Category Archives: Martial Arts

Guest Post — Rebecca Dobrinski

Hey there ,
Today I want to share with you a guest post written by tribe member Rebecca Dobrinski.  Rebecca is a regular in our kick boxing class and has provided me with the rare opportunity of allowing someone else to sing my praises.

I am Still Learning

That’s the interesting thing about life: we (hopefully) continue to learn. Whether it is a small fact or a new skill, we are presented with a wide variety of learning opportunities on a daily basis. I do my best to take advantage of these opportunities whenever they present themselves.

It was with this attitude that I decided to take the leap into Dave’s kickboxing class.

Although kickboxing for fitness had intrigued me since the Tae Bo craze, the thought of a more aerobic-style class continued to turn me off of trying it. Sometimes I think many of us children of the 1970s and 80s are still scarred by Jane Fonda and her legions of enthusiastic followers – I will skip over anything with the hint of an aerobics-style class.

After a few Facebook messages about this new class at Agoge, I dove in. At the least, I would be trying something new; at the most, I’d find something I really enjoy. I wanted to give it about three classes, something akin to that “good, old college try.”

And I am still there. It has been about a month now and, unless there is a major conflict with my schedule, I show up to class. What I like, and greatly appreciate, is that Dave approaches the class more like he is training us to be kickboxers. (Yay! No aerobics!) No, I will never be a professional kickboxer, but Dave’s teaching style is quite appealing.

Over the past month I’ve learned a few new things:

1. It can be incredibly distracting to have the bag move when you punch it. Yes, I know that is the goal, but when you are concentrating on the form of your left jab a moving target throws you off your game.

2. Jump roping is not as easy at 41 as it was at 11. Really, it is NOT like riding a bike. I may attempt the jump rope again later, but for now I dig using a giant tire as a mini-trampoline.

3. I am a bad ass. (see giant tire reference above)

4. Kickboxing is akin to dancing, and for someone who never really danced until her mid-thirties, developing a decent rhythm is a challenging skill.

5. Even someone who relies on her logical brain can wrap her nerdy head around an instinctual skill set.

The whole bad ass thing? Once you wrap your hands, something changes. I don’t know exactly what happens because it is not the same feeling when you put the gloves on, but once I wrap my hands it’s a whole new ballgame. It definitely reminds me that I am taking this seriously. And I love it.

I find difficulty in sticking to an exercise / fitness regimen that I do not enjoy. Well, it is not exactly enjoyment that my brain needs to keep coming back – I enjoy pilates and kinesis, but I have never stuck with more than a class or two. I need simply to feel better after, sore muscles for sure but it is mental as well. Walking does this for me; so does yoga. Now, I can add kickboxing to that list.

Really, I am a bad ass – see, I have the picture to prove it.

So, here’s the shameless plug — Kickboxing is Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5pm.  There are still a few spaces left.  Cost is $10 per class for members and $20 for members to be.  Buy a month in advance and not only do you become a member, you get a pretty good discount.

And, remember, you don’t have to be perfect to have fun.

To your perfect imperfection,

Dave

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The 3rd Commandment

My book is back on sale this week.  Go to the Products page of the Agoge website and click on the link to get your copy at 50% off.  It’s only on sale for next three days and I’m not sure when (or if) it will go on sale again.  Get it now!

Back to our discussion,  Dan John’s Third Commandment of Lifting is “The best anabolic is water.”

To me this is such a foregone conclusion that I don’t think I give it the emphasis it deserves, partly because it’s as boring to say as my clients often find to do.

“How much water do you drink?”

The usual answer, “Not enough.”

Which says two things.  First, most of us know we need to drink more water, but more importantly we choose not to.  Yes, most of us don’t actually abstain from water or consciously not drink water (although, there are some of us who do), our crime is more of one of neglect.  We just forget to remember to drink more.

To stay hydrated I recommend clients drink at least an ounce of water per pound of body weight.  For me that’s over a gallon a day.  That seems like a lot and the first hurdle is just getting it all down, as most of us are not used to drinking that much of anything.

