Living Without A Thermostat

One of the challenges of this lifestyle is taking time off, or scheduling deload weeks so we avoid injuries. Burnout isn’t really an issue since we’re doing what we love. Injuries however, injuries are a constant threat.

 

I’m going to shoot you straight, I don’t really know how to take it easy or take time off. I’ve never been able to to do it properly. Sometimes though, the injury is so great that we don’t have a choice. We have to stay off the mat, out of the ring, weight-room, or away from the range. Most of us are guilty of being all in or all out. We can’t deal with halfway anything. Injured to the degree that we can’t train usually means we’re all out. We don’t go to the gym because it’s too frustrating to see everyone else rolling, working their standup, pushing their numbers up in the weight-room, or improving their times on conditioning work. We’re happy they are progressing, yet not so happy we’re stagnating while we wait for this injury to heal.

 

This a really dangerous time for us. We run the risk of getting out of the habit of doing all the things we do. Six to eight weeks away from the gym is enough time for other habits to sneak in, and take over. If we’re not careful we’ll soon be spending our nights on the couch, watching TV, drinking and eating garbage, and undermining all of our hard work. We can make excuses, we can’t train because we’re hurt. It’s frustrating to sit on the sidelines, etc., etc…

 

Or we can be that team member that still comes to class to watch, take notes, mentally keeping ourselves active in the game. When we help where we can around the gym it goes a long way towards building team, as well as maintaining our habit of driving to the gym several days or nights a week. We’re helping our team, and our team is helping us by keeping us mentally engaged.  Yes, it’s still frustrating because it’s not the same as being out there doing what we love. However, climbing back on that horse is much easier when we haven’t forgotten how to get to the barn.

Total Mastery

As a student of high performance I’ve noticed something about every high performer I’ve been fortunate to meet; they know the tools of their trade inside, and out, upside, and down. What does that mean you say? Is that some strange Maryland eastern shore saying? It simply means there is nothing they don’t know about the tools of their trade.

Everyone from from top competitive shooters to graffiti artists. Everyone demonstrates the same trait. They know their tools. Completely. Watch Super Dave Harrington teach a lesson on dry fire, while performing every possible manipulation of the pistol all while never stopping the lecture. He knows the tools so well it’s as natural to him as breathing.

Watch this clip of Flea, bass player in the band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even if you’re not a musician, from a student of higher performance perspective there are some really cool lessons here. At the 1:50 mark we see Flea demonstrate effortless mastery of his instrument. We’re watching years of dedicated effort manifested by mastery of the instrument.

If we want to be high performers we accept, and embrace the effort it will take to master the tools of our endeavor. To know those tools, to include ourselves in the equation, to the degree that there is nothing we don’t know about those tools. The external tool becomes an extension of our will. At that point it is us.

Staying Mentally Healthy

In this pursuit we get the opportunity to stress ourselves daily, even hourly. The assault on our mind and body is relentless, even if it is largely self-imposed. We measure a good practice session by how tired we are or how banged up we feel. We can pretend there is some scientific formula but we all know, sometimes the only way we are happy with a practice session is if we are exhausted.

 

Staying physically healthy is a pretty simple equation. Eat nutrient dense food, drink enough water, and engage in recovery techniques.

 

How do we stay mentally healthy? How do we stay motivated, engaged, and striving to keep that edge? Time with friends, and family is an obvious answer. Shutting off the TV, social media, and the constant stream of negativity the masses seem to clamor for, and are addicted to. I had the opportunity to bounce from social media for a few months. It was nice. I missed seeing pictures of my friends, or reading of their escapades but I didn’t miss the constant barrage of negativity. I joined several business groups where I was surrounded by positive, performance focused, business minded folks. I noticed a change in my habits and behaviors. Conversations that weren’t centered around performance, reaching goals, ideas, concepts, thoughts, and getting things done quickly became of no interest. It seemed like everyone I talked to, or spent time around energized me.

 

I slowly began to realize something. I was mentally recovering faster than ever. Mental hits knocked me down, but I was bouncing back faster than ever. I lost the desire to wallow. To milk every bit of negativity from every situation. To see gloom and doom. That side of me was diminished. Strangely, I was also experiencing faster physical recovery than any previous time. We all know the mental and physical aspects of ourselves are intwined but I think sometimes we forget just how much one affects the other.

 

When it comes to diet, strength, conditioning or technique work we know it’s as simple as asking ourselves; will this take me closer to my goals of enhanced or improved performance. If the answer is yes, then we do it. If the answer is no, then we abstain. It’s time we actively apply this to the mental side. Will this thought, conversation, or what I’m about to read/watch/listen to take me closer to my goals of improved performance? If yes the carry on. If the answer is no, then stop immediately.

 

We have to start guarding our mental health as vigorously as we do our physical health. Our body is a holistic creature, the mental and physical aspects are so completely linked there is no way we can engage in behavior that damages or at least limits the performance of one without it affecting the other.

