Wii Fit and amputees – first impressions!

Akin to what I was nerding about in my earlier post, below is my awesome review/first impressions of Wii Fit!

Balancing act 1

For those unaware what Wii Fit is, check out the Wikipedia entry – it’ll make more sense than my crazy ramblings in trying to describe it. Probably more informative too 🙂 To quickly summarise to add some context though, Wii Fit is a game on the Nintendo Wii (aka Nintendo’s money-printing machine) that aims to have you do daily exercises instructed on-screen by standing on a board that wirelessly communicates with the Wii console. Fancy and ingenious piece of kit, much like the Wii in general to be honest. Wifey and I don’t have a Wii ourselves, but we recently caught up with my brother and his family and they’ve got one, so it proved the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my extreme awesomeness. It also gave me the opportunity to give an amputee’s view on how it works.

After doing my initial data entry to get the ball rolling, it appeared there were going to be some skewed results in one of the main tests you go through when you start up your session on Wii Fit, as there are all sorts of balance tests. It tests and works your center of balance, and how you hold your balance according to your right/left side of the body. Not surprisingly, it confirmed my feeling that my center of balance is slightly behind me, and a little to the right in lieu of having one leg. Things really got interesting when it got me to do the one-legged balancing tests though!

Now, this was all well and good on my right leg, given I have one! But what to do when the tests come up for the left leg?

Simple, cheat and use your right leg, but ensure you look like a doofus while doing so:

Balancing act 2

Balancing act 5

As you can see from the results in the image below, it took a little bit to adjust to the balance board!! Those squiggles indicate my shift in balance over the course of time it tracked me standing on each side… ideally there should be very little variation 😛

Balancing act - the results!

🙂

And from here, things kept getting better – the trainer decided to offer his evaluation on the situation following my results:

WTF?

lol!

You know, because I totally have a left leg 😉 By the time I got to the second leg I reckon I had gotten the hang a little better in using the balance board, hence the result (remember that I used my right leg when doing the tests for the left leg!). Still, gotta love some canned advice from a computer program 🙂

Once the tests and BMI, etc, were all finished (for those interested, my first Wii Fit age was 11 years older than me; when I gave it a crack a few days later, I managed to bring it down to only 2 years older than my actual age — hurrah!), I thought I’d have a quick go at some of the activities. I can’t remember off the top of my head which ones I did – I had a look at the yoga ones but passed, as it looked too tricky to work my way around them and find a solution given I was in a bit of a silly mood when playing the game. I gave the hooly-hoops a whirl, but that didn’t work that well either (was apparently funny to watch though ;)). I ended up settling on the muscle workouts, specifically the pushups one.

I mean, c’mon – I can do pushups, whether it be on my hands, knuckles, dive-bomber and with/without my leg on. So I figured I’d be right; turns out there was a twist with what was to come!

Now, before I get started, I’d like to share this cracker of a screenshot:

Stupid man

While I’m sure Nintendo means well, I think a “skip” button on these would be helpful since I notice he has all his limbs intact 🙂

Anywho, so onto the pushup – aside from the trainer going infuriatingly slow, he then starts adding in these twists at the ends of each of his motions! Now, this is all well and good if you’re coordinated and have two legs – makes it tricky as an amputee though, as there’s no way to elegantly rotate your body without striking awesome/stupid poses for the people sharing the experience with you in the same room (Wifey was crying from laughing so much as I pulled the most ridiculous poses in trying to keep up with the instructions!):

Push-ups with a stupid twist

Now, with all this being said, you might think I’m being overly harsh with the game – I mean, did Nintendo deliberately go out of their way to alienate disabled people with this game? Of course not. And do I harbour I strong dislike of the game? Absolutely not – it was a blast to play, but it certainly represents a number of challenges to those of us missing a few key limbs to make the experience complete.

Playing the physical games like Wii Fit can be a lot of fun, but there’s also the issue that, when playing socially, it can be a bit alienating depending on how good you are with your prosthesis – I was in excellent company so I had a ball sharing my goofiness, but at the end of the day it makes it very hard to keep up with people who are generally more physically able than an amputee. It’s kind of like Dance Dance Revolution – several years back I used to really like playing it, but the most I could ever get to was… either Beginner or Easy/whatever it’s called – I just couldn’t keep up with enough consistency if the difficulty was any higher, which was a bummer, because I couldn’t physically move around fast enough due to the prosthesis.

