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Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: A Year in Review

2009 was pretty decent.  I did some things well and others not so much.  I picked up some bad habits and strengthened and added some good ones. 

Adventure
This was a good year for expeditions, travel and adventure. Some of the highlights include:
Kicked around SE Asia with Bryan & Britney for 3 weeks.  The adventures are here, here, here and here.

Athletics
Did decent, but not great this year.  Some highlights:
Sparred with this world-ranked fighter

* Unfortunately failed at my goal of breaking a 5 minute mile and getting enough fights to turn open class in boxing.  Next year.

Social Life
I made some good friends through kickball and the boxing gym, but need to be better about making myself available for social outlets.  Tended to do my own thing a lot more than is probably healthy.  Not sure if this is out of laziness or just a lack of a need for much social interaction.  Unfortunately have let quite a few friendships from Southern California slip quite a bit.  No real excuse for that when just a phone call here and there would do.

Reading
Finally knocked out some of the books that had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and read a bunch of others.  A complete list here.

Writing
I am pretty happy with how my writing has come along.  I think I have "found my voice" as they say, and it seems to depend entirely on putting myself down.  I'll roll with it.  Wrote two 20-30 page abortions that were supposed to end up as novels, which was a fail.  Maybe 2010 will be the year I can write a story that I can still stomach after the 10,000 word mark.

General Know-How & Competency
Picked up bits and pieces of knowledge and experience on all the outdoor activities
Learned quite a bit from reading the US Army Survival Manual
Learned that pretending to pick up a rock will sometimes dissuade a dog from attacking
Learned that you cant brake and accelerate at the same time on a motor-cycle

Financial
Paid off all credit card debt, and only owe a few thousand left on my student loans. 
Created emergency fund of a few months...not enough
Started using Amex for a lot more expenses in order to take advantage of rewards.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book List for 2009

The year is over (almost).  My reading habits moved back towards fiction after a long phase of non-fiction and educational material.  Reading a wider variety of material has helped my writing, thinking and just overall being.


Travel
"Marco Polo Didnt Go There," Rolf Potts
"In a Sun-Burned Country," Bill Bryson
"You Shall Know Our Velocity," Dave Eggers
"The Lost Continent," Bill Bryson
"The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," Bill Bryson
"A Fighters Heart," Sam Sheridan
"Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja" Amit Gilboa
"Children of Jihad," Jared Cohen


Boxing
"Strong Boys and Buttercups," William Plummer
"This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own," Jonathon Rendell
"Charley Burley & the Black Murderers Row," Harry Otto
"The View From Ringside," Thomas Hauser
"The Black Lights," Thomas Hauser
"I Cant Believe It, but It's True," Thomas Hauser
"The Greatest Sport of All," Thomas Hauser
"Cut Time: An Education at the Fights," Carlo Rotella


General Know-How (Finance, Staying Alive, Inspirational, On Writing)
"US Army Survival Manual"
"Your Money or Your Life," Joe Domingo
"Blink," Malcom Gladwell
"The Four Hour Work Week," Tim Ferris
"This is the Year You Write Your Novel," Walter Mosley
"What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," Haruki Murukami


Biography
"The Last American Man," Elizabeth Gilbert
"1st They Killed my Father," Loung Ung


Literary Fiction
"The Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway
"Cities of the Plain," Cormac McCarthy
"Crime and Punishment," Fyodor Dostoevsky


Other Fiction
"Joker," Brian Azzarello
"The Gunslinger," Stephen King
"The Road to the Dark Tower," Bev Vincent
"Not Fade Away," Jim Dodge
"Fup," Jim Dodge
"Stone Junction," Jim Dodge
"Vernon God Little," D. B. C. Pierre
"World War Z," Max Brooks


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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fried Tarantalas, Cobra Whiskey & a Complete Disregard for the Importance of One's Liver

It's been a few weeks since I returned from South-East Asia, so I should probably start writing about something else. I'm not ready to do that yet.

Bryan, Britney and I adopted (or were adopted by) Alison, a British girl visiting Cambodia after competing in a muay thai tournament in Thailand. We gorged ourselves on Siem Reap's finest street food, and then set off for the local night market. All night markets in the entire world look exactly the same, and they all sell the same worthless shit. With that in mind, I decided to stimulate the local economy by finding the perfect opium pipe. I don't smoke opium, so there is no reason for me to buy s pipe. This is a reality that somehow was escaping me at the time. Alison was helping me in my search while Bryan and Britney went on a mission for an equally worthless knick-knack.

Fortunately for me, opium pipes are about as common as hookers in Siem Reap. That is to say, they are EVERYWHERE. Small stalls selling the exact same pipe right next to each other would give me vastly different price quotes. After hearing the initial $12 price bettered by a man offering it for $6, I became convinced that a $2 pipe must be available somewhere around there.

We made our way towards the back of the market, passing a woman pushing a wheel-barrow filled to the brim with fried, palm-sized tarantalas.

"Haha, look at that!" I exclaimed to Alison. "Man, people will eat anything." I shook my head in sympathy at what must bring someone to resort to eating something so nasty as spider guts. With my characteristic short attention span, I immediately was distracted from the spiders by a fresh opium pipe stall that I hadn't bargained with yet.

"We're eating them." Alison's voice was low and full of purpose. Looking back at her, her eyes hel a steely determination.

I laughed nervously. "Haha, good one. Come check out this stall. They have those antique-looking pipes that are so cool-looking, and the vendor looks desperate."

She cut me off. "You're eating one." She then grabbed my arm and propelled me towards the wheel-barrow.

"Wait," I stammered, "lets talk about this..."

We looked into the large mass of giant black spiders. They were disgusting. It was obvious to everyone. The bodies and heads were fat and juicy. The legs were crispy-looking, but the hair hadn't burnt off for some reason. I relaxed. There was no way Alison could have taken this second closer look at the creatures and still think this was a good idea. No way. It was impossible. Lunacy even...

