Week 2 Training Results

At the turn of the new year I kicked off my 12 week training program to get ready for the ATA Nationals tournament.  As part of that program, I’ve put together a system for tracking my progress.  You can read an overview of that (and see my week 1 results) here.

I’ve just completed week two of my program.  Here’s the quick summary of my week:

And here is how I stacked up this week vs. last week on my key metrics:

So, how did the week stack up?  Let’s look at the key elements:

  • Total Training Minutes – I feel really good about this.  I came in at just under 90 minutes / day.  Given that I have a full time job and a family, I’ll have a hard time keeping up that pace, but it felt really good this week.
  • Push-ups – One of my big goals with this is gaining strength and I have a goal to reach 1,000 push-ups a week.  This week I did nearly 600 which was up from 400 last week.  Last week I did sets of 50 at a time.  This week I did sets of 65 and eventually moved to sets of 70.  Making good progress here
  • Diet – The cheats column measures how many times I went off my Fighter’s Diet program.  I actually did great on my diet this week (right up until the 49er game today — I’ll see that on the scale tomorrow!).  One of the things I’ve had to focus on more is eating enough to match this level of training.  This week I ate more than I’m used to eating, but still lost weight.
  • Weight and body comp – I don’t have a goal to lose weight on this program.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I still have a few pounds of fat I wouldn’t mind shedding, but I really want to gain muscle.  This week and last week I lost weight.  However, I think it’s mostly been shedding water weight so far and my overall weight hasn’t moved much.  I’ll keep an eye on this.

Now, in terms of skills I need for the tournament, things are coming along.  For my Weapons Form event, I have a good knowledge of the form and I’m really working on cleaning it up.  For my Traditional Empty Hand form, this is going to require major work.  There are 81 moves in the form and I can get through about half of them now (and it doesn’t look great).  Lots more hours to put into that.  For Taekwondo sparring, I got some good work in this week.

For my IMS/MMA event, I need to find a way to get some focus here.  I’m having trouble finding good sparring partners for this and I only made MMA class once this week.  I’ve got to find a way to put in more here.

Thanks to all my virtual training partners out there who read my blog or comment on my twitter.  I really appreciate the encouragement.


New Martial Arts Goals

In 2010, the Little Ninja and I both worked hard to help her earn her black belt.  After we succeeded at that, 2011 was really where I focused on myself so I could do what was required to earn my own black belt.  That was a fabulous experience, but after getting my black belt confirmed in December, I now found myself without a short term goal.  Second degree black belt is a long way away, so I needed to look for something more immediate.

A few weeks back, I came up with the idea of going to the ATA Nationals Tournament.  I’ve competed in some smaller tournaments, but nothing like this.  This is a big tournament, and I’ll have to compete in a higher division now than I have in the past — since I have my black belt now.  I talked to the Little Ninja about it and she loved the idea of taking a trip to Vegas with her dad.  So, we have 12 weeks from the start of the year to get ready.  We just finished the first week of training.

The Little Ninja is planning to compete in traditional forms, traditional weapons (with a Bo Staff form) and XMA Weapons (with her Kamas).  For her, I’m really only worried about getting her to put in the training hours on technique.  If she does just that, she’ll do great.  For my own training, I need to be more aggressive.

I’m planning to compete in Traditional Forms, Traditional Weapons and Taekwondo Sparring.  I’ve done all these events at small tournaments before, but I’m also planning to push myself.  The ATA has been introducing a new Integrated Martial Arts System (IMS) that uses TKD’s striking and adds submissions and takedowns.  This is really MMA fighting (with more restrictions and safety gear than the UFC).  I’m planning to train to compete in IMS at nationals.  For this I need to up my game a lot!

I’ve started by putting together a format to track my progress over the 12 weeks leading up to the tournament.  I just finished week 1, and I’m going to try to peak my training at week 11 (a week prior to the actual tourney).  Here’s what I’m tracking:

  • Minutes of traditional Taekwondo training/sparring
  • Minutes of MMA training/sparring
  • Minutes of fitness training outside martial arts (includes: gym time, weights, running, intervals, etc)
  • Push ups – I can do these anywhere and I’m setting a goal to work up to at least doing 1,000 a week
  • Adherence to my Fighter’s Diet program (I mark down each cheat meal so I don’t have too many)
  • Weight and body fat percentage.  I don’t really want to loose weight, but instead want to drive up my muscle mass without also gaining fat.  I’ve never tried to actually gain weight before so this will be new!

