Tag Archives: gymnastics

In The End…

I don’t think there is any single reason why the Combat Guild idea failed, nor do I think it was the fault of any one person. I think all four of us came up short in at least one task, myself possibly more than anyone. There were plenty of little errors or shortcomings that popped up here and there.

Before I mention why we fell apart, I will mention some of the things we did right; a) We almost always managed to get a 50/50 ratio of male and female students, which is rare in any combat art.

b) We saw a great deal of improvement in all our students’ body awareness and agility and,

c) We were doing something nobody had done before.

However, that wasn’t quite enough to keep things going forever.  The key ingredients in our collapse were thus;

We never wrote a final business plan because we never really finalized what our business actually was. The ideas kept evolving regularly enough that we never nailed down exactly what we were proposing to be in therms of a company. This meant that we never applied to get any kind of financial aid to secure a better location, and we never had a distinctive ‘product’ to advertise. That said, some of our advertising ideas were great, in my opinion. I still really love the mini-business cards we made that featured nothing except a small picture of us doing something awesome on one side and a sage piece of stoic advice on the other, accompanied by our logo and our website address.

Secondly, we began to drift off in terms of our own goals, and we often found ourselves to not be on the same page as each other. Randy began really developing his gymnastic fitness program, which I was only partially involved in. As such I often felt like I was in the dark about what was going to happen next, and wished I knew more about his plans. Also, while I liked the gymnastic conditioning, I wanted to spend a little more time teaching specific martial arts techniques as well. Some days we would spend nearly the entire three hours of a class doing agility exercises and only a few minutes of actually hitting stuff. Now, while this was a great workout, it was often leaving me feeling unfulfilled since I don’t actually like working out all the time as much as I like fighting and drilling techniques.

There were also several projects that were started and not completed, notably the steampunk self-defence manual (which may yet see the light of day). There was also a morning class in Vancouver which, while it did happen, usually resulted in grumpiness and no actual students. Holly hated showing up for it, which became plain, and while I tried to always attend it did start to seem pointless when we had nobody to teach.

In the end, I felt like there wasn’t much point of me being around in general. Randy was a more experienced instructor, and I wasn’t arguing that, but I felt like I was becoming superfluous to the whole scheme. I rarely really taught anything anymore and, not that it matters on a philosophical scale, but I could tell that the few students we had didn’t really have that much respect for me. I would sometimes offer a piece of advice, see them totally ignore it, and then see Randy offer the same advice to which they would immediately adhere. Now, I won’t kid myself that most of this is my fault for not stepping up as a leader, but it was still an uncomfortable place to be.

It was frustrating; I wanted to trust Randy since I had watched him come up with new and effective idea for the last six and a half years, but I also felt like I had no idea what was going on and didn’t really need to be present. I tried to get opportunities to teach more, but that would mean shifting back to the skills I felt confident teaching – which had started to be phased out of the curriculum.

I started trying to get a second night of the week where I taught totally separate arts, mostly sabre. This was held in the same location as the morning classes, but at a more accessible hour. It was in Coopers Park, which has the advantage of a large, covered area for rainy days. I kept this practice going for a few months, working with Holly either on Hutton sabre or the 5×5’s. I tried to drum up at least two students to participate with Facebook groups and the like, but in the end it had the same result as the morning class and nobody ever showed up more than once.

Coopers Park

Then Randy surprised me.

He offered to give me solo control over the Tuesday night class, to which he would not even attend anymore. The regular class would be mine, and he would work on his own thing in a location nearer his home.

I didn’t really know what to say to this. My initial response was guilt, since I felt like he at least had a plan in his head and I wasn’t sure I did, and therefore it seemed like I should have been the one to leave. This outcome was not at all what I wanted, really. I wanted us to work together and come up with something we both felt comfortable with, not to take over on my own. So as such, I largely blamed myself for this turn of events and counted the dispersal of our group as my failure.

But I said yes anyway. I’m honestly not sure why anymore. I believe I still had enough faith in myself to pull everything thing together and piece it back into what I had originally imagined. I felt bad that we had shattered as a team, but I was determined to write up a full curriculum that did justice to both our teaching methods anyhow. There had been a few days prior to my would-be inaugural take over where I felt that I had run good classes, so I started to feel like I was up to the challenge.

