Monday, May 18, 2020

PIT: Pulse Interval Training

This is the training protocol I've been using lately. I know, the name needs some work - feel free to make suggestions.
I'm going to explain the WHY of this methodology at the end of this post, so if you don't care about theory you can just skip it.

What is Pulse Interval Training?

PIT is a a step up and down from High Intensity Interval Training. The intervals are meant to be very short and as explosive as possible, and the rest period is long enough that you never get local fatigue.

Here's an overview:
1. Warmup, ballistic stretching, etc. Take as long as you like (you can, if you want, do the warmup with the same parameters as the PIT sets, just go easy - do the kicks at 1/2 or 3/4 speed, do the punches lightly, etc. Or do a 'regular' warmup. Just make sure to get nice and loose.)
2. Set a timer.
3. Every 30s do a "set" of exercise.Do not do the same exercise over and over - mix it up. For a default, pick 12 movements (there can be repeats) and cycle through, so you repeat your giant set every 6 minutes.
4. Repeat for 20-60 minutes. Breathe through your nose the entire time. If you can't catch your breath with nasal breathing alone, take a set or two off or truncate your work sets. If you lose explosiveness (your punches and kicks slow down) stop your workout.
5. Cool down. Do your static stretching here, if you want to do any.

What do the 'sets' look like?

Each set of exercise - each pulse - needs to be done at absolute maximum intensity. If it's a set of punches or kicks, each technique must be done as if it's the only technique you're throwing that day, in front of your instructor, or your one chance to take out an opponent who is about to kill you. I don't really care what imagery you use, but it shouldn't be an effort you could repeat easily.
If you want a visual of what I'm talking about, get a martial arts class (not beginners), and ask them to throw a hundred punches. Watch the level of effort in each punch. Than, another day, ask them to demo three punches. Watch the difference in speed, power, and snap.
A pulse should last less than 10 seconds (this is not a hard and fast rule, but most of your sets should be under 10s. If you find your sets creeping up into the 15-20s range, do something harder).

What are some examples of a good pulse set?

5 kettlebell swings - use a forced negative (swing the ketltebell hard enough that it would go very high, but when it reaches chin level, push down hard on the kettlebell to stop its upward momentum and force it down faster than gravity alone). Don't use the heaviest kettlebell you  can manage, go for snap and power.
4-6 kicks. I'll get into a fighting stance and throw a lead leg kick, a back leg kick, then switch stances and repeat. I'll do the same kick. Front, round, knee, side. I will do spinning kicks, again a total of 4. If you have a heavy bag, hit it.
4-8 punch combinations. I often do these with a 1 lb dumbell (do NOT use a very heavy dumbbell, it reduces the transferability of the exercise to regular punches). Make them snappy. If you have a heavy bag, hit it.
Stance work. I'll step forward in front stance 2-4 steps.
Any 2-4 counts from any kata. Be reasonable - counts that include long slow portions are not suitable for this.
Pushups done FAST. I'll do 5-10 pushups.

What should the sequence of pulses look like?

The goal in sequencing exercise is to avoid local fatigue. In other words, you do NOT want the same muscles worked over and over again, at least not as the primary movers (yes, your core will be engaged in almost every set, but you're not focusing on it in every set).
I alternate punch sequences and kick sequences. And yes, the punch sequence does involve the lower body, but it's not heavily fatiguing on the lower body.

What should my rest look like?

Between sets you should move around but at VERY low intensity. In other words, walk slowly around your workout area; do NOT lie down but do not force your pace. Continue to breath nasally.

What is the purpose of PIT?

HIIT is lovely, but it is highly lactic. If you watch someone performing that kind of training their movements quickly become slow and relatively unexplosive.
As martial artists, our goal should be to be as fast an explosive as possible. By doing a small number of repetitions with plenty of rest you can keep the quality high and train those physical qualities
By sticking to nasal breathing we are doing our best to maintain in a zone of intensity where we're primarily working the aerobic system. There are many good reasons for that which I won't address in this post. Short answer is that once you're past your anaerobic threshold motor learning and speed development go down.
You don't NEED a timer to do a few techniques, rest, then do some more. I'm sure many people could self regulate their intensity (by staying on the edge of how hard they can work using nasal breathing). However, using a timer makes it easier to gauge progress over time and makes it harder to accidentally drop too low in intensity.

