Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Nothing But a Gi Thing…

Getting back into karate has proven to be a solid decision. The fitness benefits are obvious, but there’s something going on at a deeper level that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Get out yer hip waders — I’m about to get philosophical.

Engaging in any type of exercise brings me a form of mental release, helping me shift from my day job to more creative (and no less exhausting) endeavors. When I’m at the gym, I focus on the weights, let the primal side take the wheel, so to speak and sweat any stress away. It’s easier for me to Do Stuff once my cranial palate is cleansed. I get the same effect when I’m training in Uechi, but the focus is more on me, and I mean that in more than one way.

Mind you, this isn’t navel gazing or meditation. I step into the dojo and sweat, enough that I toss my gi right into the wash when I get home. However, that shift in focus starts in the locker room, when I change into the gi.

A little disclaimer here: not everyone in my school has a uniform. My Sensei, Dan, doesn’t always wear one because he’s training/teaching Ju-Jitsu in the room next door. I don’t think a gi is a strict requirement these days — Dan hasn’t ordered them for students ever since the State said he needed to charge his students sales tax. I would question why a student doesn’t have a gi once they reach, say, green belt, but that’s now my call to make. All I know is that a gi is important to me when I train.

Here’s what I wear. It’s acutally a Ju-Jitsu gi, but it serves well for karate (plus once I’m “caught up” I plan on training in that art as well). While it’s considered “light weight” it’s quite heavier than a karate gi because it’s meant to be grabbed and pulled. The heavier cloth and the rigid collar make it feel like armor when I put it on, but there’s another psychological factor at work.

By changing out of my day clothes and donning this outfit, I strip away what I was:

  • a technologist.
  • an analyst.
  • a diagnostician.
  • a geek.
  • tired.
  • worn out.
  • insecure.
  • lazy. (After a rough day at the office, I don’t want to do anything.)

As I get dressed I focus on who I am:

  • a student and practictioner of karate.

When step into the dojo I work at what I’m becoming.

  • stronger.
  • better conditioned.
  • focused.
  • learned.
  • patient.
  • perceptive.
  • compassionate. (Believe me, these last two can be hard for me).
  • revitalized.
  • unbreakable. (It all comes back to Sanchin.)

That simple act of changing clothes does a lot to change my mindset. The trick is, though, is to keep in mind what I’m becoming doesn’t go away once class is over. That there are no limits save for the ones I place upon myself. That, even with teh Big Four-Oh looming on the calendar, my future is not set in stone. That I can still do — and be — more with my life.

It’s a life lesson I’ve been missing for over a decade. Glad to be back in school


Road Films…

I work for FedEx. Love my job. I support systems that help sort packages all across the country. As a result my job may involve some travelling — like this past weekend. I had to take a trip to our Data Center in Colorado Springs to install some tech. While I enjoy flying, entertainment options tend to be limited. Reading works, but often as not I end up sitting next to someone who sees a book as an invitation to talk about everything except what I’m reading.

However, people will leave a person alone if they’ve got earbuds on while watching something on an iPad. With that, movies have become my choice of inflight entertainment. For this trip I picked two films: End of Watch and Dredd. Here’s a brief review of each.

End of Watch

This film stars Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal as two LA patrolmen who get in over their heads when they run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel. This could have been a very strong movie — Gyllenhaal and Pena put on a strong performance, as does the rest of the cast. The filming and action are crisp. The actors’ portrayal of police officers comes across as well-researched. One scene, where they bust the cartel agent with the blingout guns, Gyllenhaal makes a few simple gestures that convinced me that both actors and film makers did their homework. However, the film falls short for two reasons.

The first is pacing. The movie takes a long time to establish the plot, even as it tries to follow the three act formula. I think the reason for this stems from the second failing: the movie isn’t sure what it wants to be. It starts off as a homemade documentary, but the film makes too many POV hops to maintain that. It could have been an action cop movie (how else would you account for three guys getting a drop on two cops from an advantageous point while armed with AK-47s roll a complete miss with nearly a hundred rounds?), or it could have been a gritty police procedural. Instead, the film lost its sense of self while trying to tell a story. It reduces what could have been a great movie to “meh,” which is a shame, because the interaction between Pena and Gyllenhaal is fantastic.


In Mega-City One, the Judges are the sole force of order. Dredd takes the psychic rookie Judge Anderson into the field for her evaluation, but things get out of control quickly as the two run afoul of the drug lord MaMa in her hi-rise fortress.

I had a feeling this was going to be good, and I’m kicking myself for not having seen this in theaters. As adaptation of the comic goes, it’s  light years ahead of the Stallone flick. Urban does a great job of being Dredd without being a hulked up linebacker without having to take off his helmet. However it’s Judge Andersen (Olivia Thirlby) and MaMa (Lena Headey) steal the show. Both are great characters who just happen to be women. I had heard it said, and in this case it holds very true.  Andersen’s psychic abilities are well used and the film handles them without being cliche, and she is no slouch nor damsel in distress — even when she gets captured by the bad guys.  MaMa is monstrously evil, and not for evil’s own sake. She grew into a monster, knowing full well the consequences of her actions.

With the location set mostly in a massive high-rise builing, one might draw some parallels to Die-Hard. It’s not quite inaccurate, but it doesn’t do the story justice either (no pun intended). It’s a straight up guns blazing action film that knows it’s source material. It does just enough to set the scene for MegaCity One without bogging things down in exposition. I’m kicking myself for not seeing this in the theater, and I hope they make another.

