Saturday, December 27, 2014

Perceived vs Genuine Caring

Today, I definitely witnessed the difference between perceived caring vs genuine caring. 

Let me begin with a clarification: 
Perceived caring is when lots of positive things are said, promises made, and much interest is shown in a public manner. It is when someone asks about the [topic to be cared about], and says he/she is excited about it, or voices complaints. It is when people feel entitled to free or discounted things, and aren't afraid to ask for more. Perceived caring is when, after all these things are said, nothing is done. When shit hits the fan, they are not there. When support is needed, they are nowhere to be found, except perhaps peering around the corner, seeing how things are going. Perceived caring is a bunch of talk. 

Genuine caring, however, doesn't show itself as anything necessarily vocalized. There might be some positive feedback, or even constructive criticism. Many times, genuine caring doesn't even present itself clearly until shit hits the fan. That's when those who genuinely care will show up, have your back, and give as much as they can, no questions asked. They never ask for anything, and oftentimes reject bonuses offered. These are the people who will stand by your side. 

Today made me so unbelievably happy because I witnessed, on a national working day Saturday (to make up for a Friday holiday, weird, I know)(also during the Holidays), over a third of our members rock up and do whatever was needed to get the job done, even if it was just for a short time. To help the team. To help the family. Because they actually and genuinely cared. We had even more voice regrets of having to work, otherwise they'd help as well. We even had one send his girlfriend (who was super happy to help) in lieu of him, as he had to work! I am so grateful that these types of people make up a large part of my life. Words cannot express how I feel after the display of caring that occurred today. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cutting Weight for Competitions

Without fail, every time a martial arts tournament is around the corner, at least a few people ask me what the best way to cut weight or what to day pre/day of competition. I always give the same answer: "You're too late." 

Waiting until the last 2 weeks to figure out how to cut several kilos, or how your body reacts to which foods after you've been depleting it of energy sources, or how your performance will be affected by weight cut methods and day of stupid. This should be something that's experimented with several weeks in advanced. It takes discipline, time, and writing things down to figure this kind of stuff out. And then there's the whole competition day jitters and how to handle that adrenaline. Not to mention what to eat post-competition, so that your body doesn't freak out and re-gain ALL of the weight you just took 3 weeks to cut, back in the first day or two (not even exaggerating)! 

So how do you do it? Sorry, that's not for this post (you'd have to ask me in person for this one). This post is for what I think of cutting weight specifically for sports competition purposes. 

Frankly, I think it's stupid. I've competed in probably close to 70 martial arts competitions, all which required me to be in a certain weight division. (For those who don't know why people cut weight for these things, it's so that you're the biggest person in your division, so you have a weight/size advantage). I've had to cut anywhere from 2 lbs to 16 lbs, and found out that my body retains water like a champ. I've spent the same 2 hours in a sauna with a sweat suit and albolene smeared all over me and would only lose half a pound, .7 at most. In comparison, I've seen people lose 10 pounds in that same 2 hours. Ridiculous. And anytime I'm cutting weight, or watching my diet so I don't gain back to my healthy weight, my body feels like crap, I get cranky, and all I can think about is food. Training is no longer fun, and everything I do ends up being for the upcoming competition. Comp day, I typically felt tired, and didn't have sufficient energy during my fights. Sounds like a shit deal, right? So why did I do it? My coach told me it was a mental game, and that's what needed to be done to win. So did everyone else. So I did it. 

As an adult, I've competed a multitude of times. And I've only cut weight twice. I refuse to do it anymore. I know the affects it has on my body, my mind, and my life, and I refuse to let it into my life again. Not even 2 pounds. If/when I compete again, it'll be at the weight I walk at. I feel stronger, I enjoy training, I'm happier, I feel better during the competitions (so if I lose, it was because of skill, not lack of energy...side note, it's supposed to be a competition of skill at a martial art, not a competition of how well you can cut weight), and my body likes it so much more, because I'm not creating that intense stress of "starve yourself, but train like you're going to fight for your life....and then when you're depleted of your body's energy supply, actually fight for your life...a few the same day...and then binge on everything delicious." Yea, you gain all the weight back. And it's all fat and water. And you probably lost a good amount of muscle during that cut. 

I'm sure you've heard about how yo-yo dieting is the best way to gain fat? Well, cutting weight for competitions is exactly that. And guess what, it gets harder and harder to lose that weight every time. And when you've decided to be done cutting weight, your brain doesn't know that, and will have a hell of a time getting to a healthy set point for your weight and body composition.

The way that I think about it now is that sports and competitions are my hobby. They're for fun. I don't make any money off of it. But if I let it get to the point where it negatively affects my ability to do the rest of the things in my life (like my job or my family), then it's time for a reassessment. 

Unless someone's paying me (a significant amount of money) to fight at a weight that's not my current weight, I won't do it. Even then, I still might not. I've learned the importance of making my body happy, and not confusing the hell out of it by depriving it and then putting it in a gluttonous state several times a year. Give me my food back, give me my sanity back, give me my life back. Training is fun again, and life is good :)

*note: During my last time cutting weight, I finally got smart about it and developed a 2-week pre-competition nutritional/training program that my body actually likes, and can be used to cut some decent weight without any of the bad affect of traditional weight cutting, so if you want that, you can ask me for it. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shoes that fit aren't just for Cinderella stories

I love using things until they die. Sometimes I use them even after they've lost all ability for their original purpose, like using old bath towels for bath/kitchen mats. I do enjoy scouring the second-hand Facebook page to see if I can snag any items I need at a primo price, as well as appreciate the second-hand buy/sell/trading community for decreasing rubbish in their respective areas. I'm also quite keen on the fact that I can get deals like a lightly used, fully-functioning toaster oven for $6usd just because someone else is moving and doesn't feel like taking their toaster. 

There are a few things I won't buy used, though: mattresses/bedding, undergarments, personal hygiene/anything used in the bathroom, and shoes. For the purposes of this blog, I will focus only on the shoes. 

