Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yay! I'm a Black Sash!

Wait a minute.  That's a picture of a brown sash, not a black sash.  I thought she said she was a black sash.

Yes, that is my "old" brown sash you see over there on the left, with all the progress stripes earned over the past year or so.

I told you in the other post that I was being given a second chance to get my black sash.  That "second chance" meant that I had to show up tonight for sparring class, get changed into my gear in 3 minutes or less, and spar whoever was there.

Apparently all the tall men take the sparring class.  I had to fight 5 tall men who punch and kick pretty hard and, frankly, seem to take all this fighting rather seriously.  If I had been able to spar at the black sash test last Friday I would have been in the group of people my height and mixed men and women.  Plus I would have been fighting people who were tired -- not fresh and springy -- which really makes a difference, I tell you.

I got changed into my sparring gear with a minute to spare.  Guess the practice session I had earlier this week served me well.  Despite my careful calculations and accounting for everything, there are always going to be some surprises.  I got changed in the dressing room where all the ladies from the previous class were in there changing and trying to talk to me.  I had to explain -- with a mouthpiece in my mouth -- while changing that I was doing this for my black sash. "Ahm dng dsh fr mah black ssh."

That didn't phase them.  They kept asking me questions.

The other thing -- ha ha -- that I didn't account for was the velcro from my shoes sticking to the rug!!!  You saw me practice outside where the velcro didn't stick.

Nevertheless, all was well.  As I said, I finished with a minute to spare.

As soon as I got out there, the instructor made everyone form a circle and he put me in the middle.

Here's what I wrote to my friend about it:
"The most I had ever sparred was 3 people in a row, but tonight I had to do 5 and it was really hard.  After I got past the 3rd one, Mr. R., my instructor, told me "This is where you have to push through."  I felt like I was sprinting up a mile long hill.  After number 4, he said, "you have to do one more."  He looked me straight in the eye.  I felt like I was dying, but I looked him straight back in the eye and said, "okay, let's go."

Later he told me that when I looked at him and said "let's go," it was what he had been looking for.  And that's what makes you pass the test."
What's funny about this is that this is the kind of intense workout level that I have avoided my whole life.  I felt really winded, like I was doing sprints, or running hills, which are two type of running activities that I don't usually engage in. This was what I was doing during cycle training when my lips turned blue.  I was literally seeing stars at the end of it.

The other funny thing about it is what I told you in another post.  Fighting was about the last thing on earth I ever thought I'd learn to do.  I am a peace-loving person who does not like violence at all.  I was kind of in shock to find out that all this Kung Fu was showing me how to fight.  I have always been the kind of person who had no interest in fighting and I am truly here by accident (if there is such a thing as accidents in this life).

Well, to make a long story short, I did it.  Err -- I mean -- I DID IT!!

And the ritual is that the brown sash is removed and we don't wear a sash until graduation -- which is tomorrow.  I am so-o-o-o happy that I'm going to be moving on to the black sash classes with everyone else and not be left behind.

And now I'm even thinking maybe I'll try running some hills or something.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If at First You Don't Succeed -- Practice!

I'm getting a second chance!  I suppose that means I should practice!  I guess that means I have to put on shoes!  (Grumble, grumble, complain, complain.)

I thought that it would be enough to practice during class each week over the past six months, but it is obvious that practicing a little at home might have been a good idea.  Since getting into sparring gear in 3 minutes is what cost me during my black sash test, it might pay off to do a little homework now.

First up:  The video below shows that I clearly can get into my gear in under 3 minutes -- with 30 seconds to spare as a matter of fact -- at least while I'm fresh.

Next Up:  Knowing My Left Foot From My Right
Because of the delay to get to my bag -- at least, by my estimation, a 20-second one -- there was no room for any errors.  One thing that happened was that when I put the first shoe on, it was on the wrong foot.  I think there has been a question in my mind whether these shoes have a right and a left or whether they are both the same.  For once and for all I should check this out.

This way?
Or this way?
Okay, after a few minutes I figure out that there definitely is a right one and a left one. (the first picture has it right).  But there definitely IS something weird about these shoes.  One of them has a different shape than the other.  It is narrower and comes more to a point (the left one, btw).  No wonder I was confused, but since I had never really studied them, and only got to know them "on the fly," it has actually been helpful to figure it out once and for all.

