Friday, April 20, 2012

The Ins and Outs of Ups (Push-ups, that is)

Post By: Sensei Kris

Push-ups are one of those exercises that we all know we should do, but don't always want to do them. But they're important, and for many reasons besides being a requirement for each of the belt ranks! In the last few years I've learned and discovered a lot about doing these things over and over and over. As recently as three years ago, I still couldn't really do full-length push-ups due to a shoulder injury sustained when I got T-boned by an SUV while riding my bicycle home from the office. But those days are behind me.

Up front, though, let's acknowledge that many of us have learned how to cheat at push-ups, by sticking our rear ends way up in the air or just barely bending our arms at all. And while that might let you keep up with the pace of the class, it's only really cheating one person - you. So the first step in this 12-step program is to admit you have a problem with push-ups and to commit to doing them correctly. Because cheating yourself just means that you will never develop the muscles and coordination to do the technique correctly.

From a physics perspective, there are really two things to look at in the motion of performing a push-up: force and work. So I did a little physics to calculate the way the force you are applying changes at different points during the push-up, and guess what? Just like the cheaters have always known and avoided, the hardest part - the maximum force you have to apply - happens at the start when you're closest to the ground. If you do a full-length push-up, with your back and legs perfectly aligned, and you start as close to the ground as possible, you are lifting about 62.5% of your body weight at the start of the push-up. So if you weigh 120 pounds, you're basically doing a 75 pound bench press. But this force drops off as you extend your arms and change the angle your body makes with the ground. At maximum arm extension, this force is approximately 58% of your body weight, so that 120 pound person is only doing a 70 pound bench press. Not a lot of difference, but over the course of many push-ups, it adds up. I also looked at how the distance between your legs changes the forces. And it turns out that the force does decrease as you spread your legs, but even at a 60-degree angle, you still have about 94% of the maximum force possible.

In terms of work, which is a measure of the amount of energy you use to lift your body against the force of earth's gravity, the results are a little more interesting. Doing a half-push-up uses less than 40% of the energy required to do a full push-up. So if you are only bending your arms half-way, you are really losing out on training. Doing 10 all-the-way-to-the-ground pushups burns as much energy as doing 26 half-pushups! That's a big difference. And spreading your legs actually lets you burn a few more calories, so long as you don't spread them too far (don't put your feet farther apart than your arm span.)

And speaking of calories, if you go to and use their free tool for calculating calories burned during exercise, you find that a minute of moderately paced push-ups burns about 11 calories for a person my size (basically 0.61 calories per 10 pounds of body weight.) So it's not just about the mechanics, but how fast you do them.

Finally, there are some easy modifications to make to help you work toward your next push-up mile mark. We all know about the modified position, doing push-ups from your knees. But you can do full length in a variety of ways. To make them easier without sacrificing form, change the level of your head slightly by positioning your hands on chairs or a low wall or windowsill. When that gets easy, try doing them from much lower - like the edge of the aiki mat. Then go to where you head and hands are even. On the other hand, if you are finding full length pushups easy, but don't want to just do another 100 of them, try raising your feet higher than your hands. These techniques are easy if you do them outside on the hill - all you need is to reposition your body to make it easier or harder.

Don't forget to always keep your back straight and your rear end down. Work toward being able to do 10 perfect form pushups. Then go for 20. Or pick up the pace. Lately, my routine for pushups is to do a set of 50, rest and stretch my arms for a minute or less, do a set of 40, rest, set of 30, rest, set of 20, rest, and a set of 10 (that's 150 total). When that gets easy, I'll shift to sets of 55, 45, 35, 25, 15, and 5. And then work up. And when I'm close to the next mark, I'll use my hand and foot positions to help me transition to the new goal.

The bottom line is simple. It's up to you to keep yourself honest and to get the most out of every training session. If you are going to train, get the most out of the time you're putting in. We're all too busy to waste time by training at less than 100%.

Photo By: Ken Smith

Friday, April 13, 2012

Swords and Arrows

Post By: Deena Hucko 

Perhaps we had a touch of spring fever in Ken Jutsu class this week. Someone suggested we try knocking arrows out of the air with our bokken. Everyone agreed it would be an interesting exercise.

We warmed up by tossing balls into the air, then drawing our swords and "cutting" them. After honing our reflexes on the foam balls, we were ready for the real thing. Sensei Lee has a compound bow and a set of arrows with tips wrapped in red duct tape. As each of us took a spot at one end of the karate floor, Sensei Lee sighted her weapon and shot a series of arrows.