Shoes should be fitted to your feet. YOUR feet. Not anyone else's. Your feet are the foundation for the rest of your body. So I guess you could compare it to housing: you wouldn't use the same foundation for different houses, and you wouldn't use a pre-existing foundation meant for another house for your own. Or even dental retainers. If you've ever been so lucky to have had the pleasure of wearing these things, you'll know the feeling you get in your entire head and neck when you find your old retainer and see if it still fits. 

Think about how different your feet are compared to your friend/spouse/parents/siblings'. Maybe you have Morton's Toe, where the second toe is the longest. Maybe you have wider feet. Or a lower arch. Or narrower heels. Squeezing your feet into something that doesn't fit is definitely not a good idea. Anyone who's bought shoes for looks rather than comfort knows that first handedly. The inside of your shoe should make your feet all nice 'n snuggly, but without any pressure squeezing it. There should be wiggle room in pretty much all directions for your toes, including sideways. Your heel should be comfortably cradled, but not braced. And please, please, please....toss the arch support. If you have a higher arch or fallen arch, please see a professional about how to correct it so that your feet regain their strength to support that arch correctly, versus using a brace for every piece of footwear you own for the rest of your life! Just like the rest of your muscles in your body, your feet can learn/re-learn things and get stronger!

Now think about how you walk. Maybe you haven't thought of that before. Some people supinate (walk more on the outside edges of their feet). Some people pronate (walk more on the big toe). Some people drag their heels, some people stomp with their heels. All of these are reasons why your shoe will wear differently on the outside (and the inside) than someone else with the exact same shoe. Ever watch "Big Bang Theory"? Sheldon's butt is already grooved into his seat on the couch, because that's "his spot." That's how your shoes are. And when you wear someone else's shoe, it's like sitting in someone else's "spot." Feels weird, but you can get used to it eventually. But the thing about getting used to it and grooving over someone else's groove is that the old groove is still there. Your groove just adds to it. So there's no support where you need it. Just a big hole where both you and the other guy can both fit. 

The reason why cars need to get their tires rotated is to prevent the type of biased wear of being on one part of the car, much like our shoes, being on one foot of our body. But we can't really rotate our left shoe with our right. So we need to get new shoes. And if we use shoes that someone else has already grooved their Morton's Toe or bunions into, then we lose all the support that they already used up. Like popping bubbles on bubble wrap. You can't re-fill those popped bubbles. Just get a new sheet.

Now, you may just make the argument of "hey, what if I just get new inserts?" My response to that is to look on the bottom of that shoe. Does it show any signs of wear and tear? If the answer to that is even minutely "yes," then it's kind of like driving with your wheels out of alignment. And if you don't get them aligned (aka, get new shoes that fit your habits of walking), then you will hurt your body by trying to adapt to those misaligned shoes. 

Shoes are supposed to last about 6ish months (if you wear them regularly). If you see wear on the bottom to where you don't see the treads anymore (more car/tire analogies!), then you need new ones. It's like not rotating your tires. Whatever bad habits you have for walking will be exacerbated and worsened by the wear. 

One last scenario: If you have recently corrected/changed your way of walking, or the shape of your arches, etc, you also need to get new shoes. Otherwise you're just going to be fighting your shoes to maintain your old ways...and your shoes will probably win. It'd kind of be like fixing the alignment, but not getting your tires rotated since pre-alignment.

Second-hand clothing is fine, but treat yourself when it comes to shoes. Go for comfort first, not for looks. Make sure they fit to your feet well. Let your toes have the capability of wiggling around and not getting bound into shoe-shaped feet. Make your shoes fit your feet, not the other way around. Your feet are the foundation to your body. If your feet are not healthy, the rest of you will be paying for it, too. 

I realize I didn't talk about the thickness/hardness of the soles....that's an entirely different topic. I covered some of it in my earlier blogpost about the Vibram FiveFingers, but it's more about transitioning into minimalist shoes rather than the actual topic of thickness/hardness of the soles. 

Anyway, even though your feet are on the bottom of your human totem pole, realize that they are what keeps you standing. If they hurt, I guarantee more of you will hurt. Treat those things with care. Chinese foot-binding is out of practice for a reason, as well as wearing another kid's retainers. Get your own. Make sure they fit. Your feet (and hips, and back, and neck) will thank you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Tacos of Life

We made tacos for dinner tonight. Yes, they were delicious, and yes, we had way too many. 

Anytime I make tacos (or dumplings or burritos or peking duck or anything you have to wrap things in a wrapper), I am reminded of a few rather valuable life lessons, which, at this time, I will of course draw parallels to tacos. 

1: The tortilla

The tortilla is the base of the whole shebang. As in life, there are many ways to build your base. You can get the cookie-cutter (ie, store-bought) versions, which are simple, convenient, and the same as everyone else. They get the job done, they taste alright, and you wouldn't know any better if you hadn't had anything different. Depending on the brand, they might be cheap or expensive, but in the end, you still don't know exactly how that shit was made. They look good at the end (like on a resume, persay) because everyone knows the various brands of tortillas out there. 

The thing with the tortilla, I've found, is that store-bought isn't your only option. You can make your own. I thought it was harder to make before my brother pointed out to me that they're super simple to make. So we made them from scratch. Super simple. We had to make them a few different times to get the taste, texture, and shape that we wanted, but once we got the hang of it, we were in tortilla heaven! 

Mirrored in life, anything you do in life needs a base. You can get the ready-made stuff that most people get, or you can make your own. The thing is, you need to have tasted store-bought and hand-made ones to know what fits your tastebuds better. Can't just do it blindly. 

Also, I should mention that when I moved to California, I learned that hard shell tacos are not a real thing in Mexico. Neither are burritos. They're an American creation based off of Mexican foods. They're the fortune cookie of Mexican foods. But, the thing is, despite their false authenticity, they are still quite popular. So, just because it's not authentic, doesn't mean that a new creation won't succeed. 