Next, comes the potty breaks.A fully hydrated system means a functioning kidney and bladder, which translates into a trip to the bathroom about once every hour.  At first this will probably be more frequent.  Dehydrated tissues are like that sponge that’s been sitting on the kitchen counter for three days unused.  It’s all dry and stiff and when you first wet it most of the water just runs off.  Your tissues, like that sponge, absorb water much more effectively when they’re already moist.

The benefits of staying fully hydrated are innumerable.  It’s a testimony to our evolution that we manage so well while dehydrated, but not so much to our good sense that we allow ourselves to walk around this way.  The greatest advancement of civilization is the availability of clean, drinkable water.  We shouldn’t waste it.

Ever heard that your body is 60, 70, up to 90 per cent water?  The actual figure doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the understanding that every vital function of your body is dependent on water.  Digestion, assimilation, respiration, excrementation (Yeah, I made that up.  You know what I mean.) are all dependent on full hydration to operate at their best.

A whole host of common ailments can be traced back to not drinking enough water.  Everything from obesity to head aches to indigestion, constipation, impotence, fatigue, aches and pains of all kinds, gallstones, kidney stones, gout and things I haven’t even thought of can often trace their origin to lack of adequate water.

The key is you have to make the effort and keep it up.  To do this, first get a water bottle.  I find a liter is the most convenient size, if I fill and empty it five times I’ve hit my goal of a gallon plus.  Now, carry it with you all the time.  Always have water on hand and it will be easier to stay hydrated, just sip on it through the day and refill it every time it gets emptied.  Now, don’t you feel better?

Stay strong.

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What’s for Dinner?

Last week Kimberly Hartke published a piece on pellagra, wondering aloud if it might be the root cause of the upswing in public shootings and violence.

Pellagra is a vitamin B deficiency, symptoms include: fears, fatigue, depression, confusion, paranoia, hostility, rage and anxiety.  In the early part of the 20th Century the rural South was rampant with pellagra.  It is this, in part, which is to blame for the Southern stereotype of being slow, dumb and quick to anger.

Yesterday, my fellow Mental Meat Head, Jason C. Brown, re-posted an article from the Exhuberant Animal.  In it Frank Forencich touches on the high drama that surrounds the diet debate and our tendency to polarize our selves into factions that war over who has the monopoly on Truth.

Vegans and Vegetarians claim their lifestyle is not only healthy but humane and castigate all non-believers with the mantra, “Meat is murder.”  Carnivores and the relatively new Paleo movement counter “Wheat is murder” citing theirs is the original diet to which we are optimally evolved, anything less is an invitation to disease, sub par mental capacity and a general waste of available space.

Full disclosure:  I have spent a little time in each of these camps.

In college, much to my mother’s dismay, I embraced a vegetarian lifestyle and lived this way the two years I lived in Athens, Georgia.

Recently, I entered the Paleo camp, mainly as part of my ongoing effort to solve the dilemma of my waistline.  I enjoy my chops, steak and bacon and I do better on less grains than more, but I can tell when my body is craving carbs and I’ve learned it’s foolish to deprive myself of something my body says it needs.

Which brings me to my point.

I have met and worked with people who live very successful and healthy lives on a vegetarian diet, I’ve met near total carnivores who do the same and I know vegetarians and meat eaters who seem to always be sick or with a cold.

So what conclusions can we draw from all of this, seemingly contradictory, information?

Here’s what I get.  Nutrition is of fundamental importance.  If you’re not getting the nutrition your body needs it doesn’t work right and can go completely haywire, prompting us to behave in ways we otherwise wouldn’t, possibly with disastrous results.

The specifics of that nutrition is a highly individual experience, each one of us is slightly different, our needs vary based on a host of variables.

This may be a radical thought, but our taste buds evolved to direct us toward what we need.

Profit based food systems take advantage of how taste buds work and try to direct us based on their motives, not our nutritional ones.

My only dietary advice then is to base your diet on real food.  It it takes much more than a sharp knife and a good stove or oven to prepare, you might be better off giving it a pass.