"We'll have two," Alison told the woman selling them.

Damn.

"Ready?" Alison asked, holding "my" spider out to me by one hairy leg.

"Wait," I said, thinking quickly. "We need a drink first."

She rolled her eyes, but nodded. At the bar I tried to decide what concoction would kill my taste buds most effectively. Jack Daniels it is then.

We saluted and began the serious business of drinking whiskey. My spider sat on his napkin and stared at me. Then it called me a coward. I glared back at it.

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The whiskey and spiders were a good conversation started, and we were quickly joined by Galang, Alex and the rest of their crew. Strangely, they wanted to eat the spiders. About this time, Bryan wandered over towards us. He looked at the whiskey. He looked at the spiders. He looked at our faces, which reflected both excitement and utter horror.

"It's going to be one of those kinds of nights, is it?"

I nodded, despair obvious. He nodded back and went off to find the spider lady.

When he returned, the now-hefty group of us cheersed our spiders against each other, and went to work. Alison went right to it, while I nibbled delicately at one of the legs. They were crispy and reeked slightly of death, disease and Eastern European BO. Noticing my own slow progress as Alison polished hers off, I rolled my eyes, sighed, and bit into the fat abdomen. It tasted about like you would expect it to, but since Alison was looking at me, I smiled and said "yum."
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Bryan returned and disapeared with two bottles of cobra whiskey. He poured shots all around, and we pulled the cobras out of the jars to play with and throw at each other. Speaking to the high quality control standards of Cambodia, the liquid in each shot was of a slightly different color. They all tasted the same however; like rancid formaldehyde.

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Half-blind from whiskey and spider, we followed our new friends to a night club. They poured shot after shot of scotch, while we posed for pictures with the snakes.
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To the best of my knowledge, we kept drinking. At some point in the night, we must have somehow found our way back to the guest house.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lumpini Stadium - Bangkok

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There is a mecca for Muay Thai kickboxing, and it's name is Lumpini. Located in the heart of Bangkok, only top fighters from well-respected camps have the opportunity to fight there. The fact that fights are held at the stadium three times a week speaks to the deep talent pool in the country.

Bryan and I caught a cab from Khao San Road, and pulled up twenty minutes later in front of the stadium. Immediately latching onto us was one of the stadium's hosts. He spoke perfect English, and showed us the various seating options. Ringside was 2000 Baht, a sum far exceeding what we should spend, as we were obviously being charged the "Farang" price. There was a collective "fuck it," and we found ourselves 20 feet from Thailand's finest combat athletes.

The scene was reminiscent of the Kumite tournament from Van Damme's "Bloodsport," with rabid fans waving large stacks of colorful Thai money, and frantically calling out their bets. Each landed blow would elicit an "ooo-way!" from the crowd, and each individual would loudly up or condemn their previous bets. Most of the betting took place in the back sections of the arena, and that looked like where most of the fun was going down. We promised ourselves to sit there the next time.

In the ring, a fighter from the blue corner stalked his opponent. He took a hard kick to the ribs, and laughed it off. His opponent waded back into the fray, only to eat a flash left hook-right hand combination to the jaw. The right hand dropped him to his knees, and he was stood up immediately by the ref. The blue fighter feinted with his head and shoulders before dipping and coming over the top with his elbow. It crashed flush onto his opponent's face, and the man was out cold before he hit the canvas. The ref called the fight, and the cornermen of the downed fighter looped his arms over their shoulders to carry him out of the ring.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

S-21: Genocide & Torture in Phnom Penh

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Visiting the High School-turned-Prison-turned-Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh is to see the absolute worst that mankind is capable of. It is also to see just how thin the veneer between civilization and barbarity really is. The scariest part (for me) is how...normal everything looks. The grounds are set within a fairly quiet suburban center of the city, surrounded by the usual combination of shanties and apartments that make up Phnom Penh's housing situation. We sat at a guesthouse across the street before entering, drinking coffee and eating breakfast.

The first sign that not all is what it seems is the thick tangle of barbed wire that stretches over the wall of the entire perimeter. The second is the procession of beggars and homeless that shuffle around the entrance, nearly all of whom are missing limbs. One man's face is almost completely melted away from being doused with acid.

You enter through the front gate, pay a $2 entry fee, and pick up an information pamphlet. There are 5 buildings of the complex, designated as A, B, C, D, and E. The classrooms of the first of these were unaltered from the original design. The large rooms held dozens of prisoners, bound with leg shackles, and arranged like sardines in a can. There was never a square inch between prisoners unless someone had been removed for interrogation. The interrogation rooms were typically set in a medium-sized classroom. The prisoner was set on a raised mattress, and bound with a leg shackle to the headboard. Torture was executed in order to obtain confessions from the individual prisoner, his family, and his closest neighbors. The individual's guilt was never in question. One was considered guilty because he had been arrested...NOT arrested because he was guilty. To question this basic premise was to imply that the Angkar (movement) was fallible. The cots have been left just as they stood, with large dark stains in a circle around them. The blood of countless victims has soaked so deeply into the stone floors that it cannot be washed away. A photo of the last victim of each room has been hung on the wall. When the Vietnamese retook the city, the prison guards rushed to torture the last of the prisoners, and 14 final victims were found in the beds, dead by minutes.

In the D and E buildings, the classrooms had been cordoned off into individual holding cells. Patchwork brick and mortar had been applied, creating cells that were about 3-4 feet wide and 5-6 feet deep. Each was small enough to touch both sides at the same time, and they had been conveniently supplied with a metal can for excrement. Prisoners would be dragged from these cells to the interrogation rooms or the outside grounds to be tortured en masse. Distinct blood stains can be seen here, smudged onto the floor. In one, a tiny, child-sized bloody palm print is visible, as are claw marks on the brick from prisoner's finger nails.