2) The meat

True tacos will not use ground meat, but instead, some sort of slow-cooked type of meat. My first time having a real taco, I went back to the restaurant (we had take-out) and asked them if they had mixed up our order. My original notion of a taco was whatever Taco Bell was serving (yay Michigan!). When I opened my little styrofoam container and saw two tiny tortillas (doubled up) with chunks of chicken leg pulled off the bone, and some guacamole with actual avocados, I was quite confused. The guy at the counter confirmed that I ordered 2 tacos, and that's what he gave me, and I drove away with a puzzled look. Until I at them. Holy deliciousness! The meat inside was super tender and flavorful! It didn't taste anything like TBell, and I was quite happy it didn't. The meat was probably the most noticable thing that stayed in my memory. 

Many places will actually use ground meat, though. Also delicious, but not anywhere near as delicious as a well-cooked hunk of meat. I realized that ground meat is more popular because it's cheaper, faster, and more convenient. Ground meat will take only a few minutes to season and cook, and you can have them in pre-weighed bundles of crumbly goodness. Sometimes this is what you need. But then again, you should probably check the source of your ground meat, because it's pretty easy to sneak some other stuff in there. 

Mirrored to life, meat is the food in your life. It's necessary to live (ever had a meatless taco? Yea, it's no longer a taco), and the quality actually matters. Though sometimes, the quick stuff does suffice, nothing beats the good stuff. 

3: The toppings

For veggies, I like my tacos simple: some cabbage or lettuce, tomatoes, onions, maybe some parsley. I like a little bit of everything, but not too much, and not too little. It's easier to put too little on the taco, as the meat gets a bit overpowering (yea, I said it). Rule of thumb for the veggies, though, is that they need to be fresh. The fresher, the better. This also goes for veggies in life. The guac is a whole other story....but for now, I'll say 'yes' to the guac. Finally, cheese....yes, please. But not cheddar. I like my cheeses mild.

I think toppings would be kind of like the random information you learn in life. You should learn a bit about everything. Not too much, not too little. Too much, and it takes up too much of your time that you should be spending on other, more important things. Too little, and you are ignorant and have no clue what is going on around you. It's ok to omit a couple things here and there based on personal preference, but at least entertain the idea for a second (taste it) to make sure you really have no interest in it.

4: Cramming it all in there

After assembling your taco, you're ready to fold it and eat it. This is when you've found out if you've gotten too greedy. Can your tortilla hold all the toppings without it spilling? Can your life hold all that you've decided to cram in there without you freaking out? Or is it too empty? Maybe you could use some more meat...or veggies...or guac. Or is it just perfect? 

5: Taste/Mouth Feel

Time to eat (live)! Are you enjoying this taco creation? Is the meat too salty? Do you need less cheese? Is the tortilla kinda dry? This is when you get to evaluate your taco. And by taco, I mean your life. The great thing about tacos is that they're small (like a week or a month, maybe even a year of your life), and you need multiples of them to fill you up. So just because you fucked up this one taco that you're chewing on right now, doesn't mean you have to make the rest of your tacos the same way. You have the option of playing with #1-4 until you get the perfect #5 for you :) Also, just because your neighbor/friend makes their tacos with tabasco doesn't mean that you have to, too. I'm more of a Sriracha/Gochujang person myself. 

On that note, go make yourself some tacos (or peking duck or empanadas or whatever), and have some fun! :D

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Better Question to Ask Yourself...

Everyone seems to ask questions pertaining to "what....?" Like "What should I wear?" "What sport should I try next?" "What should I eat?" I find that this just accomplishes a short-term space-filling band-aid of a solution. 

Instead, I like the question "why?" or "what is the purpose of....?" as a better reason to do things. For example, let's say you've just completed a workout. You want to eat. Many people ask me what they should eat. My first question back to them is "what is your goal?" Once I find out why they're doing things, it's much easier for me to give them an appropriate answer. It's kind of like if someone were to walk up to you, asking for directions, but not tell you where they're going. Of course, you could tell them to go the north route to location A, or you could tell them to go the southern route to location B. You could even tell them to take the scenic route and drive in circles and end up exactly back where they started. None of those answers will be helpful unless you know where they are going. 

Another example: Someone asks if eating apples are good for you. Well, what's your goal?  Are you allergic to apples? How many apples are we talking about? How often are you thinking about eating these apples? What size are these apples? Etc...

Yet another example: "Is running (or X sport) good for you?" What is your purpose for doing this sport? Do you enjoy it? Do you have any pains during or after participating in the sport? Do you have any contraindications for this sport? How often and what are the durations you are doing this sport? Etc...

So many questions to ask in order to answer one "simple" question.

I used to hate running. I had to do it, though, because my taekwondo coach made us. After I broke my back, I couldn't train taekwondo anymore. Running became one of the few things I could do at that time. I learned to like it. I ended up doing it because I enjoyed it. Now I don't do it because I don't enjoy it anymore. Simple as that. But if someone were to ask me what I thought of running, my answer won't be a "good" or "bad." It would be something more in the lines of "it depends."

Every once in a while, I like to do a check up of myself, and ask myself why I do the things I'm doing. My answers may vary from day to day, or from year to year. My answers may also vary from other people's answers for doing the exact same things. But whatever my answer is at that time, it will be the driving force for my actions. My reasons will carve my path. Everyone has a different history/background that will shape their various purposes in life. Even if we're all doing the same thing, many of us have different reasons for doing so. It's easy to get caught up in the mainstream reasons (read: trendy/popular), but if your beliefs and reasons are different, then stay true to yourself. You'll accomplish what you, not others, wanted, and you won't feel like a sell out or having short-changed yourself. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Comfort Travel Hacks

I miss the days before airport security wasn't so....strict. It was easy to sneak onto first class. All it took was waiting to be the one of the last ones to board, and then confidently sitting down in an empty cushy seat. Bring your beverage of choice from outside the security gate onto the airplane with no problem. Keep your shoes on and not get patted down like a criminal. Now there's added security and special precautions to make sure everything and everyone is in order. Trust has been lost. To make matters even more inconvenient, airlines are becoming more and more stingy (ie, fewer comfort accommodations such as pillows and blankets). As a result, for those suffering chronic pain must suffer even more (or bring a bunch of pillows and such) unless they wish to pay a premium price.

