Why an absence of blogging? For the best of reasons: a book to finish. I took a day off from writing yesterday, due to fried-brain syndrome; back to work today. Got a long run in fresh valley air to look forward to. [Subsequent edit: Did that. Bagwork, too.]
     The dojo's closed for 3 weeks, but that's OK, because if there's anything I know about, it's solo training. Not that I wish to be an authority on anything. (Not that you can train without training partners/opponents all the time, either.) I thought I'd make this post an end-of-year martial arts round-up, and deal with the rest next time. As always, I write about this stuff mainly because I think a writer's life is boring (as viewed from anywhere except inside the writer's head). Imagine an authorial reality TV show (please shudder)... a solitary person staring into space and hammering at a keyboard. Nothing to see, move on...
     Currently I'm training for 10 days at a stretch followed by a (scheduled) day off, gradually returning to my old 7-days-a-week routine, but enhanced. I only embraced the concept of off-days when my IT job entailed lots of working away from home, 5 days per week: taking Friday off from training made the work and journey home a lot easier.
     It's considered overtraining, but I always found that the mix of workouts kept me injury-free (as much as anyone manages in martial arts, anyhow), and the fact that I could keep on going, year in, year out, meant I wasn't overtraining. As always, though, this is not a training recommendation for anyone else (see a medical professional before commencing training, I take zero responsibility, etc., etc.), and in fact I'd be disappointed if someone copied my routines exactly. The principle of putting together different training modes is good for all-round strength and fitness, of course. But if someone wants to train solely in powerlifting, say, or long-distance running, then good for them.
     Anyway, the extended schedule allows me to devote one workout a week to pure strength/strength-endurance without cardio or skills drilling. Usually I start with my old standby short calisthenics routine: 100 Hindu push-ups (dands), 200 Hindu squats (bethaks, aka baithaks), 2-minute neck bridge, 100 ab crunches. Then the weights are mostly upper body, sometimes with as little as 4 sets of dumbbell squats for legs (most bodybuilders would not approve of the light workload). This suits me, because my running is on hilly terrain, and I do zillions of freehands squats plus all the karate.
     And you know I'm in my mid-50s, right?
     Last Friday's workout included my longer bodweight exercise routine (250 dands, 500 bethaks, 4-minute bridge), so yesterday I went straight into the weights, and did a little more on the legs:
     4 sets of kettlebell squats; 4 sets each hand of one-hand kettlebell swings; 4 sets of dumbbell squats; 2 sets of split squats; 3 sets of knuckle pushups; 4 supersets of dumbbell bench press plus ab crunches; 2 sets of pec flyes; 4 sets each arm of one-arm dumbbell rows; 2 sets of one-arm lat pulldowns; 4 sets of military press; 2 sets of lateral deltoid flyes; 4 supersets of triceps pushdowns plus EZ-bar curls; 2 supersets of lying triceps press and hammer curls; 4 supersets of wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Followed by stretching, as with every workout.
     I'll do another weights workout mid-week, lower body optional, but following a 40-minute run and perhaps calisthenics. There should be two other 40-minute runs during the week, in my current schedule, although I didn't manage last week's 3rd run (hence my switch to a runless Plan B last Friday). I will also do at least one big, killer workout on the punch bags.
     I've equipped my back-garden dojo with 5 bags (a luxury), being: a 6-foot Thai bag, whose bottom end is encircled by tyres (for added resistance and foot-sweep practice); a 4-foot bag (which moves when hit, therefore good for combinations and working angles); a top-and-bottom (aka floor-to-ceiling) bag for speed/reaction work; a homemade unsuspended bag for ground-and-pound and other grappling drills (which I've been neglecting recently); and an old heavy bag left hanging outdoors and turned into concrete by near-daily Welsh rain (which I use the way other oldtimers use makiwaras: for hardening knuckles, edge of the hand, and forearms).
