Tag Archives: martial arts

Are you ready?

Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted. One moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip away? – Eminem

In life you have to be prepared to take advantages of opportunities when they pass by.

This past Saturday, I had an opportunity come and smack me in the face.  While training at the karate studio, the Master Instructor asked me if I was ready to test for my Second Degree Black Belt in 13 days!!!!

Thirteen days?  Are you crazy?  I trained for 8 intensive weeks to receive my black belt……and that nearly killed me!!! (You can read that story here). Thirteen days!?!?!  There is no way I can do that!!

Now up until that moment, we had not even discussed the possibility of testing. No commentary on what would be needed to be prepared, where he or the other instructors saw weaknesses in my game or even the structure of the new test.

Just a spontaneous “are you ready?” conversation.  There was only one answer I could give…..

“Absolutely!”

You see, I train with a purpose and so should you.

Now your purpose is probably not the same as mine.  Not many people are actively training in multiple martial arts and focused on being able to go 10 rounds or stop multiple assailants on a plane if needed (yes, I really do think like that).   However everyone should put a purpose behind their health goals.

It is easy to skip a workout, or multiple workouts, when you don’t have a clearly defined purpose.  It’s easy to order the chili cheese fries when you don’t have a goal staring you in the face.  It’s easy to have that extra glass of wine when there is nothing to focus on.

Without a big goal to command your focus in the long run, the decisions you make in the short run lend themselves to the easy rather than the best choice.

So what is your goal?  Is it…

scale

Weight loss:

You know this is a simple matter of calories in, calories out.  You also have to understand that it is the marathon of goals, not the sprint.  Set a weight target and a realistic date to hit it and then track your ongoing progress (there are lots of great apps and calculators out there to help you do this).  Put that number everywhere you turn so it is constantly reminding you of the real treat, seeing your number on the scale.

Blood pressure

Lowered Blood Pressure:

Talk to your Dr. About what you need to do specifically in this area but I know for my family it is keeping salt to a minimum and making sure we are exercising.  Skip the salt shaker and get your 20 minutes in everyday.  Believe me you will feel and sleep a whole lot better.  Track it regularly and celebrate small incremental decreases.

energy

More energy throughout your day:

Foods high in refined sugar and carbs lead to spikes in blood sugar and corresponding crashes.  Remind yourself before indulging in those cookies of how you will feel an hour later.  Is the short term burst worth the crash later that day.  Sometimes the answer is ‘yes’ but work to make ‘yes’ a rarer and rarer answer.

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Fitting in your clothes better:

When I started this fitness journey about 5 years ago, this was a major goal of mine.  When I am on the mat I am often wearing a rash guard/compression shirt.  They show every ripple, bulge, love handle, muscle or lack there of.  I was embarrassed enough of my body that I would wear a t-shirt over the rash guard until it was time to step on the mat.  Vanity was, and still is, a major motivator for me.

Interestingly, I fill out t-shirts and rash guards much better now but I still am in the habit of wearing a t-shirt over them for the most part, even in the gym.  I guess some habits are really ingrained.

But let’s not lose sight of the bigger issue here, you have to have a long term goal to help you make good short term decisions.

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Jim Collins in his book Good to Great defines it as a BHAG -Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

If you have a clearly defined BHAG, and you keep it front and center, when the opportunity arises for you to make a choice that either gets your closer or moves you further away, the answer will be clear for you too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a test to go train for.  Time to go spar, roll and practice katas.
See you on the road.

My top 5 runs across the country……

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I am fan of combining sightseeing with fitness through running.  I absolutely love running in cities across the country as a way to get both my workout in and see more of the city.  I recently had the opportunity to run Central Park in NYC for the first time and had several followers who commented that it was their favorite run.  That got me to thinking….

What are my top 5 runs across the country?

To me, a run has to have a few key elements in order to make the top 5.  After all, you can run anywhere but there are only certain places where I am going out of my way to make sure I get a run in.  So what makes a top 5 run for me?

The distance:  This is actually a tricky one as I want a route that can be flexible enough to accommodate routes between 3-6 miles.  If I don’t have much time, I need to keep it short and sweet but in order to be top 5, it still has to have the other elements below.

The sights:  Looking at the same thing for 30-60 minutes is incredibly boring to me.  I have a special kind of envy for those who can do long runs on a treadmill but I am unfortunately not among them.  I love running but I need to have something to keep my mind going through the run.  All of the runs below differ in the scenery but all of them have incredible scenery.

The challenge:  On my ideal run, we don’t just run.  Each of the runs below also include the opportunity to include an additional physical challenge unique to that run.