I don't like those options. With a troublesome back, I try to keep my on-person load as light as I can to prevent any pain and discomfort. Yes, I know I can lift some heavy weight, but that's just build up my muscles so they can support my body weight and allow me to do fun activities, like martial arts. It's also a very short-duration activity.  Just to give you an idea of what someone with back pain has to deal with, carrying a load of groceries (doesn't matter if they're front, back, or side loaded) for longer than 7 minutes will make me need a stretch or a foam roller (which is why I always bring my emergency lacrosse ball!). Think about a full day of traveling with a laptop, and whatever carry on luggage I have in that back pack. The weight adds up pretty quickly, and I want to keep it as light as possible. 

During lengthy travel sessions, I make sure to take extra care of my comfort (for those of you who know me personally, yes I CAN get more comfortable in a public setting!). If I don't, my back will give me extra trouble for the duration of the trip and oftentimes require extra TLC upon arrival of my destination. I'm a big fan of inexpensive amd functionality. If you have ever visited my gym, you will see that we are there to get results, not to visually impress people with shiny, overly expensive, equipment. Of course, there are some situations where some bills need to be spent, especially when safety is on the line, but when you can get just as good (or better) functionality out of a $7 pvc pipe and and some foam as you can with a $60 status symbol of a foam roller, I'll choose the pvc pipe every time. I'd rather spend that extra 50-some bucks on a few good meals or towards an adventure of some sort. But that's me. Anyway, onto the hacks!

I like to travel with a disposable water bottle. I used to do this just so I could have a large water supply while on the plane (keeping well hydrated helps prevent jet lag, helps keep your immune system running well so you don't catch whatever germs are flying around in the cabin, it helps keep your blood flowing better, and it forces you to get up frequenty to potty, further helping your circulation and helps prevent strokes and other blood clots). It's also super light (so great for my back), and pretty resistant to squishing and getting dropped. During my travels, I have discovered a few other purposes for the water bottle.

1) It makes a great lumbar support pillow. Just squeeze some air (or drink some water,  but make sure the cap is screwed on tightly), and place it behind your lower back in a horizontal direction. Adjust the level of support according to your comfort needs. You could also use it as neck pillow (if you put cold water in it, it's pretty refreshing and cools you down), but it may be noisy to some people. Liquid in the bottle helps dampen the crunchy sounds.

2) You can put some cold water in it and roll your feet on it as refreshing way to cool your feet and up some blood circulation.

3) You can make drinks with it. This sounds like a "no shit, Sherlock" thing, but I don't like spending $10usd on a tiny non-alcoholic beverage that is probably filled with chemicals, dyes, and sugar. I made my own organic lemonade with a water bottle and a homemade lemonade kit! All you need to prepare is a lemon (or any other smashable fruits of your choice) in a ziplock bag. If you wish to bring your own sweetner,  you can do that, too, just remember to follow TSA's 3oz guidlines. The knife, paper towel, and some sweeteners (just go to a coffee shop in the airport) are available at any airport or in the plane.

Make sure the lemon (or whatever fruit you have) is washed thoroughly. If you're washing it at the airport, make sure the final rinse is with clean, drinkable water, as some countries don't have drinkable tap water.

If it's a citrus fruit, you can halve it cross-wise with a plastic knife (or convince a kitchen staffer to cut it for you). To help get more juices out, stab each section parallel to the rind to break the cells up. This part may be a tid bit messy, so I recommend doing it on the paper towel. Don't worry about the seeds.
Place all of the fruit back in the ziplock back and zip it up, making sure  there's no leak, and leaving the bag only half inflated.

Now the fun part: SMASH the fruit with your palm using your bodyweight to lean into it. Get as much juice out of the fruit as you can.

Unzip a small corner of the bag and pour it into the empty water bottle. The small hole is just enough for the juice to come out in a nice little stream so you don't need a funnel; just a steady hand. The zip acts as a strainer, so all of the seeds remain in the bag!

Add your sweetener and any other things you want in your tasty beverage.

Find a water fountain or machine and fill the rest of the bottle with cold water. Voila! Tastey beverage that passed airport security! If you have a longer total travel time with a layover, you can bring extra fruit to make another drink if you want one. Just wash the bag and reuse it. If you don't, you can either eat the fruit or throw it away if you're traveling internationally.

Enjoy these simple travel hacks! Leave a comment if you have any others that you can do with a water bottle :)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When I'm Dead....

Ghost Month started yesterday in Taiwan. Yes, that's a real thing, for those of you who don't know. From my understanding, it's an entire month dedicated to honoring ancestors, and not pissing them off when they come visit because you give them awesome offerings of fake money, foods, snacks, and drinks. In some cases, you even give houses. By the way, this is all in the form of burning things. There are also some other customary things to not do, like don't go swimming, whistle, buy cars, move house, going out after dark, and giving ghosts your address. 

 The more you know...

I'm not a religious person. I have my own beliefs of how my life should be lived, but I don't follow any pre-formed religion. I'm also not a fan of wasting, pollution, nor depleting the ozone. Also, I normally don't give out my address to strangers, but that's just a coincidence, I guess. But either way, you can probably guess that I'm not a big fan of the on-goings of Ghost Month in Taiwan. That, and I have asthma. 

The thing is, I do like to participate in ceremonious events once in a while, though, just for the fun of it. For example, I don't celebrate Easter, but I like to do Lent when I can remember when it starts. I don't celebrate the Mid-Summer Festival, but I do like to compete in the Dragonboat race when I can. 

So for Ghost Month, I got to thinking....if I was a ghost, how would I want my ancestors to make me happy? Giving me food I can't eat, money I can't spend, and fucking up the air quality would definitely make me the opposite of appeased. I do, however, like random acts of kindness and the overall being nice to people. I think the world is getting more and more populated with stressed out people, and asshole-ish behavior is becoming more and more common. So, for the duration of this year's Ghost Month (and I'm actually hoping that it becomes a habit, because it makes me happy as well), I'm going to purposely be kind to at least one random being every day. I started yesterday with saving the life of a dragonfly whose leg was caught in the escalator. Hey, it's a start!

Escalators = death traps. Use the stairs!

Today, as I was on my way of scavenging for my first meal of the day at 3pm (you can imagine the hanger starting to set in by then), I encountered two overly-eager women standing in my line of vision for some New Zealand Natural ice cream. 

