Thursday, February 25, 2016

Age + Injury = Caution

I enjoyed great workouts at Krav Maga Tuesday and Wednesday nights. When I work up this morning, I planned to get a third workout in Thursday evening.

As soon as got out of bed, however, I felt pain in my upper left leg, on the back side in the hamstring area. I thought I might be able to walk it off, but it didn't disappear.

I noticed it was particularly troublesome when walking up the stairs. Immediately I began thinking about how to handle class that night.

Bottom line up front: I stayed home. Why?

I've been injured when participating in sports before. In my teens and 20s, it seemed like I could self-repair in hours, or just "gut it out" with no real ill effects. I would have gone to class and survived.

In my 30s, when I tried that approach I found I made the injury worse, and in most cases my decision prolonged my recovery time. I would probably have gone to class, but hurt myself worse.

In my 40s, I'd like to think that I'm smarter now. I've only been practicing Krav Maga for 8 weeks. I've surprised myself with the amount of kicking and ground work that I've been able to tolerate. On occasion my lower back has acted up, due to rotation when kicking. However, today was the first day when I felt like I was physically impaired. I had to make a decision.

The worst scenario for me would be to not let my leg heal, and then find myself not being able to train for days, or weeks. At this point in my training I go to class at least two times a week, and try to add a weekend session. If the monthly Friday Fight Night is available, I definitely want to participate! Regular training time is important for personal development, both mental and physical.

In brief, I need to make decisions that maximize the chances that I will be able to train like I want to train, as often as possible on a regular schedule.

I decided that taking Thursday night off, after having good workouts Tuesday and Wednesday, was the best course of action. If Thursday night happened to be a progress test, I would have gone to the test, however. I could rest on the other side, knowing that I would not want to miss an opportunity for which I had training for weeks and months. Thankfully, that was not the case tonight.

How do you make decisions on whether to press forward when hurt, or take it easy?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reaction to Grace-Shamrock at Bellator 149

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
I watched Bellator 149 Friday night, while on a business trip to the west coast. Like some of you, I wanted to see Royce Gracie fight Ken Shamrock one more time.

My first live UFC was UFC 4, which happened in December 1994, several months after I started studying kung fu. Many of the guys in the school had seen the three previous UFC contests. UFC 3 took place in September 1994, and the next day the guys who watched it tried out their takedowns and ground-and-pound techniques on those of us who had no idea what had happened!

As a 44-year-old martial artist, I was probably able to relate to Gracie and Shamrock better than most of the regular UFC and Bellator audience. After watching the earlier Bellator fights Friday night, I couldn't imagine the stamina needed to fight 3 five minute mixed martial arts rounds at age 49 (Gracie) or 52 (Shamrock). At the Air Force Academy I took mandatory boxing training my freshman year, and was drafted for the squadron boxing team my sophomore year. Collegiate boxing involves three rounds of two minutes each. I remember being exhausted at age 18 and 19, so I was amazed to see two fighters, 30 years older, potentially fighting much longer rounds.

Of course, the fight ended with 2:38 left in the first round. Vice Fightland has a good synopsis, but suffice it to say the referee missed a Gracie knee to Shamrock's groin, and then ended the fight while Gracie pounded Shamrock, now pinned on the ground.

I was impressed by the class shown by both fighters, once Shamrock accepted that Gracie hadn't called the fight. I Tweeted to that effect, and was thrilled to see Ken Shamrock reTweet what I posted shortly afterward!

I was also interested in seeing how Gracie used kicks to control the distance between himself and Shamrock. Kicking isn't what comes to mind when most people think about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, but it reminded me that Gracie and his clan are some of the most complete fighters you will see in martial combat events.

I was impressed by the warrior attitudes of both fighters. It takes amazing willpower to get in that ring, at whatever age and experience.

On a related note, if you want to see a fight where Royce really pushed himself to the limit, I recommend Royce Gracie vs Kimo Leopoldo from UFC 3. It puts the current rules involving weight classes, prohibited strikes, and the like in perspective.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Back to Sparring

Point Fighting in Texas in 1996 as a TKD White Belt
Last night was Friday Fight Night at my Krav Maga school. I decided to try it out, although I was anxious about what might happen. I knew the class lasted two hours, and that sparring was involved. I hadn't sparred in 15 years, when I was 29. At 44 I wondered how I would handle the experience.

Before last night I had sparred in three different systems. At my Kung Fu school in Billerica, we did more of a Western boxing style of sparring, with less emphasis on kicking. We did not follow any "points" system, and I never fought in a competition. From this experience I learned the basics of boxing and picked up some nifty circular or crescent kicks. I am a fan of the inside crescent kick from the lead leg, for example. It can set up a rear leg roundhouse kick.