I can’t remember how far I got in revamping my whole plan, since it effectively never saw the light of day. I did a full blog on the first class I was to teach at the time, which can be found here; https://scienceofdefence.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/snap/

The short version is that my insecurities were confirmed, and not a single one of our regular students (few of them though there were) showed up for my first class. After working out essentially by myself for half an hour, Holly and I informed the woman who ran the location that we would not be coming back in the foreseeable future, and we made plans to pick up all the gear we had stored there. That gear is still sitting in my basement storage locker.

There were some other attempts to restart things, or to shift to something else, but they came not to fruition. Holly and I tried to at least work out together a few times a week to keep everything going in our minds, but she eventually grew frustrated with only working with me. It soon became apparent that she had no interest in training unless she had another partner closer to her own skill level, so it was only a matter of time before we stopped working together.

This was a particularly dark time, since this left me with no outlet for my martial arts passions. Eventually I stopped trying and just developed my previous workout routine, focusing somewhat begrudgingly on just getting fit without  beating people up at all. I suppose a better part of a year passed in this way; solitary exercise with none of the camaraderie or focus that I had grown used to over the previous eight years.

I started attending the fight nights at Academie Duello to get a little practice in and to make sure to didn’t atrophy completely, which was the beginning of a rebound. Still, my ego was remained pretty squashed and I had no confidence in ever stepping into a leadership role again.

I also decided to get back in to fencing shape and participate in a mini-tournament Duello was hosting, which was educational. Back in the earlier days of my fencing career, I had always had a problem with my tournament mindset. I would often do terribly in competition because it took me too long to actually warm up and feel competitive. However, this time I shifted gears perfectly. Since then I have noticed that, whenever I decide I want to win, my fight brain clicks in immediately and I fence exceptionally well.

However, it also proved another point to me; I really don’t enjoy winning for the same of winning. I love victory, but I want to feel like I have worked for it, like I have earned it. My first match in the tournament lasted about four or five seconds. It was a two-out-of-three match, and I decided to be sporting and only fight with a single sword since my opponent held no dagger. I landed my first shot with my favourite off-hand slap to the tip followed by a falso dritto cut to the left temple. My second touch was a simple lunge, cavare, counter-cavare ending in  thrust to the shoulder.

And that was that, the first bout was done in less that ten seconds and I was on to the next round. It did nothing for me.

Unlike the rest of the people fighting, I spent the time before my next bout constantly moving and bouncing, making sure I didn’t cool down.

In my next match I felt somewhat guilty about how rapidly I had won the previous one. (Yes, I can manage to feel guilty for winning.) Because of this I was careful to call back any shot I didn’t feel I landed perfectly, and fought s little less aggressively. In the end I lost in a close exchange of hits. I won’t say that I lost on purpose, but I feel like I could have won the second bout as well if I had not been so self-conscious of ploughing through the last fighter. I also thought I would have a third bout to balance it out, but it turned out that was it for me in the tournament.

I would also like to add that I am not belittling the skill of both fighters. They both fought very well, though I daresay they were not used to fighting against someone with my style of fencing, which is quite different than what they usually dealt with.

I had fun and enjoyed the night, but it did prove that rapier tournaments were never going to be my thing, even if I won them. I love rapier, and I love fighting and sparring with good people – but the all fuss and muss of tournaments just doesn’t gratify me when the actually fights often come down to a few scant seconds.

Then, this summer, I decided ask my mother to make my only birthday present a membership at the boxing gym. It was a toss up between boxing or Capoeira, since both arts contained aspects I wanted to work on. In the end boxing was the more logical choice since a) it was more direct and practical, b) the facilities were open to me as often as I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about attending regular classes at set times during the week and c) it cost a fraction of what Capoeira training would.

So what is my plan now?

I’m trying to keep up with my gymnastic routine from SCG at least once a week, and I’m boxing at least three hours a week, sometimes five. I’d like to up that number to six and a half, but I’m still juggling the rest of my life at the moment. (Plus summer tends to distract one with all those fun, outdoor activities.) I’m actually in better shape than I was before, having dropped nearly 20 lbs over this year of exile and increased my endurance considerably.

