Monday, June 20, 2011

06/20/11: You won't break and learning to properly breath


Made it through three nights out of the four this week.
And, boy, am I feeling it after Thursday night's workout and drills (thanks to Kyle!). One of our drills was to work through our punch combatives and defenses with a follow up double strikes to the stomach, about a third force. Probably doesn't sound like that's much power, but when you take several punches over and over again for minutes at a time...well, they begin to hurt like hell. And the next day? Painful, as hell.
But it's important for every Krav Maga student to understand they won't break if they take a hit. In fact, if they get into a real world brawl, they're probably going to take more than one hit. They need to know that; it's an imperative part of part of the mental training.
Most street fights last no more than 30 seconds. But there's a huge difference in what a Krav Maga trained fighter can do in that 30 seconds as opposed to an untrained individual might can do. Guaranteed, a trained Krav Maga self defense student can disarm and disable an attacker in less than 3 seconds, as long as he/she takes the training seriously and understands the importance of intensity and aggressiveness during every training session.
3 seconds between living and dying.

Thursday night, I worked out for the first time with a thirty-one year old male student, who had only been to Krav a few times before. It was amazing to watch someone still new to the training and all the small things that I had already worked through: things like proper breathing, the proper stance, the proper twist to the hip when throwing a punch, etc., etc . Even with my handicap, I was able to help improve his breathing exercises and his punches within the first workout with him.
And, boy, there is no way to get around the fact that I’m handicapped for life.
My right leg is screwed.
There’s no more running.
There’s no jumping.
I am earthbound for the rest of my life.
That's my leg after the third surgery, the one in which the new surgeon discovered how extensive the damage was because of an 8 month long chronic infection that ate away most of my tendon, some heel bone and a good portion of the flesh around the open wounds.  It was all necrotic and had to be replaced with what they refer to as a "skin flap"/"skin graft" procedure.
But my previous training in Krav Maga had already instilled in me the never-say-die factor in my life. My training before the injury, and subsequent botched surgery, is the thing that has kept me grounded.
Months of surgeries and recoveries, months of pushing myself back into Krav drills, over and over again, and I am still trying to keep myself in shape.

When I see a new student struggling through the drills, I am astounded at what I’ve been able to overcome, but more so, what I see new students diving into Krav Maga for the first time. The pain; the sweat; the doubt and despair. Seeing it in the faces of new students gives me hope that the training means something.
That pain does means something. It’s important. To work through the pain and doubt is something which Krav Maga thrives upon. Krav Maga is painful and something that makes you doubt yourself, but when you can walk away from a workout and not having given up, then you have something of which to be proud.
So if you’ve been able to make through a Krav Maga workout, then count yourself resilient. There’s nothing easy about a Krav Maga workout. Especially when you first begin.
I guess one of the things I'm trying to get across (in a very graphic way, my apologies to those of you with weak stomachs for these sorts of things) is that even if you break, you CANNOT break where it counts.  Inside.  Because that is truly where all your power comes from, even if you don't always realize it.

But I was speaking about proper breathing before, and how I was teaching a new student how to use the technique I learned years ago to help him control himself during the drills.
One of the first breathing exercises I ever learned when I first got into martial arts self defense and combative tactics training was a simple, but effective one, and it’s a technique I’ve tried to pass along to as many people who I meet in my training, especially if I feel it can really benefit the person and get them moving along an easier route with their training.
Breathing is key to control before, during and after a confrontation, even if it doesn’t come to blows. There’s a lot chemical reactions which take place inside the human body as we become afraid or feel threatened, suddenly thrust into a potentially dangerous, even a life threatening, situation. Adrenaline is supposed to be our friend, but when it hits the central nervous system it can cause uncontrollable shakes, make you feel lightheaded and unable to catch your breath. It’s all part of that ancient genetic known as “the flight or fight” reaction. Proper breathing can help your ‘friend’ help you. This is a technique I use sometimes I know I’m about to have a hell of a workout, so I can over-oxidize my blood, so I can feel the “high” and give myself a better shot at being to hold onto more and more of that precious oxygen in my bloodstream where it will help me before, during and after a confrontation.

Here’s the technique:
1. Take in 3 short sharp breathes, holding them in your expanded lungs for 3 seconds- no more, no less. It may take some work in the beginning, but it’s imperative you learn this part well…the short, sharp breaths and the holding them in part.

2. After the 3 seconds have passed, let those held breathes out in a slow 3 seconds exhale. Again, no more, no less. As if you haven’t yet guessed, this technique is all about biofeedback and control of your functions on levels you may or may not have been aware of before.

3. Once you feel your lungs have emptied, start from step 1 again and repeat and repeat. It is very important that during the technique you concentrate on what you are feeling—the slowly lowering of your heart rate, the thump of your heart, the in and out flow of the blood through your veins, feeding you that much needed oxygen. Feel a quietness take over your mind. That will take some practice, but I promise, that sensation will also come with time and patience. It is a quietness within which will allow you finish the fight before you even begin. But more about that later…I don’t want to get too all new-agey on you, here.