Here are my entries for this week.  I’ll be posting these once a week to help keep me honest.  I appreciate any feedback, suggestions or encouragement.  If you’re reading this then consider yourself one of my virtual training partners!  I appreciate your help!

So, this week I trained just over 1 hour per day (including all seven days of the week), did 400 pushups (not counting any from my regular martial arts classes), and had one cheat meal (the fries my friend ordered looked just too good!).  Oover the course of the week I weighed in on average at 143.5 lbs with 14.8% body fat (calculated using my fancy new scale).  Let’s see how next week compares!

Good Bye Diet Soda!

As I put together the first version of my Fighter’s Diet, one of the things I looked at was my consumption of diet cola.  I drank a fair bit of it.  It had zero calories, so conventional “calories in – calories out” logic says it shouldn’t hurt.  It has zero  carbs, so Dr. Atkins says it’s OK too.  However, Robb Wolf’s Paleo Diet book and Mike Dolce’s writing both made me take a hard look at some of the really artificial things I was ingesting.

In looking around at the research on diet soda, it’s hard to find a smoking gun.  In some sense, I think the impacts this stuff has on your body is so complex that it’s hard to lock up the total impact in just one study.  However, there appears to be a huge amount of evidence mounting against this stuff.  Here is some of what I found

Weight Gain

Diet soda is associated with weight gain.  There are still questions about the mechanics of this — does it bind to the same receptors as sugar and mess with your blood glucose?  That being said, there is now study after study that shows this.  Here are some examples:

  • A 2005 University of Texas study showed that people drinking two or more diet sodas per day were 57% more likely to be obese
  • A long-term study of diet soda drinkers by the American Diabetes Association showed they 70% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users.  Worse yet, those who drank two or more cans per day had a whopping 500% increase!
  • Another study shows that diet soda drinkers are 34% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome

More Scary Stuff

Set all this stuff aside and then there is the question of how much caffeine do you want to be drinking?  Managing cortisol levels and getting sleep has become an important part of my program.  If I’m drinking a caffeinated beverage with every meal (which I used to do) how is that going to mess with my sleep patterns?

So, that covers a lot of the downside.  So, what’s the good side?  Well, it doesn’t have sugar.  That’s good!  However, there’s another good no sugar option: Water!  It’s cheaper, it’s easily available and its tasty (once you get your taste buds detoxed for a few days).  Contrary to what we see above, water has a pretty darn good reputation in the research! How many useful nutrients are you getting out of your diet soda?  Yeah, zero! That’s how many.  Maybe that’s why Coke calls their new diet flavor Coke Zero!

Matthew Polly’s Tapped Out

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to train for a real MMA match?  You should check out Matthew Polly’s Tapped Out: Rear Naked Chokes, the Octagon, and the Last Emperor: An Odyssey in Mixed Martial Arts. A few months back, I reviewed Matt’s first book American Shaolin about his time as a young man living with the Shaolin Monks. I really enjoyed that book, so when I saw Matt had a new book out, I knew I’d have to pick it up.

Tapped Out is an odd-ball kind of sequel to American Shaolin. 20 years after training in Kung Fu with the monks, Matts has put on 100 pounds and settled into the soft life. This book chronicles his two year journey leading up to fighting in a real MMA bout. Along the way he meets big-time MMA personalities like Randy Couture, GSP, Fedor Emelianenko and Joe Rogan.

Polly’s book is funny, informative and uplifting. He constantly entertains you while making you feel you’re there living it with him. From training with top MMA coaches in New York and Las Vegas to training adventures in Russia and Thailand you get to feel the adventure.

The part I loved most about this book is that Polly really worked his butt off. He didn’t just train for a month and jump in the ring.  He trained hard in Muay Thai, BJJ and really became a credible mixed martial artist. He’s never going to be GSP (and after seeing GSP up close, Polly makes that clear) but he’s no slouch. This book may inspire you to train harder and do things you didn’t think were possible. You should check it out.

Book Review: The Talent Code

You know that guy you train with who is so fast it makes your head spin when you spar with him?  He must simply have been lucky enough to be born fast, right?  Wrong!  Excellence in martial arts, just like playing an instrument or playing baseball is a skill, and skills follow a universal set of rules for how you excel.  In his book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, author Daniel Coyle describes the science behind talent acquisition and how you can use this knowledge to become that guy who’s faster and better than everyone else.

In his book Coyle says, “Every human skill, whether it’s playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse — basically, a signal traveling through a circuit.”  He then goes on to describe how your nervous system responds to this by building a substance called myelin, “When we fire our circuits in the right way — when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note — our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.”

