Fighting Sleep

I have mentioned that Martial arts is 98% mental and that 2% is physical. The most important physical action you will do no matter what – is breathe. It is critical that you learn to breathe when practicing any type of martial arts. My classes have always started with breathing exercises and clearing our mind of distractions from the day – meditation. The last thing we do in class is more breathing exercises and reflecting on everything that we practiced – again meditation. In class I have learned that when the punch hits the intended target you exhale at the moment of impact. Executing a center block you inhale during the wrap and exhale at the snap. Breathing becomes very important when sparring an opponent or facing an attacker.

Breathing during a sparring match has been one of the hardest things for me to learn. As you may recall in one of my previous post Way of the Gun I fought an instructor while having major difficulty breathing. No I do not have to wear a set of headphones listening to a person telling me to “Breathe in and now, breathe out.” I am even inhaling and exhaling while writing this post. I am constantly inhaling and exhaling on my own approximately 23 hours a day 7 days a week. Well – OK maybe there have been a few times throughout the night I stop breathing.

I have a question for you. How do you know you are constantly breathing? Are you 100% certain you are constantly breathing during your sleep? Did you know: according to the National Sleep Foundation more than 18 million people suffer from sleep apnea?

When I was younger I had suspicion that I might have occasional bouts of sleep apnea. There were nights I woke up gasping for air. I found what I thought were a few easy fixes to prevent apnea. Years later I found that these fixes were insufficient and needed further assistance. I had mentioned to the doctor I thought I might have apnea. He looked at me and said “nope, you do not have the typical body type of someone who gets apnea.” I left it at that and dozed back off to sleep.

SleepApneaAhhh…sleep. At the ripe old age of 33 I thought I was just getting older and needed to go to bed earlier. No more late nights staying up watching movies till 3:00AM on the weekends. I was tired by 9:00PM on SATURDAY! Eventually I needed to take a nap after getting home from work. Then one day I realized I was getting awfully tired while sitting at my desk. I remember thinking to myself “Well it is 2:00PM and I had a bunch of carbs. No wonder why I am tired.” Then a few days later I was exhausted after putting in an hour of work. When I felt sleepy at work I’d stand at my desk and do work. That went great for about 5 minutes and then I’d lean up against my desk and fall asleep. I was going to bed earlier and earlier. In the mornings I’d hit the snooze button several times so I could sleep in as late as I could. I was sleeping in the car to work and to home. I was not driving. I was scrolling through Facebook while sleeping. I’d be in the middle of conversations and doze off in mid-sentence. I’d be in the shower and nod off to sleep. Each time I fell asleep, I went into R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) and began snoring – loud. Soon all of these instances became a daily occurrence.

I didn’t realize what was happening to me at first. I also didn’t realize it was negatively affecting my mood and my health. I was overweight and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t lose the weight. The last diet I tried was Tim Ferris’s from his book the 4 Hour Body. After a few weeks I began to see results. My clothes were beginning to be loose on me, then one morning they were tight. About midway through 2014 I began using the bathroom more frequently at night time. I was waking up and heading to the restroom as many as 4 times a night. Apparently my kidneys were working overtime to pull water off of my lungs. I was gaining an excessive amount of water weight.

I was beginning to get aggravated with people closest to me. I didn’t want to go to work. I loathed every minute I was there. Now I get it that most people don’t like to work. I had at one time actually enjoyed going to work and doing my job. Instead I was irritable and constantly sleepy. I would sit in meetings with top level executives fighting every second to stay awake. There were a few times I had contemplated taking the pen in my hand to stab myself in the leg so I could get a burst of adrenaline so I could survive the rest of the meeting. I was consuming 3 to 5 cups of coffee at work. That is not counting the 2 or 3 cups I had at home before and after work.

On most occasions I had this overwhelming feeling hit me. I knew moments later I would enter into R.E.M. I would be in the middle of writing and all of the sudden I am dreaming about an exotic land or hanging out with a friend and eating food. In the middle of the dream I would realize that I am a sleep and I am at work. I must wake up!

Finally I broke down and I went to the doctor. I looked at him and said “if you don’t do something about the fact I am sleeping all of the time, I am going out and getting an 8 Ball of cocaine!” Before I left the office I had an appointment with a sleep clinic and a pulmonologist.

I go to the sleep clinic and I answer their brief survey. I scored high on the charts for sleep apnea. I was told to watch a video. I remember in the video the guy is going about his work day having issues staying awake. He is diagnosed with apnea and begins to receive treatment. Towards the end of the video the guy is living a more active lifestyle and is playing Frisbee.