I would like to spend the next year boxing more and more, and my plan is to try and have thee or four actual fights at some point. I don’t necessarily want to try and make a career our of boxing, since I like my face the way it is, but I’d like to see if I have in in my to step into the ring for a little while. If nothing else, getting good at pugilism with help to rebuild my confidence. After a year or so I will start to really feel like I might be qualified to give people advice again in something besides rapier (Which I do still remain pretty secure about in regards to my abilities.)

Yet I often get nostalgic for the whole Scatha thing, and I wish there was some way to bring it back. However, I still think I am too young, despite the fact that I often feel ancient. I would love to try and start up another martial arts school from scratch, but probably not for a few years at least.

I still think we had some brilliant ideas, but I’m not going to act on them again until I’m positive I can do it right.

In the Middle…

A brief Biography of My Life as a Martial Artist, part II;

In regards to my later days at Academie Duello,  there is one more pivotal moment in my life that should be mentioned; the Duel.

Randy and I decided to stage a mock-duel at the first annual sword camp that Duello was hosting. (This has since come to be called Cascadia North, and has changed venues.) It was to be a fight to first blood with sharpened sabres – a demonstration of the ritual of the tradition and, in the case of ourselves, the psychological experience of agreeing to such a fight.

Gut-wrenching would be my choice of phrase.

A full account of the demonstration was included in one of my earliest blog posts, and can be found here; https://scienceofdefence.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/duel/

However, back in day to day life, there were a few conflicts arising in the latter days at Duello. Partially it was my own attitude, especially during the Palestra classes. I began to question some of Randy’s ideas, and as such I frustrated him as much as myself by my stubbornness. Some mild ugliness ensued.

Also, put simply, Randy was becoming increasingly interested in expanding both what he was teaching, and how he was teaching it. There were many experiments in conditioning and instructing that he was not able to do within the parameters of the regular classes at the school, and it became apparent that he would have to strike out on his own if he was going to really develop them.

Naturally I felt that I should leave with him, since I was his friend as much as I was his assistant instructor and staying behind seemed like it would be rather awkward in regards to my position at Duello. Not only that, but at the time I was receiving no real pay for my time coaching the newer students. Though I did make some money from teaching a childrens’ summer program, as well as a workshop that I ran on my own, it was not nearly enough to keep me from being very poor. Following Randy to a new project meant that, if the concept was successful, I could actually be a partner in the profits and business planning.

I believe it was late in the year 2007 that we agreed that we were both going to resign from Duello and try and start a smaller club on our own.

We were to be dubbed Nova Spada, and the locations we eventually settled on were Sapperton Pensioners’ Hall in New Westminster, and the Cloverdale rodeo Grounds in, obviously, Cloverdale.

Our focus changed drastically from what we were teaching at AD. We all but abandoned Rapier for the time being and went back to square one on trying to figure out what the best way to teach might be. Rather than focusing exclusively on swords, Randy began drafting drills for footwork, basic posture and body mechanics. In terms of swordplay, we began by working through the tenants of the i.33 manual – which is one of the first martial arts documents known to the western world. We also dabbled in Marozzo, as well as beginning to develop the style of unarmed combat that would eventually mature into a whole new style of fighting.

It was at the Cloverdale fairgrounds, in a large concrete arena, that the 5×5 system was born. Originally it was just a thought about knife fighting. “Hey, there are really only so many angles a knife attack can take, and really only so many responses a person can make in time – so why don’t we boil those down and make a free-style drill out of it?”

I think we knew right away that we had hit upon something valuable. The 5×5 knife drill became our favourite thing to work on, and it wasn’t long before we realized it wasn’t that hard to adapt it to all self-defence scenarios. Thus began what I still feel was one of our best inventions. The idea that all aggressive attacks and all ‘flinch’ responses to them can be boiled down to a simple set of principals.

I won’t go in to the exact details of how the drills work, since they are only partially mine to give out. I believe Randy is still working them at his introductory classes at http://boxwrestlefence.com/classes/ for those who are interested.

Now, I wont lie, getting out to the Cloverdale location sucked. I had to bus to the skytrain, ride the train to Surrey Central, walk up a hill to where Randy lived at the time, then the pair of us would drive out to the fairgrounds. The whole trek could take up to two and a half hours. Once there we would run classes for another couple of hours, and then I repeated the whole process to get home.

