Heat Got Me Down

Dead in the DesertI felt like this last night at kendo. The heat in the gym was stifling with the outside temperature outside still around 85 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:00 PM. As soon as I donned my helmet I started sweating buckets.

We had two visitors, both very strong and athletic players who participated in our workout of high-intensity kakari-geiko and shinsa training. This type of practice has been a new initiative for us as we looked at what other successful clubs had been doing in terms of training and preparing for competition as well as improving standards.

The entire session was very intense and I could not keep up, even though I was receiving as motodachi for most of the time.  The heat was too much for me.

I felt bad, as if I let myself and my club down and, in a sense, I had as I was not able to participate in the later part of class. It was a chastening experience as I had been very excited about upping my game and being a contender.

Taking this as a defeat, I went home and showered up and cleaned my gear before going to sleep soon after.  The next morning, as I prepared for work, I went through what I needed to make sure that I don’t fall short:

1. Not just running but running with equipment or some weight on and in assorted weather patterns. I still feel that sprints are necessary for kendo and, frankly, I hate running. It bores me even if I have good music.

2. Focus on quality kendo and not degrading my efforts just in order to keep up a fast pace. Going full speed doing kirikaeshi but doing so without full big swings and good footwork is just a waste of time. It is better to start slower but correct and then build up from there.

3. Drink water more consistently throughout the day, not just an hour or so before working out. Water and performance are linked together.

4. Don’t eat a large meal, even earlier in the day. When you eat, especially in hot weather, eat smaller meals.

5. Stretch and get acclimated to the heat before class starts. You know there’ll be a “hump” so get over it before class starts.

So now I look forward to the next high-temperature class!

Low-Fat Guacamole: Trader Joe’s

GuacamoleThis is such bullshit. A low-fat guacamole marketed with the word “guilt” is both anachronistic (are we living in the 90’s when eating celery was in?) and insulting (the implication is that to enjoy something tasty is to somehow insult the heavens and society).

I’m surprised that it came from Trader Joe’s which usually is ahead of trends. Not in this case.

I think the word “guilt” is addressed to female shoppers, playing upon well-established tropes in which dietary health is reduced to shaming by using vaguely religious wording to spur a purchase decision.

It is wrong and inaccurate. Low-fat diets are actually unhealthy (assuming that the fats come from real food and not sugar). And if something does taste good, there should be no shame for anyone (male or female) to enjoy it.

So whoever approved this message is out-of-date and doing a disservice to consumers.

To erase this blasphemy, I enjoyed a 5-egg omelette with cheese and salsa. I feel glorious, like a god.

Just Relax Your Shoulders…

I was chatting with a friend about kendo, specifically about the need to swing smoothly without tension slowing one down.

You can’t relax because people tell you but instructors are always saying, “Relax your shoulders, swing smoothly. As if just saying it will make it so.

To loosen your shoulders you need to accept the fact that tension exists. Just “relaxing” doesn’t happen. To relax certain body parts in order to fulfill a function requires that the tension is soaked away. It just doesn’t magically disappear by force of will.

In terms of sports, specifically the sport of kendo, the goal is to allow for smooth movement of the arms and legs in a single phase. To do that, the “distraction” of tension needs to be removed.

LumbarIn kendo we’re told that the ‘koshi” (back muscles in the small of the back, also commonly know as the lumbar region) and the ‘tanden’ (the area below the belly button) need to be in play. Meaning that they are tensed when executing any movement.

Along with good posture and breath control (breathing out slowly but continuously), these action taken as a whole, dissipates the tension from the upper body, allowing for smoother and more efficient strikes. Less energy is required which is then better utilized for speed, stamina, and power.

Deep Survival

Who lives, who dies, and why. This is part of the title of Deep Survival, a book about why some people  survive while others die in accidents and other human tragedies.

The author, himself an adventurer, begins with the story of his father’s last mission over Germany during World War II. The lone survivor of a B-17 bomber shot down by the Germans, he survived the crash, the severe injuries, and the prisoner camp to come back home, start a family, and live a full life.

As his father’s son, he felt compelled to understand what contributed to his father’s amazing story; basically the Right Stuff that enabled his father, his comrades, and succeeding military people and civilians from then to now to be able to survive horrific events.

Using stories of ship wrecks and mountain climbing and hiking accidents, the author finds and examines the commonalities of the survivors mindsets and actions.

What makes a survivor is also what makes winner at life. The keys, according to author Laurence Gonzales, are:

1.  Humility. Accepting where you are and what got you there. Being open to the world around you.

2. Laughter. Being able to make light of situation so as to better manage it.

3. Spirituality. Seeing the intertwined beauty of the world and one’s place in it. Feeling the higher purpose that we all need to serve in order to serve ourselves.

4. Rationality. Controlling one’s emotions and using them to drive one to survival. Creating a workable plan and apply consistent actions. Being able to make, at times, the necessary cold and hard decisions required for survival.

5. Courtesy. To oneself and fellow survivors. Treating them with respect as a way to ensure that one retains a sense of self.

As a kendo practitioner, this resonated with me. The philosophy of kendo is one that emphasizes courtesy and humility as well as a cold and calculating rationality with an emphasis on a clean victory, empty of the hubris that the ancients gods of Homer’s time punished.

In practice and on the floor in competition and exams, the practitioner uses all of these characteristics to strengthen himself, to honor the judges, and to unsettle the opponent. The fight is often won before it is started because the battle plan, like the survival plan, consists of the spiritual and physical attributes and learnings that lead to success; deployed rationally but with a full commitment.

