Thursday, 28 April 2011

Training review - flowing kata!

I've managed to get back to some useful training this week. There has been no karate classes at all this week due to the Easter break (and my instructor enjoying a break in Tuscany) so it has seemed even more important to do some training at home.

My main focus this week has been kata. I have three kata to perform in my grading- Bassai Dai, Seienshin and Annanku, together with some bunkai. Kata has never been my strong point, at least not from an aesthetic point of view! However I do feel I've made some significant strides forward in the last few weeks. This week I've been following Felicia's advice about practising kata as a flow drill and I think it is paying off. Instead of just doing the kata with full power and with correct timing you practice it softly and flowingly at a faster speed than normal. You have to pay attention to correct stances, footwork, hand positions etc, so the kata is not performed sloppily but just without the power and changes in timing.

Doing the kata in this way makes it feel a bit more meditational - eventually you stop thinking about the moves and they just flow out of you. It is also less exhausting to do the kata softly and so it is possible to repeat the kata several times in succession. Today I did all three kata 6 times each straight after each other. That would have been very difficult to do if I had done the katas with full power! So doing it this way has given me more practice. However, it is still important to do the kata with power and timing as well so that I don't forget so I've made sure that the last repetition is done in this way.

I've also been working on basic kihon techniques - punching and kicking combinations. The punching combinations I'm pretty confident about now but some of my kicks still leave a lot to be desired! Why are back kick and side kick so difficult? I still have trouble with forming the correct foot shape and getting sufficient height (and we're only talking chudan height here). Yeah I know - it's just practice!

I've also been finalising my goshin waza  (self-defence techniques) with my husband who will be my grading partner. I've decided on demonstrating three defences to attacks from behind (double wrist grab, over-arm bear hug and arm bar to throat), three defences to lapel grabs and three defences to kicks to the head on the ground. My husband doesn't let me get away with anything and grabs me really tight. He makes me really work hard to get the techniques to work, so I'm hopeful of putting on a good performance of these in the grading.

I feel a lot less stressed about the grading now and I'm starting to feel on top of things....with only 7 weeks to go that's a good sign!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Back and raring to go.....

Nissi Beach
Long time, no blogging! I have just returned this week from a holiday in Cyprus. It was very relaxing and refreshing and I managed to switch off from karate almost entirely for a whole week! Well, physically at least. My brain, on the other hand,  remained in karate overdrive for much of the time.

However my body feels much better for the rest - all the aches, pains and tiredness I had experienced a few weeks ago have disappeared and I feel raring to go again. The holiday wasn't entirely without exercise though (I just can't sit around doing nothing for very long) and we played tennis and squash most days as well as swimming and some gentle walking along the coastal path - but like they say, a change is as good as a rest!
Troodos Mountains

Despite not getting home until 4.00am on Monday morning we still managed to get to class on Monday evening. It was great to be back and though I felt tired from lack of sleep my body was definitely up to the challenges of the class, which focused on fitness and then kata.

Our Hotel
To make up for missing classes last week and the fact that there are no classes next week due to Easter, we attended an extra session at one of the other clubs my instructor runs. My husband and I were able to spend the whole class just working through all nine of our ippon kumite techniques and then demonstrated them to the rest of the class, which were mainly children and young teenagers (hope we didn't scare them!)

Our balcony
Then last night we attended our usual class and after one of sensei's mad fitness drills we spent the rest of the evening trying out some bunkai from the pinan katas. You know, the more I learn about the pinan katas the more impressed I am with them and I often wonder why they are regarded as beginner's katas - there is so much to learn from them, you just don't see it until you are more senior. They are definitely not katas to be learnt in junior ranks and then forgotten.

Me on a jeep safari
As you can see, I have launched myself back into my training with a vengeance and I'm feeling very enthusiastic about it. There's just over 7 weeks to go now until the black belt grading and I'm feeling pretty hungry for it, so let's bring it on.....

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Training progress - getting a little overwhelmed!

The balance of my training has changed a lot over the last two weeks. Most of my training has been done in my usual karate classes, plus a couple of pretty demanding weekend courses. I have also returned to kobudo training after missing a few weeks. With all the muscle soreness I have experienced over the last 2 weeks I decided not to do any additional training at home.

My legs now finally feel okay and I'm starting to feel that I can pick up the pace again. I have still not returned to the push up challenge which I stopped about 4 weeks ago because I was struggling with it and generally wondered if I was over training a little. I have not yet reached my target of 50 push ups, the maximum I got to was 35. I'm still considering whether to pick up this challenge again and try to reach my target. The problem is there are so many other things I need to concentrate on that are more directly relevant to the karate training so I may leave it for a while and pick it up again after I have got my black belt.

I'm not too worried that I'm not doing any fitness training at home because sensei has us doing a fair bit in the classes. Most classes we have 2 or 3 rounds of push ups, sit ups, burpees, star jumps, straight leg raising etc, as well as some stretching exercises so I'm still doing that kind of stuff.