In the middle of the night during my sleep study at the clinic I hadn’t been asleep 2 hours before the respiratory therapist come rushing into the room. They woke me up and said “We need to begin treatment now!”

At the consultation with the doctor a month later I was informed that I was a severe case. He said I was a textbook case because of my scoliosis. He explained that the curvature of the spine reshaped the lungs. With the lungs being reshaped people are more susceptible to pulmonary issues. The doctor went on to explain the results of my sleep study. He reiterated that I would be a severe case. Apparently that was an understatement. Let’s just say the results weren’t “IF” I died in my sleep but “WHEN” I die in my sleep.

No one likes the idea sleeping with a machine to help you breathe. After that comment from the doctor I have had no problem putting that mask on before hopping into bed. I am not as irritated by people, I am actually enjoying the job I do for a living. The best part is that I am losing weight, my energy levels are up and I can enjoy a good workout. I am getting a full night of sleep and I am not waking up four or more times a night to go use the bathroom.

I bring this up because it is important to be in good health when practicing martial arts. It is important to get plenty of rest. It is imperative that we care for our lungs (as well as the rest of our body). I explained that in the beginning of class and at the end of class we take time to meditate and work on deep breathing. We work on clearing our mind of distractions. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms then you can’t go into class and clear your mind. You can’t take in deep breathes. You can’t function properly.

Feel free to comment below. I would like to hear about your experiences. Are you experiencing any of the symptoms? Does sleep apnea affect your performance in martial arts or other physically demanding activity?

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Next to martial arts there is one thing I know well – movies! When you spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months lying flat on your back due to operations; you will spend a lot of time watching movies. I grew up in the 80s and 90s; so I watched some pretty exciting films with Chuck Norris, Cynthia Roth Rock, Don the Dragon Wilson, and Jean Claude Van Damm. It was during these times watching martial arts movies I got the idea that I wanted to do karate. I figured I could do what they were doing on TV.

Now let’s fast forward about 10 years. “Forget all martial arts you see in the movies. No one does that sort of thing in real life. It is all choreographed.” It is during my first month of karate class and I am sitting beside of my Sensei as he explains how Jean Claude Van Damm kick is ineffective. You know the move where he jumps into the air doing an inside to outside crescent kick. Then he lands on both feet and the camera does a close up of his face while there is a long 30 second “Hiyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah”, or he is seriously constipated. My sensei even compared a few other movie martial arts techniques and went to say what you see in the movies is “-pointless, ineffective, and that it is all fake.” Duh, I knew the moves were choreographed.

During my early days of practicing and getting to know the basic moves in karate; I began watching movies in a different perspective. I remember me and best friend at the theaters watching Mission Impossible 2. We sat there scoffing at each kick and punch thrown. We looked at each other and agreed that the martials arts portrayed was “bullshit”. We would walk out of the theater all high and mighty going “well that wasn’t impressive at all.” Keep in mind; I was in my late teens. I was also of the wrong mentality that there was only one style that was effective. As teenagers we were easily influenced but as I have grown older I now appreciate other styles for what they have to offer, and appreciate that choreography is meant to be entertaining and not realistic.

After a few years I dropped this concept about the way martial arts is portrayed in movies. I know most of if not all in the movies is fake. I don’t care, I like being entertained. I soon realized that being close minded on something as trivial; I missed out. I was preventing myself from having fun; preventing myself from moving forward. Now that I am older and have kids; I love to sit around watching cheesy martial arts themed shows and movies such as the Power Rangers. My kids like the Mystic Force Power Rangers. Personally I like the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. On occasion I watch a show or movie that has good martial arts choreography (see Marco Polo on Netflix).

Thanks to an interesting discovery while my family and I were on our Memorial Day vacation I get to introduce my kids to Bruce Lee and some of the older imports from China. While we were on vacation at Lake Norman State Park in North Carolina, I found the Holy Grail of movie stores dedicated to martial arts shows and movies. KUNG FU MANIA, it is located at North Lake Mall outside Charlotte, North Carolina. This is a kiosk in the center of the mall. On one side of the kiosk was full of movies from the 60s and 70s with titles such as Fist of the White Lotus and an American classic such as the Green Hornet. The other side was full of modern day titles and featuring actors such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Donnie Yen. It also featured the latest in Japanese anime. My jaw hit the floor when I saw this place. Unfortunately I could feel the credit card breaking in half in my wallet. I think this is a good resource for teaching my kids how to keep an open mind and introduce them to new cultures.