 

Endure a Little More

There is simply no substitute for time on the mat, range, or in the weight room. One of my coaches told me that cranking the oven up to 800 degrees doesn’t reduce the baking time, it just burns the cake. There’s a lot of truth in those words. I can’t count the times I tried to go too far too fast, and paid the price in the form of injuries, frustration, and sometimes lost training time.

 

While there certainly are more efficient ways to train we have to fight the urge to succumb to the get rich quick mentality. There is no easy way. There is no shortcut. There is only consistent effort over time.

 

Sometimes it’s consistent, painful, bone-crushing exhaustion level effort over a longer period of time than we think it should take.

 

As one approaches a level of mastery it becomes even more difficult to measure improvements. The first few years of strength training it’s normal to put 200 pounds on our squat or deadlift, after 10 years of training a 200 pound increase on the squat or deadlift would be miraculous. There are a few things we can do at this point. We can radically change our approach, maybe switch to a new coach, or a new training strategy. Sometimes that works for a brief time. However, sometimes the best strategy is to keep doing what got us here while trusting the process. Focusing on small improvements, even as small as a 1% over a 4-6 week training cycle, is an improvement. Put enough of those together, and we end up with a 10-15% increase over the course of a macro cycle.

 

Regardless of your stage in this game know this, there will come a time where you will simply have to choose to endure a little more. There is no way around it, you will want to quit, you will be frustrated. You will see friends, and training partners that started at the same time as you or even after you surpass you. Keep on keeping on. There really is nothing to it but to do it.

 

IMG_6230As my coach Chris Haueter says, “It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left… it’s hours on the mat… and if you put in that time, natural athlete or not, you practice the art, you’ll be a black belt. You’ll be somewhere in ten years… imagine someplace ten years from now I’m gonna be somewhere why not be a black belt too? You just can’t quit.”

 

Swing For the Fence

When we examine the use of an impact weapon to defend ourselves we find a lot of complicated ways to approach something that should be fairly simple. I know I spent quite a few years doing a lot of things that were little more than a fancy choreographed dance routine with an impact weapon as an accessory. Through trial and error my training partners and I were able to boil impact weapon work down to a few essentials.

 

Impact weapon work is similar to any other weapon we might use to defend our life and limb. Some principles are universal such as; 1) Choose the right tool for the job. 2) If you aren't regularly practicing with the tool don't expect skill to magically materialize when you need it. 3) Hit what's available until something better to hit becomes available.

 

Coach Matt Thornton, president of the Straight Blast Gym, International streamlined impact weapon work within the SBG in the early 2000's using the acronym SMAC to best summarize our approach. Through the process of constant pressure testing we had discovered a few truths regarding impact weapon work. We found a target hierarchy of; 1) weapon bearing arm, 2) lead leg, 3) the head to be the best way to deal with an armed opponent. Particularly if our opponent was armed with an impact weapon, aka we were stick fighting, the best way to deal with them was to beat on their weapon bearing arm to take away their ability to hit us, attack their lead leg to reduce their mobility, and finally attack their head to knock them out. We found it worked best if we used this hierarchy within our stick fighting strategy.

 

(It was also through this impact weapon testing process in the 1990's that I discovered the Helmet, now called the Default Response by master trainer Craig Douglas. We learned a lot of valuable lessons beating on each other with sticks… mostly that it hurts. A lot.)

 

When it comes to using an impact weapon to defend ourselves outside the arena of a consensual stick fight, there are a few things we need to understand. (Beyond the legal aspect. For that you'll need to speak with an attorney that understands the law and self defense). I'm a believer in attacking the limbs with impact weapons. A shot from a sap across the wrist or top of the forearm will make it difficult for your attacker to hold onto you. The same can be said for shots to major muscle groups. A baseball bat or table leg to the outside of your attacker's upper arm or thigh will most likely cause them to alter their immediate plans, and a second and third shot will create some mobility issues for them.

 

Regardless of the size of the weapon I try to keep my hand within the four corners of my upper body meaning I don't lift my hands above my shoulders or let them drop below my hips. If I'm swinging an impact weapon in an X pattern I won't let my weapon bearing arm go outside of the four corners of my upper body. Power is generated by rotation of my upper body, weight shift of my lower body, and the weight of the tool I'm using. This really becomes important when using the shorter impact weapons such as an extendable baton, a sap, or a short improvised impact weapon. With longer impact weapons that require two hands we can loosen this rule a bit however, it's never a good idea to develop bad habits.

 

In the next post we'll get into some specific concepts and principles as well as some training ideas we can use to develop our impact weapon skills.

 

What is First?

First Things First by Stephen Covey is a great book on time management. It takes us deeper into Covey’s system for managing our most valuable asset; time. During a seminar on time management one of the presenters said something that pertains to working towards our goals and objectives that stuck with me. He said; the first thing you do upon waking is the first thing. If the first thing I do upon waking isn’t taking me towards my goals, then I need to think about my goals, and what’s really important to me.

 

If one of my goals is to improve my Jiujitsu escapes from bottom then the first thing I should be doing upon waking is something that takes me closer to this goal. Get out of bed, and get the coffee brewing. While I’m waiting for my coffee I can do hip escapes/shrimps,  bridges/upas, sit-outs or any number of solo drills that prime my mind and body to think all day about my goal of improving my Jiujitsu.

