Is Sleeping the Key to Great Karate?

Prior to my most recent karate test, I made sure I had a good night’s sleep. As I am sure you know, common advice prior to taking a test is to get plenty of rest the night before the big event. That general wisdom got me thinking about sleep and the impact on athletic performance. Several studies have shown the benefits of a good night’s sleep related to improved athletic performance.  A sleep study was run on the NCAA men’s basketball team from Stanford University and showed improved athletic results for the entire team. Here is a link to the ESPN article: http://www.espn.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/post/_/id/32692/study-stanford-players-need-more-sleep

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Sample sleep study room

I have a habit about when I go to bed each evening. You may be thinking, only when I was a child did I have a bed time. My experience is different in that I am better prepared for the day when I hit my regular bed time. I am more focused and alert with a regular schedule. I generally get up a few minutes prior to the alarm clock. We are an interesting society that uses an alarm clock to set a wake-up process versus allowing the sunlight in our rooms to wake us up. Of course we could always reverse the process and set an alarm to go off at night to get us to our bedroom and get ready for bed.

Prior to the black belt test, I took a few minutes after warming up and stretching to shut my eyes and concentrate on the moves for kicking and striking as well as the katas I would perform. That focus really assisted. I also had a good night’s sleep and slept in prior to driving to the test site. This practice of a good night’s sleep did improve my karate result as I kicked higher and was more relaxed during the test than I had been during the pre-test the week prior.

Karate is like any other sport. We work on coaching the fundamental techniques and practicing them. As our team prepares for the AAU national tournament in another week, should Sensei Mae, one of the instructors, focus in on sleeping as one of the key target areas for improvement in the skills? I believe the answer is yes. We should always practice like we plan to perform.

It is easy to get excited prior to a big event.

  • A consistent sleep pattern designed to maximize performance will relieve some of the pressure for performing on the big stage.
  • Maintaining that sleep pattern is no different the night prior to the tournament. Perfect practice makes perfect.
  • I believe that the regular pattern of sleep has led to improved results for me when taking the karate tests, as the sleep the night before is just an extension of my normal pattern.

If we get up in the morning refreshed, we can exercise harder and with less effort and that will lead to us meeting our goals. Also, a proper sleep pattern may even lead to proper weight maintenance. Web MD has an interesting article on sleep and weight loss. The two elements are related. The article stated that being overtired leads to poor eating decisions. “Plus, when you’re overtired, your brain‘s reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good. So while you might be able to squash comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to a second slice of cake.”

Here is a conclusion from The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players study: “The results of this study strongly suggest that the less frequently considered approach of extending total sleep time may perhaps be the one with the most potential for positive impact on athletic performance. For an athlete to reach optimal performance, an accurate knowledge of one’s nightly sleep requirement and obtaining this amount should be considered integral factors in an athlete’s daily training regimen.”

So, our challenge for all of you is to measure your sleep for the next week. Once you find that pattern, let us know in the comment section below. My goal nightly is 8 hours and I achieve that on a fairly consistent basis.

If you are competing in the upcoming AAU national championship, consider an extension of your sleep to maximize your potential performance while competing, and best wishes for success at the national tournament!

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See you in class soon.

 

 

Making Karate Practice Fun

Happy Father’s Day! One of the many lessons I learned from my dad was how important it was to plan for fun. Cool thought and follow-up from my childhood. I trust you are planning for fun when you practice; I know that I am.

Glen and Dad 2006

Happy Father’s Day!

Both of my parents were teachers which meant we had the whole summer off of school. Back in the old days my dad wrote letters and received answers, maps and information in the mail, and we made our summer vacation plans from that information. The internet had yet to be invented. With some input from all of us, my dad mapped our intended fun vacation day by day and event by event. We even practiced the fun of an overnight event with our pop-up camper to ensure we could use it. These were fun practice sessions for us as we got away for the weekend. Continue reading

Karate over the age of 50?

Sensei Glen here. Yesterday at the gym while I was stretching, one of the ladies also in the stretching area asked me if she was too old for starting karate. I assured her that she was not. She claimed to be 75 years old. I started my journey to black belt at the age of 51. I perform a kicking drill prior to stretching and she had previously asked me about that drill (what are you doing?) as well as the kata that I perform in the gym area in the mornings. This got me thinking about starting karate. I was not too old at the age of 51 to begin my journey to black belt. I told her she was not too old to learn how to defend herself and invited her to class.

Recently, one of our friends from the dojo published on Facebook her story of how she was never athletic and through consistent training took and passed the black belt test. She is six months older than I am and it is great to have a few others at the dojo who are my age and are still coming up through the ranks. I am excited for the company and the dedication shown.

