Getting back into weight training (again!)

As part of getting back into the habit of regular karate training, I’ve finally cleaned up the space I use for weight training to get back into a routine. Partly motivated by wanting to erode some of the pre-winter “padding” around my belly and increasing my strength, I’ve jumped into things with enthusiasm and am already feeling the results.

I’ve got a myriad of dumbells, barbells and weights lying around the place, and to make it easier to constantly push myself that little bit extra in each session, I’ve gone ahead and preloaded a number of dumbells with various weights to make it more convenient to try different combinations of weights. This means that if I’m doing an exercise that is exercising less-developed muscles, I can grab a lighter set of dumbells and gradually increase the weight without having to manually swap and change weights on either end – I just grab the next pair. On the other hand, if I’m working with muscle groups that are more developed, there’s no need to manually load up a set of dumbells, I can just grab another pair off the floor and roll with it. I’m finding that because it’s so easy to change to different sets of weightings, I’m mentally prepared to push myself a bit harder since I can see the goal of higher weight sets preloaded in front of me.

Mind, the reason I have the luxury of this is due to my father-in-law’s generosity in leaving me a great selection of equipment when my in-laws moved interstate last year. Thanks Dave 🙂

So, apart from gradually increasing the dumbell exercises, I’ve also been pushing a bit harder on the bench. But at the same time, I’m being realistic with the weekly goals I’m setting. My main goal at this stage is to be able to bench-press my own body weight, and so to get there, each week I’m trying to increase the weight on the bar by 1-2 kgs. I thought that by using small increments, this will assist in avoiding an injury and also reduce the psychological barrier experienced by big leaps in terms of the amount of visual weight on the bar. I’ve been able to achieve an extra kilo for the last two weeks, so I’m now sitting at 57 kg. In line with this, next week I’ll shoot for 58 kg, 59 kg the week after, and 60 kg the week after that. Then it’s another 10 kg until I get to my first long-term goal on the bench.

Fingers crossed if I approach it with a solid methodology and patience, I’ll be able to gradually increase my strength effectively and efficiently. But most importantly, it’s great to be back into weight training, as it’s something I really enjoy as auxillary training between classes.

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OMG, I think I finally did some decent kicks in class

I’ve waxed lyrical in the past on my kicking techniques, particularly mawashi-geri, but at training this week, I don’t think I did too badly at all… well, certainly a lot better than I have previously. It’s weird like that, sometimes you train and your technique isn’t where you want it to be, and some nights it just works. Hopefully I’ll continue to make it work and this won’t be a one off 🙂 I’ve noticed of late that I’d like to see greater strength in my kicking techniques and might have to start training them a bit more rigerously. Fingers crossed!

If that counts as a positive to training, there was also a negative, and it’s to do with kata. Probably because I haven’t been training it hard/consistently enough, I’ve slipped back into the habit of making kata robotic, without natural flow or expression as I had previously explored. Dai-Sensei picked up on it during class and mentioned it as a point I can work on, as it shows understanding and flow within the techniques, as well as a way of personal expression within the formalised framework that forms the core kata, the former of which is essential when considering the practical application of what to the inexperienced eye are simply an arrangement if disconnected and unusual movements. Especially since his feedback is suggesting I’ve moved backwards instead of forwards with my performance of kata, which I’ve always taken a great deal of pride in. That’s why it’s great to train under experienced instructors, as they’re able to pick up what you often don’t see due to their years of experience in martial arts. I’m now going to be making a dedicated effort to get back into the same mindset I achieved previously.

Back to the topic though – good kicks in class, at least by my standard. Even mawashi-geri, which I struggle with as a general rule of thumb. Although at one point my prosthesis almost literally flew off my stump due to a particularly enthusiastic kick. Managed to recover reasonably well though 🙂

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A change is in the air – from Shotokan to Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu

At the end of training this week, we finished about 15 minutes early and were asked to grab a chair and sit in a circle with Sensei and Dai-Sensei. As it sounded pretty serious, my first fear was that I had somehow broken yet another karate club. Turns out that while it was still a serious conversation we all had, it wasn’t about the end of the karate club. Rather, it was arguably a case of sowing seeds for the future.