I have finally settled on my 9 ippon kumite techniques. Some of the finishing moves may need a bit of tweaking but essentially I just need to keep drilling them (both physically and mentally). I now need to settle on my 9 goshin waza (self defence) techniques. We get to choose what type of attacks we want to receive and then have to demonstrate 3 different defences against each of them. I think I'm going to choose attacks from behind (bilateral rear wrist grab, rear bear hug and rear head lock); 3 different types of wrist grab from the front and 3 escapes from lapel grabs.

I also need to work on my kata. I attended a kata course a couple of weeks back and received a lot of feedback about my kata performance so I now need to practice them incorporating the information given. 

The amount of stuff I need to be working on seems enormous and overwhelming at times but then again I can only do one thing at a time- and there's still 10 weeks to go!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Coping with sore muscles....

I have had a pretty sore week this week. You know – the soreness you experience in muscles after extreme or unaccustomed exercise. I went on a karate course last Saturday and I’m only just getting over the pain! In fact, most weeks seem to be like this recently – I spend half my time experiencing stiff and sore muscles. Why? Is it my age? Am I working my muscles harder than usual? Am I not giving myself time to recover?
I decided to find out a bit more about post exercise muscle soreness, particularly in relation to age.
Apparently, with regular exercise, older people (older means over 30 in exercise circles – I know!) can still match the performance of their younger counterparts (even into their early 60’s) but their muscle physiology has to change to do it. In older people nerve fibres supplying muscle fibres start to die off and so there is a reduction in the number of muscle fibres. However, with exercise these fibres increase in size and can perform the same work as groups of small fibres. In other words, young people have muscles composed of many smaller fibres and older people have muscles composed of fewer but larger muscle fibres.
However, although performance doesn’t have to decline (assuming that the young and older person are doing the same level and intensity of training) the time taken to recover afterwards does increase with age and longer rest periods are required in between exercise sessions.
This post exercise muscle soreness is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and is felt most strongly in muscles 24 – 72 hours after the exercise. It is a symptom of muscle damage caused by eccentric muscle contraction. An eccentric muscle contraction is one where the muscle contracts but lengthens at the same time – running downhill or downstairs is a prime example.
Well, I did one and a half hours of sparring practice last Saturday – bouncing backwards and forwards on the balls of the feet for most of that time, followed by some vigorous skipping at karate on Monday and some fairly intense kicking practice on Wednesday. All of these activities involve eccentric muscle contractions so it is not surprising that I am suffering from DOMS!
Another interesting fact about DOMS (according to Wikipedia) is that soreness is only one of the temporary changes caused in muscles by unaccustomed or extreme eccentric exercise. Other such changes include decreased muscle strength, reduced range of motion and muscle swelling. It has been shown, however, that these changes develop independently in time from one another and that the soreness is therefore not the cause of the reduction in muscle function.

This is interesting to me because in karate class on Wednesday my legs felt weak, but not necessarily in the places where the soreness was. We were practising kicks over a chair to make sure we lifted the knee high before extending the kick. My legs definitely lacked the power needed to lift my legs in this way so I wonder if I had a bit of muscle swelling as well.

DOMS can take anything from 2-7 days to recover from. Research done on rats suggests that recovery is slower in older people (well, older rats at least) because they have lower levels of growth hormone and testosterone, both of which aid in muscle recovery. Muscles also tighten with age and blood circulation can be slower.

What I was interested in finding out was whether there is there anything you can do to either prevent DOMS from occurring or speed up the recovery period? I was surprised to find that there is not a lot you can do to prevent DOMS, other than avoid eccentric muscle contractions, and that pre-workout warm ups and post workout cool downs make no significant difference. Stretching also makes little difference though it might help older people more by increasing blood flow to muscles.

The only thing that has been shown scientifically to reduce the intensity of DOMS is light aerobic exercise at the end of a workout.  Other more anecdotal suggestions include massage, hot baths or a sauna which are thought to help because they increase the blood supply to the muscles.

If there is not much we can do to prevent DOMS developing is there anything we can do to hasten recovery? Again, there are many anecdotal remedies including taking an ice bath, applying muscle compression or doing yoga. Research though suggests that exercising sore muscles is the best way to reduce or eliminate soreness. The degree of soreness does not reflect the magnitude of muscle damage and exercising sore muscles does not damage them further.

Other factors that appear to be important are getting adequate sleep – 8 hours a night is recommended, reducing mental stress and eating a balanced diet rich in micro-nutrients.

So, what have I learnt here that is useful to me? Well, the good news is if I train hard I should be able to keep up with the youngsters in our karate class. The muscle soreness I’m experiencing isn’t a cause for concern – just inconvenient and it is perfectly safe to continue exercising through it. In fact it seems that it is preferable to continue exercising through it as it may help speed up recovery from the soreness. I also know that I need to try and get more sleep; I’m not sleeping to well at the moment (partly due to the soreness). Perhaps a hot bath after karate class would help reduce soreness AND promote better sleep? Mmmmm…I like the sound of that…..

Do you have any advice on the prevention or reduction DOMS?