gin I ever had, back when I first tried my hand at making a Martini. Why did I choose Gordon's as my first gin? Well, for one, it's cheap. And two, there's the 007 factor: 
Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?--James Bond, Casino Royale
Of course, the Gordon's of Bond's time and the Gordon's you buy at your local liquor store are not quite the same. As pointed out in Esquire, English Gordon's gin used to be 94 proof; now it's under 80. For those of us who enjoy cocktails but also like sobriety, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I still think Gordon's is a very good choice in bargain booze. Apparently, I'm not alone:
You can get a liter of it for about $15 and it's surprisingly good.— 
This is my go-to value gin and my personal favorite of the list.— Cocktails
This one is bright and piney, with a nose-crinkling shot of black pepper — a lot like Tanqueray, its imported stablemate.—Esquire
My favorite review comes from
In the world of premium luxury gins, it’s often easy to take a sideline seat to the bigger boys. Let’s not forget that Gordon’s Gin is a Diageo product the same as Tanqueray. So although they are different products, they are indeed on the same team.  
Huge aromatics going on here, and Gordon’s Gin can be labeled as being overpowered by some. Not by me, keep them coming. Perfect as a mixer, or all on its own, by my standards.  But be warned, Gordon’s Gin is for the seasoned gin drinker, if you are not ready for it, Gordon’s Gin will devour you. 
I couldn't help but a connection to lemon head, as I sipped Gordon's Gin writing this review. Traditional indeed is what I like. Although I have an affinity toward the classic English bottle design displayed below. Lemon presence but not to the point of sweetness with enough bitterness to let you know you are drinking gin. A true English gentleman, Gordon’s Gin, through and through.  
Sweet like candy soothes my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll. 
This is the gin James Bond drinks, and if you want to be a 007 spy, this is where it’s at. If you want a traditional London Dry Gin, this is the Gordon’s Gin for you.
While Gordon's is certainly not as good as some higher priced gins--I still prefer Beefeater--it's a tasty spirit at an appealing price. Gordon's is a perfect choice for a bunch of Gin & Tonics, and contrary to many reviewers, it makes a very serviceable Martini.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Ladder Story...

This is an artwork by Yoko Ono.
In an earlier post, I discussed the great training method known as ladders. To reiterate, when doing ladders, you do one rep, pause, two reps, pause, and so on, stopping well before failure. As Clarence Bass explains
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. 
Ladders are a great way to get in lots of reps without burning out. Also, because you are stopping short of failure, your form stays good.

I thought I'd share a personal example highlighting the benefits of ladders. I was training at the Kapiolani Park fitness station. I decided to really focus on chin-ups. Coincidencattly, there were two young guys there also doing chin-ups. They were at least 15 years younger than I am, and arguably more "in shape" than me (whatever that really means!).

I overheard them say they were each  going to do three sets of 10 chins. And that's what they did… sort of. They took turns doing their sets. However, by the time one of them would get to the seventh or eighth rep, his form would be lousy, resembling at best a rather poor kipping chin-up.

I was doing ladders. At the time, I could do maybe 10 chins in a row, give or take. For my ladders, though, I stopped at the fifth rep, dropping back down to one. I did this three times.

So let's compare: The young guys doing the traditional 3X10 chin-up routine did a total of 30 reps, with only 24 or so of those reps actually done with good form. They also looked pretty smoked by the time they finished.

By laddering up to five chins three times, I ended up doing a total of 45 reps. Since I didn't go anywhere near failure, my form stayed good throughout. Plus, I still felt energetic afterwards.

The lesson here? Ladders work, and remain a great way to build up your reps and thus build up your strength.