At this point I was also working forty hours and five days a week at my regular job, and spending both my days off at Nova Spada. Eventually my value and enthusiasm as both a student and an instructor began to fade. I knew nothing of nutrition in those days, and I was essentially working non-stop for seven days a week. I was exhausted. I would sometimes make the journey all the way out there only to feel strung out and half-asleep most of the time I was there. It was not good.

However, as it turned out we didn’t keep the Cloverdale practice running all that long. The expense of the two locations was not practicable considering the amount of money we were taking in, and some of the financial help we were hoping for didn’t come to be. Thus perished the Cloverdale Practice. There were a few classes we ran outside in parks and the like, but it wasn’t long before we were only running sessions at Sapperton, and only on one day a week.

The Nova Spada group in Cloverdale

The Sapperton practice, which would endure for another three years after we abandoned Cloverdale, went through many a metamorphosis. At first we were running classes much the same; alternating sword work with knife and unarmed work. The 5×5’s finally came in to their own as a system of training. However, after a while we were at a loss to know where we should go from there.

During that time classes became very informal. There was a period where we were more of a drop in facility with no structured classes. Randy and I more or less stepped back as instructors, working on bettering ourselves while occasionally giving advice to those who asked for it. The one advantage of this un-ambitious period was that we were actually able to pocket a small percentage of our earnings as opposed to putting all the money into new equipment.

Nevertheless, neither of us were really happy with the way things were.

I was constantly trying to think of a way to get things rolling again, as I felt that we were coming up with some really great material that was begging to be taught. Eventually I hit upon the idea of taking a page from history and trying to re-vision ourselves as a guild – kind of a less biased version of the London Masters of Defence from Elizabethan England.

When I first proposed this idea to Randy I didn’t think he was that taken with it. I thought that he felt it was too big a leap from what we were doing. I was a little disappointed, but I shrugged it off and filed the concept away for future use.

However, the idea was not as rebuffed as I had initially thought. A few weeks later we began discussing it again in more detail. By this point my girlfriend, Holly Maclaren, had become a regular part of our endeavours, and we all began planning how we would re-brand the school. The four of us, Randy, Courtney, Holly and myself began meeting at least once a week to brainstorm, plan, plot and scheme. It was a fairly lengthy and often frustrating process, but in there end we disseminated what we had done with Nova Spada and created Scatha Combat guild.

The early days of SCG were spent offering a series of workshops designed to bring in some new students and spark some more interest in what we were doing. Randy and I both ran long, two hour sessions that covered our own particular skills. Randy did two part introductions to the fencing master Marozzo, as well as German longsword and other favourites of his, I did the same on the basics of Bartitsu. and Angelo’s Highland Broadswoard (or Backsword) military style. We also ran classes devoted entirely to fitness for the first time.

To a certain extent, the plan worked. We did get more interest online and a few more people started to check us out in person. After a few months of this, we were ready to start buckling down to regular classes again.

Eventually the standard night ran along these lines: work out, 2×2 drill (a simple practice of all the basics strikes against a target), the 5×5’s then some in depth work on a particular field, followed finally by free sparring.

The biggest shift over time was the work out portion.

When we first began running classes we still kept the model we had used from Palestra; run around, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, a little plyometrics. However, over time our conditioning portion of the night became a melting pot of new and old ideas. Randy was always trying to find the best ways to train people to move more naturally and more gracefully, so we we always experimenting with something new. We researched everything from Parkour to La Canne looking for new ways to condition our students for athletic movement.

What we ended up with became a mix of basic gymnastics, the essentials of Capoeira, and a smidgen of on-the-floor break dancing. It was a fascinating blend.

I was not a fan of the gymnastics at first. I liked the idea of making all our students capable of handstands and planches, but I wasn’t sure we were going about it the right way. The issue I had was that a lot of the basic exercises are a both very difficult, and not particularly rewarding for the first few months. For one, it was frustrating to feel like there was a whole aspect of strength that I completely lacked (and I did). Also, I sometimes felt that we were throwing ourselves into the more difficult positions when we hadn’t really taken the time to build up the co-ordination of the basic postures.