Stay strong.

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Solon and Croesus

I had a cancellation this morning and was in desperate need of a haircut.  I’m an old school guy and so get my haircut at Vincent Oliver’s Hippodrome in Woodlawn.

Vincent is in his 70’s now.  He graduated from Woodlawn High School , which is only a block away from his barber shop, in 1950-something.  The majority of his clientèle are old classmates, who gather at his shop to gossip about old friends and reminisce about the good ol’ days.

Vincent has old barber chairs that glide up and down and must weight a ton a piece.  He shaves the back of your neck with hot lather and a straight razor, and you leave smelling of Aqua Velva.  I truly love that place and I don’t know what I’ll do when he retires.

This morning there were a few guys ahead of me and I had time to read while I listened to them carry on about military experience, vintage cars and who was still alive and what they were up to.  As I scrolled through my inbox on my phone I ran across today’s post from the Art of Manliness, Count No Man Happy Until the End is Known.

Brett McKay gives us a tale from Herodotus of the rich King Croesus and his visit from the Athenian sage Solon.

After several days of  wining and dining, Croesus asked Solon who, in all of his travels, was the happiest man he had ever met.  The spoiled king expected Solon to reply that he was, but was dismayed to hear Solon give the name of a fellow Athenian, and a man of common birth at that.

When Croesus expressed his outrage Solon went on to explain that the man in question had lived in Athens, where his local government had given him the freedom to prosper, he had had several fine sons whose wives had borne grandchildren.  At the end of his life he died bravely, on the battlefield, alongside his countrymen while driving out an enemy force.  He was honored with a public funeral.

Croesus could not make sense of this but felt surely he must be the second happiest man and so asked Solon again.

The wise man replied with the names of two Argive brothers and went on to explain how the Argives valued family and physical fitness.  The two boys’ mother wanted to make a pilgrimage to Hera’s temple, but didn’t have the oxen to pull her cart the many miles to the holy site.  The two boys strapped themselves to the heavy cart  and conveyed her the entire way.  Once there they were greeted by a crowd that congratulated the boys on their strength and their mother for having raised such fine sons.

In an expression of her own gratitude the mother prayed to Hera that she might convey on her sons “the greatest blessing that can befall mortal men.”  After a day of feasting and celebrating at the festival of Hera, the two boys lay down in the temple for a nap.  Hera granted their mother’s request by letting the boys die in their sleep.  The Argives celebrated these two by erecting statues in their honor.

Croesus was flabbergasted.  How could three dead men be happier than he?

Solon admitted that as rich as he was he did have certain advantages.  Food and shelter and the basic necessities were pretty much a given for him, but his money by no means gave him a monopoly on all that lead to true happiness.

The sage’s happy list included civic service, raising healthy children, self sufficiency, a sound body and honoring the god’s and one’s family.  Besides, being rich brings it’s own slew of issues, in the immortal words of The Notorious B.I.G., “Mo money, mo problems.”

In addition, life is constantly changing.  Today you can be riding high, living the good life, but tomorrow it could all be gone, the market crashes, a Tsunami hits, those pictures go public.

“This is why,” Solon finally concluded to Croesus, “I cannot answer the question you asked me until I know the manner of your death. Count no man happy until the end is known.”

Croesus would have none of this and showed Solon the door.  Years later he would have a first hand example of exactly what he meant.  He lost a son in a hunting accident, then misreading an oracle he launched an ill planned attack on the Persian Empire only to find himself hog tied atop his own funeral pyre about to be barbecue.  In a grand moment of “Oh!” he is recorded as having cried out, “Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Count no man happy until the end is known!”

To my mind, the big message is, for us it’s too early to tell.  Call yourself happy?  Right now you might be.  Are you miserable?  You might be that, for the moment.  Whatever you are it’s bound to change.  Don’t become too attached to anything.

Which is not to say don’t form attachments.  A life devoid of connections is a life devoid indeed, but recognize, things change.  I have a string of mala beads, a Buddhist rosary, if you will.  I’ve worn it around my wrist for well over ten years.  Yesterday, for the first time I can remember, it came up missing.