One of the most (of many) disturbing parts of the museum is the large area of photographs of the many prisoners who passed through Tuol Sleng. New-borns, men, women, and children were all treated the same, and their before and after pictures were taken. The Khmer Rouge was similar to the Nazi's in their attention to detail regarding documentation of all that transpired within the compound.

Bryan, Brittany and I walked the grounds for several hours, entering each room of the prison. It was an hour into it before we realized that we had been walking on tip-toe and speaking in whispers the entire time. That would last for an hour after we left.

I'm not sure what kind of person it would take for this, but many of the rooms showed signs of tagging and graffiti from past visitors. People wrote their names and initials, dates they had visited, where they had came from...one gentleman drew a large penis on the wall of a cell where the last prisoners had been tortured to death.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Motor-Biking on Ko Si Chang

My brother grew up aruound bikes. He started riding them young, knew how to fix & customize them, built jumps for them, raced them. He got that from our Dad, who still remembers his favorite childhood gift being a bicycle. When I was young, he tried to share that feeling with me. On Christmas Eve, he told me to wash my hands for dinner, where I would be sure to notice the brand-new bike that was to be my present.

I dutifully retired to the wash-room, only to return quickly to notify my parents that I couldn't wash my hands because "some stupid bike was in the way."

*le sigh*

There can only be one Lance Armstrong anyway, I suppose.

That long and boring back-story was probably more than sufficient to make the point that Bryan is far more prepared and suited to riding motor-bikes around the small Thai island of Ko Si Chang than I. He had further honed his skills during the preceding 3 months that he had spent in Phuket.

"You push that button, twist that gripper, and then you go," he said.

I nodded, and immediately tried to accelerate and break at the same time. This is a manuever that I may have invented. The resulting action promptly deposited me on my ass, presenting an opportunity to rid myself of some excessive and un-needed skin from my hands, knees, toes and stomach.

Bryan, knowing my history, did not look entirely surprised. He was probably thinking of the time, maybe 15 years before, when I decided that, being the big brother, I should be able to do anything that he could. Hopping on a bike for the first time in years, I immediately hauled ass, heading for one of his more burly jumps. I launched up and out, falling a good 2 feet short, and propelling myself up and over the handlebars, cutting my shin to the bone. But I digress...

I disentangled myself from the downed motor-bike, wiped my bloody palms on my shorts, and got back on the seat. I made sure to ease off the brakes, and we were off. We cruised the entire island, finding small sections of the village where locals were fishing, talking, working and playing. Small children gawked at the three farang as we sped past, bursting into wide grins and calls of "Hal-loooo" when we smiled at them.

We zig-zagged across the streets, getting more comfortable and more daring, powering up hills and around corners.

"This aint that hard," I thought to myself as the guest-house came back into sight. I then cut off several riders coming the opposite way, took the turn a bit too wide, and nearly collided with a stone wall.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Servicio

I'm taking off for a few weeks to explore Thailand and Cambodia.  I should have some decent stories to post when I return.

Cheers

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Monday, November 23, 2009

"Blood Meridian," by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy writes some dark and twisted stories.  "Blood Meridian" has to be the darkest and most twisted of them all.

Follows the adventures of "the kid" and "the judge" over the course of their marauding and terrorizing reign through the western frontier of the 19th century.  They have been contracted to protect the different Mexican settlements from Apache war parties, and they do so with an iron fist.  Since they are paid by the scalp, they make no differentiation between indian tribes that are peaceful or those that are warlike, and there are several massacres of entire villages.  Some of the descriptions are the bloodiest and most brutal that I have ever read.

Underlying all of that murder and violence is the theme that McCarthy presents of redemption and justice.  "The Judge" is basically evil incarnate, and there are few protagonists in the history of literature as chilling as this character.  "The Kid" is something slightly more human, and he makes some effort near the end to make amends for all of the "meanness" that he has been involved in. 

Like all of McCarthy's work, the prose is set in a very flowing and non-punctuated style.  Sentences can run on for half a page or longer.  This can be distracting at times, but the writing is so beautiful that it makes up for it.  I did find myself having to re-read certain sections.  This is not an easy book, but it is a rewarding one. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Ernest Hemingway - A Life Story" Book Review

This is not only the best biography I have read, it's the best that I can imagine being written.  The amount of detail is stunning.  It's really a testament to the strength of the author and the force of character of the subject that such a long and detailed life story can be so interesting.  Topping out over 700 pages of tiny print, Carlos Baker analayzes Mr. Hemingway's life from start to dramatic finish.  Mr. Baker dedicated over 7 years to the task, and it shows.  Personal quotes, letters, and interviews with a virtual who's who of the generation, from Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Joyce and others are littered throughout.  I don't know as much about my own life as Baker knows about Hemingway's.

The overall picture of the man is one who was able to craft himself into exactly what he wanted to be.  No easy task.  He also comes across as highly sensitive, a womanizer who cheated on every woman he ever cared about, and something of a bully.  He could also be kind and generous, but it was virtually a crapshoot of which of his personalities would show up.

His favorite subjects by far were of personal courage, stoicisim and physical endurance.  He was at his best on the hunt, in war, fishing, hiking, and any situation where his physical well-being was at risk. 

Courage, he believed, was a matter of dignity and pride.  "A coward said that this pride was of no importance.  Perhaps it wasn't, but it was of great importance to whoever had it."
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Andre Ward vs. Mikkel Kessler Preview

Round 2 of Showtime's heavily promoted "Super Six" tournament is descending on Oakland, California this weekend.  The last American Gold Medalist, Oakland's own, Andre Ward (20(13)-0) will square off against the current Super Middleweight champion, Mikkel Kessler (42(32)-1) at the Oracle Arena.


