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conflict management and practical karate
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A Christmas tail (off)?

Mon, 2017-12-11 16:07

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid…

It’s the season to be jolly, or is it? Most Leisure Centres shut down for a number of days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and even if they aren’t people are often so tied up with family gatherings and other social events that they can’t make any martial arts classes that are still running.

Are you dreading the physical toll of a dearth of training combined with a number of days of feasting?

I’m not going to advise going easy on the food. Whether you are hosting, a guest, or celebrating on your own, everywhere you look there will be the temptation to eat. If it’s there, make the most of it. It’s only for a short time and a few light-eating days will balance things out. Occasional excess is not the same as sustained excess.

I suspect more people are worried about not having the physical exertion and stress relief valve that training provides.

Without a class you are limited, but not that limited. You just have to work within the confines of the time and space you have and switch to a daily routine if you don’t already have one.

My first tip is start early, before breakfast if you can. That moment between waking and joining others is one of the few parts of the day in which you are likely to still maintain a degree of control. Once you start to eat however other jobs, other activities and the food in your stomach (not to mention any alcohol later) are likely to scupper the best-laid plans.

My second tip is keep it indoors. Poor light, poor weather and the objections of others may stop you training otherwise. Indoor training does not necessarily require much space. If you can stand in straddle stance then you can do squats, you can practice hip-work by shifting foot positions, and you can kick on the spot (working balance, flexibility, coordination and strength). If you have more space you can drop and do any number of different forms of press-ups.

My final tip is to keep it simple. The more you set yourself, the more daunting it will seem, the more likely you are to skip it. Choose one or two exercises for strength and one or two for technique refinement. When I am short of space I tend to do push ups, squats, slow side thrust kicks and either one of my own forms or the space saving Tekki/Naihanchi Shodan.

Have a great holiday, and keep training!


Training for life

Mon, 2017-11-13 14:05

Why do you train? What could you train for? What should you train for?

Across my clubs and those that are affiliated to me, we use the phrase training for life.

I focus on orientating my training towards self defence. There are compromises because in one of the systems I teach that means ordering things with regard to the traditional order of its kata, and some things I train are drills to illustrate principles rather than self defence per se (although these develop good understanding of biomechanics, which in turn increase your odds on delivering applications, which in turn assists effective physical self defence).

The reality however is the majority of self defence is not physical, and in practice I cover this through verbal presentation, examined material in the syllabus, advice on published reading material by other people, and my Sim Days. A further reality is that given the overall low prevalence of violent crime, the type of students I attract, and the training I give my students, the odds on them ever having to put the physical training into practice are very low.

But self defence isn’t the only thing I mean by saying training for life.

Most people face far greater health risks from physical inactivity or poorly trained physical activity than they do from violent crime.

Training for life is about providing good quality training that improves people’s health. The martial arts have not always enjoyed a good reputation when it comes to this.

While there are a number of long-lived martial arts practitioners, there’s no conclusive evidence to indicate that their longevity was the direct result of their training. In karate this is particularly problematic as the Okinawan population is generally quite long-lived.

There has been a generation of long term practitioners of martial arts in the west, particularly in Japanese Karate systems, who through a likely combination of genetic factors and inappropriate training have left the martial arts or required surgery to knees and / or hips to attempt to repair the damage that their training has done. There are still instructors out there demonstrating the same poor stances and mobility practices that will cause injury, many of whom run large clubs or associations.

Martial arts training should be challenging, but that does not excuse sloppy approaches to injury risk management. People come to a class to get fitter, stronger, more flexible, more mobile, to focus aggression in a safe manner etc. – they do not come to get injured. In any physical activity there are risks of injury, but injury should never be accepted as a normal thing: usually it means that someone has made a mistake, or the student has over-estimated their capability and not been reigned in by the instructor, or the instructor has pushed the student further than they should. This is not training for life. I take it personally whenever we get an injury of any kind in my classes or seminars, whether it’s a badly strained muscle or a cut knuckle, because I want to see if it was preventable, because its not why people come to train. I’m not wrapping my students in cotton wool; to be effective they have to experience pain and physical and psychological discomfort, but they don’t have to experience injury. From warm up through to warm down (and I’ve experienced some shocking injury causing warm ups in recent years by instructors young enough to know better) and training advice for home training, our methods need to be professional, up to date, and appropriate.