After a good thirty minutes of looking for it I had to admit, it couldn’t be found.  I texted Trey and asked him to check with the cleaning service, they had been at the gym that afternoon, cleaning the cat walk that ran over my desk.

As I left the gym I had to acknowledge, despite my disappointment, that perhaps this was just another lesson in impermanence.   On the way home, resolved to live without what had become a part of my personality, Trey called to tell me it had been mistaken for trash but recovered.

The lesson?  Fortune turns on a dime.  The key to riding it is to focus on what you can control and let the rest go.

How you behave in the world is under your control.  How you act in relationships, both on a community and a personal level, is under your control.  Contrary to public opinion, your health is under your control.  You decide what you eat.  You decide how much rest you get.  You decide how much exercise you get.

Choose wisely.

Stay strong,

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What’s This Doing for Me?

I mentioned this yesterday, all too often we hear that time spent in the gym helps forge a better, more capable person.  What we don’t hear is how.

It’s as though there’s some mystical, alchemical transformation that takes place.  As a trainer and coach it’s tempting to, if not outright promote, at least not discourage this notion.  After all, if I’m the holder of some arcane knowledge, with secrets that imbue a better life, greater liberty and the attainment of true happiness, doesn’t that make me more valuable?  Greater value on my part justifies a higher price tag on my services and helps push me along my own happiness scale, right?

Only, it’s not really all that mystical and the last thing I want for myself is to be found frantically pulling levers behind some curtain trying to play the great and terrible Oz.  Far better, I think, to share my observations as I see them, check in with your reality, compare notes as it were, and slog along in good company.  Who knows?  We might find a way out of the trenches together.

So how does a gym rat become a better person?

After all this lead up, the answer may actually be anti-climactic.

Hard Work + Achievement/Failure = Greater Confidence

At least that’s the little equation I’ve come up with.  Let’s look at each component.

Hard Work:  Hard work is essential to progress in the gym.  This is a truth that many a gym-goer misses out on and it’s the reason why so many of the people you see day in and day out in the gym never change.  They do the same routines with the same weights, the same cardio on the same machine at the same resistance time and time again.

They’ve hit a plateau of homeostasis.  Their bodies have adapted to a certain work load and they’re comfortable.  Change never happens in comfort.

Achievement/Failure:  Achievement and failure are both essential to growth.  Frequently I find clients who are thwarted in their growth by too much success.  When success comes too easy we take it for granted and are unable to handle failure when it occurs.  Faced with a difficulty, the hyper successful all too often pull a “sour grapes” response and deem the enterprise not worth the effort.

In order to be whole we have to embrace both sides of reality.  To truly know success we have to know failure.

Archetypally we understand this.  Every great hero must fall before he’s able to attain his final triumph.  Sometimes we forget that we created archetypes so that we can look with cartoon clarity into the themes of our lives.

In 1978 David Carradine starred in a martial arts movie titled Circle of Iron.  The story line was first presented by Bruce Lee, but his untimely death prevented him from making the movie.  The story is of a young fighter on a quest for the Book of All Knowledge.  Along the way he must pass many tests and learn many lessons, from teachers that blur the lines between allies and antagonists (sound familiar?).  In his usual humility, Carradine plays the roles of all the teachers and we get to see just how naive we, as an audience, were about what good martial arts action looked like.

I bring this up because there is one scene which stuck in my mind and I’ve carried with me ever since I saw the movie at ten or eleven years old, young enough, anyway, to be impressed by the aforementioned martial arts action (ah, the folly of youth.)

In this scene our hero, Cord, played by Jeff Cooper, is walking with The Blind Man, played by Carradine.  As they walk along the outskirts of a village a beautiful young boy appears, he’s surrounded by admirers, and clearly walks with the confidence of the golden child.  As he walks past, The Blind Man strikes out and breaks the young boy’s nose.