This should prove to be one of the most intriguing match-ups of the tournament.  Ward is a very smart, fast and disciplined fighter who uses angles and ring savvy to confuse and bewilder his opponents.  At only 25 years of age, his command of the ring belies his relative lack of experience.  Despite his gaudy record, Mikkel Kessler's level of competition can be questioned, as he has faced quite a few limited fighters in his Denmark homeland.  Still, the two best fighters Kessler has been in the ring with are much better than anyone Ward has fought thus far, including a 12 round decision loss to Joe Calzaghe and a unanimous decision victory over Librado Andrade.


Kessler is a very fundamentally sound and crisp boxer with good power in his orthodox jab and straight right hand.  These two weapons are world-class, and are usually enough to beat his opponents with by themselves.  What we haven't yet seen from Kessler is the ability to "go downstairs" and work the body well or consistently.  He also rarely deviates from his tried and true, and well-loved combination of the left jab, followed by his right cross.  He will have to vary his attack a bit more to get by Ward this Saturday night.


Ward does a little bit of everything.  He has decent power, although he won't be scoring any single-punch knockouts.  He has good speed, excellent ring generalship, good smarts, and is a disciplined fighter.  Raised in the tough city of Oakland, Ward has been well-schooled by local trainer, Virgil Hunter out of the venerable Kings Gym.  After winning gold in the Athens Olympics of 2004, many observers felt that the talented Ward was being pushed too slowly.  Despite the criticism, it seems to have been a good decision.  Ward stepped up the level of his competition this year to win a unanimous decision against the always-dangerous Edision Miranda, in a fight that saw the Puerto Rican-based brawler confused and sloppy in the face of a very composed Ward.


Andre Ward will need to use his superior movement and speed to throw Kessler off of his game-plan.  Look for Andre to circle to Kessler's left, avoiding the dangerous right hand, and winning a tight but unanimous 12 round decision. 


For fans in the Bay Area, make sure to check out Comcast's Bay Area Sports website and channel for interviews and discussion on the fighters, trainers and promoters.  My buddy Rich is putting in some great work over there and we finally have combat sports getting some attention in the Bay Area again.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Child of God" by Cormac McCarthy

Reading his interview in the WSJ put me in a mood for some of McCarthy's dark, murderous and usually disturbing prose.

"Child of God" fits the bill. One of his shorter stories at about 200 pages, I went through it in a day. It reads a bit easier than some of his longer novels, with a bit less of a focus on describing every detail of each and every scene.

Lester Ballard is a man alone. He has been banished and cut off from society, and that frees him to explore all the darkest passions of his mind. Ballard is far from a sympathetic character, but there is an underlying message that judges society for ignoring those that live on the very fringes of a community.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Praise of Miguel Cotto

Miguel Cotto has taken a lot of punishment during his 8 year career, possibly too much. In an age where long-time boxing fans bemoan a newer and lesser generation of fighters, Cotto is a throwback. He approaches his craft with a blue-collar and workmanlike mentality, takes his work seriously, and is as tough as they come.

Unfortunately, Cotto isn't appreciated as much as he should be. The man has put together a tremendous body of work against the best fighters of his generation, and he has often taken a horrific beating in both wins and losses. And yet, we still have the usual internet crowd of experts questioning his heart, chin, grit and toughness for his performances against Margarito, Clottey and Pacquiao. Many never forgave him for his taking a knee in his final round against Margarito, and those same brave individuals in front of their TV's will never forgive him for backpedaling much of the last rounds in the Clottey and Pacquiao fights. In truth, Cotto is too tough for his own good.

Unlike some other fighters of recent year who have earned prestige for toughness in the ring, Cotto's skill-set puts him in the squared circle with only the most elite of fighters. Guys like Arturo Gatti, tough and game as any fighter who ever lived, took their punishment from much more limited fighters than Cotto's opponents. When Gatti stepped up in class to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., he was simply annihilated within a few rounds. Stopping that fight was an easy decision to make. The decision to stop a Cotto fight is much more difficult due to his superior talent. Cotto always has enough good moments to dissuade his corner, the ref or the ringside doctor from stopping the abuse. He is excellent at fighting off the back foot, throwing a stiff jab or double jab, and then countering with fast and hard combinations when his opponent overextends himself. His ability to do that earned him an extra 3 rounds of bludgeoning last night against the buzz-saw that is Manny Pacquiao.

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It has been established that a quick and sudden knockout is far less punishing over the long-term than the cumulative damage that is dished out over the course of a 12 round championship fight. Cotto's fights against Margarito and Pacquaio have most likely taken years off of the fighter's life.


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At one point, the beating was so conclusive that Cotto's wife was forced to leave the arena with their young son. On that note, shame on the man who's decision it was to continuously pan to Mrs. Cotto and their son's face during a break in the action. It was reminiscent of Mayweather's fight against British boxer, Ricky Hatton, where Hatton was splattered in the 10th round. The cameraman found it necessary to focus on Hatton's screaming wife for what felt like minutes as her husband was quickly surrounded by his doctors and cornermen. Boxing has always produced more drama and action than any other sport, and it's an unnecessary and distasteful trick to try to engender more by focusing on these personal tragedies.

Cotto is still a skilled and dangerous fighter, and would most likely beat all but the very top 2 or 3 welterweights in the world. That being said, he may want to consider winding down. At only 29 years old, he is a young man, but people age differently in boxing. That was clearly shown when Joe Calzaghe met Roy Jones Jr. last year. While nearly the same age in years, Jones Jr.'s career had been far more damaging after concussive knockouts at the hands of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. There was no question of who was the "younger" man that night. So it is with Cotto. He has given us amazing fights in victories over "Chop-Chop" Corley, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Josh Clottey and Carlos Quintana, while taking tremendous punishment in losses to Margarito and Pacquiao. As Antonio Margarito was later caught trying to enter the ring with loaded handwraps, one has to consider the possibility that Cotto went nearly 11 rounds with a man who was using bricks instead of fists.