4. In the beginning, do this routine for two minutes, while holding one finger to your exposed opposite wrist, where you can best feel your heartbeat, your blood flow. It is your body speaking to itself. As you work through the two minute breathing control technique, you will, guaranteed, feel a significant difference in your heart rate. It will lower and become more controlled. As you master the technique, begin lowering the time in which do it, bringing it down my 30 second increments over a period of weeks or months. Go from two minutes, to one and a half minute, to one minute and finally to 30 seconds. By then, you should be able to gain complete control of your body’s reaction to adrenaline dump, those endorphin hits we all get when we get physical, and, of course, your breathing. You will be able to do it within 30 seconds. But just like anything you have to master, you must also practice at it to keep the skill. After months of being unable to workout properly, I’m pretty much having to start over again from the two minute mark; but I also know that if I was able to get to that 30 second mark before, I can and will make it back again.

Below is a video example what we refer to as "fatigue drills", drills of intense punching, kicking, blocking, etc., which are meant to wear you down both physically and mentally.  Proper breathing will get you through them a lot easier.

Tomorrow is Monday and I’ll be back in there again, fighting for my life and sanity in ways that I can’t even put into words anymore.
Wish me luck...

--Nickolas Cook

Monday, June 13, 2011

06/12/11: Beyond the mats


One of the things that most new students discover early on about Krav Maga when they first begin their journey in the studio is that the studio isn't enough.
You can workout three to five, even six, days a week at my particular studio, The Ultima, but to find that balance one needs to truly be in the best physical shape possible, you'll need to think about adding other aspects of fitness (both physical and mental) that you won't get from the hour or two at a time hitting the mats in the studio.

I'll talk about the physical stuff this time around and my own experiences with such.

First off, one thing that beginners don't realize when they first start is that your eating habits are going to change---drastically--and whether you want them to or not. At least they do if you're even half serious about sticking with Krav. The intensity of the cardio drills, the pure endurance needed to keep on your feet for the whole workout, requires the right kind of fuel. I can't even count all the times I hear from new students about how they thought it'd be a good idea to load up on some greasy ass fast food before coming in to workout. Most of them figure out their mistake in one of two ways. First way, is they gas out almost immediately because the type of calorie intake they got from such crappy fare is what I, and a lot of hardcore long timers, call empty calories. Meaning, it might have felt like you were getting good solid food in your belly to fuel you, but what you were actually getting was calories that won't metabolize the way you need to keep going through a hardcore endurance workout.

The second way newbies figure out that McDonalds is not their friend when working out in something as intense as Krav Maga is a rather messier way. In other words, they get to revisit those cheeseburgers and fries...hopefully outside.

So most people who are serious about sticking it out learn to eat easily digestible foods, clean burning high carb, low fat foods, things like oatmeal, turkey meat, cheeses, protein bars, maybe even an energy drink or protein shake to see them through the workouts. And they also learn not to eat anything right before coming in. Optimum time is no less than an hour or so before go-time...or else your risk scenario number two again.
Proper hydration becomes super-important as well. The amount of water a normal person sweats out during even a basic Krav Maga workout is enough to make you sick if you're not careful. We always advise newbies: drink lots of water beforehand, keep sipping sparingly throughout the workout, and then make sure to drink plenty more afterwards. Dehydration can really do some serious damage to your body" vomiting, diarrhea, fainting spells, if it gets out of hand. And one of the great dangers of severe dehydration is that by the time you realize how bad it is, it's usually too late. The shakes hit you, you feel light headed, you turn pretty pale, and it can knock you on your ass. So especially here in the desert, we try to make students aware of hydration as a fundamental part of the workouts before, during and afterwards. Gatorade is fine, but good old water is best.

But like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, doing just the Krav Maga workouts isn't enough. A lot of us also supplement our Krav work with other martial arts systems. Personally, I like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, because most fights are going to go to the ground. Learning how to control and end a fight on the ground is what Jui-Jitsu is all about. But I'll get into that particular system later on. There's a lot of details and tricks involved that can't be covered in just one post.

