The Hardest Test

blerch_cosplayAbout a year ago I earned my first degree black belt in Shaolin Kempo.  It was a really fun journey, and this was a major milestone!  Unfortunately, I somehow got it into my head that the journey was over and I no longer had to worry about staying fit and healthy.  As a result, you could say that I put on a few pounds.  Like, a LOT of pounds.  I also haven’t been back in the dojo in months.  This isn’t good.

In a recent article on his website, Master Santillo wrote about the necessity of viewing your blackbelt test as a daily occurrence.  This resonated with me, as I know I have not been worthy of the belt for quite some time.  In fact, I’ve been in a funk for the better part of a year and the view sucks from here.  So, I’ve made a decision to get back on the horse and suffer my way back to good health!  This should be interesting.

I love a challenge!

Yin Shou Gun - Shaolin Staff

Yin Shou Gun – Shaolin Staff

I found a form where even the most basic of it’s movements blows my mind. To me, that’s the best thing in the world! Now I get to obsess over this form for the next 4 months (at least), just to even get close to doing it right. That’s just plain awesome!

If you find yourself getting frustrated while learning a form or technique, step back and consider yourself lucky! Think about how much better you will be once you reach the point where it starts looking right! Mastery of forms and techniques is a lifelong goal, not something to be attained in a week or so.

We value the things that we must work hard to attain!

What Good are Forms?

Grandmaster DeMasco's Sai FormPart of the process of studying a martial art is the learning of forms.  I think the value of a form is commonly underestimated by newer students.  The new student may think to themselves, “I’m here to learn about fighting! Why do I need to do these silly movements?”  Or another may be, “What good will Kata 1 do me in a fight?”  What the new student may not understand is that the study of martial arts is not just about fighting – it’s about so much more!  Without getting too deep into that greater subject, I’m going to attempt to explain why I love forms, and why they are so useful.

Contrary to the belief of the new student above, a form is more than just a collection of movements. Every form is a lesson in itself.  They can be used to teach us to use our bodies in new and unfamiliar ways.  Like our kempos, each form that we learn should introduce and emphasize new concepts.  Sometimes these are new strikes, other times these are blocks, stances or more general principals.  The form also demonstrates how these movements could work together to achieve a goal (like defeating your opponent).  At first these movements may seem alien, but after much practice they become second nature.  This is important because in a fight when the adrenaline is pumping, one of the first things we lose is fine motor control.  It’s the muscle memory of the martial artist that gives him the edge – the ability to recognize and perform a technique without having to think about it.

Because forms teach us to move our bodies in new and unfamiliar ways.  This means that while we are learning, we must think about what we are doing in order to do it right.  The more difficult the form, the harder it is to memorize and perform.  This appeals to my geek-self because I love a challenge, and I love to use my mind.  I don’t mind taking a year to learn a form correctly, because learning and improving is part of the fun!

Powerful strikes and blocks are a necessity in martial arts, and forms allow us to practice our technique and power at the same time – something we can’t practice on our partners in the dojo!  Imagine breaking your partner’s nose, sweeping their leg, and stomping on their throat in group class, over and over again!  (I’m sure that there are folks who work with me that may have imagined this scenario numerous times, but I digress…)  That’s something you can only do once per partner, which means that you would quickly find yourself partnerless and unable to practice anymore.  Luckily for us, the air doesn’t mind being struck multiple times in many different ways at maximum power!   This is great news because we never want to get into the bad habit of not delivering powerful devastating strikes.

I started studying kempo because I couldn’t stand the idea of going to the gym.  For me, the thought of lifting weights or running on a treadmill (going nowhere) for an hour ranks one step above dowsing myself with gasoline and lighting a match!  If the gym was my only option for getting a good workout, I’d look like Jabba the Hut.  The dojo turned out to be the perfect workout venue for me, and probably saved me from an early heart attack.  Unfortunately the dojo isn’t open every day, which means some days I would be left with no George-acceptable method of working out.  This is where forms come in very handy!  I use forms to trick myself into working out.  A form done properly, with good technique, low stances and maximum power, should be exhausting.  Chain a few together and you have a real challenge!