The next part is the elastic bands.  I thought I had figured out to come around the outside first, wrap under the instep, and then come back up and cross over the top.  But for some strange reason sometimes I found myself having gone the wrong way the first time and had to reverse it, costing precious seconds.

And here is why!!
Will you just look at that?

Well, I'll be!

Both straps are attached in the same direction.  It's not reversed.

I had been assuming they would be mirror images of each other, and that if I had to wrap around the outside on one, it would be the same with the other.

But this homework I'm doing is revealing some strange things about my equipment and my assumptions.

Here's a video to show how it all really works!

The Final Up:  The Glove
If you remember my sad story, when we were called to the floor, I had all my gear on except for the glove.  As I was walking to the floor, I tried to slip the glove on quickly, but two things prevented me.  One was that the glove was curled closed and needed to be "opened" first.  The other was that I had forgot there was a hand strap in the glove so  I went straight for the fingers and missed.

So, here is a video of me settling on a glove technique.

That's it.  That's all the homework for today.  Sorry I can't show you me doing some fancy Kung Fu spinning hook kicks or flying leaps.  It turns out that is not what being a black sash is about.  Being a black sash is about doing homework like this, and practicing things in slow motion and being less than awesome most of the time as you break things down and work things out.

Kung Fu Black Sash -- A Second Chance

I'm getting a second chance.

I was called in for a meeting with Sifu tonight.

He gave me a choice.  I could come in later this week on the one night that was available for this, take the kung fu class that night, then gear up for sparring and spar whoever is there for the sparring class that follows.

Or, I could wait for cycle training next year.

My choice.

I have already told you -- and I told my Sifu tonight -- that I already feel that I succeeded.  I feel that I succeeded with my goals and objectives and my training.  I do already feel like a black sash, because, like they say all the time, it's something you define for yourself and you possess it within you.  It's not the piece of material or the recognition or award.

So, now, after having had to process what happened at the test, I can have one more chance.  If I pass later this week, then I can be a black sash at the black sash graduation this weekend.  I can stand with my classmates who all started with me four years ago,

I can lay any doubts I have left to rest if I test later this week.

Or, I can wait a year.

I have to let him know tomorrow (which is now today because I didn't post this last night).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Everything Matters -- The Importance of Small, Functional Fitness

A couple of days have gone by and with it plenty of time to ponder the moment of fail during my Kung Fu black sash test.

There might be some who will say I'm over-analyzing with the blog post I'm about to present, but I do not think that I am.  There are some important lessons, details, and revelations in the minutia and I hope that case will be made as I present my thoughts in the words and photos that follow.

Basically I failed my black sash test because I couldn't dress myself.  This may seem like a trivial reason to "fail" after being able to handle apparently tougher physical matters, but I have come to believe that it may not be so trivial after all.

For a while now, I've been on the track of considering what basic functional everyday fitness means to our lives.  I've written about this a couple times on this blog, and most recently as I've been posting the little beginner routines I've found and have been using as warm-up routines. (See "The Joy of Warming Up")

Here I would be mastering these awesome Kung Fu forms and stances and various other Kung Fu physical feats, but little functional fails in my daily life would make me sit back and think.  For example, after kung fu class I would come home in the evening and when I got ready for bed, I would notice that I had trouble crossing my arms and lifting and pulling my t-shirt off over my head.  I was lacking in flexibility and even the simple strength to accomplish this basic task of undressing without some effort and struggle.  I would think that maybe I should rep that, or find some exercise that would develop that needed motion.

Another time I would notice a "fail" would be when trying to put on a pair of shorts.  I would have trouble balancing on one leg and lifting the other leg to insert in the leg hole of the garment.  Another fundamental physical task, needed by us all, to maintain our daily lives.  Having the strength, coordination and balance to dress and undress ourselves effortlessly should be a kind of functional fitness available and enjoyed by us all.  Simple and obvious, right?

Dressing One's Self is Important
When my son was in kindergarten, I was still assisting him getting dressed in the morning.  The "master teacher" at his school told me in a conversation that it was important for me to let him struggle with dressing himself because he would be developing strength in his fingers and arms and motor coordination skills.