But getting back to Wii Fit, I have a feeling there are probably a handful of tricks I could uncover to bridge the gap between amputees and able-bodied players, but in the short time I had playing it, there certainly wasn’t enough time to really dig in and uncover the possibilities and post up straight away to share. Wifey and I are looking at grabbing a Wii with Wii Fit some time later this year (not sure when at this stage, maybe closer to x-mas when there are usually some good bundles/packages available at retail), so I’ll be happy to share some strategies and possibly write up an FAQ then. I think the game has a lot of promise and reckon there’s potential tricks so that amputees can possibly keep up with able-bodied people to some degree, but I won’t know until I have the opportunity to give it as more extensive whirl.

Mind, I’d post my thoughts up sooner if Nintendo Australia is kind enough to gift a Wii and Wi Fit for my household 🙂

… what, can’t blame a guy for trying, can you? 😀

If you want to check out more pics of me making an arse of myself, I’ve added a dedicated Wii Fit 2009 gallery under (funnily enough!) the ‘Gallery’ menu on the top nav bar; alternatively, you can also click here to access it. Huge thanks to Wifey for being a good sport and taking the photos, and to my brother and his family for treating us to some Wii Fit gamage that night 😀 We hada ball, and I can’t wait to catch up again to give it another go!!!

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Core strength – martial arts complementing life as an amputee

What I want to talk about today is how building my core strength through karate has helped me as an amputee.

Core strength is a term you’ll often hear dedicated martial artists talk about, but rarely one used when discussing life as an amputee. While I understood the value of the concept previously, it’s only in relatively recent years that I’ve taken the term on for what I used to think of as solely my abs, but there’s more to it than that. For those interested in a neat little definition, Wikipedia has a nice definition of what the core anatomy is (click here).

My first experience with the medical benefits of core strength built through karate was actually with my lower back – I have a family history of shonky backs, but my position is a little more accute due to the amount of abuse my lower back gets as an above-knee amputee. Where able-bodied people have the foot/ankle/knee to cushion their walking, amputees have to absorb extra pressure from walking into our lower backs. Think of it like jumping down from a few steps above the ground, and when you land on your foot, you have your legs dead straight instead of slightly bent to absorb the force from landing – that’s pretty much what we have to deal with as am amputee. Even more appropriately given the nature of a prosthesis, grab a broom, hold it vertically and slam the bare end (i.e. not the brush end :P) onto the floor – the vibrations you feel in your hand is akin to what we feel run up our stump(s) and back. There are certain variables that can alter the amount of force we receive – below-knees can absorb some extra force since they still have their knees, above-knee amputees will vary depending on the length of their stump, and there are mechanical devices (different prosthetic knees, feet and socket designs) that aim to reduce the amount of energy absorbed vertically through the stump and lower back, but for the most part, the principle remains pretty accurate.

While my prosthesis I currently have has a few technological tricks by way of the design and knee/foot equipped, remember that before I was 18 and these extra tools become available to me I was on a leg that wasn’t able to do much to soften the vertical blow dealt to my body through the simple act of walking.

So, with this in mind, its understandable that your lower back gets stressed as an amputee. Therefore you have two solutions to this – don’t walk/severely minimse your physical activity, or strengthen your body to withstand the extra abuse you deal to your body. I don’t think you can guess which path I decided to take 😉

My first experience of the medicinal benefits karate was having on my body as an amputee was when I went to the physio a number of years ago when my then-girlfriend (and now wife) had started living together – I finally went and saw someone about my back, and while my posture was generally very good, I was told that one way to improve the lower back muscles was to get into the habit of using your abs to support your back. This seemed strange to me at the time, but I was told that the muscles are complementary, and strong abs will help support your back. She encouraged me to get into the habit of tensing my abs so that I always have extra support for my back, so I decided to give it a a go. Admittedly, it didn’t help that I was also a bit vain about it and saw it as an opportunity to make my belly flatter by doing the extra exercises, but I found that it started to have positive effect on the overall strength of my lower back.