Learning and using a form happens in phases.  The student must first memorize the basic movements of the form, which may take a long time.  Next the student adds technique, power and speed to the form, making it better.  Finally, once the student no longer has to think about the movements and techniques when doing the form, that form will start improving the student!  I still find areas where I can improve even my earliest forms, and that’s awesome!

So while you may find it frustrating to devote so much time and energy to learning a form, just remember that you are really just building a very powerful tool that can be used to give you a great workout and make you a better martial artist!

Alexandria Running Festival

runThe dojo was closed on Monday and I knew I’d be getting a little slothy, so this past weekend I decided to run in the Alexandria Running Festival.  My wife and nephew Daniel were doing the Half Marathon, but that’s a little beyond my 10 mile limit, so her sister Aimee and I decided to just run the 5k.  I only have a couple comments about this run:

1. For something named the Alexandria Running Festival, the organizers and the city made sure that we ran the most boring and non-scenic route possible.  Although the half-marathon got the pleasure of running through Cameron Station and Ben Brenman park, the race was mostly routed down Eisenhower Avenue – not exactly the prettiest part of Alexandria.  Of course we 5k runners only got to experience the desolation of Eisenhower Ave, and nothing else.


2. Unlike other running events where crowds of people got together along the route to cheer on the runners, this event had exactly TWO people cheering, and one of them was my wife!  The lack of a “cheering section” really did affect the general mood of the event.  Of course, because it was mostly on Eisenhower Ave – the industrial side of town – there really wasn’t many places for people to gather and cheer.  Maybe next year we could be routed through parts of the city that people would actually want to run through??

3. A 5k run is really just a warm-up.  I’m not exactly Bruce Jenner, but I’m starting to need more distance in a run than just a few miles.  I think I’ll institute a 10k and above policy and see how that works out.

All in all, it was a fun day.  I’m glad my wife and nephew got to do the half-marathon that they’ve been training for, and Aimee and I had fun doing the shorter run.  Sure beats sitting around and watching TV all day!

You can view some of the photos of the event here!

Slacking Off? Not a Good Idea!

tourneyburpeesIt seems that I’ve made a terrible mistake.  Last year during a Potomac Kempo tournament I was able to do 355 burpees in one hour.  Leading up to that time, I had been doing burpee tabatas after every group class.  After that event, I kind of slacked off on the whole burpee tabata thing.  Sure, I’d do one ever so often, but it was becoming more and more rare.  I can’t remember exactly when it was, but at some point I stopped doing them altogether!

This past tournament we did a similar event where we had to do burpees for only 20 minutes.  While I was able to crank out 127 of them, I certainly didn’t feel good about it.  I remember being very glad that this event wasn’t for a full hour, because I didn’t think I could have handled that.  Looking back, those tabatas probably allowed me to survive that previous one hour session last year.  This time, because I was out of “practice,” it hurt a LOT more.

Not only that, but I’ve also noticed that I’m getting “winded” easier than before, which is also causing me issues with running.  The other day I ran out of steam after only a couple miles!  This forced me to take a hard look at the status of my fitness, and come to the only conclusion possible:

I’ve been slacking off, and getting less fit as a result.

That just won’t do.  I’ve worked too hard to get into some semblance of fitness, and there’s no way I’m going to give that up.  So I decided that I’m going back to my daily burpee tabatas, and doing a triple tabata on Tuesdays at the end of every Academy class.

Those who are familiar with our Academy classes (and regular classes too) know that this is going to be a difficult commitment to adhere to, but it must be done regardless of my exhaustion.  As always, I’ll be relying heavily on the support of my peers in class to drive me to continue, and keep me honest.  Luckily, everyone at the dojo is very cool, and I’m pretty sure they won’t let me weasel out!

There.  I said it.  It’s official now.

Support the Alexandria Seaport Foundation

after_burpeesOn May 5, Potomac Kempo will be having it’s Spring 2013 Tournament at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Old Town Alexandria.  This will be the second tournament in which we promote the Alexandria Seaport Foundation.  This is a great local charity who is making a difference in the lives of the people living all around us. From their website:

“The Alexandria Seaport Foundation (ASF) seeks to build and enrich the lives of youth, with special emphasis on those whose circumstances have made them at risk or disconnected from the mainstream. Through hands-on teaching techniques, a focus on job and life skills and caring adult mentoring, we empower young men and women, from middle school into young adulthood, to get on a path toward living productive lives with meaningful jobs.  Through the building and use of wooden boats, the Alexandria Seaport Foundation helps young people turn their lives around and provides families, community groups, and schools with meaningful educational, social, and recreational experiences.”