When I briefly practiced Tae Kwon Do in San Angelo, the emphasis shifted. Now kicks were the primary weapons, with extra points awarded for jumping kicks. I could occasionally catch the TKD guys off guard with boxing. I did fight at one tournament, as a white belt. I beat a yellow belt (shown above) but lost to a green stripe. In TKD I learned that I did not like fighting "sideways." The TKD guys seemed to stand with their centerline 90 degrees from the opponent, which takes away the rear leg and hand. You can see the yellow belt in the photo above with his rear leg facing to the rear, in fact. Of course, the TKD guys can throw some amazing kicks, so you have to be careful fighting them!

Wing Chun Hands vs Traditional Kung Fu, from Ip Man 2
When I moved to San Antonio, I briefly studied Wing Chun. I did not spar there, because I didn't stay there very long due to the nature of the instruction. However, the Wing Chun tendency to directly face the opponent nicely countered the sideways stance from TKD. I also picked up more lead leg kicks, such as the "reverse side kick" and the "stomp kick." These are great kicks but have two caveats. First, they require more accuracy to be effective, and second, they are likely to destroy an opponent's knee. Therefore, I don't use them when sparring. Wing Chun also introduced its unique hand positions, guarding the centerline, positioned much lower than Western boxing.

Finally, I did some sparring when studying American Kenpo. In this style I built on some of the hand techniques from Wing Chun. We did a lot with elbow strikes. For example, a punch can fold into an elbow strike, which can be reversed to deliver a second elbow when withdrawing from the adversary. Because most sparring disallows elbow strikes, this is not viable unless one has to use the tactic in a more dangerous situation.

So, how did this come together at Krav Maga last night? The majority of the class consisted of exercises, striking, and ground work. The last 30 minutes was more sparring-oriented. I really enjoyed how our instructor introduced progressively more sparring-like drills before we did free-form sparring. For example, after doing more striking drills with focus mitts and chest protectors, we did back-and-forth drills, with the first person executing one attack, to which the second person responded. After a while we did three-vs-three, then later five-vs-five. After those rounds the first person executed some offensive techniques, but the defender could try to exploit openings. These drills helped me quite a bit to make the transition from "no sparring in 15 years" to "I'm exchanging strikes with an opponent."

Eventually we were told to put our mouthguards in, and we each fought a round against three different opponents. I felt good about the rounds. My last two involved guys who were much senior to me. The third in particular was rough because he was very much taller, and had great range, quickness, and technique. He got the better of me, for sure!

During the sessions I felt comfortable enough to try different approaches, such as a Western boxing approach, or the Wing Chun handwork, or the various Chinese lead leg kicks. There's nothing like sparring to drive theory head-on into action. My mind was spinning afterwards trying to figure out how to handle the bigger, faster, more experience guys when we fight again next month.

If anyone has any tips or resources they would like to share, feel free to respond to my announcement on this post on Twitter, where I am @rejoiningthetao. You can also leave a comment here, but I have to approve comments manually in order to avoid comment spammers.

Over the next week I will also post product reviews for the shin guards and boxing gloves I wore to Friday Fight Night.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Product Review: Hayabusa Ikusa Recast 4 oz MMA Gloves

At my Krav Maga school, I noticed several students wearing MMA-style gloves. These are generally 4 oz gloves with open fingers to permit grappling.

I had been wearing wraps to class, but I wanted to give this sort of gear a try.

I did some research online and decided on a pair of Hayabusa Ikusa Recast 4 oz MMA gloves. This post will share my thoughts on this equipment, in case you are wondering if they would be useful in your training.

First, let me share some pictures of the gear.

Hayabusa Ikusa Recast 4 oz MMA Gloves
As you can see, the gloves offer openings for four fingers (as seen in both globes) and your thumb (as seen in the glove at right).

Hayabusa Ikusa Recast 4 oz MMA Gloves, strap detail
One aspect of these gloves that caught my attention were the double straps. Hayabusa calls this the "Patented Dual-X® Wrist Closure." Essentially it allows you to tighten down one strap over your wrist, then cover that strap with a second one from the other direction. This allows you to get a pretty snug fit, thereby helping to protect your wrists.

When training in American Kenpo, I broke one of my wrists. Therefore, the extra protection offered by this Hayabusa feature appealed to me. It seemed to work well in class today. We practiced a lot of striking and blocking, and the gloves worked well.

The following show how the gloves look when worn.

Hayabusa Ikusa Recast 4 oz MMA Gloves, palm view
Hayabusa Ikusa Recast 4 oz MMA Gloves, fist view
I bought size M gloves, based on measurements found in the online sizing chart.

Sizing Chart
So, how did these gloves perform? They are brand new, so they felt a little stiff. I expect them to loosen as I use them. I did not have a problem making a fist, and I was able to deliver palm strikes without any issues.