(I just get easily irritated and antisocial when I get hangry, actually)

Once they realized that someone else wanted to see the flavors, they immediately moved to the side and started suggesting how absolutely delicious it was, while they were waiting for their ice cream to be scooped. They then offered me a spoonful of their own ice cream to taste. I politely declined, as the vendor would happily give me a taste anyway, so I saw no need for them to spend a treasured spoonful on a stranger. As I walked away, stating that I need real food before the ice cream, they asked if they could sit for lunch with me. Normally, that sounds like a very weird thing to do, but this wasn't the first time I've had something like this happen in this country. They seemed like nice people, harmless, so I agreed, as long as they realized that I had a schedule to follow (not really, but it gives me an out just in case things go south). 

The entire gathering only lasted a few minutes, but they informed me that they were participating in this event/program/thing where they had to get out of their comfort zones. They were instructed to make conversations with random people they walked up to. They had to get used to rejection, and push their fears aside. After I heard this, I immediately smiled, as I've done similar things (and I still do, just for the experience). I know that the first step was very difficult, and I wanted to encourage them into continuing their quest. So instead of rushing things or been very antisocial like I most likely would have if they weren't doing this exercise, I talked to them, and told them about how I got over my fears, and now laugh at the face of rejection. It just takes more exposure. Basically, practice. Like anything else you want to get good at in this life, you have to work at it. The first step is always difficult. Failure makes things worse. But once you get past those failures and see those as another step towards success, then you start to welcome those failures. It's a number's game. The more failures you get, the more successes you will, too. 

In the end, the women thanked me, hugged me, and took the obligatory selfie with me. Apparently they were extremely happy to end their exercise with their encounter with someone who was willing to give them a "yes." Hey, if they're wanting and willing to get out of their comfort zones and improve themselves, I'll help them however I can. In the end, I help myself, too. It reminds me of where I was, where I am, and how much more I have yet to improve. So thank you to the two women who were brave enough to randomly communicate with me with no other intention than to break out of their comfort zone and make themselves better. 

When I'm dead and a ghost, if my descendants would like to make me happy, don't burn things, waste food, or avoid swimming in the hot summer heat. I'd like for my descendants to make me happy by making other living creatures happy, and using that experience to make themselves better people because of it. 

Thanks in advance ;)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I am Especially Proud of The Women at Live to Play

It's always great to see people get fit, lift weights, and generally get healthier. In the States, it's more of a trend thing, so it's cool to have muscle definition. Some would even say it's a status symbol or a trait of sexiness. I think it's just great to see people (in general) actually taking action to get healthier and stay healthy. 

When I moved to Taiwan, I realized that there was a big cultural difference in this area. People are mostly discouraged of playing, moving, exercising, or doing anything that would increase muscle mass or just plain sweating. From the time they are toddlers (I'm talking around 2-3 y/o), they are put into extra schooling, locked into the seated position for the majority of the day, and "let out" to play in their schools for a few minutes each day. Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, right? (To be fair, kids in the States start around 5-6  y/o, which is still too young to be forced to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time.)

They're discouraged from getting dirty. Don't even think about touching a tree, let alone climbing one. Water should only be for drinking and bathing, not for swimming or water fights (unless you go to a public pool, where they chlorinate the hell out of the water). Sports are for middle and high school children, and only as an extra curricular after your school homework and after school school homeworks are all done. Many children get home from after school schools anywhere between 6-10pm. So that means they're sitting for prolonged periods of up to 14 hours per day, 5 days a week. To me, that's a terrible childhood. But that's just my opinion. 

When they graduate from grade school, they go into university (where it's basically the same as high school, but more freedom) or into the work force, where they work a lot, and don't prioritize physical exercise. 

Now, the fashionable thing to look like is to take up as little space as possible with your body. Skinny. We're talking super skinny, here. I can't buy clothes here because I have muscles (everything's made for people with no muscles). Many clothes are "free size," which means if you're not a 22" waist, you need to find special clothes or department store clothes. If you have actual shapely glutes, you can't find jeans that fit to save your life. Yoga pants it is, for everything. Or ill-fitting XL skirts. Even if you wear a S in the states. Seriously. This is what the standard of beauty is now in Taiwan.

So the typical thing to do here, as women in Taiwan, is to try to fit in and be as pretty as you can by the country's standard of beauty, right? It's very easily to be intimidated by all the skinny girls walking around with their big-eye contact lenses, fake eye lashes, and size 000 waists. Skinny = pretty. They definitely don't advocate lifting of anything anywhere near heavyish, as their equally skinny boyfriends will carry their purses for them, or they'll have their miniature dogs in pet strollers. I honestly don't even comprehend how they have the strength to blowdry their hair. 

Going against what is defined as "beauty" in any country is a very difficult thing. To do what you know is healthy for you, rather than what other people say about you is always something that takes a lot of bravery. So for all the women who come to Live to Play, knowing they're going to be lifting heavy weights on a regular basis, knowing that they're going to get muscle definition, and knowing that they're going to go against 99% of their current country's beauty standards, they are some pretty supurb women. I am so proud of each and every one of them for doing something great for themselves, despite what their families and friends might say. 

A couple weeks ago officially marked the day that 5 girls from Live to Play can do pullups. Anyone who knows anything about strength training knows that pullups are particularly difficult for women because of the ratio of upper vs lower body muscle and body composition. So having 5 women successfully do pullups within the less than 2 years we've been open, and in a country where strength = scary, I'm extremely proud of all of these women, and this includes the ones who haven't done their first pullups, but are well on their way to do so (which is ALL of the rest of them)! Lifting heavy weights, not being afraid of public criticism, and going against cultural norms to do something they enjoy and know is good for them....I am so damn proud of all of them!!! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Reality of My Reoccurring Nightmare

I went to the hospital to get what I call a "check up x-ray" of my back. This is something I've been putting off for years, though I knew it should be done more frequently. The last time I took a picture of my lumbar spine was in 2009, so five years without any imaging is probably not the best idea. Anyhow, I finally went in to get it done today. 