Don’t know when my next business trip will be, but I’ll definitely be doing this again. Until then, there’s still Supernatural to watch.

This Day Our Daily Bread

For those two or three of you reading this that don’t follow me on Twitter, I posted this picture and the accompanying thought: “I have an entire day’s food in this lunch box.”

When it comes to losing weight, you can boil it down to simple mathematics. If you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight. If you consume more than you burn, you gain weight. Now, how one implements this basic concept depends on the individual. My Dad, for example, lost thirty pounds in a month (dropping to 160) by not having thirds at dinner and walking three to five miles a day. That was at age 60. Dad just has that kind of metabolism. The genetic dice did not roll as well for me in that regard.

So tonight, I thought I’d take a look at just what’s in my lunch box and take a guesstimate as to the calorie count.

Breakfast is 3/4 of a cup of Kashi cereal. About 160 calories with super skim milk. A cup of tea usually follows to grant me thinky powers.

Lunch will be about two cups of spicy chicken rigatoni, leftovers from lunch at Bucca di Beppo. Have to guess that with the sauce and everything it’s about 550 calories. Add an apple and Greek yogurt, and we have about 800 calories total.

Mid-afternoon snack is carrots and hummus (2 tbsp), for about 200 calories.

Second snack — for the drive to the dojo — Oatmeal raisin cookie Power Bar for 250 calories.

After karate, turkey and swiss on honey wheat bread with chipotle mustard and shredded lettuce. 360 before the condiment, so I’ll bump it up to 400 and call it a night.

The total comes to about 1800 calories. Haven’t got a clue as to how much I burn on a lazy day, let alone after two hours in the dojo.

1800 calories in one lunch box. Granted, there’s some portion control and the food is spread out thorough five smaller meals throughout the day (lunch being the big meal), but that’s all in one container. Now, a fraction of that volume is actual food going into my stomach. Can’t guess the actual volume or mass, but it does beg the question…

How much was I eating before?

One Month Stronger

It’s ironic when you think about it: during the time I was laid-off from Mellon, I joined a gym, worked with a trainer and was very well on my way to being in great shape. Then I signed on as a contractor for FedEx (August 2011) and my fitness habits went to shit. I guess you could say I was fortunate that only 15 pounds crept its way back into my waistline, but dammit that was 15 pounds I didn’t want or need.

Come December last year, I was down to one pair of pants that actually fit comfortably. I knew I had to do something about this, so I decided to make the ever obnoxious New Year’s Resolution to Get My Ass In Shape (TM). This time, I needed to have a plan. Last time I went on a Fitness Quest, I plateaued at a weight of 200 pounds on the nosey. Couldn’t get past that point without making a change to my diet that I didn’t want to make, even though I wanted to lose another 10-15 pounds.

I like to eat, but I needed to make a big change in my diet if I wanted to get down to 190. I’ve seen trainers chow down on chicken and rice with a dash of hot sauce. That works well for a quick nom, but I could see it getting tiresome fast. When it occurred to me how much I like curry…well, problem solved. I’d have a lunch consisting of a sammich, fruit & yogurt, an afternoon snack of carrots and hummus, and dinner would be a cup of rice and something curried. Believe me, curried chicken, turkey or chickpeas on rice does not get old.

Further pieces of the plan started coming together after a conversation on Twitter with writer and Lawful Badass Mike Oliveri. Mike is a martial artist, a student of Okinawan Karate. I mentioned I used to study Uechi-Ryu, leaving the school as a brown belt. Honestly, looking back on why I left, I’ve no idea why I did it. It’s been about the only regret I’ve had in life. So Mike gave some sage advice: go back and fix that regret.

And I said: why not?

So, workout routine started falling into place: Monday and Friday would be “off” days (game nights), Karate/Ju-Jitsu three nights a week, the gym for the remaining two. Since I’m in an on-call rotation, my gym workouts would focus on one set of muscle groups (like chest and back), and my week on-call would also double as my recovery time. Only thing is, how would be received back at the dojo after a twelve year absence? I didn’t leave on bad terms — I just left.

On that first night, I walked into the racquet club in Greensburg where the dojo’s been for probably 20 years or more now. The only familiar faces there were Senseis Dan and Bill. Dan took one look at me and smiled. The first thing he said to me was, “Long time no see! Welcome back!”

So much for being worried about that. My next concern was how bad was the rust gonna be? Well, in the first month, I’ve been able to recall the five kata I knew, the Yakusoku Kumite, and the Bunkai for Kanshiwa and Seisan. Granted they need a LOT of refining. The power, accuracy and conditioning isn’t there, but it’s on it’s way back. Maybe by March I’ll be picking the staff and sai katas back up again. Regardless, I had forgotten just how good it feels to train in Uechi-Ryu.

Since 1995, I’ve studied Uechi-Ryu (aka Shohei-Ryu), Northern Longfist Kung-Fu, Yong style Tai-Chi, Fencing and a little bit of Aikido. Never felt out of place in any of those schools, but Uechi-Ryu was — and still is — a great fit for me. Definitely glad to be back at it.

The results have been amazing. I’ve gone from 215 pounds to 203, body fat going down from 28% to 25% while muscle mass has gone from 36% to 38%. Now, take the percentages with a grain of salt. I’m getting those numbers from my nice nifty new bathroom scale, but if the drop in pants size is any indication, I’m doing something right.

I still have a long way to go, but I’m happier (and healthier) than I was one month ago. Now forty isn’t looming like the specter it used to be.