And at the other end of the spectrum, sometimes the elderly lose the strength and balance and flexibility they once had that made getting dressed so easy at one time in their lives.  They often end up needing assistance getting dressed.

And the fact that getting dressed and undressed requires effort, coordination, flexibility and strength is evident when there are really important people, like Kings, who end up having a valet or butler to assist him in getting dressed.

In light of these reflections,  this weak link that manifested itself in my failure to "dress myself" in my sparring gear within the required time is not trivial, nor meaningless in a quest to live a better life by freer and more effortless movement.

I'm going to examine one of my functional weaknesses in this blog post (even though there are a number of other ones as well).  This is one of my main ones, however, and I think this has been giving me trouble when I gear up quickly for sparring.

Weak Link:  Hip Flexors
I had three main areas of concern going into my black sash test (besides stamina and endurance).

  1. Worried about stopping during the bicycle crunches during the conditioning segment
  2. Worried about losing balance when doing crane stance
  3. Worried about taking too much time to put my sparring crotch protection piece on
There is actually something all three of these tasks have in common, and another thing two of the tasks have in common.  All three of these physical tasks involve the hip flexors, and two of them involve balancing weight on one leg while using the hip flexors of the other leg.

1. Bicycle Crunches

It wasn't my abs that failed on these, they were pretty strong.  It was the hip flexors.  Doing these bicycle crunches are great for helping strengthen them through reps.  Being overweight meant that I was working with a high level of resistance.  High resistance, lower reps.  That's why the fail. These bicycle crunches came at the end of 3 rounds of conditioning exercises and it was tough.  I improved so much, but maybe not enough to last the whole amount of time.  I didn't know during the testing period whether I would get the best results from doing them every day, or three times a week.  To me, they were like weight training, and they say to do weight training 3x a week, but maybe that was the wrong approach and I would have made faster gains if I had done them every day.

  2. Crane Stance

Right here you see that in crane stance the hip flexor is raising one leg while remaining standing on the other bent leg.

Being overweight means that I need much stronger hip flexors to lift my leg.  It doesn't mean I can't do it, but it does mean that the strength to do it needs to be developed.  It took me a long time to be able to raise my leg this high.  In the first couple of years my foot was just about an inch off the ground.

That is area number one of the test where I could have had a "fail."  During our cycle training, if someone put their foot on the floor while we were doing this, we had to start at the beginning of the stance routine again.  I felt bad in the first few weeks of our training because I was one of the people who caused us to begin again a few times.  But in the later weeks of training I improved on this greatly.

3. Stepping into the sparring gear crotch piece.
There were two leg holes here.  In order to get this on it was necessary to use the hip flexors, while standing balanced on one leg and insert the foot into the hole.  The elastic bands made it tricky, especially if the foot got caught on one of them.  The openings look big enough for the feet, but they were slightly smaller, making it necessary to point the toe to get the foot through the leg hole.

I had considered  sitting down to put this and my sparring shoes on, but there are other problems with my being able to get up off the floor quickly.  I ascertained that I was losing less time doing it standing by going through the whole process of sitting on the floor and getting up from the floor (Maybe I'll do a whole post on the functional daily fitness ability of being able to spring up from the floor easily and well.)

Here we go.

This ain't gonna' be that easy!

Ugh!  Huff !  Puff!  Costing me precious seconds!  Costing me my black sash!!

First on my Kung Fu Fitness To-Do List -- Strengthen those Hip Flexors!!
Those of you who have been reading along on my blog know I was already on to these weak links in my physical conditioning.  I was already on the road to correcting the hip flexor issue because that warm-up routine I wrote about from Project Elastic Steel includes exercises for those hip flexors.

In fact, it's possible that because I was doing the Project Elastic Steel routine along with my cycle training in the last few weeks, I was improved enough to succeed on the crane stance and the bicycle crunches during my test.

The realization of these little weak links came a little late in the game while I was training.  Maybe I did too little too late for this test, but one of the great gains I made by putting myself to the test of this very tough cycle training is that I discovered things about myself and I'm smarter now and know exactly what I need to do and can do to improve.

I hope I've convinced you that this was not an unimportant or trivial aspect of the test.  I still think it's a shame that it cost me so much because I did so well in other areas.  I was, after all, capable of doing it, at least to the minimum required.  Nevertheless, it is all good to know!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Kung Fu Black Sash Test Results

Right off the bat I have to report the sad news that I did not pass my black sash test.

