Updated Blogroll and Big Thanks

I’ve added OkKimonos Blog to the blogroll. I’m not sure why the store is Ok! Kimonos and the blog is styled as OkKimonos. I admittedly know nothing about branding outside picking fonts.

As I alluded to sometime last week, I’ve felt like I’ve fallen away from the community and I wanted to thank everyone who’s been keeping up with BJJ blogging because reading through the posts helped me feel like I was picking up as though I never left. Special thanks to these guys (sorry for not knowing everyone’s real names…):

  • Brendan (Ok! Kimonos). You’ve been awesome sharing posts on Twitter that I keep feeling are targeted toward me and your emails help me feel a part of the community.
  • Can (Slideyfoot). I love your blog. Being able to read through what you’ve been teaching helps me feel a bit better about missing classes.
  • Chelsea (TAP TAP TAP). You’re probably one of the most awesome people to write a blog. I love the perspective. You definitely make me feel like a wimp for not pushing myself harder.
  • Jezus. Knowing that you’ve been reading pushes me to keep writing which in turn forces me to keep up with the community.
  • bjjmindset. Your comments are one of the reasons I got back in rather than just quitting. Thank you. I’ll probably hit you up for leg lock defenses once I can get back on the ground more freely.

Struggling With Superman

As I’ve gotten older I’ve had to face a terrible reality: I am not Superman.

In the last two years I’ve felt myself slowing down a lot. I’m not pushing it hard in rolls when I do them, and I haven’t been for awhile. If someone’s much more athletic and wants to just do circles around me, whatever. I’m not that guy any more. I used to be, but I’m not. It’s not a belt thing. It’s not that higher belts go slower. I’ve seen plenty of higher belts go all out when they roll. It’s not an age thing. I’ve seen plenty of guys older than myself go much harder than I do. It’s just a thing that’s happened from a lot of injuries and taking breaks when work was too stressful and prioritizing other things over the roll.

It’s been really bugging me lately that I’m not back to where I was. I mean, I invested years in working out and building techniques and I feel like a lot of that investment has been lost. I can tell you how to do a textbook yama arashi, but when I try it on someone it’s like my hands and my feet just don’t know what the other is doing any more. I feel like that guy who everyone suspects of having an honorary belt. I know the move. I know the setup. Come execution, flop.

It’s actually really hard for me to acknowledge that. It bothers me that I can’t follow the advice I could give people. I could tell them how and why their throw is failing, but for myself it’s like the knowledge is just gone. It’s embarrassing. It’s not something I want to readily admit. Having said that, if you’re feeling like this after a break from an injury or life getting in the way or anything else – you’re not alone. I’m right here with you. We’re going to be okay though.

We’re going to be okay.

Book Report: Where Meat Comes From

Chuck Palahniuk – yeah, the Fight Club guy – has a book which is a series of short stories called “Stranger Than Fiction”. The second chapter is titled “Where Meat Comes From”. It’s not long, only 19 pages, but it’s incredibly accurate. The story is summed up best by Palahniuk himself after he describes cauliflower ear:

“At best, this is a postcard from a hot, dry weekend in Waterloo, Iowa. Where meat comes from. From the Northern Regional Olympic Trials, the first step, where for twenty dollars any man can compete for a chance on the US Olympic Wrestling Team.”

It’s a story about what we love. It’s a story that made me sad, smile, and even laugh aloud on the plane a couple times.

Each part of the story is like a miniature conversation about wrestling, and to me each one was complete. Cauliflower ear, why the sport seems to be dying, cutting weight, the instant camaraderie when you recognize another wrestler, missing pain when you take a week off, the injuries, the brotherhood with your training partners, the shift toward MMA, having to quit after the major injury… I’ve never wrestled the way these guys have wrestled, but the experience seems to be universal to grappling.

I found myself thinking back to my own injuries and my own versions of each story. How Beth hates when I’m cranky, starved, and thirstier than I think I’ve ever been on the drive up for weigh-ins. The judo tournament where I was 0.2 lbs over after spending all morning running in the gym with my parka over my gi over my sweats, and forcing myself to finally make weight by sitting in the car with the heat cranked until a fifth of a pound of sweat was caked into my clothing. The feeling I get every time I see someone with cauliflower ear and I get this smirk as I ask “So, how long have you wrestled?” and they inevitably ask “How could you tell?” and I just point at my ear and I’ve never had anyone do anything but laugh and say something along the lines of “Yeah, that’s a dead giveaway isn’t it?” Being in my doctor’s office talking about how I really need to quit, but that I won’t. Any time where either I’ve accidentally injured a training partner whom I was close with or a close training partner has accidentally injured me and we just laugh about it because we know it wasn’t recklessness, but just the way the chips fall sometimes when you go hard.

