Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One Shoe, Two Shoe, Old Shoe, New Shoe

The Changing of the Shoes - A Solemn Event in my Personal Training
(Note the nicks from a kwan dao on the left shoe, above)

This week’s workouts were a first for me - my first workouts in new wrestling shoes in more than five years.

The other pair has lasted me a good long time. I use wrestling shoes because they are sturdy, lightweight and flexible. When practicing kung fu or taiji, I think it is important to be able to feel the ground beneath your feet.

What’s more, I have better luck with wrestling shoes staying on my feet. The slippers that are considered part of most traditional kung fu uniforms are certainly comfortable. But, in my experience, finding a pair that fits is tricky. Too often, I’ve had them come flying off whenever I throw a kick or when practicing on a wet surface, like grass.

Other athletic shoes are just too heavy. Certainly those cross-training shoes are the worst for practice.

I hate getting rid of old shoes. The old ones are comfortable. They bend in all the right places. The rubber treads are worn off in all the right places, making it is for me to pivot, while the rubber itself still gives me enough traction that I don’t fall and kill myself.

I put off changing my shoes for about a year. The others started to fall apart when I came too close to my own foot while practicing with my kwan dao. I cut through some of the material in one of the shoes.

Once something like that happens, it’s only a matter of time before more holes and tears appear.

Changing my shoes forces me to take an inventory of my training equipment. I start to look at what needs to be cleaned, what needs repairs or maintenance. Especially now, given my economic situation, I don’t have any extra money for replacing broken gear.

I lucked out with my shoes. I bought two pairs during a buy one/get one sale at a sporting goods store. The new pair I put on isn’t exactly new. They’re five years old, but they’ve been sitting in a shoe box in my closet.

Practicing with my sam jei guan (three-sectioned staff). Note the new colors, black and red.

In addition to the shoes, I took a look at my old three-sectioned staff. It’s the same one I bought 25 years ago. It’s still holding up, but it did need to be painted.

Rather than simply break out with the spray paint and masking tape and have at it, I decided to try something different. I’ve been practicing the Yau Kung Mun version of the three sectional instead of just free-styling it, or trying and failing to recall the form I previously learned.

One of the risks of the three-sectioned staff is that at least one section will always be out of your direct control. I noticed that sometimes when I thought I was holding an end section, I was holding the middle, and vice versa.

So I decided to try different colors. The middle section is red with black trim, while the end sections are both black with red trim. Like my competition uniform.

Besides looking cool, I find it gives me a quick, visual clue as to what section is in my hand at a given moment. This comes in handy, especially during the opening move when the pieces of the staff go from being held together to spread apart.

Which brings me to my recent workouts. I’ve been working the three sectioned staff and the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Crashes from Forest) in my recent workouts.

Today, I managed to get a lot done in just a little more than an hour. Starting with a full-body stretch, I did an eight-rough circuit with the Mung Fu Chuit Lum form, the ab wheel and three to eight reps of claw pushups.

I did the pushups in a pyramid fashion, starting with all five fingers in the first set, and removing a finger with each set until I was down to just doing them on my thumb. For the last few sets, I only did about three reps, but I’m proud to say that I can finally do them with a fully-extended pushup position, not from my knees.

After the set on my thumbs, I started adding fingers with each set. I closed with a set of 15 pushups with all the fingers on each hand.

With the circuit completed, I warmed up with five rollouts on each side and five runs of the first half of the three sectioned staff. It’s a simple form. When you remove the repeating moves, there’s probably only about a dozen moves in that whole set.

But it will take a lot out of you. Especially with the rollouts.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday's Workout - Tougher than Expected

I was still recovering from Monday and Tuesday's workouts. My back, my legs and forearms were killing me.

What's more, Vitaly had a half-day at school. I'd already promised him that I would take him and his new bike to Lowry Park. We pedaled the two mile distance between our house and the park. Under normal circumstances, two miles isn't a long or hard ride.