Going in, I knew what the prognosis was going to be: severe compression fracture of my L2, suggested spinal fusion surgery, no more fun activities that include bending or twisting of my back or any lifting of heavy objects, and lots of core strengthening as rehab. I guessed that there would be some arthritis or bone spurs that had developed by now, and I was curious to see how much, along with the condition of the adjacent discs and vertebrae. 

Well, I got what I asked for. Exactly. Except this doc said that it wasn't just a compression fracture, it was a burst fracture, which is even worse than a regular compression fracture. Compression fractures, as I mentioned in a prior post about Neymar's injury, are kind of like squished marshmallows. The cause of a burst fracture is basically like that of a compression fracture, but with more force so that the vertebral body (the marshmallow part) has some shatter element to it (think pressing down into a piece of taffy with your finger, vs smacking it with a hammer....using your finger, it just kinda squishes in, whereas the hammer might break off several pieces of taffy, clean cut). It also increases the surface area of the flat part, which means that that there is more of a chance of it affecting my spinal cord in a negative way. 

The doc then mentioned that if I had gotten surgery at the time of the accident, my vertebra would have actually grown back into it's original shape (or something similar, I'm guessing). A couple pins to temporarily fuse it in place, and a year later, remove the pins. Bam. A new back. 

Exactly what I have been wishing for since 2009. 

And then he took it all away from me. All of the hope. Because my injury is an old one, I wouldn't be able to recover the way I would have if I had taken immediate action. All that's left for me to do now is to either maintain what I have by core strengthening, or attempt surgery to permanently fuse my L1 and L2. I entertained the idea of surgery, but then I came back to my senses and remembered the doc saying that at this point, he wouldn't recommend surgery unless I was experiencing some terrible pain. 

When I got home, I broke down and cried. Just the idea that I could have actually had a normal spine again crushed me. These past 5 years would have been pain-free (minus the year of rehab). I wouldn't have to be so careful with everything I do. I wouldn't have to rehab myself just to be a normal human being. 

The thing is, since 2009, I had already made peace with the fact that my situation was an eternal one. There's no getting better, just maintaining the same, or getting worse. Why it was so tough for me to accept this coming from a doctor this time, I really don't know. Maybe it was the temporary dangle of hope in front of my face before he asked the date of my injury. 

Actually, I think that was it. 

After talking to my significant other (it was moreso just venting and crying), he reminded me that "what if's" are pointless and useless. He reminded me that the path I've taken since the accident has made me into someone who wouldn't have existed otherwise. Live to Play would not exist. The people I've helped along the way might still be in pain. My friendships would be different. My sports and activities would be different. My address would be different. Everything would be different. 

He's so great :)

The thing is, we have to learn how to live with the cards we've been dealt. Yes, it would have been great to have a healthy(ier?) spine, but who knows if it would have actually gone the way it was planned (we should know by now that rarely anything goes exactly as planned)? I've used this crux as a driving force to improve my direction in life, adding to my passion of helping people, but now with an actual fire. I took a path I was too afraid to continue when I failed at first (yep, Anatomy class in university....had to drop the class twice because I knew within the first 2 weeks I wouldn't have the slightest chance in passing). I have learned so much more than I would have, think more freely, and actually use my brain when making educated decisions, rather than basing it what the institution would have bred me to believe. I have expanded my knowledge in ways I wouldn't even have blinked at, and have made many similarly-thinking friends on the way. I have challenged my body in ways I would never have imagined (even though some are just basic things), and accomplished exactly what I intended when all the docs told me I couldn't. 

Well, I can. I have, and I will. 

Docs told me I couldn't run without pain, so I ran a few half marathons. Docs told me I wouldn't be able to participate in martial arts anymore, so I competed a few more times, took up a whole new martial art, and competed in that one several times. Oh, and mixed the two in an MMA tournament. Docs told me I shouldn't jump, so I ran a 10-mile obstacle course race. Docs told me I shouldn't lift heavy things, and, well, we all know what happened with that ;) This doc "taught" me an exercise I "should" do every morning to maintain the muscles that support my spinal column: 

Ironically, this is an exercise that I would NOT recommend to beginners, or people who just walked into a doc's office as a first exercise. It's way too easy to round your back and not use the right muscles to perform this movement. Also, most people would also end up with a neck strain along with their sore back. Woot. 

Ok, so now I feel better. Sometimes hearing news you already knew can suck, even if you were expecting it. Hearing it out loud, and then even just having a smidge of hope presented, can sometimes seem devastating. But bring yourself back to reality. Look at your cards, do your research, know that there are always other options. In situations like this, take your best option, believe in it 100%, and never look back. Obstacles are bound to happen, but keep your eyes on the prize. The path to success is never a straight line.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fighting Off Bad Guys

I commonly get asked questions about how to defend oneself during an attack. Having been in martial arts for most of my life, I have come to expect these types of questions here and there. With the uprising of public attacks (in Taiwan, the newly reported 2014's second safest country to live in, within the last 6 weeks, there has been a stabbing on the subway resulting in 4 deaths and 22 injuries, and a shooting resulting in one guy getting sent to the ER with multiple gunshot and blunt force assault wounds), I have been getting more and more questions about self defense. 

"How do I defend against a knife attack?"

"What do I do if someone is drunk and tries to attack me?"

"What if someone has a gun? What do I do then?"

"What if someone sneaks up in the alleyway and grabs me unexpectedly?"

What if, what if, what if.....

Today, I got to spend a bit of time explaining to the single person who has asked me the most questions about self defense on a daily basis (this guy persistently asks almost every time I see him, and won't really take "no" for an answer) my thoughts on self defense for noobs (or, as he called it, "blank paper"). By the way, this only applies to the general population who has not taken any long-term instruction in martial arts. And, again, it is only my opinion, as is everything else in this blog (because it's my blog). So take it for what it's worth.