He goes on to describe the process that world-class individuals use to get better.  It’s called Deep Practice.  “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways– operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes– makes you smarter.  Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors and correct them — as you would if you were walking up an ice covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go — end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.”  So, yes it is going to be hard.  But, you can do it.  Anyone can do it.  There are no Luke Skywalkers, people who posses special abilities at birth that the rest of us can’t replicate!

So, here’s the bottom line.

  • Every type of movement, and everything you think and feel is a precise set electric signal traveling through a chain of neuronal connections
  • Neural connections strengthen and are wrapped in myelin to increases signal strength, speed and accuracy
  • The more you fire a circuit, the more it becomes optimized, and the stronger, faster and more fluent your movements and thoughts become

So, how much better is a finely tuned set of neural connections than a new set?  A lot faster!  In martial arts terms, we’re not talking just a little bit faster.  Think about Neo-in-The-Matrix-faster as your guide!  Coyle gives us this reference, “Neural traffic that ones trundled along at two miles an hour can, with myelin’s help, accelerate to two hundred miles and hour.  The refractory time (the wait required between one signal and the next) decreases by a factor of 30.  The increased speed and decreased refractory time combine to boost overall information-processing capability by 3,000 times.”

So, bottom line, what do you need to do in order to become that guy who’s faster than everyone at your school?  You need to practice!  You need to practice hard!  You need to focus on your task at hand when you practice!  Time alone won’t do it.  This final quote from Coyle seems to sum it up for me, “Struggle is not optional — it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.”

You should check out this book.

My Fighter’s Diet 1.0

For the past several years, I’ve been on an Atkins-style diet program. I did successfully lose a lot of weight (and kept most of it off) on this program, so I have nothing but love for Dr. Atkins.  That being said, as I started to get much more serious about my martial arts training I didn’t feel like my diet was really meeting my needs.  Thus, a few months ago I embarked on a plan to design myself a new Fighter’s Diet.

Along the way, I looked at several diet programs to see what ideas I could steal.  I looked at the Gracie diet.  While the Gracie clan is known as some of the world’s finest fighters, I found the diet confounding and really couldn’t take much from it.  I looked into the Dolce Diet with the Three Weeks to Shredded program.  This was really a program for weight cutting before a fight, but I actually found much of the advice sound.  I also, stumbled into the Paleo diet program thanks to Robb Wolf’s excellent book The Paleo Solution.  And of course, I couldn’t completely neglect what I learned from Dr. Atkins.  Thus, by taking bits of advice from Mike Dolce, Rob Wolf and Dr. Atkins, I designed my program.

My Fighter’s Diet had to be simple.  I can’t count calories, and I found that over the long haul I couldn’t really count carbs either.  I needed something with a very simple rule set about what kind of foods were OK and which were not.  Here’s where I arrived.

Bad Things (to be avoided)

  • Sugar – seems simple, but it’s a core concept.  Avoid foods with cane sugar and corn sugar
  • Bread – Except for the occasional cheat, I’ve gone gluten free.  I have never been diagnosed with celiac, but I’ve become convinced that gluten is bad for most people.  Also, most flour-based products are full of empty carbohydrates, so why even go there?
  • Rice – Empty carbs.  What else do you need to know?
  • Artificial sweeteners – goodbye diet soda.  I think this has made a world of difference and it really surprised me.  Research continues to show this stuff may be nearly as bad as the real thing
  • Sugar alcohol – Dr. Atkins said this stuff is OK.  I now think he’s wrong.  All my Atkin’s-branded, low-carb junk food went in the trash and I’m happier for it.
  • Caffeine – I don’t think it makes you fat, but it makes me irritable and it messes with my sleep patterns.  There’s nothing good here.  It’s gone.
  • Cheese and Milk – I’ve minimized dairy in my diet.  I didn’t find many good things in dairy that I couldn’t get elsewhere, and I found that cheese and milk may have been causing me digestive discomfort in larger quantities.  I’ve cut them out.