This now lends itself to how I’ve learned the importance of core strength in karate. Martial artists often talk of the importance of strengthening your core muscles, and how a strong core will lend itself to better power, technique and control. As time’s gone on, I’m a firm believer in the concept. When you punch, to extract maximum efficiency of your technique, you don’t just move your arm – you transfer the energy from the ground, up into your torso and use your core muscles to whip your shoulder, arm and fist into your target, squeeze the muscles at the last moment to gain that extra bit of dynamic power, and then use the core muscles to bring your arm back and maintain a strong center-line throughout your technique. Same for kicking – use your core to support your body and back, utilise your hips, whip the leg out, bring it back. Grappling and throwing are nothing without a strong core – without it, you’ll ruin your back. All techniques in martial arts benefit from a strong core, and the sooner you learn this, the better you’ll be for it.

So what’s the catch with this as an amputee? Well, I’ve found myself utilising my core muscles all the time to support and strengthen my body. When I get out of bed in the morning, I squeeze my abs and use these muscles and my arms to sit up to avoid placing pressure on my back. When I hop around without my leg on, my abs clench every time I hit the ground the prevent a jolt to my lower back. Every time I lift something, I contract my muscles to absorb the extra strength I need to draw from my back since I can’t use two legs (well, knees :P) to assist in lifting a weighted object. When I twist and turn my body when I’m on crutches, I use my core muscles to control my extension and insulate my back. And of course, in class I use my core extensively to improve my balance, control, power, technique and assist my back at all times, whether it be holding a stance or having take-downs or counters performed on me. In fact, I’ve found that even the motions of good form in practicing your stances does a terrific job of stretching your back, loosening the muscles and then building up their strength in supporting your weight.

So, core strength is obviously a very important part of maintaining and strong and healthy back for all people, but for amputees, there is an incredible amount of good it can do for you. At the very least, good core strength will help protect your lower back from the jarring pain you get from walking, but there is so much broader application for using your core muscles in everyday life, and everything you do physically can benefit from it.

While martial arts isn’t alone in being an activity that can radically strengthen your core, I find that the varied techniques and exercises you learn in a good system can be used to develop your core, and the different ways you learn to increase the mastery of your physical behaviour is a huge benefit not only to amputees in extracting maximum potential from their situation, but to all people.

… and now that I’ve written it and looked over it twise, I hope it made sense and wasn’t too jumbled 😛

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Learning kata

I’ve been reading through some different martial arts blogs of late, inspired by some of the comments I’m getting from the wider community on my blog (super props to Black Belt Mama, as I’m pretty sure I can thank her for the recent attention!). I came across an excellent blog on BBM’s website by guest blogger Matthew Apsokardu (of Ikigai | Blogging the Martial Way) about control in martial arts (an excellent topic I’m keen to write about, but I’ll save that for another time), and from there I jumped onto his blog and read up on his post about learning kata.

Personally, I have a real love-hate relationship with kata. I’m typically slow to learn kata, and I find the initial process very defeating as I stumble through the movements. That being said, I’m sure my ultra level of unco is probably very amusing to watch, but nonetheless, it isn’t all that productive 😛

However, once I get the basic pattern down and start refining the technique, I absolutely love it. I also find that learning some of the bunkai as you go makes a huge difference in understanding what you’re doing (something emphasised by last week’s seminar), as it gives context to get a greater visualisation of what you’re trying to achieve. There’s something about getting to the heart and soul of kata that is extremely rewarding, even if I’ve only worked on relatively simple kata given the highest I’ve ever gotten to in either style of karate I’ve trained in is 6th kyu.

But back to kata – I’m currently learning heian nidan, which I’m finding to be quite enjoyable as it incorporates some very different techniques than you often encounter in your basic drills. The amount of shuto in the kata was initially a bit off-putting since my shuto is a bit rubbish (I blame my crappy stances :P), but I’m finding that by doing the kata, my shuto is gradually improving.