You cannot learn self defense overnight. 
You cannot practice self defense by yourself. 
Just because you take a weekend self defense course doesn't mean you can take on the world. 
Just because you know a couple of self defense moves, doesn't mean you will actually use them effectively in an attack situation. 
You cannot "learn" (read: memorize) a defense for every conceivable attack situation. There will alway be variables.
Just because someone knows martial arts doesn't mean they can defend themselves in an attack situation.
Just because someone doesn't know martial arts doesn't mean they can defend themselves in an attack situation.
Just because you can find a weapon nearby doesn't mean you should pick it up in a situation where you are being attacked.
Defending yourself is not like it is in the movies.
Martial arts defenses are not how they are depicted in the movies.

I believe that in order to defend yourself in as effective manner as it is humanly possible to prepare for, one needs to have a clear mind and quick reaction/thinking at the time when most people would panic. Like most things in life, it is about learning some basic skills, practicing them in simulated situations with real partners and actually learning how to take a hit, and practicing those things until it's second nature because they're basic. Then you learn the concept of how everything works. And then you can apply those concepts to almost any attack situation.

Think about when you learned how to drive. The driver's ed guy didn't teach you what to do if a dog runs into the street in front of you at 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 feet from the left, did he? What about the right? What if it's a cat? What if it's a kid? What if it's a bird? He also didn't teach you what to do if  you're making a left turn and some asshole decides to run a red. Or if he ran a stale yellow. Or if he was just driving super slow at the end of a green. Or if there were two cars instead of one. Or if it was a semi-truck. Do you get my drift? He taught you some basics things on how to operate a vehicle safely, some general guidelines, and then the rest you learned through practicing....a shit-ton. Every time you drive, you practice. You might now know how to parallel park on a 17 degree gradient hill in San Francisco, but the driver's ed guy didn't teach you that. You just know now because you parallel parked in a few other situations, as well as parked on a hill before, and it just makes sense that this is how you should combine the two on a rainy, windy SF day. 

Practicing by yourself is also not an effective approach to learning how to defend yourself in an attack situation. Sure, you might have that heavy sand bag propped up, ready for you to retaliate against its imaginary attacks, but you'll never have the timing right. Sure, you could repeatedly smack yourself on the head with a bamboo stick to "get used to the pain," but you'll never know what it looks like when someone else is out for your blood. Think about a deer in headlights. The deer knows how to cross the road. It's simple. It's done it a bunch of times. But now...there're shiny lights coming towards it. Fuck. 

Having a partner simulate attack situations is the best way to train what you've learned from whatever self-defense/fighting/martial arts course you've decided to take without actually getting yourself in attack situations. It prepares you for a human being coming at you in real time, so you have to 1) not panic, 2) figure out what defense move will work best for you in that situation, 3) get the timing right, and 4) use the appropriate amount of force and speed to stop you from getting stabbed in the eye with a plastic picnic knife. You cannot effectively train those components of self defense by yourself, or over a weekend course.

The only exception to any of if you've had previous experience in a combat sport (mostly martial arts) and have actually competed several times. I say this, because if you've gotten to the level of having competed several times in a combat sport, then you've already had a minimum of several months to a few years of sufficient and consistent training of that martial art (unless your coach is a mean, mean person who enjoys watching his students get crushed in public). You have already learned the basics of a martial art, which is really enough to defend most people against the majority of attackers. Having been in competitions means you've trained even more vigorously than normal students, upping your ability and mental toughness. It means you've already been in the situation where someone is trying to win, and you're in the way. You've already had to defend yourself. Several times. You've had accidental knocks to the head, getting your wind knocked out of you, bumps, bruises, bleeding, etc, and you're not phased by them anymore. You know what it's like to be super tired and not be able to catch your breath but still have to fight someone because you can't lose. Not this time. You've had to use your basic techniques in situations the instructor didn't teach you....because that's all you had to work with, and you learned how to make it work. You've learned how to be creative with what little you knew, too, because you've at least started to grasp the concept of this whole "defending" yourself thing. You've conditioned yourself to think that an attacker is just another person, and he will no longer be an attacker if you can control him. No biggie. When do I get my post-competition pizza/ice cream dinner?

However, this does not mean that anyone with martial arts experience (even competitively) can defend themselves effectively. People are still humans, and they will fuck up because it's in their nature. They could have a brain fart and that brain fart could be the determining factor on whether or not they get stabbed. They could still panic in the face of danger, because, well, it's actual, REAL, life-threatening danger, not just a fun competition that you know you'll walk out of alive. Or, I mean, if someone decides to surprise attack you with a gun to your head....I mean....that's a pretty tough one to get out of, even for most experienced martial artists. 

Now, the chief complaint I got from the guy I was explaining this to today was that becoming efficient at a martial arts to the point of competing takes a lot of time out of one's schedule. Well no shit. There's got to be a better way for the general population of "blank papers" to have a better than 0% of stopping themselves from getting beaten to a bloody pulp, right? Well, of course there is. And again, I'd like to state that this is all my opinion, so if you ever get in a situation and try any of this and it doesn't work, don't blame me. Actually, just try not to get attacked. That's probably best.

1) Run away (See? This is another reason why sprinting is good for you!). It's too much of a hassle for a random attacker to chase after you, unless you made him really angry. Then you should probably make sure you run faster than he does. If you're being robbed, best thing to do is to throw your wallet/purse in one direction, and then run in the other direction. And always run towards where there are people/lights. Bad guys don't like witnesses.

2) If you're stuck in a situation where you can't run and you have to defend yourself, either stay suuuuper far away (out of range for limbs/weapons to reach you), or get suuuuuper close (think super tight bear hug with as much of your body stuck to their body as possible). If you are in the middle range where their strikes can actually reach you, you're probably pretty screwed unless your inner Kung Fu Panda spirit comes through for you. If you're super close, like, trying to merge two bodies into one close, you take away their attack range. Next time your significant other gives you a super tight hug with their head on your shoulder, try to head butt them and see how effective that is. I can tell you right now, it won't be very effective. Weapons all have a range of effective use. Take away that range, and they won't have an effective use. Also, you could simply do the grade-school thing where you put one foot behind theirs and trip them so they fall backwards. And then sit on them while you make them list 10 candy bars. There's a reason why that worked. Because you took away their range. They can't attack you if you're sitting on them and controlling their arms. 

There's no way this dog can hurt me now!!