Give PIT training a try and see if you don't see quick progress in  your martial arts skills.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Karate and Clovid-19

I haven't posted much in a while; been working on some things where I don't have them figured out enough to write them out. Hopefully I'll have a bunch to write at some point soon.

In the meantime, about this Clovid-19 thing.

Here are a couple of things to remember that are specific to karate practitioners (washing hands, social distancing, and other advice is great, but applies to everybody):

To protect yourself:
1. Don't attend martial arts classes. Sorry!
2. Very intense, exhausting exercise depresses your immune system. Long term, you'll probably be healthier if you work very hard some of the time, but in the short term, you'll have reduced immunity. So, don't exercise very hard, or only do so if you're in a semi-quarantine situation. Don't worry, this will blow over eventually and you can get back to your 'wish I were dead' style workouts.

To protect others:
1. Don't attend martial arts classes. Sorry! You might be infected right now, even if you're asymptomatic. You won't spread the disease if you aren't breathing on anybody.
2. Feel free to watch/make/share videos, train remotely, read books, and work out on  your own to maintain your martial arts practice.

Here's the thing: Clovid-19 is not end of civilization bad, but it could be very, very bad. If you want details, you shouldn't be reading my blog, read something written by medical professionals.

Here's my workout plan for those of you at home:

The Official Karate Conditioning Pandemic Training Program

First, warm up. Do some dynamic stretching, mobility work, up to but not past the point where you have a light sweat going.
Set some kind of timer.
Every 30 seconds do a 'set.'
Each set must:
1. Be performed without opening your mouth (breathe through your nose only, for the set and the rest period).
2. Last between 5 and 15 seconds so you have some rest before the next set.
3. Consist of a few basics or exercises. For examples (each set would be only 1 of these choices):

  • 5 Kettlebell swings.
  • 12 blocks - 3 each upper, outside middle, inside middle, lower, performed at full speed/intensity.
  • 4-6 kicks - say, lead leg front kick/bag leg front kick; switch stance; repeat.
  • 5-15 pushups with variety - knuckles, fingertips, etc.
  • 2-4 lunges, bodyweight only.
  • Punching combination with very light (1 lb) dumbells. Jab, straight, hook, uppercut; switch, repeat is a good example.
  • Any 2-4 movements out of your kata (any kata, any counts). Do them full speed and full intensity.

4. Make the 'sets' harder or easier depending on  your fitness level. If you feel like you're barely working, make them harder (do 6 kicks instead of 4, more pushups, etc).  If you feel like you're having a hard time breathing and need to open  your mouth, do easier sets (3 pushups, 2 punches, etc.).
5. Go for as little as 10 minutes to as much as an hour.

Breathing through your nose will prevent you from working at a high enough intensity to compromise your immunity. You'll also prevent fatigue and thus improve your skill development.

Osu! Stay safe!

Friday, September 27, 2019

On Fandom: Little Men in Sumo

I think a lot about the philosophy or psychology of fandom in fight sport - as in, I think about questions like which fighters should we be fans of, and why we follow certain fighters.

Sumo is a very interesting combat sport for many reasons, but one big oddity is that it doesn't have weight classes. There is simply sumo, and if you're not very big, then you don't get to compete against other little guys, you have to find a way to compete with much larger opponents if you want to be a professional rikishi.

Also, unlike some other sports, mass is a HUGE advantage in sumo, to the point where it's one of the few sports where being obese is almost a requirement for success. The top ranks are dominated by very, very large men, and a big part of the sport is eating and living in a way to support huge bodies.