But to bring this rant back to some focus and Matthew’s blog, I was reading his excellent post on learning kata faster, and there are some really good pointers in there if, like me, you’re prone to temporary idiocy when learning a new kata 😛 I’ve actually picked up heian nidan much faster than I normally pick up a new kata, and I’ve found that some of the things I’ve been doing to help remember it are a lot of the principles Matthew discusses in his post. I’m going to keep it bookmarked so I can keep referring to it when I start to push beyond memorisation to technical execution of my current kata, and refer to it again when I learn my next kata following my next successful grading.

Still, I’ve been thinking – I should start throwing in more kata practice between classes, as I want to refine my technique and be able to progress at a good pace and training this only in class probably isn’t enough. We’ll see how I go.

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Archive: Post-training wrap-up

Source: Gisoku no Jutsu/MySpace
Original post date: 1 February, 2007

Training last night was awesome. As opposed to some of the prior classes we’ve had lately, last night’s session was really full on, with lots of drills, running, crunches, all the good stuff. We spent a lot of time on training ours kicking, which is really good, because it’s been a while since we worked hard on them.

In addition to all the usual gear, one of the instructors proceeded to take individuals aside and running them through their current kata their training in. For those unaware of what kata is, to quote Wikipedia:

..> ..>

Kata (literally: “form”) is a Japanese word describing detailed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Kata are used in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chado), but are most commonly known for the presence in the martial arts. Kata are used by most traditional Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, such as aikido, iaido, jodo, judo, jujutsu, kendo and karate. Other arts such as t’ai chi ch’uan and taekwondo feature the same kind of training, but use the respective Chinese and Korean words instead.

The most popular image associated with kata is that of a karate practitioner performing a series of punches and kicks in the air. The kata are executed as a specified series of approximately 20 to 70 moves, generally with stepping and turning, while attempting to maintain perfect form. There are perhaps 100 kata across the various forms of karate, each with many minor variations. The number of moves in a kata may be referred to in the name of the kata, e.g., Gojushiho, which means “54 steps.” The number of moves may also have links with Buddhist spirituality. The number 108 is significant in Buddhism, and kata with 54, 36, or 27 moves (divisors of 108) are common. The practitioner is generally counselled to visualize the enemy attacks, and his or her responses, as actually occurring, and karateka are often told to “read” a kata, to explain the imagined events. Source

Anywho, Sensei K went through Saifa with me a few times and helped me get the opening forms really solid and focused, so I don’t feel anywhere near as sloppy as I have been while working on it. But the really awesome thing that happened last night was a technique he demonstrated that involves using your upper body to control your hips and legs.

I’m not sure if this will make sense, but I’ll try to describe it anyhows – by quickly drawing your arm back to your hip (as if you were preparing to do a normal punch), you can generate enough energy to quickly bring your front leg back and turn your hips so that you’re standing the usual 45-degree angle to your opponent, left side forward. This is useful in that you can use this energy to imediately throw your other hand (i.e. the one that hasn’t been retracted to your hip) as either a jab or an outside hooking block very fast. The trick of course is learning how to control this energy to avoid swinging your hips too far, too fast to throw you off-balance, which for me is going to be my task here.

Okay, so that established, why is this discovery so important? Well, because I lack a foot/ankle/calf/knee on my left leg, I have a much reduced capacity to utilise my hips and abdomen to draw power from in karate; as any martial artist knows, utilising your legs, hips, waist and stomach muscles are what generates the incredible power behind a great deal of attacks, if not possibly all of them. Because I lack an essential component in this makeup, by learning to use my upper body to compensate for this means I now have the potential for drawing out greater power in my strikes and enable me to move and counter much faster than I could previously have achieved. There is of course going to be a long learning process in order to learn to use my body thus, but I’m confident this will mark an important point in developing greater prociency in my karate.

It’s pretty logical when you think about it, though – I use my upper body a lot to ease the stress on my right leg in every day life – I’ll use my arms instinctively when going up or down stairs, when standing up from the floor, I’ll do as much work as possible with my arms to move my weight, and probably stacks of other stuff I can’t pick out that I do simply as instinct.

So, last night was definitely enlightening, as hyperbolic as that sounds, and I’m looking forward to refining the technique over time, especially when using it in kumite (sparring) and learning how to utilise it in my standard forms and kata.

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