Eventually I came to accept that the attempts at seemingly impossible feats of gymnastics were in fact building a much better sense of movement in our students, and a balance that they had never possessed before. It took time, but the day finally came where I could hold a free-standing hand stand and I realized the progress I was making. However, I still wished we had taken a little more time to work through and coach the basics before pushing forward into the more intermediate stuff.

Meanwhile the four of us were still planning to expand our business. Our hope was to make a business plan, attain some money, and set up a small, permanent location somewhere in Vancouver. Once there we could advertise the hell out of ourselves and perhaps get on our way to actually running a successful establishment.

I still get starry eyes over the idea of having a modest club somewhere, and being able to show the world some of this amazing stuff that surfaced over the last half-decade.

Yet that was a dream that ended up staying in the realm of fantasy…

Physical Culture

I have decided to forgo my natural hesitation to talk entirely about working out and take some time to talk about all the different exercise routines I have experimented with over the years.

Over the last near-decade of martial arts training, I have come into contact with many different approaches to working out as part of a training system. Some of these little routines provided useful tools that I still use, and some I interred in the graveyard of inefficiency. The majority of these different approaches to getting fit came from working with David Packer, beginning in the early days at Academie Duello and carrying on through our smaller martial arts clubs, Nova Spada and Scatha combat Guild. Utilizing the decades of experience he had in martial arts, personal training and now nutrition, we were constantly searching for more efficient ways to train ourselves and our students.

David R. Packer

David R. Packer

Mr. Packer has an unabated passion for finding the best way to train people, not

only for martial arts but for fitness in general, and I spent a good batch of years as a fitness guinea pig while he sought out the best methods. We tried everything from from push-ups to one-handed cartwheels in the attempt to make our students fit, agile, adaptive and strong.

(Incidentally, David’s current work can be found at boxwrestlefence.com or at “box wrestle fence” on facebook)

As it stands now, I have taken all the bits and pieces that I found gave the best over all results and created a two-week routine that seems to be giving me the kind of well-rounded fitness that I strive for. Over the last year I have lost about fifteen pounds of body fat, added more muscle tone, and increased my speed and strength noticeably – so no complaints here.  I also spend a total of about 2 hours a week biking to and from work when the weather is clement.

Honestly, It’s good for you.

It is important to mention that I also took a much more stern approach to nutrition as well. In terms of eating habits, it isn’t really anything special; I try to burn about 3000 calories a day (though I don’t always manage that) and I try to eat a couple hundred calories less than I burn. (I got a calorie counting app for my phone that is useful, though now my first instinct when I eat anything is to reach for it…) Wheat-y things are generally not good, and I do my best to only eat a few of them for breakfast and not later in the day, vegetables are good, lean meat is handy, and fish oil supplements help balance out the body’s fat intake and seem to make it easier to concentrate as well, whole grains are useful for maintaining energy levels, sugar is only an occasional treat and usually comes before or after some exercise, A moderate amount of alcohol is actually good for

Oh, how I miss thee…

most people (thankfully, otherwise I’d go mad) blah, blah, blah. None of this is a revelation, just the bare basics of nutrition I have picked up from people who have studied such things.

God, how I miss eating whole pizzas though.

There are a few general conclusions for working out that I have decided upon, and they are;

Don’t do the the same thing all the time. The reason I space my routine out over two weeks is so I can do something completely different every day. I also change the order in which I do each group of activities once in a while too. There are two reasons for this. A) You will avoid hitting a plateau from repeating the same cycle all the time and B) Doing the same thing all the time is really, really boring. If one keeps things new and tries things one hasn’t done before one will find it much more interesting.

And so here it is, my humble attempt at a regular work out routine;

I generally spend about 20-45 minutes working out five days out of the week. In addition to this, I spend an average of about 24 minutes a day biking to work and back at a steady pace. I spend one of the other two days doing something relatively light, i.e. a short bike ride or walk, and the other day is spent stretching or resting and drinking a beer.

I usually spend about 7 minutes warming up before working out (warming up, NOT stretching. stretching comes after a workout and not before.)