Of course there’s drama and as they walk away Cord asks, “What did you do that for?”  The Blind Man responds that the boy was too pretty (don’t ask me how the Blind Man knows this, he’s a mystical teacher, okay?) and would grow up to be an insufferable man.  With a damaged face he would come to know adversity and thus learn compassion and other admirable traits.

See?  Struggle makes you a better person.  Personally, I’d rather struggle over a heavy deadlift or trying to get past my current block in the snatch than get smacked in the face by some mystical guru, but to each their own.

Confidence:  This is the reward of the gym.  Confidence is the core that all other benefits are built on and it comes from having a true understanding of our abilities.  Only by testing those abilities will we know what they are.

On the side of not knowing lies fear.  We fear we’re not up to the task, the fret and worry come because we don’t know.  Fear disappears in the face of knowledge.  In success or failure there is no more fear because now we know.

Facing these fears time and again, engaging in a daily ritual of success and failure we come to know more about who we are and what we are capable of.  Regardless of what that is, the experience of testing and knowing cannot help but create a serenity that’s difficult to find any other way.

I like to remind my morning clients, from time to time, that they’ve just performed the hardest task of their day.  How liberating is that?  How much more confident can you be in your day knowing that you’ve already handled your most difficult effort and that the rest of the day is downhill?

We all experience crisis.  It’s a part of life, a necessary counterpart to our highs.  The last year of my father’s life was, for me, an extended crisis.  It began with a un-diagnosable pain, increased disability and finally a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  From there came hospital visits, denial, last ditch attempts to save his life, grief, palliative care and the final acceptance.  Once he died, my duties continued, no longer tasked with his care and managing his needs, I was tasked with managing the estate which is only now coming to a close.

The lessons of the gym sustained me through this trying time.  I knew my strength, I knew the needs placed upon my shoulders and I was confident enough to carry them.  Of course I had support, from my gym family as well as my immediate family.  Which brings us to tomorrow’s topic, community.  Gyms, well good gyms anyway, form communities.  More than just seeing the same people on the treadmill, a good gym pushes its members, that common struggle forms bonds not found elsewhere.  More on this tomorrow.

Stay strong,

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Samurai Song

Right now I’m in a loose place.  For the last two months I have had a direct purpose when I sat down to write.  I had something to promote and a definite direction where I wanted to direct your attention.

Now I’m in a kind of limbo.  There are still things I care about and think are important but the urgency and direction are missing.  At first this is disconcerting, there’s a real sense of, “Okay, what do I do now?”  But after sitting with it a minute I realize it’s actually quite liberating.  For the time being, I can use this time to consider and define what’s important to me.

I can also follow the flow of the universe and take advantage of what’s delivered to me.  In this light, I offer two pieces that have fallen into my lap over the last few days.

The first actually came second and came in the form of Seth Godin’s post this morning.  If you don’t know who Seth Godin is, he’s worth checking out.  Seth is a marketing guru, of sorts.  He’s written several books, most notably Tribes and Purple Cow, and his general message is the importance of first having something worth marketing before trying to market it.  He preaches remarkability over perfection and authenticity over glam.

This was his post this morning,

Don’t follow, lead.
Don’t copy, create.
Don’t start, finish.

or even,

Don’t sit still, move.
Don’t fit in, stand out.
Don’t sit quietly, speak up.

Not all the time, sure, but more often.

This could be a kun for our gym all it’s own.  I’d use it, too, except that violates line 2.

The cool thing about this is that it speaks to so much more than just marketing.  Just as it applies to marketing it can apply to our gym or your life.  That’s why I subscribe to Seth’s blog.

Lead.  The world is full of far too many followers.  It’s easier to take a path someone has already cut out for you.  The problem is that path was cut for someone else’s purposes not yours, in the end it may not fit you well at all.

Create.  Your brain and your imagination are your gifts both to yourself and the world.  It is your obligation to use them.

Finish.  This one’s not always easy, but it’s always gratifying, if only for the sake of accomplishment.

Move.  We were not meant to stand still long.  In most things you are far better off to get moving and correct your aim along the way than to stand still planning and waiting for that perfect moment.  If I had waited for the right circumstances to have children or start my business, I’d still be childless and working for someone else.