Sometimes it takes a fighter to retire before he gets the respect that he deserves, and so it may be with Miguel Cotto. The man is a pro's pro and has never ducked a fighter in his life. He has always been calm, polite and respectful towards the press and his opponents. He works hard and trains hard. In this "bling" generation, Miguel Cotto is an old-school type of fighter and an old-school type of man.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wall Street Journal Interview with Cormac McCarthy

One of my favorite authors is Cormac McCarthy, creator of "The Road," "No Country for Old Men," "Cities of the Plains," "Blood Meridian," and others. While I typically prefer authors who write short and sparse sentences in the Hemingway mold, McCarthy is far from that. Some people find his books too wordy, and he does make a point of being very descriptive, but I just find his work incredible. Everything is dark, from the setting of his stories to the characters. I have heard his style described as "Southern Gothic," drawing comparisons to William Faulkner, and that sounds pretty accurate.

McCarthy is something of a recluse, and usually shuns interviews. I won't type out the whole discussion from the Wall Street Journal, but I did find some of his answers to be very interesting.

WSJ: How does the notion of aging and death affect the work that you do? Has it become more urgent?

CM: Your future gets shorter and you recognize that. In recent years, I have had no desire to do anything but work and be with my son. I hear people talking about going on a vacation or something and I think, what is that about? I have no desire to go on a trip. My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That's heaven. That's gold and anything else is a waste of time.

WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things off with a large, all-encompassing work?


CM: I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

WSJ: The last five years of your life have seemed very productive for you. Have there been fallow periods in your writing?


CM: I don't think there's any rich period or fallow period. That's just a perception that you get from what's published. Your busiest day might be watching some ants carrying bread crumbs. Someone asked Flannery O'Connor why she wrote, and she said, "Because I'm good at it." And I think that's the right answer. If you're good at something it's very hard not to do it. In talking to older people who have had good lives, inevitably half of them will say, "the most significant thing in my life is that I have been extraordinarily lucky." And when you hear that you know you're hearing the truth. It doesn't diminish their talent or industry. You can have all that and fail.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#88 of my 101 in 1001 Days - Watch the Sun Come Up

Back in January of 2009, I made a list of 101 goals and tasks that I wanted to complete in 1001 days. The purpose was mostly to make sure I was doing enough random kickass stuff to justify being here.

While reaching the summit of Mt. San Jacinto was not part of that original list, I did get to accomplish one of my goals that weekend. Since we hit the trail in pitch-black darkness at 3am, we were lucky enough to watch the sun rise over the desert. Quite pretty, I must say.

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Nomad

While traveling in Southern California for work last week, I found myself in my old stomping grounds of Newport Beach. I parked on 35th and Balboa Boulevard, three blocks from the house I once lived in, and a block from the basketball courts that I had spent so many hundreds of hours at.

I walked over to the beach and went for a 5 mile run along the boardwalk, dodging foo-foo dogs and bikini-clad roller-bladers. Fog rolled in from the ocean, cooling the air, and driving the bikini girls back inside. Conditioned by a few years of Bay Area living, the weather was pleasant to me. I finished the run with a sprint over the last few blocks, legs and lungs burning from a few weeks of alcohol saturation and inactivity.

I cooled off by jumping in the ocean, and my contempt for the bikini girls vanished. The water was cold. I dunked my head twice in the on-coming waves, and then made a quick exit, trading the salt from my sweat for the salt of the Pacific.

I dried off and made a short drive to one of my favorite places, Alta Cafe. I had a chai tea, a tuna melt, and then a slice of the best carrot cake in the world. All of these different activities brought back warm memories. Orange County had been good to me. While it made me a bit nostalgic, I feel no desire to move back. At least not to Orange County, that is. I am considering a move back to Southern California, but a return to Orange County is not in the cards. Everything seems small, quiet, suburban after downtown San Francisco.

On top of that, moving back would feel like I am going backwards. The times I have grown the most is when my life and travels have brought me to new and diverse places, away from the familiar. I want to continue that pattern.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cactus to Clouds

"The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!" - John Muir

I was being driven to the airport by my Mom after a nice visit in Palm Springs when I noticed the mountain for the first time. Fueled by a weekend of reading "Backpacker" magazine and possibly too much caffeine, I said to myself, "I should climb that." I almost immediately let everyone know that I was going to do just that.

After basking in the glow and warmth of everyone's praises, I decided it would be a good idea to look into the logistics of the expedition. I was greeted with the following:

Missing Hiker
Outdoor Guide Killed
Mountain rescue unit helps dehydrated Marines

Disheartening. To make sure that I didn't die alone, I enlisted the company of my friends, Will and Kalvin. I made sure to tell them about the beautiful views and pleasant scenery that were sure to await us. As far as the dangers, why worry them needlessly?

Unfortunately, Will was unable to make this particular adventure, so I picked up Kalvin around noon on Friday. We employed full use of the carpool lane and mocked the commuters stuck on the 91 freeway.

My Mom, Grandmas, and Aunt Dory welcomed us with steak, salad and other goodies. Other goodies like beer.

The Cactus to Clouds trail begins in Palm Springs on the desert floor. The main problem that befalls many people aiming for the summit is the punishing heat of the Palm Springs desert. To avoid this, one needs to hit the trail early enough to climb several thousand feet of elevation before the sun comes up. Kal and I woke at 2am on Saturday morning. My Grandma Bev had prepared the coffee for us, and it turned out to be the equivalent of rocket fuel. Tasted like it too. With approximately 18 times the caffeine content of a mere mortal's coffee, Grandma's concoction had Kal and I babbling like school girls on the ride to the trail head.

The first step was near vertical, and the trend continued like that for the rest of the day. We had close to 3 hours of hiking in almost complete darkness. Fortunately, we were armed with head-lamps and a near-full moon. The little light that we had made the cliffs and peaks seem like we were on another planet.

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The sun rose over the horizon around 5:30am. It was stunning.

