Training Diary: Week 1

I’m going to start keeping an occasional diary of my training with a few additional details. At the moment, I am a little out of shape (having not done any sort of physical activity after the Half Marathon in July) but shaking myself loose of a summer torpor and throwing myself back into training. Having switched from time-consuming freelancing into a 9-to-5 job, I now have the time, regular schedule and regular money to actually do that. It’s oddly freeing to not have to constantly think about getting new work and apply for jobs even during the weekend. I guess this is how most people feel towards their work – it ends at five and then their time is theirs after that. All for the better – at least for the next three months until my contract runs out.

Taekwon-do at the University has been on hold for the Summer whilst most of the students are away. I wanted to cover the gap and run some sessions myself but the club members weren’t really interested. A lot of them are quite young and don’t take it all that seriously as a commitment, which is fine, but leaves me to make my own plans.

Step one was starting to cycle again, so I oiled my bike and pumped up the tyres and will take that too and from work, which luckily has showers (it’s a summer heatwave).

The next was to find a new place to train. There are a lot of places downtown – mainly glossy gym types but I opted to try something out of town. I was looking for something that had some element of grappling to try something new (and at least try to understand MMA better as a fan) with some striking elements mixed in so that it’s not entirely sport based. I hoped to do some padwork again as at the University club they scarcely ever train with pads (which plays away from my strengths in terms of throwing for power).

The place is way out of town but is linked to a recognisable submission grappling name so I hoped it would be reputable. Also, the guy seemed to have started (and is still involved) with Karate before MMA so I hoped he would understand my background better than most.

So I write this after my first two sessions. It’s a small group at the moment (most clubs lull in Summer) but even in the small group I can see a decent amount of skill, which is encouraging. The instructor isn’t the most in-shape person but he leads a class well and seems skilled in grappling and demonstrates a good power middle kick. The training room is professionally kitted and just large enough. All in all, probably seems like a good choice so far.

The first session I attended had not much fitness element, so I decided to ride my bike there for a 1 hour trip for the second session to add some in myself. However this session started with skipping and other cardio exercises so I’m not sure quite what to expect on this front. Two of the students conveniently arrived after the end of the warm-up/fitness routine almost like they planned it and I would say the level of fitness in the room is moderate rather than impressive. Still, it gives me something to work to from a basis of having done not much for a few weeks and means that once Taekwon-do restarts, I probably won’t burn myself out. The cycling o’er Vancouver’s hills and dales in the evening sun to get there might be a step too far if the cardio warm up appears to be a mainstay but I’ll probably do it again and see how it goes. I usually arrive with enough time to sit and drink water anyway.

So, it’s back to white belt (though class is no-gi and unbelted) which is always good in one sense as there is no need to live up to any difficult expectations. Also I was able to show off a little bit at chain kicking the Thai Pad which is always good as a little confidence boost to show you are not entirely on square one. However, the grappling seems to be a longish road before any noticeable skill is attained so I hope the euphoria of returning to activity can shroud the self-questioning element that wants to seep in and question progress. All of martial arts is setting short term goals for yourself and not getting frustrated about not getting there fast enough.

The main thing I have noticed so far is the grazing my arms and knees seem to get from grappling on the mats. Like most things, mats to the observer look as soft as a bed but they can really be quite abrasive when you are trying to sprawl your knees away from someone, etc.

In terms of the learning itself, the instructor does cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time very well. In just the first lesson alone he showed returning to guard from the bottom of side control and three “get-ups” from guard as well as a bunch of low kicking and stand up movement. However, it does seem like you need more puzzle pieces in grappling to even start to roll with any conviction. Give someone a jab and rear turning kick in Taekwon-do and they can go throw those at people in sparring. Give someone a side control escape and an americana and it’s not really like you have prepared that person to offer any kind of offence at all. Obvious to grapplers is what martial arts like Aikido edit out – that good looking and effective techniques are often impossible to put on someone who resists – and the only way around that seems to be to just pick up tips and instinct by osmosis from watching grapplers and grappling. The instructor says that the best you can hope for in the first couple of years is to try to stay off your back and defend at least a couple of submissions. Seems like a fair aim.

The other thing an MMA fan wonders is – I have watched people do this on TV a million times so is that actually going to help me? I think the answer is yes and no in that no, it’s much to complicated but yes, occasionally you know what to do with your body just through recognising body shapes. Another novice went for a single on me and I knew pretty well how to press my hips through and break his grip with a sprawl. I even knew I could attack his neck by clasping my hands together….but it didn’t go anywhere because I don’t actually know the choke. Grappling is completely stop-start from the beginner. You try to get to a certain position and once you get there you often realise you don’t at all know what to do with your body in the next step and you are left with a mental image of the finished submission without any clue how to get there. It’s quite funny actually, so long as someone heavy isn’t on top of you.

I also knew how to step around with my legs to prevent an escape from pin position, which must have been from the few mess-about jujitsu sessions I did back when I was at uni. All we knew how to do back then was hold pins and try to escape from pins so that was all we did. However, it wasn’t much and I am still very much at the bottom of the food chain. I have no idea if they do stand-up sparring – frankly I doubt that they do very much at the basic level, which seems to be more technique based, understandably.

So, that’s it. I am sure future posts will be shorter. Hope that the grazes go away before the next few sessions.

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