Soldier Field

#5 Lake Front – Chicago:

‘Da Bears!!  Running by Soldier Field, the Convention Center and Navy Pier?  Sign me up!!!  However with that said, I will only do this one between May and October.  Outside of those dates, forget it.  Otherwise Minneapolis probably would have made the list.

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#4 Fort Lauderdale Beach, FL:

I probably do this run more than any other next to #1 below.  Every time I am in South Florida with extra time on my hands, you can find me here.  With courses of various lengths and a fitness challenge park near the south side of Fort Lauderdale beach, this really does have it all.  Add to it the ocean and great dining al fresco once you are done with your run and you can understand why I will shower in the Admirals Club just to be able to get one of these runs in.

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#3 San Diego Convention Center:

Great views, challenging course and great weather year round, you really cannot go wrong here.  I like to run the waterfront first, especially by the USS Midway where World War II ended and finish with the stairs at the convention center itself.  I have never run this course alone as there are always folks getting their workout in at the Convention Center.  The constant hum of helicopters ferrying around training Navy SEALs is only added inspiration for normal folk like me.

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#2 Las Vegas Strip:

The strip has morphed over the last decade or so to allow for all of the pedestrian traffic to never have to stop for a stoplight.  All you have to do is go hit the escalator and take the sky bridge.  What this means for runners is that you can do between 3 – 10 miles on the strip easily without ever having to wait for a stoplight to change and you get the challenge of constantly running stairs.  However you have to do this one early in the morning and not just to avoid the heat and crowds.  No, the people watching provided by the strip in the early morning hours cannot be matched anywhere else.  Where else in the world can you see folks who are stumbling home from a night out, workers heading home from all kinds of professions and the families heading out with their kids to show them the sights?  There is no better people watching in the world.

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#1 The Capital Mall – Washington DC:

Hands down my number 1 run in the country.  If I want a short run, it is from Lincoln to Washington and back.  More time?  Start at Arlington, head across the Memorial Bridge and hit the Capital Cross.  Want something more physically challenging?  Run the mall and Potomac Stairs with interval exercises in between.  Best part of this run is you cannot go more than 4 steps without seeing history, literally (and dodging tourists is always entertaining).  I have run this path in all kinds of weather and conditions (I think the Korean War Memorial is best seen in the snow) but if you can time your trip to coordinate with the Cherry Blossoms, it is absolutely stunning.

So there it is, my top 5.  Now there were a whole bunch of others that came close (Huntington Beach, The Parthenon in Nashville, Seattle Center, Palm Beach and Central Park amongst others) but they all were missing at least one of the elements above.  So let me hear from you RoadWarrior Nation…what are your top runs across the US?

My favorite travel things….

Anyone who travels at all knows that life is just easier when you can carry everything with you on the plane and skip the fun of the baggage carrousel.  There is no place I would rather be less than standing around watching the metal conveyor belt revolve around a carpeted island of futility and wasted time.  I avoid it at all costs.  It does not matter whether I am traveling for the day or for the week, you can bet I will be getting it all to fit in the overhead bin so I pay special attention to what I pack in my bag.  Suitcase space is premium real estate and has to be utilized well.

So what are the things that make the grade for me?

Here is my list of what holds special place in my carry on and why.  These are just a few of my favorite things (cue the edelweiss background music):

shoes
Vibram Five Finger Shoes:

This was probably the first product that I purchased specifically because of the way they travel and the one that I get the most comments on.  Vibrams to put it simply, are awesome and yes, I do run in them regularly.  Now I am not in the camp that is all about minimalist footwear or the camp that wears Five Finger shoes because they will help strengthen the smaller muscles in your feet.  For me, these are all about how much space they take up in a suitcase.  When you wear a size 11 shoe like I do, your tennis shoes take up a lot of space, even if you do stuff them with socks and underwear.  These take up less space than my flip flops and I really do love working out in them now.  I started on the space argument but now don’t think I would ever switch back to traditional shoes.  To shop for your own, click here.

jump rope

Jump Rope:

This is one that travels with me about 50% of the time based on the hotel gym I may be encountering.   All you need is about 10 sq ft of space with an 8 ft ceiling and you can get a great HIIT cardio workout in.  One thing to note, if you carry a weighted speed rope like I do, be prepared to be stopped by TSA about 50% of the time.  They are not used to seeing them and often confuse them with a club of some type.  I have never been stopped when I have carried my true rope with wooden handles though.

shaker bottle
Water bottle:

Seems simple enough but I did a whole blog post on just this about a year ago.  I know carry a ‘Premium’ bottle with me so that I can have both the benefit of tracking the water I intake as well as being able to utilize the shaker function.