I know as an “older” martial artist I need to pay attention to a proper warm up and stretching routine. Sometimes the kids do not understand why we spend some time warming up and stretching or why people like me often take time after class to ensure we have a proper stretch. When I warm up and stretch as well as cool down and stretch I work on preventing injuries and increasing my speed and flexibility.

Our dojo follows a set pattern on warming up and stretching. We could follow any pattern as long as we work to prevent injuries and promote strength and flexibility. The set pattern of light running (jogging) walking, jumping jacks, sit ups, pushups and squats are designed to engage our muscle groups and get the blood flowing to these areas.

Our Sensei has told us on several occasions that most karate injuries occur due to missed warm-ups and stretching. I have a set practice of including a warm-up for each activity. After the body is warm we can begin to stretch the body. Maximum flexibility comes from stretching. Our son, the black belt, wanted to see how long it would take him at the age of 19 to stretch his thumb to his arm. This is a stretch we often do prior to self-defense training to warm up the hands and wrist. It took him a month of daily work to obtain the stretching goal. It is great to be 19! I still cannot reach my thumb to my arm.

When I began my journey to black belt I did not even think about being “old” in class. We line up by belt and then by age. With my wife and two kids I was the oldest and the four of us sometimes were the only white or yellow belts in class. It was natural and several other students (young and old) were ahead of us in line at the start of class. When I became a black belt we line up by rank and age. I was surprised that I was an older student and jumped to the end of the line next to the second degrees. When our friend became a black belt last year I was no longer at the head of the line for first degrees. Good thing for me I passed my second degree test! Of course we do have a few active second degree students who are older than I am as well.

I did not think about age when I joined the karate classes. I was asked by my son and said yes immediately. I am sure that any other parent of a 15 year old would respond the same way. As we progressed, my age did not make a difference. Karate did work on my conditioning and force me to keep in shape. If we wait until we are in shape or “ready,” we will never join or be ready. Of course the person waiting to attack is not waiting for you to finish your next class.

To go back and answer my friend’s question from the gym, “Am I too old?” I would say, ”No! You are as young as you feel,” and we need to make the most out of the only life we have.

As I think about age, I now realize that I have friends and acquaintances that have Alzheimer’s. I am concerned that I should be doing something in my life to prevent or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association website has some ideas and no solid answers. Most of their ideas are that “Regular physical exercise may be a beneficial strategy to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.”  Karate checks the box for regular exercise. They also state “A number of studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.” Again, karate checks the box by providing social activities in group classes and learning new skills that are a mentally active challenge for young and old alike.

The recommendation from the Alzheimer’s association in their “what can you do now section” says: “While research is not yet conclusive, certain lifestyle choices, such as physical activity and diet, may help support brain health and prevent Alzheimer’s. Many of these lifestyle changes have been shown to lower the risk of other diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s. With few drawbacks and plenty of known benefits, healthy lifestyle choices can improve your health and possibly protect your brain.”

I cannot think of a better endorsement for karate than from the Alzheimer’s Association’s own website. You are not too old to begin your journey to black belt as part of the healthy lifestyle that you want to enjoy.

When did you start your martial arts training? Please let us know in the comment section below. Yes, you should join your kids in karate class. I was glad that I did.  See you in class soon.

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Black Belt Family

Can You Really Do That Thing You’re Scared Of?

Like me, any other perfectly normal person feels weak and powerless when we are in new situations. When I joined karate, I knew I had seen martial arts movies and well, how hard could it be to become the next Bruce Lee?

Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” So we can thank Mark Twain for allowing us to remain with fear and still overcome that fear. I am not suggesting that we are doing anything heroic. Just that when we overcome fear or something that scares us we are exhibiting courage.

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I am getting older. This is a birthday card I received. Aging requires courage.

When I am looking to prepare myself to do something that scares me, I work at thinking back to things I’ve already done that took guts like fighting another adult for an AAU karate medal, stepping in the ring twice on my black belt test fighting two black belts at the same time. If could be easier items such as moving to a new city or a new house. Whatever the case is for me, it will be different for you. What is it that has you scared?

 

Most people are flexible and adaptable much more so than they may give themselves credit for.  To prepare yourself when you are scared, I will ask you to think of times when you exhibit flexibility. Do you speak to your sensei the same way you do your friends or others at the dojo? Do your interactions with your in-laws take the same form as those with your friends from school? Probably not. That means you can adapt to new situations and overcome your fear with a variety of people. This does not mean you can fly or have super human strength or stop bullets. That is Superman and we are not Superman. Also, we are not advocating or encouraging reckless or dangerous tasks.

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Class participation = courage and overcoming fears to get on the floor with a black belt!