Whether in sports, business, or in daily life, one must have a plan built from one’s life experiences, philosophy, and education (from schools that include the “school of hard knocks”). Every day is an addition to the lesson plan that will one day be called upon for victory or survival.

2013 UW Taikai

Pixelated UW Taikai 2013I participated in the University of Washington’s 2013 Taikai (kendo tournament) today and it was a mostly positive experience for me, despite an injury.

The quality of the players was good and the combat was fierce, including me. Even though I did not go to the next round, I do not blame my injury. I had enough in me to get the job done but my opponent out-powered me and I did not rise to the challenge until it was too late in the round.

Nonetheless, I played a better game than I had before, being more mobile and aggressive (and I think landing a nice kote, but I won’t dwell on that).

I walked away with good information and experience for my next taikai this summer. Some of the things that I will work on:

1. A strength program now that I have gotten to the point with my exercise program where I can start adding weight routines.

2. Cardio and plenty of it. Time for either a good rowing machine or lots of stair sprints!

3. Continue to focus on good kendo but start including multiple techniques and more tai-atari.

The truth of tournaments is that they are sometimes a better test than actual rank exams. Your ego is on the line and the play is fast and aggressive with players using multiple techniques and being a lot more physical.

If you can win or just persevere while others drop out, you have something substantial to take back to your dojo to work on.

Small Steps

I injured myself in CrossFit last year (no one’s fault but my own – too much weight and too fast) and stepped away to recover. As a result, I’m still weak.

In the last several days I’ve been doing calisthenics that are essentially warm-ups for a regular CrossFit workout and it just confirms that I am not nearly as strong as I was.

My kendo practice is improving but I know that I will not cross the finish line until my overall fitness returns to my “pre-injury” levels. Overall fitness provides one the confidence and capability to do anything.

My short-term program is to focus on flexibility and basic strength. That will be the basic platform from which I can build back up.

Small steps, to start:

1. 20 minutes of yoga stretches

2. 50 squats

3. 50 push-ups

4. Sprints

5. TBD (something different, wall-balls, punching bag, etc.)

But this is only the start…

Training For A Reason

Why do you train? What do you train for?

I’ve been asking myself this question and the answer is one of the reasons that I’ve taken a break from CrossFit (well, that and an injury). My primary focus is kendo but I had been doing CrossFit, ideally to grow my strength and stamina in support of kendo. And it worked.  However, I soon found myself thinking more and more about CrossFit instead of kendo itself.

Frankly, my kendo declined and I came to a crossroads: what do I really care about? What is it that will sustain me as I use a particular path which will support all of my other endeavors?

CrossFit is a world to itself, just like kendo. It comes with its’ own internal language and metrics. It has competitions, a defined system of training, and it focuses not just on getting strong but doing it the right way.

So I chose kendo. It is a lifelong pursuit of something both very physical and yet also very intangible. I’ll still have to do other training to support my efforts and I will have to figure out what that means.

First step of a long journey is that first step…

Foot Shoes

I drank the Kool-Aid from Mark Twight of GymJones. I’ve read his book, I’m influenced by his writings (his Twitching with Twight is on my office wall and I re-read to keep me focused), and I follow him online because I think he comes from a place of honesty forged by hard work. He’s earned my support, for whatever that is worth.

Via @GymJonesfame he tweeted this very good question:

“I’m confused. If those shoes shaped like feet were “all that” why aren’t Olympians using them? I’ve not seen a single athlete in them …”

Very good question and, while I am low on the fitness know-how food-chain, I do have an opinion about the “feet shoes.”

I train in CrossFit and I use the Vibram Five-Finger shoes. My chosen sport is kendo which is an activity done barefoot so using Vibram’s makes sense. Beyond kendo, though, I find that using shoes that closely replicate the experience of feeling the ground helps my overall balance.

Non-scientifically, I feel that having shows with no support requires me to work harder, lift more, and to be more mindful (having those toes sticking out is scary!). All of those components are valuable to have when training.

Getting back to the question, though, my answer is that you will most-likely see athletes with low-thickness soles and even “non-toe” shoes that are fundamentally the same as the infamous “toe-shoes.”


I think the toe-shoes bring with them the image of a paleo, “natural-living” hippie/hipster who thinks that the shows alone will magically transport them to a state of fitness minus the excruciating work required to get there. Maybe that is why they’re not being worn in London right now.

Institute of Medicine Report: Free Pass for Me

The Institute of Medicine released a 478-page study that claims rising obesity levels are not due to personal behavior. Instead, they say that people have no choice since they are surrounded by fat and sugar; although the report does claim that government subsidies for high-fructose corn syrup should not be stopped. That last point was a brilliant piece of political and special interest judo!

I don’t have access to the entire report but the summary in the news basically lays the blame on the food and agriculture industry (despite the fact that the government provides incentives for that same food that we are told we should not be eating).

No where does it apparently say that people who are gaining weight are to blame when they see themselves in the mirror and nothing about that (and by “nothing,” I mean to say, engaging in some kind of daily activity and being conscious of the food they eat and the decisions that they make). Also, the report recommends taxation as a solution for the obesity issue (specifically, a tax on soda).

I had a piece of chocolate today (albeit dark but still it had sugar so I fell of the no-sugar wagon), thankfully my personal choice to eat had absolutely nothing to do with it…it was someone else’s fault.

Thanks for the free pass IOM!