Training methods must be appropriate to the health and abilities of participants and take on board good practice and information from other physical disciplines. Where contact is used (and I believe it should be used on a very regular basis) its purpose should be understood and its intensity adjusted according to the needs of the trainee. Head contact in training should be carefully managed and minimised to strike the balance between the head being the most commonly injured part of the body in violent crime (and thus the need to practise attacking and defending it with correct distancing and commitment) and the need to protect the brain from long term damage. This does not mean ‘going soft’, but neither does it mean that a ‘good session’ should leave you drenched in sweat or moving in pain for the next week. As I have written before, fast training or exhaustive training does not necessarily mean focused or good quality training.

Why do you train? How should you train?

Train for life.


Present and past perspectives on my training

Mon, 2017-09-04 12:45

Don’t get me started on all the critiques I could make of my karate in this picture. 

The other day while reviewing some light personal training I’d just done, I found myself wondering what a younger version of me would have made of both my current ability and direction, and my current approaches to training. I tried to see if I could look back at his methods and intent at a crux point in his training where moving away from his first training group to University made him have to make harder choices about how he spent his time.

I suspect the younger me would be surprised and perhaps disappointed at how little time I spend training.

That version of me would be up at 0600 to knock out a light two-mile run, some stretching and some kata before breakfast. He would be asleep by 11 at night to get as much rest as possible. He did weights three times a week, and he would make seventeen hours of karate classes a week in addition to personal training.

Last day at school.

That version of me was enjoying his last full year of good health before anaemia, organ failure, dialysis, transplantation, medication side effects and multiple surgeries took a toll.

Hospital time is never fun but at least these days (in the UK) you can often get small rooms, a personal TV, internet access and even ensuite facilities. I’ve been lucky and even in the days when we didn’t have such luxuries I still had great care from military and NHS staff.

These days I get up to ninety minutes of light personal solo training a day. That has not changed since I started karate and is something I consider incredibly important for my health. That time includes any weightlifting or supplementary aerobic training I do and it may be spread throughout the day. I don’t run for training purposes any more. I’ll use a rowing machine or battle ropes if I want to take my heart rate up. Instead of training as a student in seventeen hours of classes a week, I teach six hours of classes over four days of the week (unless I’m teaching seminars or private classes).

I’m very aware of the weekly physical training deficit created over the last twenty-four years, especially because I recognise the difference between training and teaching. I don’t teach line work, so I’m not at the front of the class unless I’m leading students through a form; rather I’m spending the lesson moving from group to group, correcting and demonstrating. That has its advantages in terms of refining and ingraining good movement, but it’s not the same as training. With that said I think I make more of my solo training time now than I did then: I train more efficiently and choose my exercises with greater care. I also now get to spend at least two hours a day reading or observing subject matter related to karate, the martial arts and personal safety.

I’m certain that the younger version of me would say I’ve got soft and need to train more. I’m experienced enough now to appreciate the value of quality training time and cumulative training rather than just quantity, but I would agree with him that the majority of my excuses are simply excuses. If I need more rest, then I could go to bed earlier. I could get up earlier to get in some important training first thing in the morning. I could easily get another thirty minutes to an hour a day that would make a positive impact on my karate technique, my physical health and my state of mind. Alternatively I could lift more, stretch more, or add in more high intensity interval training to my slow practice.

I have access to free weights, a bench, a rowing machine, battle rope, mats, kick bag and the Great British countryside. Not to use them would be inexcusable. 

Two weeks have passed since I wrote the paragraphs above and I decided to take up the imaginary gauntlet laid down by the memory of my younger self.

It’s been interesting.

So far I have managed to get up earlier, engage in more regular stretching, and squeeze in a little more physical training every day. I’ve not yet fully mastered the knack of going to sleep earlier. The results? Well, the most noticeable thing was that for the initial two weeks I definitely ached a lot more in the morning (until training for that day began), but after that fortnight my body adapted and I don’t ache any more than I did before I upped my training.

That’s a clear sign that in gentle increments I can increase what I am doing further, a signal that the real barriers to greater improvement were more mental than physical. Just because I am over twice the age of that young man, doesn’t mean that I can’t do what he did.

I’m smart enough to realise that the fact that I have had two transplants and have to take a lot of daily medication does place some restrictions on what I can do, and how far I should stretch my comfort zone each session, but that doesn’t stop me training and it won’t stop me improving.

All the best

John

 

Have you had to rebuild yourself or get back into your training after a serious illness or operation? Is it something you’re doing right now? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experience.