It wasn't because I wasn't awesome, because I did an amazing job on the test and I was stronger and better than I'd ever been.  All my training strategies kicked in the way I wanted them to and I knew all my stuff and felt amazing during the test.

So, why didn't I pass?

It was on a technicality..

It was that bleepin' sparring gear that did me in.

Here's what happened.  There was a mob of black sash people at the test because some candidates from another school came and were also part of the test.  It was crowded.  Our sparring gear was lined up in black bags ready for the moment when they told us to gear up.

As I explained in another post, we had 3 minutes to get into the gear.  I had been having a little trouble with this. I always seemed to get everything but one piece on each week when we practiced.  One week it would be the mouthpiece.  The next week it would be the helmet.  Another week it would be a glove.

But the past couple of weeks I've been making it all the way within the 3-minute time frame so I thought I was good.  And, in a way I was.

When the time came to gear up tonight, a mob of kids scrambled to their bags which were piled layers deep in front of mine.  I simply could not get through the bodies to my bag.  There was a delay.  I am sure I lost a good 20 seconds at that point.

But I still would have been good.  I put my shoe on, and thought it was on the wrong foot, so I took it off again, but found out it had not been on the wrong foot.  But I think that shoe thing cost me the valuable seconds I needed.  Losing that 20 seconds at the beginning meant that there was no leeway for any mistakes.

When they called time, I still had one glove to go.  I was holding it in my hand.  They called us in to the floor: "Everybody on one knee."  At this point, I thought I could still slip it really quickly, but then Sifu said the fatal words:

"Nobody make a move."

So, there was no way I could slip the glove on without moving, and I felt that I had to obey what he said.

Next he said,

"Anyone who is missing even one piece of equipment, leave the floor.  You cannot participate in the next part."

Very sadly I rose from the floor, walking off fully geared up except for the glove I held in my hand.  "This can't be happening," I thought.  "It's not real.  I have so much energy left even though we've been at this for hours.  I am so ready for some rounds of sparring!"

But, tragically, it was happening.  And it was happening to one other kid too, who also had been prevented from getting to his bag.  He was crying.

I stood there in my gear, looking like a forlorn Kung Fu panda, just watching everyone spar.  It took a long time.  I think I stood there over an hour.  I felt like I was in some surreal movie.  I just stood there in my sparring gear thinking "Maybe he will change his mind and call me over to spar after all."  But it never happened.

Once they got through the sparring, there was just the 5-minute horse stance to get through.  We had now been there for over 4 hours.  I stood with everyone even though I already had been told that I did not get my black sash.  But I did the horse stance anyway, and I felt really strong and springy, like I could have done a 6, 7 or 8 minute horse stance.

So, it's a really weird report I have to make.  I can't really say I failed in my training or plan because it all worked wonderfully.  I can't say that I didn't know my stuff because I did.  I can't say that I choked because of nerves, because I was amazingly calm, in control and having a really great time.  I can't say I didn't have the stamina, because I was going strong after several hours and lots of hard physical work.

The only thing I can say is that I don't have the sash.

It's feels sort of like not getting the T-shirt at the race (although that's never happened to me at a race, but this is how I imagine it would feel.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Countdown to Kung Fu Black Sash Test -- Eve of Test

It's 10:13pm and I should have been in bed 13 minutes ago.  Today's plan:  Get a good night's sleep.  But I couldn't go to sleep without checking in with you all.

I spent the day mentally preparing myself for sparring by imagining different scenarios and envisioned myself taking care of it all neatly and calmly.

That's about it.  No working out.  No running -- It was way too hot.

I am really glad I am not nervous at the moment.  I HATE that nervous feeling. It interferes with being able to feel the fun of all this. I know it will come back, but right now I'm pretending like the nervous feeling will not come back.  Even if it does, I'm enjoying every minute of being at peace right now. And every minute of not being in pain.

So, as soon as I finish typing these words to you all, I'm hitting the sack.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Countdown to Kung Fu Black Sash Test -- Day 3

Running out of pictures that have to do with Kung Fu.  Had to dig into files from 4 years ago and find a picture at one of our first belt graduations.  Looks like I just got my yellow belt here (and yes, that is an American Flag you see in the background..)