TRX
TRX:

I LOVE MY TRX!!!  However it usually only travels with me when I know the hotel gym that I will be experiencing is beyond lackluster.  This one really does take up a lot of space but is totally worth it.  I use it routinely at home and on the road and you can get a GREAT workout with this single apparatus.  With the door mount, you don’t even have to leave the hotel room.  Best travel fitness investment I have ever made.

Snack bag:

You can read all about the contents here but I always travel with a snack bag, even day trips.  If I am going to invest my time and energy into making sure I get a good workout in, I am going to do everything I can to not sabotage it by making poor dietary choices if I can avoid them.   I always also include Shakeology in my bag as I want complete nutrition.

mouthpiece
Mouthpiece:

So this one is pretty specific to the martial artist but it does bring up a good point.  I love to train in martial arts, especially rolling BJJ.  One piece of equipment that is critical to preventing injury is wearing a mouthpiece so I travel with one everywhere I go.  A mouthpiece is custom fit to your mouth so it is not like you just go borrow one or pick one up at Walmart.  By having my mouthpiece, I can go roll at any school that will have me with little to no notice.  It lets me pursue one of my passions.  For you it may be a raquette or a club but bring along what you are passionate about so that if the opportunity arises (or you create it), you are not left with the excuse “It is too bad I did not have my……”

So there you have it, the list of my favorite things that may or may not be in your suitcase today.  What makes your cut?  What are the things you simply can’t travel without?

For full disclosure, I am not receiving any type of incentive from the companies that make or distribute these products, with the exception of Shakeology as I am a Beachbody Coach.

Starting over….but not from the same spot.

These last couple of months have been really rough travel months for me.  I have spent more days on the road than I can count, been to all four corners of the country and in looking towards the end of the month, there is no letup in sight.  I’m not going to lie; it has been difficult to keep my physical, emotional and especially my mental health in a good place through this season.

I find when I go on streaks like this, it is my mental health that seems to suffer the most, especially due to the central role my martial arts training contributes to keeping me centered.  You see when you are on a mat with someone who is either trying to kick you in the head or stop you from breathing, you tend hyper focus on the moment and not worry about anything else.  I no longer think about that project that is due, the deal I am trying to get closed or even the next blog post.  I am completely in the moment.  It really is cathartic for me.

The problem is, you have to be on the mat to really train and you can’t be on the mat if you are constantly on the road!!

I remember when I first started training in American Karate I started with a clear goal in mind, I wanted to earn my black belt before I turned 40.  I knew the minimum time requirement spent at each belt level per the curriculum and knew that as long as I did not miss training sessions and always passed my belt tests, I could do it but just barely.  Fast forward 5 years and I received my black belt 3 months before my 40th birthday in dramatic fashion (read about that experience here).  If I had had a section of travel like the season has been, it would have been devastating to me and put me way off on my goals, my training and my attitude.  Training was about rank advancement not necessarily personal improvement at that point.

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A forced break like this would have destroyed me.

In addition to training in karate, I also recently started training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  This forced break has made me realize that I have taken a completely different approach to training and my mindset.  The different approach was not an intentional one but one that is a probably healthier.  Maybe it is because I have lower expectations due to my schedule or maybe it is because I have matured as a martial artist but I have no expectations around rank advancement in BJJ.   No goals around when I will advance, tournaments to win or techniques to master.  I just roll and learn…..and get lost in my own head.

I am a no-stripe white belt and I am OK with that.

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During my forced hiatus, I have continued to see my training partners and friends tweet, post, Instagram and Periscope their ongoing training sessions.  I can literally see them progress past my skill level, and I am ok with that.  This new journey has become much more than a color on a belt for me and their journey is not mine.  I have also found that there is so much I can do off the mat to be ready to be on the mat and in seasons like this, it is where my training has focused.

So why share all of this?  Because as RoadWarriors, it is easy to lose track of getting centered.  We are trying to be productive, to utilize our time to the greatest of our ability and to simply survive the gauntlet that is living life on the road but even with all of that, you have to make time for the activities that center you.  So what do you do to keep yourself centered and how do you make it a part of your daily routine?  For me it is train, pray and read.  I am not sure what it is for you but you have to make sure you do it.

Let me know and I will see you on the road.

How being fit nearly killed me – but ultimately saved my life

I know it is hard to imagine but I literally almost died because of my fitness – not because I was morbidly obese or a couch potato but because I was too fit for one part of my body’s own good.  It’s true and 3 years ago my body showed me exactly how much I could take before it gave out, literally.