Stand out.  You are awesome.  You are God’s unique little snowflake and there’s no one else like you.  That’s a beautiful thing.  Don’t throw it away.

Speak up.  Your ideas, even if they’re mistaken have merit.  They refine the conversation and help us find Truth.  I used to let Fear still my tongue–fear of being wrong was probably the biggest one.  The truth is sometimes I will be wrong.  Being wrong is not a crime, refusing to acknowledge it when you are is.  And you know what?  In order to do that you have to speak up.  Get over yourself.  Speak up.

The second piece came from my good friend and writing mentor, Glenny Brock.  Glenny sent me this poem in response to my request about feedback on our kun.

Samurai Song
by Robert Pinsky

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

Again, another great piece to rob for our kun.  All too often we equate the warrior ethos with it’s most visible aspect–violence.  Rarely do we look any further.

The warrior has much to teach us.  His approach to self development can be yours, regardless of whether you’re ever called to take up arms.

Samurai Song gives a glimpse into the inner life of the warrior.  To me the most important aspect of this poem is the self reliance of the samurai, but more importantly a self reliance that does not deny the outside world.  Repeatedly, he speaks of what he does in the absence of the outside influence.  He never denies it.  He never says, “I take no lover, ’cause I’m cold like that.”  He says, “When I had no lover I courted my sleep.”

In our gym we are warriors.  In this life we are warriors.  For most of us, we have evolved beyond the need for actual combat and can learn and evolve inside the metaphorical battles of life.

In the gym we battle gravity.  We battle our baser natures.  We battle lethargy, sloth, lack of motivation, depression, self loathing, the list goes on.  In every battle we face, we emerge, win or lose, the better for it.

So maybe here’s my new purpose, my new promotion–we need a kun.  We need a statement that reflects who we are as a gym and what we value.  Obviously I have my ideas.  I hope to stimulate yours.

The kun I offered on Monday is nowhere near finished.  It’s merely a way to open the conversation and like Seth Godin prods, I invite you to speak up.  This is your gym as much as it is mine, take ownership, speak up and tell us what you think.  We’ll all be better for it.

Stay strong,

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Picture Show

For today’s post I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the pictures that Joe Wilson and Ned Boggan took during our workshop last weekend.

Honestly, they do a much better job of describing what a cool weekend we had than I ever could.  Think of it as a digital ‘Wish you were here,” postcard.  Enjoy.

 

Bodyweight training has to be the foundation of any strength training program, really, any fitness program, regardless of your goals.  After all, if you can’t handle manipulating your own body weight, what business do you have adding weight?

 

 

Start simply, and as you progress increase the complexity and decrease the leverage.  You can find many ways to make your static bodyweight easier or more difficult to work with.

 

 

Proper rest intervals are crucial to your success.  Push yourself too hard you impair your ability to maintain good form.  Lose your form and you lose work you were trying to achieve, and maybe more importantly, the results.  Don’t push yourself hard enough and you won’t create sufficient stress to generate change.

 

 

Our dogs are a vital part of our lives, both at Bodytribe and Agoge Fitness Systems.  Consider them enlightened masters who patiently teach by example.  Well, except when they drink from the toilet.

 

 

 

Fancy or expensive gym equipment is not a pre-requisite to a good workout.  Resistance can be found quite cheaply and sometimes the best tools are things others see as trash.  Sixteen used tires? $0.00.  Twenty minutes of tire bashing in the alley?  Priceless.

These are pictures of each of the individuals who joined us for the workshop.  Each one of them is precious to me, they’re members of my tribe and I salute them all– in their strength, their growth and their passion.

You’ve heard me sing this before, the best part of these type of events is the chance to connect with others, to make friends you might not otherwise find.  Clearly, I’m not alone in this.

 

So here’s a snapshot (I know, not the best pun) of what a workshop at AFS looks like.  We had so much fun we’re going to do it again.  You’ve got a standing invitation to join us.  Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted about our next one.

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