We didn't wear those white uniforms for too long before we moved to the intermediate level and bought our black pants and cool black T-shirts.

My last workout for the week before the black sash test was tonight and it was at a beginner class where they were wearing the white uniforms.  As part of the black sash training we have to "role model" at a beginner class.  The funny part about that is I am always humbled by those people learning in the white uniforms.  They always seem so much better than I am.

Because the beginner workout is lighter, it was necessary to jack up the intensity and work at a high energy level.  This is not my forte -- deliberately performing an activity at a higher intensity level when it can be done perfectly fine at a lower one -- but if I didn't use this last workout on the agenda to work hard, the black sash test on Friday was going to be harder.

Now I won't do any more working out until the test.  Maybe I'll go for a little barefoot run tomorrow morning but that's it.  I will imagine my muscles gaining just a tad little bit of strength as I sleep tonight, and then that will be it.  That will be the most I could do before the test.

I could have made this easier on myself by training a little better.  I could have made this easier on myself by losing some weight.  I could have made this easier on myself by not missing a single class these past six months.  I could have practiced and worked out more at home on my own. But, in the midst of all the business of life, I did what I could.  I've been through the "I could have ..." stage of this process and have arrived at the acceptance stage that I am what I am at this point and my performance on Friday will reflect that.

All I'll be able to bring to the test will be how much I've achieved thus far.  If it's not good enough, then I will have to wait.  If it's good enough, then I'll pass and move on to some higher training.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Countdown to Kung Fu Black Sash Test -- Day 2

Yesterday was a barefoot run -- about 2 miles.  On the agenda for today was my regular Tuesday night advanced class.

I knew I had to work the intensity for tonight's class.  In the regular class, we do less in our conditioning sets than we do in the Saturday morning cycle training, and than we'll do on the test this coming Friday, so my plan was to push it harder tonight.  Kind of like doing hill work or sprints.

During the black sash test we will have to get through the following conditioning section right off the bat, before moving on to anything else:

Set 1
60 jumping jacks
90 seconds (or is it 120?) push-ups
90 seconds regular crunches
Immediately to Set 2
60 jumping jacks
90 seconds non-stop push-ups
90 seconds side-side-middle crunches
Immediately to Set 3
60 jumping jacks
90 seconds push-ups
90 seconds bicycle crunches

It's that last bit of bicycle crunches that always gets me and that I'm very worried about.  If you stop during these sets, they will tap you on the shoulder and you're out of the test.  I almost always have to put my feet on the floor and rest after about 30 bicycle crunches.  I'm just not there yet.  But one of my instructors told me to just keep moving.  What I was able to do this past Saturday was just switch to regular crunches.  If they accept that, I'll be okay.

(Very weird thing that's happening during my bicycle crunches.  Since I NEVER wear shoes with arch support any more except for those old running shoes in kung fu class, I have been getting this really weird charlie horse cramp in the arch of my foot when I get down to do the crunches.  It just cramps all up in this tight contraction in the middle of my foot and hurts really badly and is out of my control to relax it.  It makes me look weird as I start the bicycle crunches.  It is bizarre and I think it's because of the shoes -- doing the jumping jacks in those old running shoes.)

I also have to stop in the middle of the third set of push-ups, but I can stay in plank position and just do one more, then stay in plank and do one more, etc..., so I can get by.

The test is going to be 3 hours long.  We'll be tested on everything we've learned for the past four years.  Punches, kicks, various drills, Long Fist I and Long Fist II, the defense applications of both Long Fist I and II.  And then we'll have to spar.  Some people will have to fight 3 people, some 5, some -- the second degree black sashes -- 10 people.  And at the end of all those hours -- the famous 5 minute horse stance!

Well, now back to my plan for tonight.  My plan was to do deeper and faster crunches and push-ups.  Since in the regular class we have to do half the amount of jumping jacks and half the time for the crunches and push-ups, I figure it would be like when you run faster because you are running a shorter distance.  More intensity with less time.

Then, when I have to go the "longer distance" on Friday, I will pace myself.  I will do slower push-ups crunches and not do them as deeply into the muscles.  Like when you run slower for your "long run" day.