3) If you haven't been properly trained in the usage of weaponry, don't pick up random objects and try to use them as a weapon. You will probably get that "weapon" taken away from you pretty quickly and then all of the sudden find it being used against you. Damn. 

Hey, look what I found! I couldn't possibly hurt myself with this!

4) Make as much of a screamy noise as possible. Get the attention of standbyers. Scream something like "FIRE!" or "OMG, IT'S ROBERT DOWNEY JR.!!" Again, the attacker probably doesn't want any witnesses. 

5) Get good at dodgeball. If someone's gonna throw something at you, be it a fist or a knife or a shoe, just remember that you don't deserve to get hit, and you also have the option of NOT getting hit. So just move out of its way. 

Ok. So, super long post about how to defend yourself in every situation possible. How about this: Just....try not to get easily attacked. Walk around with confidence, head held high, no headphones in, and best in numbers higher than 1. Attackers want the easiest attack possible. They're like the lioness hunting the gazelles. They know they'll only get the weakest one. Don't be the weakest one. Do your sprints. Lift heavy things. Be confident in whatever you do. Have friends. Enjoy your surroundings. There. That's my advice. Now go.....not get attacked and live your life.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

How to not be Stupid with a Broken Back and Beat the Odds of Health Professionals

I don't watch sports. I play them, I just don't watch them (too boring to watch people chase a ball around a field for a few hours...more fun to watch goats do the same thing for a few minutes, in my opinion). Recently, I was notified through various social media accounts that some guy name Neymar who plays for the Brazilian soccer (futbol) team at the World Cup just suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back (Fox Sports reported that it was his "third vertebra," which basically means the author doesn't know jack shit about the spinal anatomy, but then again, it IS Fox....) and is likely out for the rest of the World Cup. Some people are optimistic in saying that he might be able to play in the next game if he takes good care of himself in the next couple days, but if you think about it, any educated and sane person would most likely choose to be able to continue being able to play soccer in the near future, rather than have an attempt at another match where he's already the main prey and risk being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. 

A quick lesson on spinal injuries, a fractured vertebra = "broken back." Vertebrae are spikey marshmallow-shaped bones, so it's hard to have an actual separating break in the marshmallow part of the bone, so they're technically fractures. There are also various types of spinal fractures, each of which have varying levels and types of pain and rehabilitation. 

A broken bone takes about 6-8 weeks to heal. Before that, it has the opportunity to get worse, if not handled properly. After that, there's all sorts of fun things to deal with, like scar tissue, newly overcompensations of muscles, and other soft tissue stuff. With a broken vertebra, these "fun things" will likely stay with you for the rest of your life. But the main thing is, if it's treated correctly, and the homework is consistently done, then the option of playtime will continue to exist. But first.....6-8 weeks of letting that bone superglue itself back together is vital. Sorry, Neymar, if you're smart, you're not going to finish this year's World Cup. But if you do things right, you can play again next year. If may never walk again. I'd choose the first option.

One of the permanent injuries I have to deal with on a daily basis is a severe wedge compression fracture in my 2nd lumbar vertebra (the one above the one Neymar is reported to have broken). My marshmallow basically looks like the unevenly squished one that got jammed under a can of Spaghetti-O's. This was from a 4-wheeling accident in the Californian desert back in '08. 

Long story short, after about 2 years of various rehab programs (ending in the style we now use at Live to Play), I was able to do all the fun things the docs told me I wouldn't be able to do anymore, like run a few half marathons (I was never a runner before), compete in taekwondo again, start up a new martial art (brazilian jiu jitsu) and compete in a few of those tournaments, help my parents move, and lift heavy weights. I had exceeded the best-case scenario that was presented to me. 

The thing is....I still get back pain. I get it more often when I have bad posture and don't do my workouts, but that's a good thing. It reminds me that I have to keep doing my homework. I have to keep lifting and sit up straight so my muscles are strong enough to compensate for the fact that I have a spine that makes me look like a stegosaurus when I bend over. It reminds me when I've eaten too much because the pressure on my spine from my food baby causes me to be uncomfortable in every position possible. It tells me when I have too much fat and too little muscle when I gain weight because the muscle I do have isn't strong enough to support the weight above my injury. I have to do this for the rest of my life if I want to function like a normal human being, and especially if I want to do anything fun. I know this for a fact. But it's either that, or have weak supporting muscles, highly increasing my chances of paralysis (docs thought I'd for sure end up with permanent nerve damage and partial paralysis, based on my initial x-rays). 

The last 2 years, I admit I've been very on and off about my homework. I've kind of done it when it's been convenient and when I haven't been tired (read: lazy). I spent the last 2 years starting and building my business from scratch, and also used it as an excuse to be lazy. Because of that, my attendance in the fun things in life (largely hiking, jiu jitsu, and taekwondo) have been extremely spotty. If I don't do my homework consistently for at least 2-3 weeks straight, my back lets me know it after one session of something fun by making me extremely uncomfortable for 2-3 weeks. It also doesn't help when there are overzealous training partners that don't know how delicate your situation can be. A catch-22 of my rehab is that it makes me strong overall. Not just arm-wrestle strong, but nuts 'n bolts strong. That's what it's designed to do. But then you get known as "the girl that's stronger than boys" at the gym, and all the guys think they can spar hard with you because, well, strength. They don't realize that my weakest link is pretty damn weak when they try to fold me in half or twist me like they're trying to wring out a wet towel. That's when I learn who I can and can't train with during my first few weeks of getting back on the mat. 

I've learned that getting back into the swing of fun things will take a slower start than it used to. I've learned how to have a lot more patience and willpower to stop myself from doing too much. I've learned that ego in these kinds of situations does nothing but sideline me for another stint of time. I've learned that competing isn't everything. I've learned that sports and competition aren't what make me, but just things I enjoy doing doing, so I should treat them that way, instead of an identity. I am not a professional competitor, but I like to compete. It's ok if I miss a competition or athletic event here or there, because I didn't do my homework. It's not the end of the world. There will always be another one, but I only have one body. I choose a healthy, functional, pain-free body over an overzealous competitive spirit.