When Sensei had us sit down for a chat, it was to announce that the club will no longer be teaching shotokan karate, but instead will be moving to teaching Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu in its place. I’ve discussed Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Justu before, owing to Sensei’s interest in the system and having attended some excellent seminars that Renshi Jason Griffiths has hosted in the past, so I’m not surprised that he has been working hard in the background to get his teaching certification and permission from Hanshi McCarthy to begin teaching Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu. For him, having practiced shotokan for 22 years, found that while he loved the style, there were gaps that he felt were missing from making it an outwardly “complete” system. Having trained in hapkido, jujutsu, kobudo and kenpo in addition to his years studying karate, I can respect and understand his belief in this move, and his conviction moving forward with this decision, having discussed it with Dai-Sensei and some of our senior students as well, before presenting us with the news.

For me, the eye-opening thing was that Sensei has the conviction to put aside 22 years of shotokan training to move forward with this system – for me, I see that as a sign that there is real merit with the shift to Koyru Uchinadi. What is even more eye-opening is that Dai-Sensei, who has been a shotokan karateka for 35 years, has decided to put his black belt aside and join the rest of us in line to start afresh with Koryu Uchinadi.

My first reaction at the change was one of shock – I mean, I really enjoy shotokan, even though it traditionally had some big gaps as a system unless you knew how to dissect technique from kata (which I’ve found to really enjoy). However, having had the opportunity to train in Koryu Uchinadi, and having seen the extent of the syllabus, I’m very excited at the prospect of moving forward and broadening my experience with this system. I don’t even mind rebooting back to a lower grade – it’s a different style, and just as I went back to 10th kyu when I started learning pure shotokan vs the hybrid style I used to learn, I think it’s appropriate to go back to the start with a new syllabus. It’s not as though the past 6 years of training have been for naught either, as experience is experience, and having studied a couple of styles now, it will be easy to translate that experience in embracing this new style.

I think for those in the class that haven’t had the opportunity to experience some of the Koryu Uchinadi syllabus, the move is probably a bit more daunting – for me, having had the chance to train with Renshi on a few occasions, I have no qualms moving forward. It’s not like we’re moving to some dodgy “discount variety warehouse” style (Rex Kwon Do, anyone? :D), Koryu Uchinadi is an extensive, well-researched and globally organised style that offers an alternative view of traditional karate as most of us understand it today dervied from extensive practice and research on traditional Okinawan systems of self-defense. I also like how it offers an academic side as well, given its integration with the International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society founded by Hanshi McCarthy, and that the syllabus has been drawn from such a strong dedication to research into pre-modern karate.

I’m in no way suggesting I’ve discovered the “golden egg” with Koryu Uchinadi, but I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen/practiced and am looking forward to studying it as my main style of martial arts. I feel I will still get all of my base techniques/tools out of it, just as I have with shotokan, but with the broader syllabus that incorporates more close-quarters techniques, grappling, groundwork, throws, etc, I feel it will help close some substantial gaps in my ability as a martial artist, as well as emphasise the theory/research side which I also really enjoy when studying a Japanese martial art. I have also noticed that the style also contains a strong kobudo element, which means there will be an opportunity to learn traditional Okinawan kobudo within the broader framework offered by the style.

So yes, there are changes afoot, and I will miss some aspects of learning shotokan. However, I strongly believe this represent a great opportunity to study a very extensive style with extremely strong ties to traditional Okinawan martial arts, which has always been why karate in general has been of great interest to me. Once classes change over, I’ll have to go back and update the About page with some information on the styles I’ve trained in and include the shift to exploring Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu. For those who aren’t familiar with it, check out the entry on Wikipedia for a quick summary, and there’s also the official website with stacks of information.

I guess for those who haven’t trained in the style or want to know more about it, I’m hoping the posts detailing my experiences will help others understand aspects of the system from the perspective of a newbie with a degree of existing knowledge of karate, as well as allow myself to use this blog as a platform for working through my experiences learning Koryu Uchinadi. I’m looking forward to getting into training and will start posting up my experiences of it as early as next week hopefully, assuming I don’t get distracted and forget to post about it 😉

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On spontaneously walking up to fellow amputees and saying “Hi”

I’m sure this isn’t unique to myself, but I thought I’d share anyways.