The point of this post is that you now have a great opportunity to support this foundation!  During the PK Tournament, I will be doing burpees for 20 minutes.  (What’s a burpee?)  You can choose to sponsor me on a per-burpee basis, or just pledge a fixed amount of money.  While donating a fixed amount is a good thing, the per-burpee option is more exiting and gives me an incentive to work real hard!  For example, if you pledge $1 per burpee and I end up doing 20 burpees during the event, you will have donated $20!  How awesome is that?

I’ll update this page after the event with the number of burpees that I was able to crank out during the event, and ASF will give you a follow-up call to collect after the tournament!  🙂

 Number of Burpees Completed in 20 Mins: 127

Belt Test and Burpees!

W00p!!!I had a belt test at Potomac Kempo this past Friday.  Because these tests are typically multi-hour suffering sessions, I was more than a little nervous.  It’s been a while since my last one (for blue stripe) and each test is a little different.  I remember feeling like the test for my purple belt nearly killed me.  All in all, I was really not looking forward to this test!

You really want to prepare for a belt test.  I normally sweat gallons during this activity, and we have a rule that if you are going to puke, you must puke inside your gi and not on the dojo floor.  So of course I try to spend the day of a test hydrating like a mad man, and making sure I don’t eat after noon.  That didn’t exactly happen this time.  Work circumstances dictated that I had to wait much later than noon to eat, and I barely had time to drink any water at all!

Around 3PM I finally got the chance to scarf down some food, so I headed to Chipotle and gnawed on a giant burrito.  The nice thing about a test day is that you can pretty much eat anything you want, knowing that you will burn off all of the calories, and then some!  I left there sufficiently stuffed, but unfortunately that meant that I had a giant burrito in me, and my metabolism isn’t all that fast.  What I had just done was to arm the ole’ “puke cannon,” and I knew it.  Also I still wasn’t properly hydrated, but work didn’t give me much time for that.

I finally got off work and headed to the house to pickup Trey.  As we were headed to the dojo, I was frantically trying to gulp down gatorade and still burping up Chipotle.  Maybe getting the extra hot sauce on the burrito wasn’t the best idea I have ever had?  It was far too late to worry about that now.  Trey and I took a couple minutes to reassure each other that we were going to survive this event, and we entered the dojo.

Once inside, we joined the usual pre-test banter with the other students.  You can always expect a healthy dose of “gallows humor” before a test, so of course I warned everyone of the looming burrito threat.  The warning was well taken, and several folks mentioned that they were going to keep a safe distance should things get too “interesting.”  It wasn’t long before our sensei came in and ordered us all into position.  Here we go!

I mentioned before that I was nervous about this test, but there were a few factors that I had not yet considered:

  1. I had been losing a LOT of weight (nearly 40 lbs) since my last test
  2. I had also been doing burpee tabata after every class


This put me in a much better position to tolerate the exertions of the evening.  I realized this almost immediately when we were told to start doing burpees.  I fell into the motions and it was much less stressful than I thought it would be.  In fact, in some strange way, the burpees just felt familiar and actually gave me comfort!  Of course we did a lot of different exercises to start things off, but the “dreaded burpee” was mine now and I had nothing to fear from it.

As the evening progressed, we did a lot of running (also something I’ve been doing on the side) up and down stairs, a ton of burpees (I lost count), along with our normal forms, techniques and drills.  During all that time, I honestly felt like I had unlimited energy and could take any punishment that was dished out!  “BRING IT!”  Before I knew it, the test was over (it had actually been hours) and we re-assembled into position in the dojo.  I was hot and sweating like crazy, but I felt like I could have gone for at least another 2 hours!

In conclusion, I think the loss of 40 pounds, burpee tabata, and some running (just a few miles on occasion) really helped me get through that test.  I have about 30 more pounds to lose, and I can’t wait to see what the next test will feel like!