But I was supervising my son, which takes a surprising lot out of me. I warned him several times that he had to follow all of my instructions, that he was not to cross any street until I got there with him. He did follow my instructions, but I had to keep him on a short (figurative) leash to reign in his daredevil side.

In addition to the mental stress, the fall temperatures we've been having gave way to some 90-something degree weather.

We stopped at two of the park's playgrounds. While he rode around on his bike or climbed on monkey bars, I did about five runs each of the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Crashes from Forest) set. Like most of the other Yau Kung Mun sets, it's short and fast. I've also been placing some emphasis on the fu jow (tiger claw) strikes in that set, visualizing the arm grabs and throat chokes.

I closed with a quick stretching routine which emphasized hips, core and legs. On the plus side, my right knee feels better than it has in weeks. I'm a lot less stiff and sore there today as I have been for much of the summer.

Tonight, I'll probably take some time off of the MFCL set to work exclusively on some Baguazhang with Bret.

On that note, I want to inform my Tampa-area readers that Bret is teaching Gao Family Bagua to the general public. For more information, email me at hand2handckbc@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday's Workout - Pushing Through

The view from the docks at Rivercrest Park, another peaceful place along the Hillsborough River. At the right time, I get to watch manatees drift along while resting between sets.

I went to Rivercrest Park, another City of Tampa Park along the Hillsborough River. It's a bit more out-of-the-way than Lowry Park, but I wanted to include some back exercises in my circuit.

Unfortunately, they dismantled the chin-up bars along that park's Parcourse. I had to content myself with doing the best I could with the monkey bars. I still got in a decent circuit of the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Charges from Forest) set, pullups and leg raises, even though the monkey bars were designed for children.

I completed the circuit in right at 10 minutes. For the rest of the hour, I worked on various basics including: two versions of Jik Bo, a training exercise from both Yau Kung Mun (Soft Power) and Bak Mei (White Eyebrow) styles of Kung Fu.

An example of Jik Bo. Not pretty. Not a lot of moves. But a very practical exercise that's good for developing a powerful jab/low cross combination.

I also worked on some of the new Baguazhang basics I learned from Bret last week before wrapping up with some basics and some sections of the Sam Jie Guan (Three-sectioned staff). Even though I didn't do the entire sent, which includes two roll-outs, I still managed to put myself through a little training hell and really wear out my forearms.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Good Monday Workout! It's Great to get Outside Again!

I took my Monday workout to Lowry Park. There's a fairly secluded spot with some nice thick grass and soft ground next to a creek that feeds into the Hillsborough River that is probably my favorite place in the park.

Located only a mile from my house, in the middle of Tampa, it is still possible to see some typical Florida wildlife, including turtles, alligators (see above) and even manatees.

Not many people are likely to come walking through. It helps me to avoid hecklers, or worse, those half-wits who think their idle curiosity gives them the right to interrupt my workout. Anyone who trains outdoors in a public place knows who I'm talking about.

"Hey, is that some kind of kerrotty?"

"Do you give kerrotty lessons?"

The only sounds were the loud "bloops" coming from a troop of siamang apes at Lowry Park Zoo across the street. I took it as cheers of encouragement even if they weren't able to see me practice.

One of my most vocal fans

The soft grass and smooth ground makes it the perfect place to practice the Yau Kung Mun Sam Jie Guan (Three Sectioned Staff) set. I'll write more about that later.

An example of the Sam Jie Guan or Three-sectioned staff

After staking out my spot, I did a full-body stretch. Surprisingly, I haven't lost much, but my glutes, my adductors and my hamstrings are killing me today. I followed that up with a simple circuit that will be the core of my workouts for this month.

This circuit consisted of five runs each of the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Tiger Charges from the Forest) set and the Sam Jie Guan. The soft ground makes it easier to do those set since the MFCL has several of the Yau Kung Mun knee drops.

But the reall killer was the roll-outs done while striking with the Sam Jie Guan. I've put on about 30 pounds since I last did any serious training in Judo, JuJitsu or Aikido. You'll really feel that weight when you hit the ground, no matter how soft it is.