Good Things (eat ‘em up)

  • Meat – Turkey, chicken and lean beef (grass fed when I can get it).  Also, I eat bacon.  This one is a little controversial in the Paleo community, but I eat bacon several times per week.
  • Eggs – A core food for me on this program.  Great way to start the day and helps keep appetite under control.  It means I don’t get hungry for hours after breakfast.
  • Fruit – Strawberries, blueberries, apples.  All good stuff.  This I would have avoided on Atkins, but the insulin impact is actually low, and there is too much good stuff in here to pass up.  It also helps to get some carbs from these sources to keep up your energy when training.  Oh, and don’t forget tomatoes
  • Vegetables – Lots of good fiber in here.  Broccoli and asparagus are favorites
  • Leafy greens – Lettuce and spinach.  Salad is good, but it’s best with meat on top!
  • Water – drink lots of water!  This is something Mike Dolce hammers on continuously.  I took this to heart, and water is now pretty much the only thing I drink.

Things in moderation (OK, but watch the quantities)

  • Nuts – I like almonds and cashews.  They’re a good snack or garnish, but I’ve had to avoid turning them into meals.  They’re energy dense, high-fat, and I’ve found cause digestive distress for me when consumed in large quantities
  • Greek yogurt – I don’t have much dairy in my diet (see cheese and milk item above), but I make this exception.  For me, it’s a great ingredient for breakfast or snacks and seems to have a good effect on my stomach.  Also, the sugar content is low and it has good fat and protein to ensure it helps control appetite.
  • Dark chocolate – the darker the better.  It doesn’t have all the sugar of milk chocolate and feels like a treat.

So, what are my results so far?  It’s been a bit shocking to me.  Over the past four months, I’ve lost over 20 pounds.  For my 5 foot 9 frame, this has dropped my Body Mass Index (BMI) from 24.1 (the high-side of normal) to 21.0 (smack in the middle of normal).  I’m at my lowest weight since I was 19 years old, but in a less quantifiable measure I can now see my abs!  I’ve never seen them before, not even as a kid — I was kind of pudgy even back then.  I’m also starting to see some good definition in my chest and arms.  On simple Atkins, I didn’t feel like I had the fuel for serious athletic training, and I had a hard time breaking through to get under a body fat percentage that really took me from looking “healthy” to looking “athletic.”  I’m now getting there!

Beyond weight management, I feel great.  My endurance in taekwondo and MMA training has gone way up.  I feel strong in multi-hour training sessions where before I just couldn’t keep up.  My energy level during the day, even at work, is higher and I’m sleeping better at night.

So far, I’m declaring my Fighter’s Diet program a success and marking this as version 1.0.  I’m going to continue to tune this over the coming months and will be writing more about it here.  Thanks to Robb Wolf and Mike Dolce for the excellent advice and helping to get me on the right track.

Testing for my Blackbelt

Last night I tested for my ATA “Blackbelt Recommended” rank. This is something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time and I’m pleased to report that I passed! I didn’t feel like my performance was perfect, but it got the job done. Here are a few pictures of the event along with a few pictures of my Little Ninja and I afterwards (she’s already a blackbelt).

Getting warmed up

First Board Break (Reverse Punch)

Finishing my first break (see half the board down by the holder’s knee?)

Second break (spin heel kick)

Looking sweaty after sparring

Tying on my new belt

The Little Ninja giving her old man a hard time about how much he sweat!

With my instructor (5th Degree Blackbelt Mr. Indalos)

I also have some videos of my poomsae (form) and sparring matches (I had three that were back-to-back-to-back). I’ll try to get those uploaded soon.

Thanks to all of my Twitter and Blog friends who have supported me the past few months while I’ve trained for this. You really helped keep me motivated! For those who are interested, I’ll be posting some details about my training program too. I calculated it out the other day and realized that I’d lost 28 pounds since I got serious about martial arts training!

The Power of One-on-One Coaching

Last week I was lucky. I made it the lunch-time, adults-only Taekwondo class at my school , but I was the only one who did — other than the instructor. That meant I got an hour of totally customized, private training.  I had a few private sessions over the past couple of years and they’re always special.

When I have a true one-on-one lesson, I don’t have to follow the “class planner” and work on what everyone else is doing. The instructor knows me. He sees me every week, and he knows what I’m good at and what I’m not. At one private session I had 6 months ago, we spent almost the entire time on my side-kick. My side-kick was kind of broken, but I didn’t even know it.  However, with 45 minutes of dedicated attention and a number of drills to focus on it the instructor fixed months of bad habits I’d developed.

At last week’s private lesson, we spent 15 minutes working on the form I’ll need to show at my next grading. The instructor showed me things to focus on that we’d never get to in a class full of kids — which describes most of the classes at my school.