That's the plan anyway.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Countdown to Kung Fu Black Sash Test -- Day 1

Today's plan was to run.  Run barefoot, of course.

But I got called to sing a funeral in the morning, so was planning to run when I came home from that, a little worried that the pavement would be hot.

But as I was getting ready to go sing I got the horrible aura of a migraine -- shimmery jagged lights in my vision.  My DH, who happened to be home, gave me an osteopathic adjustment to my neck, which often keeps the headache from coming.  I got through the funeral and never got the headache, but still felt pretty crummy and had to lay down for several hours.

I only get these dumb migraines about four times a year but I was upset that it spoiled my training plan for the week.

So, I had to force myself to go out and run in the evening.

I felt really out of it because of the migraine, and I really did not want to go out there.  But I kept thinking of that test on Friday -- a three hour test of endurance that I'm not even sure I'll be able to pass.  I knew that this run was important to get in to at least help maintain my aerobic conditioning.

So, I tricked myself.  I told myself that I was only going out for a walk.

It worked.

It is very tricky running out there in the evenings.  There are tons of joggers out there bouncing up and down in their springy running shoes.  There are also lots of fitness walkers with their sweatshirts tied around their waists and their water bottles swinging at their sides.  There are also lots of people walking dogs and talking on cell phones, and families with kids in all kinds of riding contraptions.

In all that, weaving in and out of the people with my little dog, not one person seemed to notice or even blink an eye about the fact that I was out there running barefoot.  In that way I enjoyed it tremendously because we were all just out there doing our thing, whatever it happened to be.  I have a friend who gets hostile comments in the urban neighborhood where he runs, so I feel very blessed to have this place here.

On the way back, I was blessed also with being able to see the most beautiful sky.  Unfortunately I didn't have my camera or phone with me to take a picture for you all, so I'll use one I took from a couple of nights ago.  Stay tuned with me all week as I go through the final workouts before my black sash test on Friday!!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My Love/Hate Affair With Kung Fu Sparring Gear


Ummm … That should read my Love/Hate Affair.

Sparring Gear 9748a

From the moment we got this sparring gear, I had an aversion to it.  In fact, I had such an aversion to it that I would often “forget” to bring my gear to class, and while everyone else was practicing sparring, I would be over with the group that forgot their gear and just practicing forms, which I liked better.

No one really looks that great in their sparring gear, but some of the younger girls can look a little cute in theirs.  I am not one to worry too much how I look.  I don’t let that concern stop me from going out and doing stuff, but I have to admit that the sparring gear was a little too much.  I thought it made me look a lot like Kung Fu Panda.

But really, the aversion to the sparring gear for me was almost as strong as my aversion to sparring.  I mean, I had joined Kung Fu because my daughter had wanted to do it and my friend and her daughter were doing it and I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise.  I looked at all those Kung Fu forms and thought, “They’re kind of pretty – like dance.  I can go for that!”

Sparring Gear 9753a

About two years into Kung Fu the realization came.  “Oh my gosh, I’m learning to fight!”  I have to tell you that it was the farthest thing from my mind when I had joined – learning to fight.

Needless to say I feared it and did not like it one bit.  Fighting seemed as far off my radar as something could possibly be.  I don’t like violence at all.  I never go to any movies that come anywhere near being violent (Kung Fu Panda being an exception, and also the Lord of the Rings Trilogy).

Well, to pass our black sash test we have to spar.  We have to spar against a number of people.  So, we have been sparring during our black sash training.

When Sifu called me in last January to invite me to black sash training, he told us that he would not invite us if he didn’t think we could do it.  He asked if I had any concerns.  I told him it was the sparring.  “What could we do to help you with that?”  I told him that if I had some technique and strategy I would feel more confident.  “Just show me what to do," I said.

All that time I had “forgot” my sparring gear, I had missed out on some training and I was behind.  I have been trying to catch up the past 6 months.

I don’t think I’ve ever participated in a physical activity that is as intense as this sparring.  My little barefoot 16-minute miles just don’t cut it compared to this level of intensity.  It is during the sparring that my lips have turned blue two times.

