Monday, May 17, 2010

"Placerville Pugilism" or "Fists and Feet in the Foothills"

Financial circumstances forced me to leave Florida in 1986 and return to my father’s home in California. After several months of failing to find any satisfying work in Oakland, I took my father’s advice and took a volunteer position for the U.S. Forest Service.

As a volunteer, I got a weekly allowance for groceries and free travel and dining anytime I had to leave the El Dorado Forest for work. It also got me a free place to stay in a bunkhouse at the Institute of Forest Genetics in Placerville.

The Institute of Forest Genetics, an experiment station for the U.S. Forest Service in Placerville, CA. The bunkhouse in the upper left corner was my home for several months in 1986. It's actually one of the nicer places I've ever lived.

Since I didn’t have much money in those days, my main source of entertainment consisted of watching broadcast TV or practicing martial arts and exercising.

In addition, with a lack of a real gym or even a set of barbells, I was forced to make due with what few fitness or martial art supplies I owned at the time, including:

1. Two gis

2. Two makiwaras

3. A steel gim (Tai Chi sword)

4. A sam jie guan (Three sectioned staff)

5. A six-foot metal pipe, which I used for staff work.

In addition, I had lots and lots of outdoor room to practice on some nice maintained lawns, in the Northern California sun with fresh air in the Sierra foothills.

I also had to admit that for much of the previous few years that I’d become a gym rat, relying on weights and modern machinery like Universal and Nautilus for strength training. As much as I missed that type of training, I had to admit that such training is fairly new in the history of physical culture. I took inspiration in the pages of Black Belt about how martial artists in China, Korea and Okinawa made due with what they had while training outdoors in all kinds of weather.
I alternated between working different parts of my body, like with weight training, but used my own body weight instead of barbells and dumbbells.

It was my first foray into circuit training, working forms, weapons, repetitions of the basics, punching my makiwaras and doing lots of chinups and pushups. I did my pushups on wood stumps from the firewood piles and chinups hanging from the ladder on a cherry picker truck.

My then-roommate, Keith, was fresh out of the U.S. Marines. He offered me lots of suggestions for body weight exercises, including fingertip pushups and one-armed pushups. Though he had little martial arts training, he did join in to the exercise. We inspired and motivated each other during these times and became good friends in the process.

I got some great training in that year, as well as a great tan, coupled with sun-bleached blonde hair and beard.

And I got some great inspiration and ideas that helped me over the years with my training.

TOMORROW’S POST: “Fists of Florida” or “Going Hardcore on the Hillsborough River”.


  1. Hey Dude;

    You made James Keating's MAAJAK website:

    Good series on outdoor training

  2. Hey DR,

    Thanks. Keating posted it after I emailed him to comment on the Sunday, 5/16 MAAJAK. In my days as a newspaper reporter, I encountered the same problem he described that day.

    I'll be wrapping up that series today.