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It was pretty, but it also increased the sweat factor considerably. We were lucky that it wasn't one of the 100+ degree days that Palm Springs was famous for, but it was definitely hot enough. That reminded me to be on the look out for rattle snakes. Several had been spotted on the trail in the last few weeks, another detail I didn't share with Kalvin. (I later found out that Kalvin used to trap and play with rattle snakes as a kid in Texas, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway.)

Up, Up, and Up. The vertical climb of the Skyline Trail is one of the steepest in the United States, and we, well, we noticed that.

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The thing about mountains is that every time you get to the top of a ledge or peak, there is another one just beyond that. Several times, we thought we were staring at the peak that would mark 8,000 feet and the end of the Skyline trail. We were wrong about this a lot. Actually, we took several wrong turns, scrambling up loose rocks and shale, and generally doing quite a bit of backtracking. Kal injured his knee on one such occasion, and basically toughed out the rest of the trip with a makeshift walking stick and a large dose of testicular fortitude.

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Whenever I got tired and wanted to rest, I would tell Kal that I wanted to take a picture. We got some good shots in this way.

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The lack of oxygen at high elevations affects different people differently. It obviously affected the two of us with delirium and idiocy. We decided that marine-style chants would make us feel better.

Martin: "When I say 'aint no, you say THANG, 'aint NO!"
Kal: "THANG!"
Martin: "AINT NO!"
Kal: "Thaaaannnng!"

This continued on for far longer than I would like to admit.

After 11 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation gain, we completed the Skyline Trail of the desert to the Aerial Tram Station. Exhausted, we feasted on beef jerky, a granola bar and water, staring enviously at everyone else's superior rations. I considered murdering two friendly guys who we met on the trail for their burritos.

After about a half hour of procrastination, we continued on. Another 5.5 miles would take us to the summit. We met some really nice folks on this part of the trail, including Dave G, Florian and Hikin' Jim from the Mt. San Jacinto message board.

After one last hard push, we scrambled up the last cliff to get to the summit. The view was amazing, and lived up to Muir's praises.

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The 5.5 miles back to the tram station sucked. No other comments really necessary on that. The beers and buffalo wings at the tram restaurant restored our good humor. After a good 14 hours on the trail, we arrived back at our car, and I managed to get us home without running into anything solid enough to cause damage.

Asleep by 8pm, we both slept like the dead.

I'll do this again...maybe.

We left the next day, making sure to give a final salute to the mountain on the way out.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 8

The writing is coming easier. About to head to the airport, but knocked out a quick 800 words before the taxi comes to pick me up. Will try to get another 1000 or so in tonight after I check into the hotel.

Writing about specific scenes is making all the difference in the world. When I was writing in chronological order, I felt the need to rush to get to the next scene. Now that I am writing individual episodes, I am able to give each part the attention it deserves. I am adding more description and back-up to each section, and I think that I am doing it without adding much filler.

While I plan on getting the whole 50,000 words on paper before the 30 days are over, I am starting to think the novel might be better as a short story after I go through as an editor. Right now, I think the best length might be 75-125 pages, rather than the 350-500 that a full-length novel would require.

Word Count (Expected): 7,511
Word Count (Actual): 13,328

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 7

I'm still behind, but today was some of my best writing so far. Not that it matters really, since the important thing is volume, but I was able to focus more deeply on the story today than any other day prior. I think what helped is my decision to just write about different episodes or scenes of the story instead of going through it chronologically. It seemed to help a lot with writer's block.

Word Count (Expected): 11,662
Word Count (Actual): 6,717

Saturday, October 31, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 6 Part II

Ok, I am a little ashamed of my pathetic whining below. I will continue on with the same story. One thing that should help is that I can ignore what I have already written. Since I am unsure which direction I want the story to go, I can write different scenarios, conversations, etc. and just scrap the ones I don't like or don't match in the editing process.

As we were then...

NaNoWriMo - Day 6

In over my head. The story's plot was nice and neat in my outline, but it is all over the place now. It's not even the same story. Got about 1,300 words in today, whilst nursing a hang-over, but I'm having a lot of trouble getting the story on track. I may have bitten off more than I can chew for a first novel. Something more simple as a storyline like "The Old Man and the Sea" may have been a better idea.

Debating whether to scrap this story for a different one, and just start again tonight at midnight for the official challenge.

Word Count: 5,701

Friday, October 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 5

What utter crap this story is turning into. And I am way behind. Need to write about 2,700 words on both Saturday and Sunday to catch up.

Swell. That should go great with my hangover.

Word Count: 4,435
Pages: About 11.5

Big Sur Camping

The first time that I really hung out with Will and Steve was on a camping trip up to Big Sur in Northern California. I had already been good friends with Onn, and knew Lina from work. Other close friends like Mike, Kalvin, Audrey, and Aleida have joined for some of the road-trips. Will had found the place by word of mouth while surfing along the Northern California coastline. It is not a campsite, and it is illegal to have fires. The few people who know about it camp there often, and what’s camping without a campfire? Local authorities seem to look the other way about it, and we have never been bothered. From that first initial trip, we have been back up there several times, and close friendships were made stronger for the adventures.

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This last trip was at the end of September. Lisa and I drove South from San Francisco and met up with Will, Lina, Kalvin, Audrey, and Aleida in San Luis Obispo. We had our customary sandwiches and beers at the local grocery store, and then debated whether or not to make our hike to the top of the SLO Hill. We always have this debate. The beers are cold and the weather is hot, and trail hiking just seems like too much work. But we always go.

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Aleida and Audrey set a land-speed record, finishing the hike in approximately 18 seconds. The rest of us mere mortals followed in the wake of their dust and mocking laughter. Lina was a good sport this time, and didn’t kick dirt in my face. Lisa made her first summit without kicking or screaming at me. We all lounged at the top, drinking the finest of warm, Mexican piss-beer and enjoying the view.