Yet there are usually a couple of much smaller (smaller being relative here - they're all still over 200 lb) guys in the upper division. They manage to compete by utilizing their assets - usually incredible agility and balance - and using moves that other rikishi can't keep up with. It's not a great strategy - if it were, there would be lots of guys doing it - but some competitors manage to pull it off for a while.

If you want current examples of competitive little guys, the best is Enho, but recently we saw Ura doing quite well (he's hurt, but if he gets healthy again he's a must-watch), and Ishiura can be great fun though not consistently. Kotoeko is worth a look as well.

Many sumo fans (including me) root hard for those little guys for two reasons, I think. First, we like seeing people overcome tremendous odds to achieve success. We generally like rooting for underdogs. Second, the little guys are almost always putting on exciting matches. They can't just lean on and grind out opponents (because it's physically impossible for them), so they have to try all kinds of exciting, crazy moves to win. And they do.

If you want to watch sumo, the best way has been through Kintamayama's channel, but he's phasing out his posts, so try Natto Sumo. If anything, Natto Sumo's coverage has advantages, because he puts up lots of graphics showing information about the recent history of each rikishi (so you can easily see who is on a slide, how long they've been competing, etc.).

Keep your sadness hedge alive, though. The likelihood of an Enho or an Ishiura ever dominating the sport is very, very small. If you want to root for a winner, you'll have to learn to appreciate some of the bigger guys as well. If you want suggestions, I can't get enough Takakeisho or Hokutofuji (though Takakeisho was injured at the end of the last basho, and we have yet to know if he'll ever be the same again).

Friday, September 6, 2019

Handstand Training for Martial Arts

Don't do handstand training for martial arts.

There, I saved you tons of time and energy!

I regularly see advice given to martial artists along the lines of, "you should train in gymnastics," "you should do Olympic lifting," "you should jog several miles a day," and so on. Not all of these are bad ideas, but it's important to understand something about exactly how much these practices will help your martial arts.

A handstand is a highly unlikely position for you to be in while doing martial arts. I have never seen anybody hold a handstand in a fight of any kind - free sparring, UFC, kickboxing, or boxing. Which doesn't mean it could never happen, but it's so unlikely that it's not worth training for. Strength is position specific (as well as speed specific) and there's nothing in karate that's very much like holding a handstand.

Handstand training will not carry over well to your karate, so any time and energy you spend on handstand training is unlikely to improve your karate. And since time and energy are finite resources, it will possibly detract from your karate (by keeping you from doing more karate practice).

Please notice that I'm not saying you shouldn't train handstands. I'm saying you shouldn't train handstands for martial arts.  BUT you may WANT to do handstand training. Maybe you think doing handstands is cool. Maybe you're bored with martial arts and want to spend some training time on non-martial arts activities to give yourself a mental break. Maybe some person you're attracted to thinks people who can do handstands are super hot.

These are all great reasons to do handstand training. There's nothing wrong with mastering a skill (assuming it isn't inherently dangerous, which handstands aren't).

Handstand training will develop your overhead pressing strength, which is good and useful. But it would be more efficient (unless you can already do handstands) to just do some dumbbell or kettlebell overhead pressing than to take up a handstand training routine if that's your only goal.

Whenever you add supplemental training to your martial arts practice, you should be clear on WHY you're doing it, so you can figure out whether or not it's a good idea. If you are doing curls at the end of your workout because you want bigger arms, great. If you're doing it to improve your punching power... that's not going to work. If you like to run triathlons, great. If you think training for them will make you tireless in sparring, that's not going to work (unless your aerobic base is really bad).

Knowing WHY you're doing any of the parts of your workout will ultimately make you better at reaching your goals, whatever those goals are.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Instagram Fitness: Photoshop, Synthol, Steroids, and Peaking

I recently got an Instagram account (If you have any desire to follow me, you can, but it's mostly pictures of food and my vacations... just search for Joe Berne). There's a lot of interesting content available, including a ton of fitness pictures - lots of very muscular, lean fitness models showing off their abs, arms, etc. It's all free and easy to find, and it's very easy to get inundated with pictures of very, very fit looking people, all kind of in your face on a daily basis.