Portion control and that “I’m still hungry” feeling

One of the hardest things to deal with when dieting is that feeling of still being hungry.  I’m convinced that this is much of the reason why people fail while dieting – we get used to that “full” feeling after a meal, and while we are on a diet we may not get as “full” anymore.  This gives us the feeling that we are being “deprived” of something, which makes dieting even harder and makes some people give up completely.  The problem isn’t that we aren’t getting enough food, it’s that we are mentally conditioned to expect that “full” feeling after every meal.  This may come as a surprise, but that “being full” feeling is actually a warning that we are over-eating!

The average human stomach is the size of your closed fist, or 45 ml.  This means that you should only need 45 ml of food in order to fill it up.  It can however expand to hold up to a quart or more of food.  For most of us, this expansion happens at least 3 times a day!  Think about it:  Look at the size of the portion of food you get from a restaurant – it’s HUGE!  A Subway sandwich – like that $5 foot-long that you jammed into your face for lunch today – is at least 3 times the size of your stomach!  Your stomach had to stretch itself to 3 times it’s size in order to accommodate that giant torpedo of meat and cheese, and that was just lunch!  For most folks dinner is even bigger and usually entails heading down to the Golden Coral or Long Horn Feed Trough and gnawing on the Ole’ 96’er, stretching that spare tire out as far as it goes!

America loves to eat, and it’s pretty common to get oversized meal portions everywhere you go.  This is probably so that we feel like we are getting “our money’s worth” while dining out.  Unfortunately all we are really getting is stretched out stomachs, leading to that “I’m not full yet” feeling when we try to do the right thing and watch what we eat!  The good news is that this is only a temporary problem.  Your stomach should shrink back to some semblance of normal size in a week or so of eating the correct size meal portions.  After that, a properly portioned meal should be very satisfying.  Yes, it’s going to suck for a while until it does, but be patient and know that you aren’t depriving yourself of anything when you eat right.  In fact, you are re-gaining the natural shape and size of a major organ that has been abused for a VERY long time.

Remember: You should only eat until you are not hungry.  It’s not natural or normal for you to feel FULL all the time.

Group suffering is the best suffering!

Shared Pain!!!Last night 8 brave souls joined me in my nightly Burpee Tabata suffering session at Potomac Kempo.  Of course one of them – Scott – didn’t really have a choice as he was warming up for his private lesson!  🙂  Somehow this larger group made Burpee Tabata more palatable.  I clearly thrive in group situations.  The fear of the shame from failure is a mighty motivator!

Go Foxchase Burpee Tabata Team!!!

My First Run in Years

It was recently explained to me that running is a great way to build up stamina, which would help my sparring.  Jumping rope was another option but I quickly determined that I lack the timing and coordination for that, so running is pretty much my only option.  My wife is a runner (although she still won’t admit it) and so is my roommate.  I guess it was only a matter of time before they got me out on the trail for a run.  The plan was simple: a Sunday afternoon four mile run along the Mt Vernon Trail, with a number of stops at strength training stations along the way.  I’m pretty sure nobody thought I would survive this – including myself, but I decided to give it a whirl anyways.

We started the run at one of the mile markers along the trail, but not 1/4 miles into the run we came upon our first strength training station.  This one was one-legged squats and once I knocked that out it was back to the trail.  Of course by the time I got my pace set it we arrived at the next station which was sit-ups.  Again, this was not a problem and I knocked these out quickly in order to resume the run.  Not 20 steps later came the next station!  I start thinking to myself, “Ok, this is getting stupid!  How can I get into this run if I have to keep stopping and doing some exercise.  This is a four-mile run and if I don’t get on with it I’ll be here all night!”

So I decided to skip the stations and just concentrate on the run.  Also, I wanted to try out my new running software “Zombies, Run!” and all this stopping wasn’t working out well.  So off I went to complete my four miles.

To make a long (and boring) story short:

  • Running 4 miles really wasn’t that hard
  • Running is EXTREMELY boring
  • Zombies, Run!” is not all that fun after all


In short: Running sucks.

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of other options so I’m going to need to find a way to make it more interesting…