Every other day I add the (shudder) pP90x Ab Ripper routine to my warm up. I have been doing this one for a while now, so I have taken to adding a 30 Lbs weight to some of the movements. I did go through the whole P90X program thingy, and while it does provide a certain amount of results, it’s gets really dull really fast and I hate listing to that man talk at me the whole time. Of course, that’s just me, some people like that stuff. Also, it relies almost entirely on the weight lifting/calisthenic style of exercise and that neglects a lot of other important areas.

The Ab workout can be found here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xiydct_p90x-disc-12-ab-ripper_lifestyle

Obnoxious? Yes. Douche-y? Yes. Useful for vanity? Unfortunately, yes.

I personally like to spend about half the time doing the more standard lift things, push things, pull things brand of exercise and the other half doing more dynamic, gymnastic style stuff that build up the old agility, flexibility and. despite what you might think, strength.

INDIVIDUAL WORK OUTS

Because clearly celebrities should always be role models…

WEEK ONE: The standard, look-pretty stuff

Full Body: Perform 3 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Clean and Press Pullup
Incline Pushup
Triceps Dip

Chest and Back: Perform 4 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Incline Bench Press
Pullup
Incline Pushup
Incline Pec Flys

Shoulders and Arms: Perform 4 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Incline Biceps Curls
Triceps Dips
Lateral Raises
Shoulder Press

Full Body: Perform 3 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Clean and Press

Pullup
Incline Pushup
Triceps Dips

Plyometrics:

It must be good, look at all those bad-ass shadows!

This one is, again, stolen from P90X, and to my mind the only really impressive work out that system offers. I can’t find the whole video on line, but there is a brief description here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/237497-list-of-exercises-for-the-plyometrics-p90x/

Plyo is a long, intense way to spend an hour. Technically you could abridge it down to the basic moves, but with something this challenging I like to just shut off my brain and do the best I can since thinking only makes it hurt more.

Light Stuff

30 minute bike ride, long walk, etc…

Rest or Stretch

If I’m stretching, I’ll spend about 40 minutes starting at my neck and working my way down the rest of my body until I feel I’ve hit all the major muscle groups. A relaxed class of Yoga would suffice, I suppose.

WEEK TWO: The Cool Stuff

Stealing more pictures of Mr. Packer, as I sadly have none of myself because nobody likes me 😦

(Sometimes I alternate between the boring stuff and the cool stuff. As long as I do all the workouts over two weeks, I’m pretty happy with myself.)

Day 1: (3-4 sets)

  • Cartwheels (1 minute left and right)
  • Handstand push-ups (using a wall is just fine)
  • Cobra sprint (lower like you are doing a push up, but hold yourself there and kick your heels up to your butt as fast as you can)
  • Back bridge push-up

Day 2: (15 minutes)

  • Wind sprints (or 30 minute jog)

Day 3: (3-4 sets, hold each for 30 seconds)

L sit: If kids can do it, it must be easy

  • L-sit
  • v-sit
  • manna
  • planche
  • teddy bear hand stand

Day 4: (3-4 sets)

  • No cheat bridge
  • split push-ups
  • wall walks
  • ginga (basic Capoeira footwork)/kick (1min.)

Day 5: (15-30minutes)

  • Boxing (In term of calorie burning and muscle toning, proper boxing is one of the most effective forms of exercise I have come across. It’s also really fun to hit stuff.)

Day 6:

  • bike for 30 minutes

Day 7:

  • stretch

Now, this week’s worth of sweating isn’t set in stone. Most of the routines are taken from two books; ‘Building The Gymnastic Body‘ by Christopher Sommer and ‘Capoeira Conditioning‘ by Gerard Taylor. I will often change up the specifics, taking something different from one of the two books every few weeks.

So there you have it, for anyone who was interested and some people who weren’t, my preferred outlet for staying fit.

Leverage

To begin with, I will say that I have not touched any free weights in the better part of a year. Despite this, I have gained more muscle mass than ever before, and acquired more of an actual increase in strength – all of which I have received through the practice of rudimentary gymnastics. When I use the term ‘gymnastics’ I am not referring to the kind of actions you see a gold medal Olympian performing, but the basic strength and co-ordination exercises that build the skill necessary to progress to the more aerial techniques. That said, these basic positions are more challenging and frustrating than any other work out I have ever attempted.