To be absolutely clear, I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with any of this. I'm simply saying that there is a very specific danger to exposing yourself to this content.

Some people can look at these sort of pictures and have no negative impact. But many people can find these pictures discouraging - especially those of us trying to lose weight or gain muscle or otherwise improve our appearance. It can be easy to fall in to a trap of looking at a fitness model, then looking in the mirror, and feeling like your goals are unattainable, and that it isn't even worth trying.

Now plenty of people avoid this thought process entirely, and get nothing but extra motivation from so-called motivational pictures. And that's great! If you're that sort of person, fantastic.

But if you find yourself getting discouraged by these images, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Very few of those models actually look like that year round. They're posting pictures from a photo shoot for which they have 'peaked,' they have extra makeup and stuff on, they have great lighting, etc.
  2. Many of those models have advantages over you that have nothing to do with hard work or dedication. For example, they all have great genetics.
  3. Many use performance enhancing drugs.
  4. Many have had cosmetic surgery. 
  5. Many don't have 'regular' lives that interfere with training (kids, full time sedentary jobs, etc.). 
  6. That's not to disparage their accomplishments, just to say that comparing yourself to them is a little bit like a race car driver entering his Honda Civic in the Indy 500 and feeling crushed at not being able to qualify.
If you feel demotivated by these images, stop looking at them. There are more-realistic Instagram accounts - look for something with people who post excerpts from their workouts on a near-daily basis (both so you're not seeing a peaking picture and so you get a feel for the way even these people have good and bad days). Or stay away altogether.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to stay motivated. There is no good or bad here. Figure out what works for you, and stick to it! 

If Sartre studied karate: An existentialist analysis of the Shodan

A significantly large percentage of martial arts students quit shortly after earning their black belt (including me - I took a 12 year 'break' almost immediately after earning my shodan).

There are potentially many reasons for this, but I think one is a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be a black belt, one that can be nicely contextualized through an existential analysis.

Existentialism is a branch of philosophy that focused on a number of things, only some of which I'll be concerned with in this post. A significant issue that existentialists in general talked about was freedom and reification (reification is just a fancy way of saying you think of yourself as an object). I'm going to explain and simplify, because that is the part of high level philosophy that I was good at.

People tend to think of themselves the way they think of objects, as having fixed qualities. People think things like, "I am a good person," or "I am a bad person," "I am lazy," "I am hardworking," statement either positive or negative that paint a picture of us as fixed objects with fixed qualities that persist through time.

The central understanding of the existentialist philosophers was that these statements are all incorrect. Humans, unlike, for example, chairs, are free. Every moment of your conscious life, you can choose to be lazy, but even if you think things like "I am lazy," you can also choose, at any moment, to do some unlazy things. The same is true of almost any claim one makes - a person can think, "I am a good person," but at any moment, even after years of having that thought, choose to do something bad. That is existential freedom (which is not necessarily a good or comfortable thing - in fact, it is kind of nauseating).

When people imagine earning a black belt, they conflate two senses of the idea of becoming something new. They understand, on some level, that passing a test earns one a title which is acknowledged by a community of people. For example, because in 2011 I was given a belt with three stripes on it by the leaders of my style, a large group of people will now call me 'senpai' whereas before they didn't have to. They let me line up in a certain place, bow to me in a certain way, and so on, acknowledging my rank.

The second sense of black belt, though, is where the problem happens. People imagine that they will be something different once they have passed that test. They imagine that they will become something new - closer to some ideal of what they think a martial arts student IS. More dedicated. More disciplined, perhaps.

The truth (the uncomfortable truth) is that you can NEVER BE more disciplined or harder working or more dedicated. Those are not traits that you own or possess, the way you own or possess your eye color or your height. Instead, those are traits that only describe choices that you make, that you have to make freshly every day, every hour, as you live your life.

No matter how long you've trained you are, fundamentally, free to skip your next workout. You can never BECOME something that necessarily trains. By the same logic, though, no matter how long you've skipped training, you are also always free to go to the next class, to do the next workout, to resume your training.