Sparring Gear 9752a

There are a lot of already black belts in our class that are training to get their second and third degrees.  Some of them are teenagers who are strong and fast and have been training a lot longer than I have.  It has nothing less than comical as I’ve gone up against some of them.  They just set themselves up on one leg and just start kicking and kicking me like I’m some kind of punching bag.


Until this morning.

I have been thinking a lot about strategy and about myself.  I cannot make myself a more advanced person than I am right now.  I have a repertoire of a few moves that I can use, much fewer than the fancy spin kicks and arsenal that some of those girls have.  I’m not speedy, but I do have my brain.

I decided I needed a bit more practice, so a couple of days ago, I attended the sparring class that was just after my regular Kung Fu class.  I didn’t know how I was going to do it because just getting through one 45 minute workout is enough for me.  But I did stay and I learned just a little bit more, and I built my stamina just a little bit more.

So, this morning, I was very calm and I started to do well.  Keeping a cool head helped me.  When the kicks came, I just pushed them out of the way.  I controlled my space and kept far enough away so that I couldn’t be used as a punching bag.  I planned my moves in advance and watched carefully what the other person was doing.  I didn’t swing or kick randomly or wildly, but waited patiently for the opportunity.

And I did much better.

Sparring Gear 9754a






(the dumb mouthpiece that makes us all look like goons)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Joy of Warming Up

It's been over two weeks now that I've been thoroughly warming up before I engage in any physical activity such as barefoot running or kung fu.  It has made a big difference in both my ability to perform these activities, and my enjoyment of them as well.

I posted last week that I was using a very simple, non-flashy, beginner routine that is posted by Paul Zaichik on a youtube channel, "Project Elastic Steel."  The video of his I had posted last week was the first part of  "Episode 2."

I have now progressed to Episode 4 of his little series.

There is much to say about this little series of humble videos.

First, some people who checked the video out may wonder why -- if I am already engaged in working out with somewhat advanced activities that are in kung fu and running -- why does Barefoot Fresca think that she has to do such exercises for not only beginners, but a routine recommended for people who might even have very limited mobility at this point and are looking to get back into exercise?

Well, the sad truth is, that Barefoot Fresca jumped into these more advanced activities sooner than might have been recommended had anyone known what was going on.

Sometimes when an inactive person desires to get active, she might choose an activity or sport that looks fun to her.  Not knowing that years of inactivity has most likely affected her joint mobility, flexibility, strength, overall range of motion in many areas of the body, she may not realize that more developed tasks of movement are not going to come easy and it might be unwise or even unsafe to go full out before some basic physical tasks, ones taken for granted while young, are restored to her.

This is kind of what happened to Barefoot Fresca.  As she learned this awesome kung fu stuff and went out to run, she didn't realize what time and inactivity had done to stiffen her up and rob her of the ability to participate in movement activities.

Okay, enough talking in the third person, I'm going to switch back to talking about myself directly again because it's hard to keep that up.

There are a few limitations that have been hampering my ability to progress with my chosen activities.  Here are some limitations:
  • spinal rotation (unable to perform the simple task of putting my hand on the back of the passenger seat and twisting around to look behind me while backing up while driving)
  • limited overhead reach (having trouble putting heavy frying pan away in the cabinet above the refrigerator)
  • weak knees (unable to do squats and do the back-saving and protective action of bending at the knees to pick stuff up off the floor)
  • lack of strength to get up from the floor (if someone knocked me over in a fight, it would be won because I cannot spring back up off the floor.  I'm the last one up in the kung fu class when we finish our crunches and have to stand back up)
  • deficient strength with kung fu stances that are done with most or all of the weight on one leg -- crane stance, empty stance, etc...
  • difficulty balancing on one leg
 and the list goes on and on.

What I should do, is go back to the beginning and start all over again and perform the routines on Project Elastic Steel -- or something similar -- which contain the seed form of more advanced movements.  But I'm not going to go all the way back to the beginning.  I'm going to continue to enjoy and work on the more advanced stuff I've been learning, while humbly working on these elementary routines.  After all, doing the advanced stuff has gradually strengthened me, improved my flexibility and range of motion.  I modified the advanced stuff to my abilities as I went along and these movements have served to develop me.  It's just that I feel the need to fill in the gaps. By using this routine as the warmup for my other stuff, I believe I can do that -- progressing along with the warmup as I continue to maintain the gains I have made in running and kung fu.