Another important supplement to Krav Maga is learning to do body weight exercises and regular weight training. And you don't need expensive equipment to do either. Body weight exercises, circuit training especially, is nothing more than using your own body weight as your training machine. Weight training using other equipment doesn't mean sinking hundreds or thousands of dollars into wastoid crapola like Bowflex or some such nonsense. Check out the hundreds of different websites for Crossfit training, which will give you plenty of ideas of everyday, cheap items one can use to simulate expensive weight training equipment. I've used old car tires, chains, ropes, lumber, bricks in five gallon buckets. Point is, if you really are serious about weight training, then you can find plenty of items to do the trick without joining an expensive gym or spending your hard earned money on lots of weight training equipment.
Another thing that most Krav Maga students find is an invaluable addition to their Krav Maga training is jogging. Just plain old normal jogging will work wonders. Stick with that for a few weeks and before you know it, those tough ass Krav drills start becoming a lot easier and you don't gas out as easily.
And speaking of jogging...there's a little something called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)...but I'll speak on that in more detail later. Until then, check out any number of sites online which will give you some beginner HIIT info and workout routines to help you out.  It's the preferred method used by most world class athletes, especially MMA fighters.  And the best part of HIIT routines is that it takes half the time of a normal routine to get three to four times the results.

My second week of getting back into Krav Maga on a regular basis starts again tomorrow. With any luck I can make it four days this time around and start getting this leg back into some sort of working order I can live with once again. I'm starting out this new week at around 215 lbs., with visible improvement in muscle tone and balance in my walk with and without the cane (for short periods, of course; the cane is probably going to be a permanent fixture for me, unfortunately), and I feel better emotionally. I especially feel better having put on a fifteen pounds of weight. I was losing way too much weight recently because of the gastric bypass and certain emotional issues which were preventing me from eating properly. But when I started working out everyday again, both Krav Maga and at home in my garage, using weights and circuit training and crossfit routines as mentioned above, I forced my body to crave calories again.

And just so you know, all of those "stupid newbie mistakes" I mentioned above, I did just about all of them. So, yeah, I learned the hard way. Some of them I saw others go through and learned from their mistakes. So now I feel it's part of my responsiblity as a long time student of the system to warn others of the dangers of not taking the advice seriously.

I'll post more later on this week about Krav Maga and other things to do with me and my training.

--Nickolas Cook

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

06/06/11: First night back after some strange weeks of transition and confusion


For those of you who know me, then you already know how important martial arts has become to me in the past few years--especially the Krav Maga self defense system. I won't go into great detail on the history of this comparatively modern system (for that, please feel free to read up on a fairly concise and correct history here
), but it was developed in the early 1930's by Imi Lichtenfeld, a very bad ass man who later went on to teach whole populations of everyday frightened citizens terrorized by Nazis and anti-semitics in Jewish ghettoes, and then later an official, armed military how to defend themselves against people intent on their deaths.
The system is meant to be simple--so simple that anyone of any age and sex can learn the basic, yet very deadly, techniques to disarm, disable and destroy your opponent.

Back in 2008, when I first started this system, I had been diagnosed as diabetic type-II, and was on my way to being in deep shit health-wise. I had already changed my diet, had been doing what I thought was some pretty heavy duty exercising--i.e., weightlifting--on a daily basis. You'd think that was keeping me healthy, but it did not. My cholesterol levels were through the roof, my blood pressure was terrible, and lest we forget, I was still diabetic. It wasn't doing much to keep me from backsliding and quickly.

One day, I happened to catch an episode of the now defunct reality show on The History Channel, "Human Weapon", in which the two hosts trek across the world to learn new martial arts disciplines every week. I just happened to catch the one on Krav Maga that day, as I said, and something clicked with me. These grim faced men in black, with no sense of humor, proceeded to basically beat the living crap out of these two men to show them how serious the system is. But it wasn't the fact that what they did was so devastating and so simple, it was the fact that every one of the men who were teaching and learning the system were in top shape, with real street fighting muscle--not mirror muscle, as we used to refer to the meatheads that hung around the weight rooms, staring themselves in the mirrors in different poses, flexing their rippling biceps and quads. No, these guys were pure real-world muscle and ready to tear anyone dumb enough to tangle with them a new asshole. They meant business.


But there was another side to the system that maybe I missed in others I'd sen and studied: these practitioners saw themselves as wardens of the defenseless, especially those who they loved. They were willing to kill or be killed to protect those they loved and those whom could not protect themselves.

I'd be lying to myself if I didn't admit that such an ethos played into my long held belief in the knightly ethics and the superhero morals which I had grown up on in my reading of comics and classic literature.

But maybe the most powerful pull for me was how much work these guys put into getting into the kind of shape needed to do the drills and techniques used in their extreme, physically, mentally demanding workouts.

That same week I found a martial arts studio right down the street from me (which was a hell of a piece of luck, since back then it wasn't like Krav Maga schools were everywhere; in fact, only a handful in the whole state of Arizona existed) that had official/certified trainers in Krav Maga. I joined up after watching one class and haven't regretted it since. ULTIMA SELF DEFENSE.

They pared me down to a lean, mean fighting machine. I felt great. Mhy confidence level was through the roof. My body and mind were sharp andat one; I felt at peace for the first time in a long time.

Then, in February of 09, something really bad happened to me: the Achilles Tendon on my right leg snapped off the bone, ruptured 100%. POP!