The next time you are in Charlotte, North Carolina take a trip to the mall and check out the selection of movies. You can always send an email at and request a list or check them out on Facebook Kung Fu Mania.

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Fits Like a Glove

You should always use protection such as gloves and pads when sparring classmates or opponents. My first instructor and the class he had been teaching, came from a school of hard knocks. The use of footpads, gloves, and mouth guards were not common. How did they keep from hurting each other so bad you ask? The use of control! Control your punches and kicks.

When I began practicing karate, the group had just moved to the elementary school. The class was part of a personal and community enrichment program from the school board. Various schools hosted after hours activities for area residents. Since the class was partly sponsored by a school board program the instructor started incorporating protective gear. My first instructor held the philosophy that practicing kata was much better than sparring. Therefore you didn’t need gloves if you were practicing kata.

I practiced karate for several months before sparring against a classmate. I was called up to the center of the room to spar. I had no gloves. So I tried on various gloves my classmates had in their bags. Everyone had big bulky gloves. My hands were too small even for the kids sized gloves. So for my first time I went bare knuckles.

I personally don’t recommend going bare knuckle. You should use protection when sparring. You never know, you may hit their head or ribs and hurt your own hand. The opponent may dodge your punch and you hit a wall behind them or the floor underneath them. Of course it only takes one time to hit a wall to know you shouldn’t do that again.

I went bare knuckles for a long time when I practiced with my classmates. I would often try on gloves but I couldn’t seem to find a pair that fit. I was at a tournament one time and I found a pair of Kamikaze by Arawaza. They were small and fit my hand. However during a kumite match the glove would fall off. So during each round I would have to reposition the glove back on my hand. Despite this minor annoyance I continued to use the gloves even after I got into jujitsu years later. Again, the gloves would slip off my hand. Now that I am doing jujitsu my mobility is limited even more, preventing me from putting my opponents into a wrist lock. The positive aspect to the gloves is the extra padding at the knuckles. It comes in handy when I have to punch a kick.

Pro Force Fist ProtectorI had a flashback one day while I was in class. I had remembered I had seen a pair of gloves made with cloth and a small foam pad on top. I found a pair online and my jujitsu instructor ordered them. They are called Fist Protector from Pro Force. They have just enough padding over the knuckles.

The great thing is that I get most of my mobility back in my hands. Now I don’t have a problem putting my opponents into a wrist, toe, or ankle lock.

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What? A book series about a Karate Kickin Dwarf already?

It all started one day when I was in high school walking down the hallway during my senior year. As I walked past a classroom the schools eccentric chemistry teacher appeared in front of me.

“I have been looking for you.” I paused to think why she would be looking for me. I don’t like science and I am not enrolled in her class and don’t plan to. She said as she handed me a book. “I think you will enjoy this…” She turned and disappeared into her classroom.

I looked at the front cover it was Two Songs This Archangel Sings by George C. Chesbro. I didn’t think anything of it I just threw it in my bag and went on to my next class. – I am not the typical person to sit down and just read a book. The books I had read up to that point were assigned as homework. – It was a few days before I got around to reading the back cover of the book. Once I read it; I was intrigued.

The book is part of a series known as the Mongo Series. The series revolves around a little person who used to work as a circus performer. After leaving the circus he goes on to become a criminology professor at a university in New York City and moonlights as a private detective. His best friend teaches him martial arts and is a former spy. Mongo also has a brother who is a cop.

In Two Songs This Archangel Sings Mongo the main character goes to his friend and instructor Veil Kendry’s apartment to practice karate. Upon arriving he notices that Veil is gone. Mongo discovered that his friend was taken and he goes to his brother who is a New York City cop for help. As the two brothers look for clues into the disappearance; it is discovered that Veils past work in the jungles of Vietnam during the war have come back to haunt him.

After reading this book I got on eBay and bought as many books as I could find in the series. I went and started from the very beginning. I would love to go back and read them again. Too bad they’re not on Audible. According, rumors has it that Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones is tapped to star in the HBO series the Beasts of Valhalla which is one of the titles in the series.

I have to say I never read a series of books that hit home on so many levels. No! I was not a circus performer. Sometimes I look back and compare myself to the main character. In the series Mongo never held an official rank as a martial artist. Veil did inform Mongo that he would be the equivalent of a brown belt. I have a brown belt. Mongo’s brother is a New York City cop. Well I don’t have a brother, but my dad was a deputy sheriff. As for the spy stuff – well that’s classified.

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