I took my turn with some trepidation. It seemed a little crazy to be standing there letting someone shoot live (albeit padded) arrows at me, and I had a flashback to when I was 12 years old. My brother and I were outside with a group of neighborhood children, in the fields behind our houses. One of the boys had a bow and arrow, and suddenly he aimed it straight up and shot an arrow into the air. His face turned to shock and fear as he realized what he had done, and everyone started to run. Except me. As the others ran, I felt a calmness that told me to stay still and watch the sky. Time slowed down, as it sometimes does, and I waited.

Back to the dojo, I was in place on the karate floor, waiting for the first arrow, fighting the sense of panic that was rising inside. Suddenly, I found that calmness. I was able to relax and wait for the arrow. While I can't claim to have knocked any out of the air, I was able to watch and step aside when the arrows approached.

Finding the calmness inside is an important part of martial arts training, where it is known as "mizu no kokoro" or "mind like water". To develop this calmness, we work on controlling our breathing, and on performing our techniques under duress in the dojo. Learning to face fear is part of that development, building confidence and courage. It is a lesson we are able to take out of the dojo and apply to our every day lives.

And that sky bound arrow of my youth? Fortunately, I watched it fall to the ground without harming anyone.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Training

Spring is here! And among other things it means that it is time to wake up and push forward with our training. Spring is that special time of year where you naturally feel more energized as the days become longer and warmer, but the hot and humid days of summer are still months away.  We have some fun events coming up at the dojo:

Sensei Phil is testing for his second degree black belt on March 31 at 10:00 AM. Make sure you are there and prepared to participate.

The Outdoor Seigan continues! With things like sunlight and above freezing temperatures, training outside this time of year is enjoyable. Come to practice Thursdays ready to venture out onto the hill.

Advanced Breaking Seminar for brown and black belts is on Friday the 23rd. Sign up for an opportunity to break boards, bricks, and ice!

Think about any possible seminars you would be interested in having. Contact any of the black belts about ideas or interests you have.

Along with all this, take some time to look over your testing requirements. Work on conquering your goals in the martial arts. That might mean achieving your next belt rank, attending more classes, or getting better at a specific facet of your training. Whatever your goals are, focus and use this time to train hard and experience the necessary mental and physical growth required to achieve them.

Photo By: Dan Hucko

Friday, March 9, 2012

Best Belt Rank?

What was your favorite belt rank (other than black belt)? And Why?

Green was my favorite. Green belt is the rank you first get to start using weapons and throws. You also get to be considered one of the "upper belts." Testing for my green belt was also an intense and challenging experience.

Add your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, March 2, 2012

But What If...

Post By: Sensei Lee

I think one of the most common questions I hear as a Sensei is "But what if...?"

"But what if someone grabs you this way?"
"But what if the have a knife?"
"But what if they are on drugs and don't feel it when you hit them?"
"But what if they hit you with the other hand while you're escaping the grab?"

There are countless "But what if's...?" in life in general, and certainly these questions are bound to come up during training. In fact, it is good to be questioning. It shows that you are thinking about your martial art techniques and not simply following through the motions blindly.

Training in any martial art does not guarantee that you will conquer a gang of goons like Bruce Lee by delivering one perfectly executed technique to each bad guy. It means that should a threatening situation arise, that you are better prepared to handle it than the average person who has no training.

Lets say you are leaving a crowded theater when a fight breaks out. Suddenly an angry, violent, and out of control individual comes hurtling at you and your loved one. Your training can do a few different things for you. Perhaps because of your training, you heard the sounds of a fight and recognized it for what it was ahead of time. Martial arts training could allow you to get yourself and your loved one out of the situation before you inadvertently become stuck in the middle of it. Maybe you were able to get your loved one out of the way and divert most of the blow from this attacker while managing to subdue them with a couple of well timed strikes. Or maybe you heard the attacker coming and had enough time to meet their blow and throw them to the ground with an imperfect but effective Koshi Nage. Or maybe as they were coming at you...

There are thousands of scenarios you can work through. This is in part because of your training, you understand all the different ways a situation like this could play out. In contrast, someone with no martial arts experience would likely not even recognize what was going on until it was too late.

In real life, a self defense situation is never going to work the way it does in the dojo. An attacker will not grab you the same way, react the way you are used to, or necessarily respond to a foot stomp. However, after training for a number of years you start to develop a kind of martial arts 6th sense. You recognize what way joints move and what ways they do not. As openings present themselves you strike without really thinking about it. Awareness is what prepares you to react to an attack accordingly, even if it is not exactly like the way we practice in circle attacks.

This awareness comes from practice and time. One of my favorite Sensei told me something back when I was a green belt that I still think about today: "Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield." I love that saying, and think about it often.

Photo By: Dan Hucko 

Friday, February 24, 2012

You Know You're a Martial Artist When...

Post By: S Lee

Are you guilty of any of these?

You know you're a martial artist when...