There are several advantages that gymnastics has over weight training. First of all, there is the fact that it does more than simply strengthen your muscles; it teaches you how to balance and move. While using weights may make you stronger, the majority of lifting routines are essentially teaching you how to stand still. Some forms of lifting involve a step or pivot, but for the most part the person lifting is performing a static manoeuvre that is contracting only a few muscle groups at one time. Gymnastics, on the other hand, trains a person to move from one position to another with perfect poise and balance, while also stressing the maximum amount of muscle contraction possible.

Gymnastics also using another technique that makes it more challenging – many of the positions are performed at increasing angles of disadvantage. That is to say, the better a person gets at the exercises, the more they move into a position which is putting as much leverage as possible against them. So while building strength in this way will not make you significantly larger, as seen in bodybuilding, it will make the muscles significantly stronger and denser. It will also build the ability to use your muscles in conjunction with each other more efficiently, building more agility.

I’ll use a planche to demonstrate what I mean. (I like using planches as examples, because I still can’t do the bloody thing.) First of all, there is the fact that the hands are placed at the centre of balance, just above the level of the hips. If you imagine bench pressing your own body weight by lifting the bar from your hips, that would be fairly challenging in of itself. However, that is only the beginning of what makes this relatively basic move so difficult. The second point is that you are lifting yourself up in the air, as opposed to lifting a bar while lying on your back. This means that your upper back and shoulders are now required to contract just as much as your chest and arms. Finally, there is the fact that the body and legs are held straight out behind you. Now you have your abs, lower back, and legs struggling to contract into a solid position as well. So, if anyone thinks they can gain this kind of strength and co-ordination from weight training alone, feel free to give it a try and let me know if I’m incorrect in my assumptions.

Even though learning how to perform moves such as a planche is a long process, the time you spend slowly building up to it is still an incredible work out. Using a scale of 1-5 for the difficulty of these basic routines, I average at around  a 2 for most of them. (Planche being my weakest, some days all I can manage is about a 1) Despite my novice status as a gymnast, the difference I have seen in my strength, agility and performance while fighting has been remarkable. This especially impresses me because I am only spending perhaps three hours a week actually performing these positions. When you compare that to the results a person would get from three hours a week of casual weight training, gymnastics seems to come out on top.

Level 2 Manna

Level 5 Manna (Maybe some day, but I won't hold my breath.)

So if you are looking for a work out that is good for muscle tone, co-ordination, core strength and durability, (Not to mention time efficient and relatively inexpensive) then basic gymnastics with give you more immediate results than weights or calisthenics. Think of it like Yoga times twenty.

For those interested, I think I might start to write some instructional posts on how to do the simple beginner positions.

Plans and Schemes

I am now completely confident on what I am going to teach and how I will run class next month.

At some fascinating point in my personal history I became the kind of person who likes to plan everything out and make lots of notes before attempting anything different. I’m fairly certain that didn’t used to be the case. In fact, I think it was quite the reverse a few years ago. I have no idea at which point I started to become like my mother, but I guess it was inevitable. For that matter, I have no idea when I started to enjoy physical exercise, since in high school I skipped nearly every gym class. Weird…

Anyhow, here is my basic plan;

First of all I am going to alternate high intensity training with technical, strength building exercises during the workout portion. I haven’t decided whether I will alternate weekly, bi-weekly or monthly yet, but I will ponder on that over the next few days. Both approaches will be challenging, one in a go-go-go sweat a lot and fall down way and the other in a ‘oh god, how much longer to I have to hold this l-sit?’ way. I think the latter is something we have been often neglecting during class.

As much as I enjoy the intense, fast-paced workouts, there are some intermediary steps in the gymnastic portion that we have been occasionally overlooking. I think it would be much more beneficial and rewarding to build up some of the skills a little slower so that our progress is more tangible. Otherwise it can sometimes seem like we are throwing ourselves against a brick wall by trying to perform positions we haven’t built up the strength for yet. Therefore, I will definitely be doing technical workouts at least once a month, if not twice.

As for the fast-paced approach, I designed a gymnastic circuit routine that I wanted to try out. However, after attempting it on my own I found that it was, well, nigh impossible. Two-thirds of the way through the circuit my arms literally gave out and I found it very difficult to actually get up off the floor. So that idea has to be scaled back a bit, though the principle was sound and I think after some more training it could be possible.