The other week I was taking Wifey out shopping (because I’m an awesome husband), and when out we walked into a video game store (because I’m also proficient in nerdisms) I noticed another guy who looked in his late teens or early 20s in crutches. Since I’m a bit nosey by nature, I instinctively looked to his feet, and noticed he only had one leg. I couldn’t tell if he was an above-knee or below-knee amputee, but still, it was there (or rather, it wasn’t :P).

My first instinct was to walk up to him and say “Hi” and see how he was going, purely on the basis of him being an amputee, but I hesitated… I mean, I’m pretty comfortable with having only one leg and talking to people about it, but I know not all amputees feel this way. What if the loss of his limb and talking about it upset him? What if he misinterpreted my good intentions and thought I was poking fun at him or drawing unnecessary attention? What if he’s actually been a long-term amputee and his stump was knackered, and the reason he was getting around the place on crutches was because of that and thought I was being condesecending? I was wearing shorts that day with the titanium pole exposed so he would have easily been able to see I was a fellow amputee, but still, I was worried.

So I didn’t say anything, because I was concerned about coming off without the good intentions that I had.

The question I’m asking myself aloud is – is it cool to go up to a fellow amputee and just say “Hi” and ask how they’re doing?

It’s weird, whenever I see another amputee out and about I always have that urge. I know it must be human instinct, but still – that little voice of hesitation is always there.

One of the few times I’ve acted on it was a feew years ago when I was walking to catch a train home after Uni finished for the day – I was walking with Wifey (well, she wasn’t Wifey back then since we weren’t married :P) and came to a stop along the footpath where one of gates for bike/vehicle access to the Uni was located. As I was standing there or walking up to it, I noticed a guy on his bike had one leg. So, being the person I am, I stopped for a chat. I was also my usual subtle self, pointing to his leg and stating, “Hey, I have one of those too”. The guy looked at me with this kind of inquisitive look (possibly verging on delivering a headbutt) so I reached down and pulled up the leg on my jeans, revealing my prosthesis like the shining symbol of awesome gimpyness that it is.

And that was it – I reckon we stood and chatted for about 20 minutes, exchanging stories and experiences, before I realised I wasn’t going to catch the train on time if I didn’t hustle. While I did catch the train on time, I didn’t have enough of a buffer to grab a couple of freshly fried cinnamon doughnuts from the doughnut place. Bummer. Would have been a perfect afternoon then 🙂

Going back to my original story – owing to this happening, I’m looking at ways that maybe I can get involved in the wider amputee community. I’m not sure in what capacity at this stage, but I’ve been meaning to join the forums over at the excellent Limbs 4 Life website, which I’ve mentioned previously and currently have links setup on the blog’s sidebar so people can easily access the site from here. I’m not such how else I want to involve myself in the community at this stage (there’s ultimately only so much time free during the week), though Wifey’s been really supportive and has encouraged me to get more involved and help other people out due to my positive attitude towards my leg.

amplified cover - Autumn 2010

Autumn 2010 cover of amplified

For those who haven’t checked out their site before, I’d encourage you to stop by and check it out – they’ve also recently released the latest edition of amplified, a quarterly magazine published via their website as a high quality PDF. I took the time to read through the latest issue in full (thanks Wifey 🙂 ), and there were some great articles and personal experiences therein. There’s also (as of next issue) going to be the chance for amputees to write in and ask questions. Best of all is that it’s free, so no cost for access to an extremely professional publication on a niche topic. Brilliant work.

Hmmm, I think I got sidetracked there, sorry about that!

Anywho, just wanted to share the irrational side of my personality when it comes to seeing other amputees. Hopefully I’m not the only one 😛

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Should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

I got an e-mail over the weekend from Eric Dexheimer, a reporter over at The Statesman, who was doing some research for an interesting article about an above-knee amputee MMA fighter, Jorge De Leon. The twist to the story is that despite covering his prosthesis with a protective foam and being physically fit for the event, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation fined the event organiser $5,500 and disqualified the event. To quote from Eric’s piece:

The official crime was that De Leon had broken a rule prohibiting fighters from wearing “metal, straps, buckles, necklaces, jewelry or other objects (including piercings) that may cause injury to either fighter.” “The leg would fall under ‘other object,’ ” explained Susan Stanford, a spokeswoman for the agency.