     Been practicing my breakfalls on the mats, and mulling over a possible return to grappling in the New Year. Otherwise, doing OK in my karate dojo training. My solo basics and kata are as good as I'll ever get (on the plus side, due to my training with Enoeda sensei, on the negative side, there's my age: maintenance rather than improvement is all I can hope for). My instructor Paul Watson's non-basic drills are excellent, and I've never worked out if that's because he was a kyokushin (full contact) international before turning to shotokan, or just because it's his own ideas of how to teach. Perfect for me, anyhow.
     Regarding my Marshall Street years - I was the least among Enoeda sensei's students, the little guy at the back who couldn't hang around to socialise because of the 3-hour journey home (and pre-dawn start the next day). But in this interview with the renowned Craig Raye, you'll find a dojo photograph with three large gentlemen in kimonos standing at the back, along with Enoeda sensei in his blazer. (The three visitors were professional sumo wrestlers, awesome men, taking part in the basho that was held in London, and who came to pay their respects to Enoeda sensei.)
     Anyway, I'm the little guy standing behind the kneeling yellow belt, by Craig's left arm. Black hair and clean shaven. Seems like yesterday...
     Speaking of which, my books of the year regarding martial arts boil down to two. The first is old school, being the excellent Shin Gi Tai by Michael Clarke. He's the author of Roaring Silence, one of the two classic memoirs written by then-young westerners training in Japan before anyone had heard of Bruce Lee(the other being C.W.Nicol, interviewed here and here, author of Moving Zen). Shin Gi Tai is thought provoking for those of us with grey (or no) hair, for example in the way it asks whether you know why you're still training... (My answers aren't his, and I feel no need to discuss them, but this and similar questions are vital to ask.)
     I never made the journey to Japan (but the Boss taught in Marshall Street!). Enjoyed the memoirs mentioned above. Initially enjoyed a couple of more recent memoirs, but on later reflection was disappointed by the authors' attitudes. Which made me hesitate about downloading a book called Blue-Eyed Samurai, by Nicholas Pettas, until I checked him out on YouTube - including an impressive K-1 kickboxing fight and a really impressive clip of him coaching Japanese kickboxers. His pal Judd Reid (mentioned in the book) recently completed the 100-man kumite, too. Hardcore.
     One of the things I like about kyokushin training (or kyokushinkai as we oldtimers say) is the way that additional conditioning - running, bagwork, calisthenics and weight training - is such an obvious feature of what they do. I was lucky to get the message when I switched to shotokan (from judo and wu shu kwan) at university: the university dojo was in the campus sports centre, and I was surrounded by track & field athletes and powerlifters, with an old-school, heavy-duty weights gym designed by the late Howard Payne, an Olympic athlete who was a hammer-throwing and powerlifting champion. (Actually, my second judo instructor, Jack, was a bodybuilder and ex-commando, who taught some of us military combatives; so the university athletes were a reinforcement of an existing example.)
     Then there's Sergei Badyuk, a kyokushinkai 8th dan, powerlifter and bodybuilder, who's both old school and new school, seen demonstrating old-style here, but then Russia has always had its own approach to martial arts, which I've been aware of for a long time. Interesting guy, and the Russian representative for the association headed by hardcore legend Jon Bluming.
     In popular culture, Warrior is a good fight movie, the cast including Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy, in which the actors look good as MMA fighters, due to months spent working with renowned trainer Greg Jackson in New Mexico. (There's an interview with him as a DVD extra.) Actors preparing for fight roles are usually not impressive. There's a word for someone who trains hard for three months in a martial art: the word is "beginner".
     I was fifteen when I started in judo, which seemed so old to become an athlete... And here I am four decades later, into my fifth decade of training. We were fifth and sixth formers from a bunch of local schools, given the opportunity to train at the local college on Wednesdays, in the hallowed tradition of Games Afternoons. All this time later, I wonder how many of those others are still training in martial arts or combat sports... or am I, the least naturally talented, the only one committed to this for life?
     My only useful attribute? Being too stupid to give up...
     Fly straight, Pilots.