*You use various kicks and strikes to turn light switches on and off
*You refuse to wear certain pants because you can't kick in them
*Trying out a new pair of shoes means practicing sweeps and circle stepping in them
*You bow when entering or leaving a room
*Find yourself practicing ken-jutsu techniques with kitchen knives
*Open and close doors using spinning kicks
*You never lean against walls or stand with your arms crossed or hands in your pockets
*You groan and correct the techniques used in martial art movies
*Find yourself practicing stances while waiting in line
*You imagine yourself hip-throwing any brisk moving individual that passes by you in the Wegmans parking lot
*You bow when introduced to someone new
*Cannot help but take inventory of possible weapons at restaurants and bars
*Practice bo techniques with any long and cylindrical object: yard sticks, broom handles, walking sticks, rakes, snow shovels, etc.
*Have your favorite weapon next to your bed
*Have at least one weapon in each room of your home
*Know exactly what weapon you are going for should your home be invaded
*Insist that various friends and family members grab you and try to hang on while you escape and put them into painful locks and chokes
*Take note whenever you see someone who isn't centered
*You angrily chastise the victims in slasher movies for not using proper self defense
*You respond with "OSU" when given direct instructions from a boss or spouse
*You have or have thought about dive rolling over various objects
*Cannot walk by fellow martial artists without throwing mock punches and kicks at them
*You KIAI instead of swear when you slam your hand in the door
*Cannot walk by wood tables or pieces of concrete without pondering the best technique you could use to break them
*Have a hard time shaking someone's hand without turning it into Kansetsu Waza
*You can recite complete lines from Enter the Dragon, Kill Bill, or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
*You can add onto this list...

Photo By: S Ken Smith 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Getting Hit Too Hard in Sparring

Post By: S Lee

You're in the middle of a sparring match and your partner starts striking you harder than you are comfortable with. Maybe a punch penetrated your guard and got you hard in the gut, or even gave you a black eye. Or maybe the strike didn't get in, but you are afraid of getting hurt if it does. Either way, you are concerned and in the middle of a very uncomfortable situation.

There are a few ways of dealing with this. First, remember where you are. Karate and sparring in particular are combative. Striking and getting hit are major components, and they are not always a bad thing. Surviving a hard sparring match relatively unscathed shows that you can handle the ordeal. It also teaches you that bloody noses, black eyes, and rough throws to the ground while painful do heal. They are survivable. You learn how much punishment a body can take without being incapacitated. This is extremely important when applied in self defense.

That being said, we do not want our students to all end up in the hospital. If you feel like your sparring match is out of control, then you should say something. Politely ask your sparring partner to ease up or slow down. Stop the match if you have to. Make sure he or she knows that you are serious and not joking around. Also check yourself. I have found over the years that most people return the amount of speed and power they feel that they themselves are receiving. It could be that you don't realize how strong or fast you are going, and that your partner is simply returning that pace. Once both of you are aware and have reset the match, see if things improve. If they do not and you still feel threatened, get the attention of a Sensei. Sensei can intervene and make sure the situation is handled. However, make sure you flag us down and actually have our attention. While we are very aware of our surroundings we are not omnipotent, and we may not realize what is going on right away unless you tell us.

Another option is to wear sparring gear. Gear protects you as well as your sparring partner, and if you want to hit harder without the lasting damage this is a great option. If your partner is punching or kicking too hard bare-knuckle, ask them to put gear on. Those inches of foam padding make a difference, and that might be all you need to make the sparring match civil. This is often a double-edged sword. If you are wearing gear, your partner may take that as a green light to hit you harder. I will often request gear if I want to have an intense match, but I'm concerned that my partner may do lasting damage without it.

Lastly, access what it is that you are specifically worried about. If you have an old injury that could be made worse, such as a bad knee, there are ways to protect it. You can request that your sparring partner avoid take-downs. If you were hit in the temple too hard once and are fearful of experiencing that again, talk to a Sensei. We can help you adjust your guard and give you other strategies to better protect yourself.  

The worst thing you can do is avoid sparring altogether or to avoid specific people. It is perfectly fine to take a break in order to recover, but you must get back to it. Overcoming fear is a huge learning experience in the martial arts. By avoiding you are not learning anything. When I think of the people I used to be afraid of I realize that these are the individuals who have taught me the most. If I had avoided them the first time they had hit me too hard, I would have missed out on some truly valuable lessons. In fact, some of the people I used to be afraid of as a yellow belt eventually turned into my favorite instructors.

If your sparring match is out of control, stand up for yourself. You can also ask an instructor for assistance. Try suggesting sparring gear as well. Never avoid the situation, and instead look for learning opportunities. Get the most out of sparring by being assertive and by working at your own pace.

Photo By: S Ken Smith