In addition, because I am heavier, I need to build extra strength to manage my body weight.  If I'm not ready to reduce the amount of food I'm eating and lose weight -- which I'm not, for a number of reasons -- then it would be smart develop the strength to bear the weight I do have.  One or the other (or both) is advisable if one desires to experience freedom of movement.

In this beginner routine -- which also makes an excellent warmup for non-beginners -- the task of standing on one leg will build strength in my standing leg that will later form a foundation for better kung fu kicks.

What I like about the Project Elastic Steel videos:
  1. Mr. Zaichik explains the physiology of each movement very thoroughly.  The way he works it is that he goes through the routine the long way first, with detailed explanation -- such as in episodes 1 and 3 -- and then once you know what you are doing, he gives the fast version
  2. His workouts contain all the elements of what they recommend for warmups now -- joint mobility warmup (fantastic!), cardiovascular warmup, muscle action warmup (lower and upper body), dynamic stretches, and -- lastly, when the body is completely warmed -- static stretches.
  3. All the movements in the videos are kind of a seed form that develops over a period of weeks throughout the episodes and become more challenging and more advanced.  This gradually develops a person for more advanced physical tasks.
  4. He is very organized and methodical (something I like).  I even like the way you can keep track of each Episode because he has thought to wear a different color T-shirt for each one.
  5. The videos and routines are very simple and humble, produced at a low cost, apparently -- maybe even right in his home -- and yet containing way more valuable knowledge, information and insight into human movement than a lot more flashily produced videos.
  6. The routines use one's own body weight with a minimum of equipment.
  7. The routines take up very little space (I've been doing them right in the kitchen in front of my computer)
  8. Mr. Zaichik patiently explains what one should do if one has trouble or difficulty with even this basic level of stretching or movement.  He is very reassuring in the way he lets a beginner know that it is okay not be be able to perform a movement or to perform it on a lesser level.  He makes it very clear.
  9. As I said before, I admire the humility and patience of a very advanced athlete to count through these simple movements and exercises with a beginning kind of student.  He has stated in the comment section on his channel that he has an interest in helping people who have been cut off from movement find their way into the wonderful world of physical activity again.
  10. The routines are constructed so that if they are followed faithfully, they will improve a person's physical abilities and enjoyment of body and movement.
I am not a fan of using any kind of equipment for fitness.  I am not saying that anyone who does like equipment is wrong or anything. I am merely speaking that my personal preference has always been for natural ways to improve one's physical capabilities using one's own body weight.  I think this part of my personality and preference and philosophical outlook is part of what gets so tickled about barefoot running and the way I get to ditch that piece of equipment that seemed so essential -- the modern running shoe.

However, there is one piece of equipment I've decided to invest in.  I think it's really important to add some pullup action to my routines, and these videos from Project Elastic Steel include some pullup action.  I've been doing pushups for a while now in kung fu, and I've read and heard that it is wise to train the antagonistic motion of pulling up as well.

In the videos, Mr. Zaichik mentions at the beginning that one could use two chairs and a broom stick for the pull ups.  That's what I've been doing so far.  But my chairs were so low that it was hard to get in the proper position for the pullups.

Then I saw another Paul Zaichik video where he mentioned that you would have to use books on the chair to get the broomstick to the height that is needed. So, I did that, and it was better, but the broomstick kind of bows (guess I don't have a very strong broom) and I really like the contraption he is using in the videos. It is a simple stand and it is very portable and just looks so useful for a variety of things.

I went over to the Elastic Steel web site and found that this piece of equipment is not sold there.  I also read through all the forums and found that this piece of equipment is not mentioned or discussed anywhere.

I searched all over the internet and I found this:

I showed it to my husband and he said to go ahead and get it (even though it cost a pretty penny).  However, based on the way I like to work out, I have a feeling this is a good investment.  I will let you know how I like it once it gets here.

Disclaimer:  I solely have pointed to these videos and products to discuss them from the point of view of sharing what is interesting and useful to me.  I have no connection whatsoever with the people who produce or sell any of these things and get nothing for writing about it.  These people don't even know I exist. Just sharing my personal journey -- discoveries, thoughts, and explorations -- with all of you, dear blog-reading friends..