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A stop for refreshments, candy, and more beer later, and we were back on the road. We found the spot, which is always a bit tricky, and started bringing our stuff into the forest. I have noticed that bringing women on the camping trips causes the overall volume of supplies to quadruple. I have also noticed that bringing women on the camping trips ensures that dinners don’t consist of beef jerky and trail mix, or God Forbid, Steve’s “coffee.”

We set up tents, and then Kal, Will and I went down to the shore to get driftwood for the fire. Kal jumped into the ocean like a fucking lunatic. Apparently, he doesn’t watch Shark Week, since Nor-Cal is the site for approximately 87% of the world’s Great White Shark attacks. Feeling like a complete Nancy, I stripped and jumped in too. Will doesn’t feel peer pressure, so he just watched and laughed at us.

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We hauled the wood back up the cliff to the campsite, and Kalvin and I decided to show off our Bear Grylls fire-making skills. This took about 4 hours, due to the driftwood being driftwood, and hence, completely damp. Everyone else was too polite to ask us to hurry the hell up.

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We drank beer, ate carne asada, and laughed at Kal’s complete recitation of “Nacho Libre.” Aleida vouched for the authenticity of his accent. When we ran out of beer and jokes, everyone retreated to their sleeping bags and tents.

The next morning, we had a breakfast of I-don’t-remember-what, and then headed out for a last hike. Aleida and Audrey popped in their Ipod ear-buds, and sprinted up a sheer cliff wall. The rest of us followed, shuffling slowly like we were patients at a geriatric ward. When stopping to take pictures, we could see the ash and scorch marks that A&A’s hiking boots had left in their mad dash for the top.

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We got to the top, and our two track stars didn’t act impatient with us at all. The view at the top sucked though, so we spent just a few minutes to see how many mosquito bites we could collect, and then turned back.

Lisa and I said our good-byes to the SoCal group, and too quickly, the trip was over.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 3

Today was my lowest output since starting, and I am currently at only 65% of the volume that I should be at. It wasn't a complete waste though. I spent a lot of time thinking about my story, and I have a much clearer picture of where I want things to go. That doesn't mean that the story will listen, but I do feel a bit more confident than I did yesterday.

Word Count: 607/3,185

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 2

I thought this would be hard, and it's harder than I thought. 2,500 words in and my story is already going all over the place. My characters aren't acting the way they are supposed to, and my plot gets bigger and smaller at the same time. I am also not writing fast enough, due to my desire to edit, erase and change what I have just written.

I need to just let go a bit, word-dump everything for a month, and then pick up the pieces afterward.

No more editing. Even if something new contradicts something old, no more editing.

Word Count: 1,208/2,625

Monday, October 26, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 1

As my trip to Thailand cuts November a bit short for me, Day 1 of National Writing Month will begin today. Now, actually. Right after this blog post. And after I check facebook one more time.

I am armed with a fresh pot of coffee (black), a phone on silent, a playlist of "This Will Destroy You," and loose scraps of a story that just might turn out to be decent.

I am a bit daunted by the task. I have to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and my current tally is zero.

Here we go.

Word Count: 1,374/1,374

Inner Circle Fight Team Represents Half a World Away

Bryan Schatz won his first Muay Thai fight over the last weekend, stopping his opponent in the 3rd round. The victim was unable to answer the bell to start the 4th round after absorbing dozens of low kicks to his lead leg. Good luck walking tomorrow...

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rest of '09. Full of Win.

With just over 2 months left, I'm finishing 2009 off with a bang. I have a good solid mix of mental and physical challenges, travel, and time with family and friends.

Mental Challenges

Against my better judgment, I registered for the NaNoWriMo challenge. November is the National Writing Month, and thousands of people worldwide attempt to write 50,000 words over the course of the month. Even though I know that the only way to get better at writing is to write consistently, I still procrastinate and pass on daily writing, way too often. The appeal of a challenge like this is that it forces me to just go, pedal to the metal, for a full month. My last attempt to write a novel ended about 25 pages into it, when I had a bit of a paralysis by over-analysis problem. I would edit and re-read what I had written so much that it would just end up sounding stupid to my ears. Getting 50,000 words down without being able to edit will force me to get my story down on paper. My goal is to finish a complete rough (ROUGH!) draft by the end of November, and then I can spend the time necessary to go over it as much as needed. 50,000 words comes to just under 1,700 a day, and will be about 150 pages. It's insane. Excitement, I has it.

Physical Challenges
On November 7th, I will summit Mt. San Jacinto in Palm Springs, California. My friend and I will start at the desert floor around 3am, and climb 8,000 vertical feet of elevation in about 11 miles. That's the first part. Another 5.5 miles will take us to the actual summit peak, where I expect we will flop to the ground for a half hour, drink a warm beer, gather ourselves enough to take a picture that makes it look like it was easy, and then guzzle water for the return trip. The full mileage will be in either the mid 20's or mid 30's, depending on the route we take down. The heat, vertical climb, and just sheer mileage will make this a test of endurance at least as punishing as the marathon earlier in the year.


Travel

I leave for Thailand on November 27th, and that my friends, will rock. My brother and his girlfriend are already out there, as part of their year-long nomadic adventure, and good times will be had.

There will be at least one work-related trip to Southern California in early November. During that trip, I will get to see my Mom and Grandparents, and make the fool-hardy attempt at Mt. San Jacinto.

There is also a work-related trip to British Columbia, with a date to-be-determined. Depending on when this gets scheduled, I will do my best to allow for a day or two to explore. Supposed to be beautiful up there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Art of Day to Day Improvement

I have written before about the dangers of multi-tasking. We may or may not end up knocking more "to-do's" off our checklist, but nothing will be done as well as it deserves. Hemingway spoke often of doing a job "properly." It was one of his favorite adverbs, and he learned that from his father. My Father also talks a lot about "doing things right."

But lest you mistake me for someone that has perfected that art, let me correct you. Right before I started this article, I had 5 Firefox tabs open, 2 chat boxes active in AIM, a half-finished work e-mail waiting for me, and I was paying my bills on-line. The "new post" box stayed open and empty for at least 20 minutes before I wrote the opening line.