Between each run of the Sam Jie Guan and the MFCL, I did a set of six to 10 claw pushups and 15 crunches. To keep things interesting, I did my last three sets of pushups with my feet elevated on a park bench.

Like the stretching, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I haven't lost much from lack of practice. In fact, my strength has increased and the pushups were much easier than the last time I did them.

I guess I did get something from that body building at Gold's Gym.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm Back! And I Have Some Stories to Tell!

Hello everybody!

I'm back. Yeah, it's been a while. I've got a lot of catc
hing up to do, so let's get this started.

After a summer of health issues, between my stomach, a cold and a stubborn case of strep throat, I knew I had to get back into shape. Taking my mother's advice and her generosity, I let her pay for a trial membership for me at the local Gold's Gym.

I needed to restore myself to some semblance of decent condition. I also hate being at the mercy of the weather. I love working out outdoors. In fact, I generally prefer it. But as Jimmy Buffett once said, "You can't reason with hurricane season."

Sometimes, the weather just won't cooperate. Thunder, lightning and rain drive me into the small section of my carport where I keep my wooden dummy. It really limits my workouts. There's very few forms or weapons I can practice in that small space.

So after shopping around and getting jerked around by the local health clubs, I settled on Golds.
I'll give them a lot of credit. They certainly were conve
nient and well-equipped. I enjoyed doing maki komis using the weight stacks on a Universal-type machine. Even more, I enjoyed watching some other gym rats attempt the same exercise and get slammed against the machine because they have a poor root.

But beyond indulging my sadistic sense of humor, after three weeks, I got bored with it. Pure bodybuilding in and of itself has gotten boring. Don't get me wrong. I like weight lifting and I think it should be a part of any athlete's workout. But just going up and down with a barbell or weight stack without some direct martial applications doesn't do it for me anymore.

I opted not to join full-time. I'll probably go with the YMCA since they have some good activities for the wife and kid.

I did have a good introductory Baguazhang practice with Bret Bumgarner. He's starting to teach his art openly and I'm helping him with some of the administrative work and marketing.

The workout was tough. Bagua is a lot more than walking around in a circle. Bret's style, which is Gao family style, is very combat-oriented. It also has a strong Xinyi flavor to it through its use of the San-Ti (Trinity) posture.

By the next morning, my legs were killing me, but my back was looser than it has been in weeks.

After recovering on Friday, I had a good session with Don. He helped me get back up to speed on the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Tiger Charges from the Forest) set. We also did some chi sao, t'ui shou and t'ui kirk practice. Don's approach to sensitivity exercises is very unconventional to say the least. He likes to mix it up with moves not normally associated with such practices. In a previous chi sao session, he bit me in the arm.

I think such a move would get you disqualified from competition. But then, during his career in the Navy, I think Don was a lot less worried about being called out by a referree than he was with avoiding a stint in a POW camp.

Those sessions with Don and Bret did snap me out of my funk. With hurricane season drawing to a close and dryer weather on the way, I can look forward to some nice sessions along the river.

One other thing - Check out the November 2009 issue of Black Belt: The World's Leading Magazine of Self Defense for my article on "Five Urban Legends that Refuse to Die" in the martial arts. It includes my all-time favorite, the notion that a black belt holder must register his hands as deadly weapons.

Available at your local newstand, Bounders, Buns & Noodles, Crooks-a-Zillion or other megalithic chain bookstore.

P.S. In the past, I have used this blog to comment on a number of things only tangentially related to martial arts, fitness or self defense. In the future, I'll be putting such things on my other blog, Sean C. Ledig - Writer / Editor / Photojournalist.

While there will be some crossover between the two blogs, I'll be using this one to discuss martial arts, fitness and related topics. The other blog will be a chance to keep my friends, family and fans informed of my latest projects, as well as my musings on politics, pop culture and philosophy.

When you get a chance, check it out.