I encountered one important difference between using wraps and gloves. At one point in the class, our instructor told us to grab focus mitts, and provide target practice for our partners. You cannot wear focus mitts while wearing MMA gloves, but you can wear mitts while wearing wraps! Because of the dual-X causing a snug fit, it took me a minute to get my gloves off and put my focus mitts on. When it was my turn to strike, I did so barehanded.

This experience demonstrates that if you expect to do a lot of work with a partner and focus mitts, you should probably wear wraps rather than MMA gloves.

Overall I am very pleased with these gloves. I plan to keep using them, and will provide an update several months out to report how they are holding up. I also bought a pair of 16 oz gloves and a set of shin pads in preparation for sparring next week. After I use those in a live scenario, I will post reviews here.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Movie Review: Ip Man 3 (2015)

Waiting to See Ip Man 3
I just returned from seeing Ip Man 3. I had prepared for this movie by seeing the two previous films, reviewed here and here. In several ways this movie was very different from the earlier editions, so I have mixed feelings about it.

I need to include some spoilers in order to explain my feelings about the film. You may want to see the movie before reading any further!

Donnie Yen was awesome, as usual. He showed more acting range, due to some very heavy material in the storyline. These poignant scenes were some of my favorite aspects of the movie. I was really impressed by the fighting he was able to perform at age 51. He is an inspiration to those of us over 40.

"Ip Man 3" continued the trend of cross-style fighting, with combat between Wing Chun and a "Thai fighter," a western boxer (guess who), and a top Wing Chun artist! These three fights were my favorites in the film. I particularly enjoyed the staging and context for the Thai fight.

The movie also included more of the martial arts vs family tension seen in previous films, except it took an added dimension in this edition. I very much enjoyed expanding upon these elements of the Ip Man family. I also liked Master Ip's evolving relationship with Cheung Tin-chi.

On the down side, the movie included several mass combat scenes which did not appeal to me. I wish the editors had cut the entire sequence which put Master Ip's son in physical danger. That was over the top in my opinion and seemed out of character with the series.

Along with the mass fights, it was clear that Sammo Hung was no longer the fight choreographer.  Yuen Woo-ping's work was bright in some areas, but not as inspired in others.

Finally, I expected to see more of Bruce Lee! He basically had a cameo at the beginning, and nothing more.

Overall, I might place the first and second movies in a virtual tie, with the third movie coming in second. What did you think of Ip Man 3?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Movie Review: Ip Man 2 (2010)

Western Boxing vs Wing Chun
As I mentioned in Movie Review: Ip Man (2008), I'm planning to see "Ip Man 3" tomorrow night. To be caught up for the third movie in the Ip Man series, I watched the 2010 movie "Ip Man 2."

This was a much different movie, and in some ways you might call it the "Chinese Rocky" edition of the Ip Man trilogy.

It had a different flow compared to the previous film, and I enjoyed it.

Here's what I liked about the movie:

  • Donnie Yen: Donnie Yen continues to shine in these films. I didn't think his acting range was tested as much in this movie, but his quiet presence is unlike other leading actors in martial arts movies.
  • Cross-style fighting: Seeing different styles fight each other was one of my favorite aspects of the first Ip Man movie. In Ip Man 2, we get a chance to see different Chinese styles clash, several times. As shown in the image above, we also get to see eastern and western styles in conflict. In fact, not only does Wing Chun confront western boxing, we see Sammo Hung's southern Hung Ga style clash with Wing Chun and Western boxing. 
  • Conflict within the Chinese community: I do not know the accuracy of the "rules" governing the teaching of martial arts in Hong Kong. However, I liked the scenes involving Master Ip confronting Hong Kong's kung fu masters in order to win the right to teach Wing Chun. It was reminiscent of Bruce Lee's struggle to teach western students in San Francisco.
  • Themes besides fighting: As a father of young children, I enjoyed seeing that even a martial arts master like Ip Man again had to balance family life with professional and community responsibilities. However, I didn't think it was a good idea to miss the birth of Master Ip's second child.
  • Action and pacing: I thought the movie progressed nicely, perhaps better than the first movie. 
  • Price: At $3.99 at Amazon, the movie was a more expensive rental than the original film. However, it was completely worth it.
On the critical side, I have to repeat my "Historical inaccuracy" and "It helps to like martial arts movies" issues from the first movie review. With another mild spoiler alert, I thought it was slightly unbelievable that a corrupt Hong Kong intermediary would turn on his even more corrupt police contact. I was also glad the British police were not shown as totally evil in this movie.

In brief, if you like martial arts movies and haven't seen Ip Man or Ip Man 2, I strongly recommend both of them. I look forward to reviewing the third installment later this week.