It’s an incredible summary of the sport to me. I wish I could carry it around and when someone asks why I wrestle give it to them to read. I can’t really explain why I love what I love, but somehow the social proof is there when I’m not the one explaining why after umpteen broken bones, two heel hooks, and a couple of back injuries I’m still on the mat. When someone else explains for you, it makes loving what you do seem less insane because that guy loves it too.

Updates

A little over four months ago I was heel hooked. I’m still recovering. I’ve been doing what I can in judo since then, but ground work or randori has largely been out of the question. I had an MRI done finally. The results show that there’s not a partial or full tear, just the signs of previous injury, so at least structurally I’m on point. The pain is still pretty bad, but at least I know that I’m not worsening an injury by trying to train through the pain. I’ve started doing much more difficult exercises for rehabilitation – my personal goal is to get back to pistol squats on each leg in terms of the amount of stability and strength the ankle needs. The balancing exercises have been good too.

The hammer exercises are going well. I’m slowly working my way down the shaft making the exercises harder and harder and seeing the gains in my grip and shoulder strength. The other day we were at Dick’s and joking with my wife I started curling the 40 lb. dumbell. I feel pretty good about that. It’s not that it’s an amazing curl or anything, but more that I’m keeping strength up even though I’m not really wrestling or lifting.

That’s pretty much all that’s new. Judo when I can make it. Hammer exercises as often as I find the time. Ankle rehabilitation like it’s a job.

By not training I’m finding worse problems than just feeling like I’m getting out of shape. I’m finding that I’m not as connected to the grappling community as I once was. I’m not reading blogs like I used to. I’m not buying new DVDs or books. I’m not paying attention to the tournaments or rankings. I’m not spending time talking about grappling and as a result I find myself less interested. It happened when I stopped training MMA too – I stopped watching UFC fights, I stopped looking for wrestling techniques for MMA, I just stopped being a part of the community. It’s a pity.

It very often feels like life gets in the way of training. Unfortunately, somethings are more important than training for me right now.

Trying to get back on the horse

I got a brace, some pre-wrap, some compression wrap, and a ton of tape. I went to judo like it was a normal thing, got to roll with Tanner one last time.

There are things which are way harder than I expected them to be. Remembering to move my hands and feet at the same time among them. As far as the ankle holding up – it didn’t really. I can do some throws, but only as nage komi or yakosuko geiko. The speed of uchi komi means putting too much stress on the ankle. Randori means putting way to much stress on the ankle and introducing very awkward positions.

I’ll be continuing judo for awhile, but only warm-ups, nage komi, and yakosuko geiko. Randori and ground work are simply too much right now.

The Best Laid Schemes O’ Mice An’ Men

I was really hoping to be back in the swing of things by now. Definitely at least back in the gym. Alas, that’s not really happening yet. My ankle is starting to heal up much faster than it has been over the first six weeks or so (which were effectively stagnant healing and constant pain). The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.

So it’s time to set new goals. By the beginning of next week I’m hoping to have manageable enough pain that I can start back at judo with a brace as long as I avoid foot sweeps. It feels like a lofty goal given that it’s just a few days away, but it would make me feel better about a lot of stuff. When you’re stressed and anxious and can’t even go wrestle there’s just a lot of Weltschmerz. Exercising is great for helping to cope with stress.

So that’s the hope, and with a little luck we’ll see where I am on Tuesday to see if it’s a possibility. The kind of shitty thing will be the fact that the judo rules severely disadvantage a player who can only do hip and hand throws. Most of the good backwards hand throws are illegal now and if there’s only one direction you can attack you become insanely easy to shut down. I’m sure I can figure something out for that.

Sledgehammer – The Workout

To preface this, a lot of the exercises were borrowed or modified from a Grapplearts post (which in turn was apparently a Diesel Crew post first). Credit to them.

If possible I’ll addend this post with pictures, but let’s be honest, it’s probably not going to happen so I’m going to try to link out to YouTube videos (which are not my own) when possible.