I’ve recently been enjoying the HBO series Game of Thrones.  It’s a fun swords and sorcery piece with great charters. My favorite character is Arya, a 9 year-old noble-born girl who is something of a tomboy. After it becomes clear his family is in danger, her father agrees to let Arya learn to handle a sword.  The clip below from the third episode shows Arya’s first lesson. It’s a great example of the power of one-on-one coaching. Watch how engaged she is. He is totally focused on her and she senses that. If you’re a martial arts teacher, when was the last time you had a session like this with one of your students?

Best of ZZNinja

I’ve had this site up for about 4 months and I get more visitors each week.  I really appreciate those of you who stop by to read and comment.  I was looking at the site statistics and was surprised to see what some of the top entries were in terms of what people are reading.  I have enough entries on the site now that some of the best ones aren’t on the front page anymore, so you might not have seen some of the older ones.  Here’s a listing of some of the top posts:

#6: What Would Bruce Lee Have Thought Of Twitter?

After starting to read Bruce’s The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, I had a realization about Bruce.  I think he would have liked Twitter

#5: How I Learned To Hate Luke Skywalker

Why is Luke Skywalker a bad role model for future martial artists?  Find out in this posting

#4: I’m Calling Out Steven Seagal!

He’s one of my heros, but in a recent interview he said some things that set me off.

#3: Evaluating the Dolce Diet

I’ve recently started a project to build a Fighter’s Diet for myself and I’ve been evaluating different popular programs.  Get my take on this program from popular MMA fighter and coach Mike Dolce.  There is a lot of interest in this program, so I’m getting a lot of traffic from Google for this posting.

#2: Top 5 Movie Martial Arts Masters

What can movies tell us about what makes a great martial arts teacher? Here are my thoughts.

#1: My Little Ninja

Meet my daughter Little Z and share the first steps of her martial arts experience.  I’m a little surprised, but quite pleased this is my most popular posting.

Interval Training for Martial Arts

If you watch UFC fights on TV, you’ll somtimes hear announcer Joe Rogan exclaim, “Uh oh, he’s gassed!” This means that one of the fighters is showing signs he’s out of breath. This is usually followed shortly thereafter by the gassed fighter being knocked out or submitted. Being in better shape is clearly a huge advantage in the UFC.

However, this clearly isn’t only for UFC fighters. Earlier this year I started to notice the same thing in my Taekwondo training. At the start of a sparring class I felt strong, but 20 to 30 minutes in, I was gassed. I might win my first match, but by #2 or #3 my guard had dropped, so I wasn’t protecting my head, and I couldn’t kick high or fast. I was a sitting duck, and I decided I had to do something about it.  I’ve been quite successful so far.

The first thing you might think of when you need to “get in shape” is running. Marathon runners run for miles and don’t get gassed, do they? Well, you’ll want to be careful about adopting that kind of static endurance training if what you’re training for is a fight. Marathons take hours. A fight is over in minutes (or less!). A fighter needs the ability to turn on maximum effort for a short burst, then recover and go again. This is where Interval Training comes in.

Interval Training involves exercises where you push yourself to peak exertion, hold that for an amount of time, scale back to a lower level of exertion and then push again. Repeat. You can see this illustrated in the chart above. This type of training allows you to train harder at max exertion than you could with something like a consistent running pace — as a marathoner does. A marathoner doesn’t have a high peak exertion level.  They operate at a low/medium level for the entire event. In a fight, you have to be able to turn on your full capacity to push the offensive or escape from an attack.

I’ve added Interval Training to my program in two ways.  One way is using the “Interval” programsetting on the elliptical machine at the gym.  It automatically cycles between a hard setting and an easy setting.  This let’s me push myself to the absolute limit for a full minute, driving my heart rate up above 170 bpm, and then ease back to a level where I can recover.  I can then get my heart rate back down 130 bpm and catch my breath in time to crank it up again.  This is great for simulating the cadence of a fight.

The other way I’m adding Interval Training is running through hilly terrain.  Running on a flat surface is good for endurance training, but running through hills allows me to push to exhaustion while ascending and then recover during a descent period.

With these additions to my program, I find that I am never gassed during a typical Taekwondo sparring class.  Better yet, last week I competed in a regional ATA tournament.  I had to fight 3 sparring matches in rapid succession with different opponents. While I pushed hard in all of them, and worked up quite a sweat, I never felt gassed and that kind of endurance was a big factor in how well I placed. Adding 20-40 minutes of Interval Training to my program ~3 days a week has made a huge difference. You shoud give it a try.

Do you have any experiences with Interval Training for martial arts?  If so, please share them here.  Do you have any good ways you use Interval training in your program?

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