Every single day you have to choose what you want to be. You can never become that thing (because you can never become anything) - you are not a thing. This is what existentialism is teaching us.

Once you've earned your black belt, you will be the same you that you've always been, freely choosing from hour to hour how you'll live your life. Choosing to train the next day will be no harder or easier than it had been before.

If you want to BE a different sort of person as a black belt, you will have to continually and freely choose to live a different life than you lived before. If you want to make a kind of hokey slogan, you can say that you can't BE a black belt, but you can always choose to make black belt choices.

Earning any advanced rank is meaningful - it's an acknowledgement of the choices you've made in the past, and of the skill you've developed. But it doesn't change the fundamental truth that to live a certain life, you have to continually choose it, every day. You have to re-become a black belt every day.

You might think that once you've got a darker belt around your waist that you'll be a different person - feel differently, have a different character, automatically make the right choices (to go to class, eat right, stretch every day, whatever) where before you used to sometimes falter. Sadly, it's not true (it can never be true). You're not like a chair, which can be painted to have a new color. You're a human, free to make all the choices, and to suffer the consequences of those choices.

The good news (if there is any), is that no matter how unmotivated, lazy, or whatever other negative traits you've expressed in the past, you're free to stop making those sorts of choices. I didn't say it was easy, but it is possible. So if you haven't been living a black belt sort of life, you can start to. Right now. That's freedom.

Osu (but as you read this, please think of me as saying Osu in a French accent, with a beret on my head and a cigarette dangling out of my mouth, to get the proper effect).

Friday, June 21, 2019

Are you too old (fat, out of shape, handicapped, untalented) for karate?

I actively read a large number of martial arts related forums, mostly because I have a social media problem and not because there's a ton of value in their contents (though I do find some gems). I frequently see questions that look like this:

"I'm (old or fat or out of shape or handicapped in some way). Is it worth starting karate (or some other martial art)?"

Now my strong suspicion is that this isn't a real question - the person knows that it's okay to start karate, no matter how old or fat they are, but they want some encouragement and positive feedback. And that's fine, I have no problem with people using social media to get some metaphorical massaging from strangers.

But the real answer is twofold:

1. Of course it is. Literally no matter who you are (maybe other than an actual quadriplegic), you can train in martial arts - and if you do, you'll soon be much, much better than you are now!

2. Probably not. No matter how hard you train, you'll never be as skilled as a truly gifted athlete who has been training since youth. You literally will never catch up to them and be as skilled as they are!

Which one is the real answer? Both. Because the question is ambiguous.

If you are only willing to start martial arts training if you have a reasonable chance of being one of the best in the world at it, then yes, you're probably too fat, too old, too out of shape, and too un-talented to start.

BUT if you want to study martial arts because you're interested in the myriad benefits of martial arts training (better physical health and fitness, improved self confidence, better mental health, improved capacity for self defense) then, unless you're a quadriplegic (sorry to quadriplegics), you can absolutely gain those things.

If you want to be better at martial arts than other martial artists who have been training since childhood, your chances are slim. If you want to be better than the general population, your chance is almost 100%.

The 'trick' to being happy with your training is recognizing what you want, and to whom you should compare yourself, and realizing what your expectations should be.

I will never be able to win a UFC match. I would absolutely win a MMA fight against 90% of my peers (meaning, men of my size in my age category) - because most of my peer have absolutely no training. Compared to my peers who train in martial arts I am probably below average (I've taken long breaks from training). Maybe I'm average? I'm not really sure.

BUT I guarantee that I'm much, much better at martial arts, and more fit, and healthier, than an alternate version of myself who didn't train at all.

So the real secret to success in martial arts is in carefully choosing how you evaluate your success! If you only think you're 'good' if you're holding a UFC belt (or have won an Olympic medal or an international tournament) then you'll most likely never be happy. If you are happy knowing you're better than you would have been without training, then you're guaranteed to benefit from training.