As a disclaimer – consult a doctor before starting any exercise program, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah… Seriously though, you’re going to be throwing a hammer around so be careful and be reasonable. Just like weightlifting where the weight can get too far from you and you throw out your back, sloppy hammering can wreak some havoc so take the time to go through motions slowly and take the time to find a video if what I’m describing sounds like nonsense (or skip it all together).

Equipment

First off, you don’t need that heavy a hammer. I got a 12-lb hammer and I’m seriously choking up on it. An 8-lb (or even smaller) hammer should be sufficient for just about all of these. Having said that, you can always choke up on the heavier hammer and for me, 12-lb was only $5 more than the 8-lb.

You’re going to need a tire. The advice from most sites that have hammer workout routines is that you can get one from somewhere that does tire replacement. I just happened to have a couple of old tires at home that I got talked into taking home when I got new tires because they’re viable spares. I think bigger tires are better because tractor tires are recommended, but I’m using car tires and it seems to work okay.

Positioning

There are a few key positions and terms that I’m going to use.

Choking up - this is an idiom for taking a higher grip relative to the hammer’s head. That is, a grip closer to the head of the hammer.

Split grip - I’m not sure if there’s an actual term for how one holds a hammer with one hand by the head and one hand at the bottom of the shaft, but with respect to martial arts movements it’s a fundamental split, so I’m calling it a split grip. Both thumbs should point toward the hammer’s head with this grip (which means the top hand is always under the hammer).

Baseball bat grip - I’m sure there’s a better term than this, but it reminds me of holding a baseball bat. From the split grip, let the top hand slide until it touches the bottom hand. This is how one holds a baseball bat in my experience.

Exercises

The Overhead Swing

Again, I feel like there are probably proper names for these exercises, but I can’t find them so you’re getting whatever I feel like calling them. This is swinging a sledgehammer, thus “the overhead swing”. Chris Melton has a great video explaining the motions if you’ve not used a sledgehammer (or an axe for that matter – pretty much the same motion).

Get into a squatting position. I actually have one foot slightly forward because it feels more comfortable. Start with the split grip, raise the hammer over the shoulder of the top hand, and swing it. As you’re swinging, let your top hand drop into the baseball bat grip.

Making this harder requires getting a bigger hammer or just going faster.

The Twist

The Grapplearts post notes this as “[levering] side to side”. I call it a twist because you’re keeping your elbow in place and twisting at your wrist. Grab the hammer in one hand and twist your hand both directions through the full range of motion at a controlled pace. That’s it. I recommend starting with a very high grip on the hammer and moving your grip down (head further from your hand) if it’s too easy. This one gets hard after a few reps so be prepared to choke up if you’ve started too far out. You’ll feel it in your forearm and elbow. A good video of both this and levering from GTSPerformance is on YouTube.

Once this is done, I turn the hammer upside down and repeat with the head of the hammer below your hand. Don’t cheat yourself out of a full range of motion here, it’s easy to.

The way to make the exercise harder is to have more shaft between your hand and the hammer. If you get to the base of the shaft and can do this, you are a better man than I and should probably seek a bigger hammer.

Levering

Of all the forms of levering, the form I’ve found most effective is the one where you hold the hammer to the side (choke up, seriously) and just move at the wrist up and down through the full range of motion. I’ve been doing this with the hammer both in front of and behind my hand on each side and it feels awesome. This is heavily covered by the Grapplearts post so you should look there for pictures. A good video of both this and forearm twists from GTSPerformance is on YouTube.

This gets harder with more shaft between your hand and the head of the hammer.

Juggling

I’m going to try to do my best to explain this exercise. It’s very easy once you get it, but feels a bit awkward at first. You’re just going to switch between right-handed and left-handed split grips. Start with one split grip and toss it in front of you such that you catch it in the other split grip. I can’t seem to find a video of this, but I promise if you’re tossing from a right-handed split grip and catching in a left-handed split grip (and vice-versa) you’ve probably got it right.

One rep is the hammer getting back to the position you started from (so tossing right to left to right is one).

I have no idea how to make this harder.

More ballistic exercises which I don’t do, but look kind of cool: Sledgehammer Workouts

Other Exercises

If you look around YouTube you can find other stuff, especially videos targeted towards MMA. I’m not doing those exercises myself so I can’t speak to them. Try them out if you care to, you already have a maul and a tire.

The Workout

  • 10x twists (head above hand), each hand
  • 10x twists (head below hand), each hand
  • 10x lever (head in front of hand), each side
  • 10x lever (head behind hand), each side
  • 10x juggling
  • Overhead swing until the cows come home (switch sides every 10 reps)