 

This also applies to any other goal in the multidisciplinary practice. If we want to improve our pistol skills then the first thing I should do is dry practice. If I want to level up my standup game then I should be shadowboxing as soon as I’m awake enough to move around. The mental act of starting to work on reaching my goal as soon as I’m awake is important. It sets the tone and pace for the day. Coach Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives has spoken and written quite often about using every available minute for our daily practice as we are all on a time crunch. Those moments while waiting for our coffee to brew, or the shower water to regulate is a few more minutes or reps.  It’s a simple way to get into the mental state of using every available moment when we start our day working on our goal.

 

As I recall the presentation on time management, and reaching goals I think about how many times I have started my day looking at what others are doing. I surf social media to see what my friends, and family are doing, check emails, or my RSS feed. While these things are all interesting, there is a good chance none of these things are helping me reach my goals. I have effectively told myself what others are doing is more important than my goals, and what I want to do. It might sound self serving yet, I think it’s okay to focus on ourselves and our goals for the first few moments of the day.

 

Think about your goals. Think about how you start your day. If those two things aren’t congruent maybe it’s time to put yourself and your goals first, at least for the first part of your day. Try it for a few weeks, and see if it doesn’t move you closer to reaching your goals.

 

Banged Up

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.” – Mark Rippetoe

At this point it’s virtually impossible to find someone that hasn’t read or heard this quote from Rippetoe, and for good reason. There is a lot of truth found in those words. In a recent social media post Ryan of Full Contact Runner on the subject of injuries Ryan talked about the frustration experienced when folks act as if the cause of our injury or illness is related to, and made worse by this lifestyle. As if we are somehow more susceptible to injury, and illness than someone that spends those same hours sitting on a couch. While we are definitely more likely to be injured, (as this lifestyle is a contact sport), it is still preferable to any other way of life. Most importantly, and something these critics fail to realize, is the simple fact that this lifestyle sets us up to recover from any injury or illness much faster, and with less complications. Because of this lifestyle we are strong therefore we are harder to kill, harder to knock down, and when knocked down we’re harder to keep down.

  • Using myself as an example; in 2007 I shattered my kneecap on a gig. It took surgery, and 8 months of therapy to get back in the saddle. I was told there were things I wouldn’t be able to do again, to include key aspects of my profession. I proved that to be untrue.
  • In 2010 I injured my lower back doing extensive damage to the discs and vertebrae at S1, L5, L4, and L3. I was told I would need major surgery, and would have to medically retire from my profession. I proved that to be untrue.
  • In 2011 I was hit with intense abdominal pain that went on for months. I ultimately ended up in the hospital with acute pancreatitis. I was in a bad state, and it resulted in surgery to repair the damage. I was told this is probably going to be something I would live with for the rest of my life. I’m able to manage this because of my lifestyle.
  • 2014 I had a brain hemorrhage with intra-cranial pressure/swelling. It was awesome. Probably the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. I should have died. I didn’t. I was told I would have permanently altered gait, and other issues. I don’t.
  • During training cycles I’ve broken ribs, hands, feet, fingers, toes, teeth, my jaw, nose, and a metric ton of soft tissue injuries.

You’re probably wondering what’s the point of listing injuries and illness? To make a point which is; the common theme in every injury or illness was at some point, often multiple times a Doctor or other medical professional would tell me that the reason it wasn’t worse, and my recovery was faster than expected was because I arrived at that crisis point strong, healthy, and in great condition. I’m not alone in this, every one of my friends that have gone through any type of injury or illness relate the same story. Doctors and medical professionals telling them they made it, or they will recover because their strength levels when it started were so high. That’s the other side of this injury/illness coin the couch surfers don’t understand. The injuries we suffer in this game aren’t as bad as they would be if we were weak. The illnesses we go through in life, (by the way, both of my health crisis were unrelated to my lifestyle), would be much worse, and maybe even unsurvivable if we didn’t have a reservoir of physical and mental strength going into the situation.

So remember that the next time a critic points out that you’re “always” hurt, or you seem to be more susceptible to injury or illness that “never” seems to affect them. First, their perception might be skewed, to say the least. Second, while the injury part might be true since if we never get punched in the face what are the odds that we’ll get concussed? However, illnesses which is to some degree genetic hit all of us regardless of whether we follow a healthy lifestyle or not. Folks that never smoke a day in their life are diagnosed with cancer, and folks that never drink a day in their life come down with liver disease. It’s just the cards we’re dealt. The difference is a strong body gives the physicians, and other medical professionals more to work with to fight the illness, or even a traumatic event that landed us on the hospital bed in front of them. Get strong, stay strong, and ignore the critics.

 

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A powerful depiction of our role in helping the doctors and medical staff help us. Give them something to fight with, get as strong and healthy as possible. Thanks to Ryan of Full Contact Runner for sharing this photo. If your not following Ryan on social media check out his Facebook page at Full Contact Runner as well as his excellent blog of the same name.