In karate, if we focus on the skills and strengths we already have, it can give us the courage to do new things.  Just stepping onto the dojo floor is a testimony to your courage. As we grow older and become smarter, we develop knowledge and “expertise” that can serve us well as well as cause our minds to become closed to new ideas and information. Karate is a new input and one that I did not take up until I was over 50. I had a lot to learn and more to un-learn prior to moving up in the ranks.

As a self-professed expert, the fear I had was couched in “I do not need to learn karate.” My son was taking karate and loving the time spent. When he asked me to join, my only response was yes. I know that much. I needed to unlearn more than I initially learned. I was afraid and still have fear in certain moves and being in a fight. I need to pay attention to the fear and have the courage to overcome it, and even on the second degree test I can tell you it never goes away.

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We did it! A courageous group!

Nike would say, “Just do it.” And we know it is not that simple. Here are a few thoughts to help us on our journey.

  1. We are not as smart as we think we are. We all have fear and it is hard to get in the ring. Courage is not for the weak. We need to realize that others know more than we do, and we should be always open to the teaching.
  2. Asking questions and listening is a good way to discover what is going on. When we speak up in class that this or that is how it is done, we would be good to say “tell me more about…” I have described techniques incorrectly, I am human. When we ask questions and listen for the answer, we often learn and grow.
  3. We should observe the process and imitate the Sensei. When we learn we are over 80% visual. When our youngest white belts learn, they watch much more than they listen. We should be no different as we strive to improve ourselves.

How about it then? Are you ready to face your fears and join me in the next class? Yes, I will have fear as well. I am looking to you for courage as well as within myself. Let’s become the master of fear and not allow it to master us.

See you in class soon.

 

 

 

Small Steps = Big Improvements

Our family is moving to a new house soon. We are downsizing. Not to worry, we are still near the dojo.  We are losing some of our at home training space and gaining a right sized house for us. One of the first things I did prior to putting an offer on the house was to run our white belt kata in the finished basement. Our rule of thumb is that if we have enough room for that kata, we have enough room for all of the others and can move into the house. Do you have a similar measurement or wish you did prior to moving?

Kata in a new house

Practicing kata while house hunting. This one fits!

As we are getting ready to leave our current house, we are taking a critical look at what we possess and asking if it comes to the new house.  We have looked and included some items as transitional, meaning they are coming until we purchase a replacement. Other items are being restored. My grandfather was a carpenter and put together a night stand for me when I was a child. That one is being restored and coming to the new home. Other pieces are being sold on Craig’s list or eBay.

As you look at your kata, does it need the same critical eye applied? In studying for my second degree black belt test, I found that the kata sometimes spoke to me and some of the technique I thought I knew needed abandoning and other techniques needed restoration to their correct form. Of course it was a constant question at the dojo the week prior to the test…”Where is the kiai in this kata and tell me again how does that move go?”

The week prior to the test, our Sensei was focused on our technique. In performing an opening move for one of our advanced katas, our Sensei took 10 minutes to explain the first several moves. We had looked at them as the opening sequence and it turned out that there was more to the story. When we went to the test, I participated in a bunki exhibition with another candidate on the same opening moves and he had yet another interpretation of the same sequence. Wow, that was fun and opened us up to a better kata performance during our test.

A simple word of caution, please do not plan on completely gutting and renovating from scratch your kata. It will become overwhelming.  The world has so many options; limit yourself to a one or two so you can make improvements.  When it all feels overwhelming, and it will, stop and just make little choices (see the blog post testing today? and chunking) because one by one added up they will give you a completed and updated kata.

A good sensei will work with you on the frequent, small do-able steps so you not get overwhelmed with the task itself. I am glad my Sensei did not tell me everything to improve, as I would become overwhelmed. Instead, he focused on one or two points to create or restore me back to a great kata.

Our sensei coaching model says that in the beginning, we break down tasks into small improvements. All of the improvements at once, as I just noted, is overwhelming. A coaching session prior to the testing should occur a few months in advance and be followed up with other senseis or the same one in a few weeks so the refinements continue and the practice is sharpened.

Every day we are all “renovating kata,” whether that is in the form or learning a new skill or accomplishing our entire kicking task. We are constantly doing things that can overwhelm us if we let them. If you meet me in the next few months and I look a bit frazzled, it won’t be because I am doing small incremental tasks, it’s going to be because I am trying to renovate an entire kata. I will come back to the advice I’ve received about breaking my kata down, time and time again, it’s what will keep me sane. If you’d like to learn more about preparing for your next test and getting recommendations about breaking down tasks for your kata, we’d be happy to help you at a private session. Ask us after class. We are happy to assist.

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Sensei Glen after passing the second degree test.

Just a note to congratulate Josh, Emily and Cathy who, along with me, passed the test for their second degree black belt last Saturday. Well done! Of course, we applied the little bits together and made big improvements in our kata and techniques. See you in class soon.