To tell the story adequately, we need to jump in the time machine and head all the way back to 2009.  I was an overweight dad who had decided to take up karate with my kids.  Now if you know me at all, I am not big on doing things half way.  I am either going to do it or not.  There is very little room for ‘in between’ in my psyche.  I was going to earn my Black Belt in American Karate, period.  I am sure if I am being honest my desire was in no small way spurred on by the fact that my eldest son was in training for his Junior Black Belt at the time and there was no way I was letting him earn it without me being on his heels.

After one particularly ‘hard’ session back when I was an intermediate belt, I found myself completely drained and every joint from my lower back down was in pain.  It was then that I took a long hard look in the mirror – they are everywhere in our Dojo – and realized that I had become only a reflection of the physical man I used to be.  To top it off, I was watching my son train harder than he ever had as he prepared for his black belt test and was quickly coming to realize, there was no way I was going to make it through a Black Belt test if I stayed in the shape I was….and that shape was soft and round.  I knew I had to make some major changes if I was going to ‘survive’ my black belt test and I was determined to do so.    Cue the Rocky Theme music now!!

I set myself on a path to not let my traveling lifestyle be an excuse for being out of shape.  I started watching what I ate for the first time ever (God I miss Fish & Chips).  I became disciplined about working out.  I incorporated weightlifting, running, HIIT cardio and kickboxing all back into my routine.  Eventually the weight started to come off and I started to feel good again.  When all was said and done, I dropped about 30 lbs.  Three years later I felt good, I felt strong, I felt ready.

I felt like I was ready for the next big hurdle, my black belt test.

In order for you to get a feel for what I was facing, let me describe to you the way a Black Belt test works.  It is a two day affair where Day One is the ‘easy’ day physically.  You are required to do all of your Katas (think choreographed shadow boxing fights) at least 3 times, including at least one Black Belt level kata.  Along with that you have to break 5 boards in under 2 minutes using a variety of techniques and finish it all off with a verbal presentation on why you are deserving of the rank of Black Belt.  No problem.  Easy peasy – we got this day.

Day two is ‘slightly more intense’ to put it mildly.  It was by far the hardest day of my life physically.  It starts with self-defense techniques of your own design.  Now these are not demonstrations, they are self-defenses.  It is the closest you will ever come to being attacked without actually being attacked.  You job is to prove the techniques work in most dire of circumstances….and it is your attackers job to simulate the most dire of circumstances.  Once those are done, you do them again….over and over and over again.  Follow that up by a ‘quick round’ of grappling (mine lasted nearly 5 minutes) and then we get to the actual sparring portion of the test, fifteen 2-minute rounds with a black belt or black belt candidate with 30-seconds of rest between rounds.  Oh yeah, and if your round is not considered to be at a Black Belt level, you get another until you have amassed 15 Black Belt level rounds.  But wait!!  There’s more!!  Not only are you sparring a fresh opponent every round, but at the end you get to do multiples (meaning you are sparring more than one opponent at the same time)!!

Now do you know why they don’t let Beginner and Intermediate Belt ranks watch Black Belt tests!?!?

So on a hot July night in 2012 I bowed on the mat for the second half of my test and everyone was in a jovial mood.  I think we all thought it was more of a formality than a physical test at this point.  If you have done the work to that point, you have already earned the belt, you just needed to show it and I was prepared to do so.  Up first were the self-defenses.  I picked my attacker (where this sadistic tradition came from I do not know) and of course picked the biggest guy in the room.  Go big or go home.  Bring on the 6’ 4” – 230 lbs-er!!

The first attack was a Rear Bear Grab from behind (think big hug from behind that traps your arms by your sides).  My body moved just like it should, muscle memory kicking in and taking over for the brain, I escaped and countered in a flash.  I helped my attacker back up from the ground, fixed my Gi and then I felt it.  Something was not right and I knew it immediately.

My heart was racing and I could not bring it back down.

“That was normal right?”  After all, adrenaline had just flushed through my system as a 6’ 4” – 230 lbs man had just attacked me from behind and was continuing to do so from all kinds of angles with all kinds of weapons.  “It’s normal to have your heart racing.  It’s what your body needs.  Blood to activate muscles.  This is normal.”  – the mantra kept running through my head.

After about 20 minutes of continuous attacks, it was time for grappling.  Evidently since this is one of my passions, they decided to add it to my test….all I had to do was to get out of one person’s guard and submit him.  However the ‘one person’ was the one person in the dojo that was the most superior grappler.  Easy enough.  The key to grappling is to relax and slow things down so when you need to explode, you can.  For the entire 5 minute session, I was trying to concentrate on bringing my heart rate down and just couldn’t do it.