I have also decided that, in order to maintain my own confidence, I will spend the first month or so concentrating on my own strengths in term of teaching. Boxing and Rapier will be the main focus for a little while, since those are two things I know I can do well, especially the fencing. I will still insert some time for wrestling practice, but I will refrain from trying to teach any specific techniques until I am sure that I know what I am talking about.(I have a bit of a problem with ground fighting, which is mostly mental. It will take a some time to get my confidence back in that area.)

I will also be leaving at least forty solid minutes for sparring and fighting at the end of every night. Fight’n is good.

Oh, and as a little reminder to all – Bow ties are cool. Here is Ian Fleming, Naval intelligence officer and author of the original James Bond novels. If anyone tries to claim that Ian Fleming was not cool then I think there may be fisticuffs.



This Week at Scatha

Well, this week’s class seemed to be an interesting example of collective consciousness. Apparently the hive brain of our students all unanimously decided to stay home and watch the Hockey game, and I do mean all. Only one person arrived last night. It was a very quiet evening, beginning with a relaxed set of exercises largely done on our own time without the usual structure and motivation. The single occupant is also a student who usually only stays for the warm-up/work out portion of the evening as well, so she left after an hour. Thus remained nobody but us instructors.

As disappointing as this was, it was also a good opportunity. It can be very difficult for us teaching types to actually get together to work on the new ideas we have, so a solid hour and a half without students was not wasted. We took the opportunity to work on some ground fighting techniques that turned out to be remarkable easy and effective. No doubt we will be teaching them to the rest of the students next week.

Normally I don’t care for wrestling and ground fighting that much (Given the choice, I much prefer to hit, stab and cut people. Not to mention all that rolling around in other people’s sweat that goes with grappling) but I do my best to enjoy it and gain skills with it since obviously I can’t neglect a whole aspect of combat just because it isn’t my forte. The stuff we were working on last night was different though; If wrestling usually feels like fast paced weight lifting, these techniques felt more like short bursts of sprinting. Never have I found it so easy to escape mounts and change positions. Brazilian jujitsu usually frustrates the hell out of me, but this style felt more like stand up jujitsu and came very naturally.

Hooray, for the first time ever I genuinely enjoyed ground fighting.

The last dredges of the irritating cold I have had for the last few days are MOSTLY gone, and the weather is a pleasant overcast that is perfect for outdoorsy-ness. My plan is to have a hearty breakfast, and then make my way down to the park along the seawall that actually has gymnastic rings. It is very rare to still find these apparatus in public parks anymore, though they used to be everywhere. I guess you wouldn’t want to encourage kids to actually get exercise when they could just sit in those horrible plastic buckets that make you dizzy instead.

The gymnastic training we have been doing at SCG is something I haven’t spoken much about yet, partially due to the fact that we were keeping it under out belt for the time being as our little secret. however, since George St. Pierre’s recent lauding of the same kind of training we have been doing, there seems little point in being discreet. It is true, by the way, basic gymnastics is THE best physical  conditioning there is. If you look at the physique of any professional gymnast, I guarantee you that they got that way without ever touching weights. I have done many different conditioning programs in my day, but the results I’ve had from just doing simple gymnastic exercises have by far outdone everything else. I have put on more useful muscle and gained more strength much faster than I ever have before.

If you were to take a weight lifter and a gymnast of similar build, the gymnast would most likely be twice as strong as the lifter. The kind of deep, raw power you get from gymnastics is far above the general strength that weights can build. Some people argue that you can develop the same muscles using more modern approaches, but that simply isn’t true. You might be able to bench press 400 pounds but you wouldn’t be able to do a proper planche push-up – It is a completely different kind of strength.

Planche

There is also the flexibility, agility and general ability to move more efficiently that also comes from this kind of conditioning. A martial artist who also has a gymnastic background will be capable of a much wider range of techniques than one who only does general exercises.

On a different note, today I will also begin working on my new sabre curriculum. This Monday will mark the first unofficial sabre class that SCG will offer, and hopefully this will garner enough students to make the classes official early in June. By August I hope to have a small but successful practice for classic duelling sabre running at least one day day a week. The specific time and place has yet to be announced, but shall be before the end of the weekend.