So, the question I rolled around in my head was – should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

The above is an interesting scenario – on the one hand, I think it’s awesome that he’s gone ahead and participated in an MMA match despite his disability, and feel quite strongly that he shouldn’t have been disqualified. On the other hand, knowing how much potential damage a prostheesis can inflict on a person, particularly some of the edges and parts relating to the knee, supporting titanium pole and so forth, I can see that there may be grounds in terms of safety of the prosthesis during a match.

In some ways, I’d argue that there simply being a prosthesis isn’t unsafe per se. The prosthesis is merely a tool that can used and manipulated as a weapon, no different to a knee, fist, elbow, etc. In fact, due to the greater degree of movement and kinetic energy that can be harnessed, it could be argued that these natural extensions of the body are no less safe than a prosthesis, it all comes down to the use thereof. For example, if I were to strike with a roundhouse kick, my prosthesis would likely cause a significant impact – however, due to the way kinetic energy can be manipulated via muscle and hard bone, I imagine that a roundhouse kick by a seasoned martial artist would arguably have greater impact. I have compared my kicking techniques to my instructors and other experienced martial artists I have trained with, and I would actually believe their strikes are actually more powerful than something I can generate. This is reflected in Eric’s article, noting that experienced athletic prosthetist Jan Stokosa found that while sparring with below-amputee Ron Mann, it was his real leg that caused greater impact compared to his prosthesis.

One of the disadvantages of a prosthesis compared to fully-functional limbs is that we don’t have the same degree of control compared to a physical leg owing to the lack of muscles, and this lack of control could well be grounds for arguing issues against its use (i.e. unintentional damage or injury due to the relative instability of the leg). Mind, contrary to that, I’ve seen some pretty scrappy MMA bouts, and I don’t think controlled striking is necessarily a universal component that all participants believe in; this does make sense in the spirit of MMA though, given its potential to simulate “real” combat, rather than point-based or light contact sparring quite common amongst “traditional” martial arts styles in the West. Mind, I certainly wouldn’t have the balls to compete in an MMA match, looks too full-on for my sensibilities!

As a point of comparison, if it’s relevant, whenever I spar with other martial artists I do two things – first up, I give them advanced warning to watch how they strike in case they unintentionally hurt themselves on the prosthesis. Secondly, I make it a habit not to actually strike using my prosthesis during sparring – this is more in line with my philosophy that I don’t believe I can control the leg to such a degree that I can guarantee there won’t be unnecessary impact to my sparring partner.

But MMA is arguably quite different to a lot of sparring I would do in class – if your body has a natural advantage (athletic, muscular, experience), does the presence of a prosthesis make much of a difference to the spirit of a match if it’s considered simply a function of the body, akin to the aforementioned attributes? When grappling arts like Brazilian Jujutsu were introduced into MMA competitions and proved an effective (and arguably essential) part of a combatants’ repertoire, the style wasn’t banned – rather, participants had to learn how the system worked and how to counter it. In that sense, is the presence of a prosthesis any different?

As an amputee, I can assure you that whilst there may be advantages to having a prosthesis during such a match, there are also a huge amount of disadvantages – balance, limited control, lactic acid buildup in the stump, incredible amount of energy expenditure to move/use the limb compared to an able-bodied competitor. The question is – do the disadvantages even out the advantages?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t many opportunities for amputee martial artists to be recognised and compete if they wish – I would be absolutely thrilled if karate or something similar would get introduced at a Paralympic level, as the only martial art currently available is judo, and participation is based on the basis of your eyesight-related disability. There is no avenue for amputees to compete.

I’m pretty on the fence with this one, hence why I’ve jumped back and forth on either side of the argument… I know it may be a little convoluted, but hopefully I’ve helped stimulate some discussion on the situation.

On a final note, for those interested in reading more about Ron Mann, check out the following sites:

He has also run some workshops and competitions at the Extremity Games – according to the website, the next one is happening next month in Texas. It’s definitely an event I’d love to go to, but putting aside the money factor (gotta love those Australian mortgages!), I’d want to get into more shape before thinking about heading over there to compete 😉

Huge props to Eric on his excellent report on this issue and for getting in touch – I just wish I checked my mail a little earlier so my response could have been more useful! I highly recommend you check it out to get the full story, it makes for a great read:

Not going down without a fight on his prosthetic leg: Agency says war vet’s bout broke law as technology and martial arts converge.

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