“It’s just the adrenaline.  It has to be.”

I finally submit “Thor” – (seriously, when The Avengers came out he did an appearance at the Dallas premier as the Norse God) and get a reprieve long enough to gear up for sparring.  Now I don’t tell anyone but I know I am off my game and even used the restroom as an excuse to buy an extra 3-minutes to get it back together.   Below is a picture of me and my “corner man” in the break.  Nothing is wrong is it?  Heck, I am even smiling knowing what is about to come.

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“Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!”

It is finally the time we have all been waiting for, the sparring section of the test, the part where everyone fades and struggles.  The part I was determined to shine through and not fall off like so many have before me.  I think my wife described it best.  I started off sparring at about a 7 out of 10 for me.  I did not have a lot of the flash I normally did but I was effective.  By round 7 I had degraded to a 5 out of 10.  By round 10 I was about a 3 out of 10 and by round 15 I was “drunk boxing”.  In fact, in my last round my sparring partner (same guy who was attacking me earlier ironically) did not punch or kick me once and I still fell down 3 times.  I was literally dying at that point and did not know it.

After that round, things got real bad, real fast.

This is where my body started to give out.  I had been training hard for this so it was used to being abused so it took a long time to break.  I would routinely push my heart rate to the 180 – 200 BPM range in order to train anaerobically.  It was ready for a lot but it was not ready for what I had just done.  After my sixteenth round, I passed out on the mat.  Immediately the group knew something was wrong and 911 was called.  I was taken to the local hospital where for a short time I came to and was responsive but not quite entirely there.  The cognitive tests they were conducting were not going like they would hope and then it happened.

 I crashed, literally.

My body literally shut down in just about every way you could imagine. To top it off, my eldest son was there witnessing the whole thing.  I was in trouble and thank God the medical professionals who were present brought me back.

If you want to find an upside, at least my wife and I got to experience what it is like to fly in LifeFlite Helicopter.  She will have to tell you about that experience because I do not remember it (I do have the picture to remind me though – so there’s that).

When we got to hospital #2, they immediately were concerned about aneurisms and/or stroke.  After all, I had just been repeatedly kicked in the head by some top level black belts and was slurring all of my words before I lost consciousness.  Because of that, they decided to keep me in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator until they could learn more.  I spent 36 hours that way and my corner man snapped the picture below to document the process.

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I was dying and because there was not an obvious cause (like obesity, heart disease, etc.), the doctors were struggling to come up with a diagnosis.  After nearly 2-days of doctors, neurologists, internists and other specialists, they had determined only that I did not have an aneurism.  Fortunately, that was enough to bring me out of the coma and pull the tube (Dear God that sucked).  This is also when friends stopped planning on how to support Joy once I was gone.  I only wish I was kidding about that last statement.

At this point, the medical focus turned from my brain to my heart.  I was blessed to have an amazing medical team including the head of cardiology at Baylor Medical Center on my team.  Eventually they identified the issue as Atrial Flutter.  Now granted, it took 3 days and at least 5 doctors to get to this diagnosis but at least we got there.  It all stemmed back to the first attack in my self-defenses and the elevated heart rate.  My heart stopped beating like it should and never actually allowed for the lungs to oxygenate my blood.  I basically suffocated myself through excursion.  Think about that for a second….because I was fit, my body could handle the lack of oxygen in the short term but not for the 90 minutes plus I put it through.  And because I was fit, my medical team had a hard time identifying why I was there to begin with.  Because I was fit, I nearly died and the medical profession had no clue why.  It is easy to diagnose someone who is obviously morbidly obese – someone who is physically capable, not so much.

Fortunately for me, they were able to surgically repair the defect and I no longer have any restrictions on training.  However the fact that my fitness got in the way of a diagnosis has never left me.  I cannot tell you how many times Doctors and Nurses commented on the fact that they do not get many “healthy” people in the ICU unless it is a function of acute trauma.  The fact that I could take punishment and push my body to the brink got me through that mess but the fact that it also confused the heck out of my medical staff was incredibly frustrating.

More relevantly, I travel for a living and train for fun.  I was routinely getting my heart rate up above 200 bpm in hotel gyms, conference rooms, lobbies and anywhere else I could manage a training session while I traveled.  Being fit meant I could make it through short term sessions (truth being told, I had felt the experience of an elevated heart rate before and had stopped my workouts before any serious damage was done.  Not very often but it had happened).  God blessed me by keeping me safe in those remote training sessions and putting the right people around me when I did crash out.

My fitness allowed me to push through the pain.  Push through the shortness of breath.  Push through the brink of death.  I am quite sure it ultimately saved my life.