Now, the injury is common enough that surgery can and does take care of it fairly well. But if you're a pro athlete, or someone who is working out like one, such as myself, who was at the time supplementing my Krav Maga classes with Crossfit and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well, four or five nights a week. At that time I was just under 40, and in the best shape of my life---except for the diabetes, which I had gotten under control with diet and my exreme exercising and some preventive medicines. Within six months I had gone from being in danger of having to go to insulin shots, to having the disease almost under control without the drugs. My docs were astounded and amazed and wanted details on how I had done it.

And then the injury happened, like I said.

I had an operation to reattach the tendon, which meant I would be okay to workout in a few months, but never at my full capacity again. If I had been a pro athlete, my career would have been done for the rest of my life. I should have been okay in no time, at least as good as I was going to get after such a tramatic injury. If all had gone as it should have, I should have been able to continue with my life, limited a bit more, but still fairly well off and happy.

But weeks after the surgery, I developed severe pain and open wounds. The wounds got worse and weren't going away. The surgeon kept telling me they were my diabetes' fault. Which to me seemed strange after all my research online, because according to said research, there shouldn't have been an issue if my gluscose levels were under control. Which they were. The whole time, barely going out of healthy range at any time. See, I was still working out--one legged--as best I could, to keep the glucose under control. Still, the doc continued to blame the diabetes. and as for the continuing pain, he told me that was in my head.

This went on for months and I finally had to see one of my doc's golf buddies, a supposed infectious wound specialist, who also blamed the diabetes, despite my continuing dispute that my gluscose was under control and that I was still exercising to keep it under control.

Eight months went by and the wounds would not heal, I developed abcesses, which had to be lanced several times, drained, and then they also turned into open supperating wounds.

So, here I was, now with three open wounds on my foot. The docs keep saying its the diabetes, although I keep trying to tell them it's not.

Finally, I decided to take a drastic, life altering step: I had a gastric bypass to get rid of the diabetes. My research online had found that the procedure was 85-90% effective in putting the disease into terminal remission.

Within two weeks, it worked.

I was no longer diabetic. No more drugs. No more blood sugar problems.

Two weeks later, with no improvement on the open wound issues, and now everyone is getting really concerned that I might lose my foot soon, I was taking a shower when I saw a blue snakelike thing sticking out of one of the supperating abcess wounds. I pulled on it and more of it came out: a neatly tied loop of medical suture.

I rushed to the wound doc and he snipped it off as far down into my foot as he could stick the scissors into the wound (very painful, let me tell you). At that point, he advised that it hadn't been my diabetes that was causing the open wounds the whole time, but the NON-DISSOVABLE SUTURES that the ortho-surgeon never told us about.

We went back to the ortho doc and asked how to get the sutures out, he said there was no way and I was stuck with them and we'd just have to wait to see what would happen. Meaning, the infections weren't going to go away, no matter what antibiotics we used, and I was probably going to lose my foot because of the ongoing aggressive infection. When I told the doc that was not an acceptable answer, he told me we didn't need to see one another again.

He fired me as a patient.

Stunned, we found another surgeon, one which was top of her profession at The University of Arizona Orthopedic Surgery department and she immediately scheduled surgery to remove the sutures, for fear that I was soon going to lose the foot.

What she found when she got inside the foot was life altering as the gastric bypass. The infection had eaten away 70% of my tendon, some of my heel bone, and about a 3X3 inch area of my ankle where the open wounds had gone necrotic, rotting the flesh from the inside. All of that had to be removed immediately, leaving me with a foot that was about as useless as a stick on the end of my leg. I had to have more surgery to cover the rotted area: a very painful, disgusting procedure called skin flapping, followed by a skin graft, followed by months more of physical therapy.

Now, after each one of these surgeries over the year and half in which they all had to be done, including the gastric bypass, I had to re-learn how to walk again, over and over again. During which, I continued to keep exercising to help build up balance and strength in my ruined leg.

It has been an uphill battle physically and mentally and emotionally for the past two and a half years now. There are no words to convey what has happened to me inside because of this terrible injury and the aftermath of it, the continuing effects of it.

Tonight, after a few weeks of feeling as if it was all for nothing, that I am now less than I was, I went back to Krav Maga to test myself again.

Tonight, I felt something like the old me again after all this time. I felt the joy of sweating and aching as i pushed myself as best I could with my limited mobility. I felt something awaken in me again, something that the Krav Maga gave me in those first days: The Dragon; The Fire: The desire to beat the fears and terrors which live inside me now, the doubts which still plague me these days after all that's happened to me.

I decided there will me more nights from now on. I will keep fighting as I was taught by the people who I admire and love in Krav Maga. I will not lose that fire, that dragon, that tiger. I am all of those things still; this injury, this limitation, will not kill those things in me.

Wish me luck.