*Sigh*

There are just so many distractions. In order to avoid feeling like a complete hypocrite, I just closed everything except for this tab and the two reference sites that I will be using.

One trait about me that I am grateful for is that I do insist on improvement. One trait that I am a bit less grateful for is that I have little to no patience for that improvement. If I want to be competent at a certain thing, I want it now, and I will get down on myself for using any time that does not help me get it.

For example, I feel that it is important to be knowledgeable about current events and politics. To make sure that I am, I will engross myself entirely in that pursuit. I will read a newspaper every morning, have a few books on the Middle East going concurrently, watch the Talking Heads babble at me, etc. This will go on for weeks or months, until I have just had entirely too much of it, have burned myself out on it, and don't even want to think about current events for another 6 months. Clearly, this presents quite a consistency problem. You don't become knowledgeable with such an "on again, off again" approach.

I need to start looking at these pursuits more as a marathon than a sprint. A little bit of progress every day. If I don't make it through the entire newspaper, I won't beat myself up about it. If I don't make it to boxing practice, there should be a good reason. If there isn't however, I will do my best to be a little more gentle with myself, and focus on gradual improvement in all areas of my life that are important to me.

Two articles that I found and read today were inspiring and practical. The first was written by Paul Norwine about using the Japanese business principle of Kaizen in your personal life. For those who work in manufacturing and production, you are probably familiar with this term as a way of eliminating all wasted movement and gradual improvement over the long term. Paul turns this principle on our personal lives, and encourages us to aim for daily progression in all areas of your life. I often get bogged down in all the different areas I want to learn about, explore and improve in, and it sometimes leads me to doing none of these things. His post encouraged me to find and focus my priorities, and then aim for small improvements in each of them, every day.

The second was written by Stephen Mills, and deals with avoiding the multi-tasking trap. It relates strongly to my own post on the subject, but reading it around the same time I read Paul's article on Kaizen served as a needed wake-up call and reminder.

Some days will be more productive than others, but as long as we are doing something to further each of our long-term goals, we should find some peace in that.

"Everyday, I am getting better in every way."

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Importance of Beards

I just made myself a cup of 3:00pm coffee. I drink coffee on a fairly regular schedule. 1-2 cups before work as I read the paper or whatever book I am working through, a cup around 3pm, which is designed to kick start some energy to charge the rest of the work day, and then one last cup right before I leave work for the gym. That final cup is accompanied by 500mg of aspirin and a B-vitamin complex. I think the current cup of coffee may be accompanied by creamer that has gone bad. It's some of that flavored creamer...the kind with a name like "hazelnut," or "french vanilla." The "sell by" date is October 3rd, and today is the 12th. Then again, it's the "sell by" date and not the "don't drink after" date. It's also fake food, full of the chemicals and ingredients that will preserve it a generation longer than real milk. I'm pretty sure that this stuff would survive a nuclear winter. In any case, I'm going to finish the cup, regardless of what you think about it.

What prompted this reverie was my musing on an age-old question that I will soon have to answer. As my departure date for Thailand draws near, I need to decide whether or not to grow the vacation beard. I know. Serious business. Before tackling such weighty matters, I felt the need for coffee to kick-start my snoozing brain synapses. That's what led to my introductory paragraph.

Anyway.

Yes, beards are itchy and they tend to accumulate dirt, debris and food crumbs. Worth it. Beards speak to freedom. They come from a time when the workplace required such trappings. You know, back in the day when all men were lumberjacks. Obviously, beards were necessary as protection when engaged in such activities. Now we're all stuck behind our computer screens, sending e-mail and cold-calling prospects. Clearly, no protection is needed in such an environment, and cheek-whiskers would be overkill.

My departure date is late November, and clearly, with a schedule packed full of such goodies as kickboxing, canoeing, backpacking, the drinking of cheap whiskey, the consumption of fried street food, and debauchery on a never-before-seen scale, a beard will be needed for protection.

Besides, when adventuring in the exotic pearl that is South-East Asia, would you rather look like:

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Or

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I rest my case.

New and Depressing Age for Journalism

I miss the Walter Cronkite-type of newscast. It speaks to a simpler time. There were clearly delineated lines between black and white, right and wrong. There was more optimism; a belief that American virtues of hard work, persistence, and determination could solve any problem. The perceived need for 24 hour news has bred the type of "talking heads" programs where opposing characters shout at each other for an hour. No ground is gained, no consensus formed, no compromise reached, and it appears that any sense of respect for others is too much to ask for. And that is the way it is.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Training for Combat Athletes

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Disclaimer: I am not a trainer, nor do I have any degree or certification in sports performance.

Over the last decade and a half, more and more "modern" athletes and trainers have turned away from the morning "roadwork" that combat athletes have relied on for centuries. The long distance work that generations of successful fighters have used for conditioning (mind & body) have been pooh-poohed as "backwards," and "unsuitable" for explosive sports like boxing or MMA.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be summarized as a series of all-out sprints of activity, followed by full or partial rest periods. The most famous study was directed by Dr. Izumi Tabata from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. What would become known as the "Tabata Principle" consisted of 4 minutes of training, broken down into 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest, continued 8 times, for a total of 240 seconds. After 6 weeks of training, Dr. Tabata found that his athletes improved 28% in anaerobic capacity, and 14% in their ability to consume oxygen (VO2 Max/aerobic).

There is no doubt that interval training is intense, time-efficient, and effective. If anyone doubts it, just try it on the track. That being said, so many people now tout it as the end-all, be-all of conditioning, that steady pace distance running is completely disregarded. The following statements are heard often:

"MMA is a sprint, not a marathon."

"Long , slow distance running doesn't have a place in a sport that is as explosive as MMA (or boxing.)"

"Slow running changes fast-twitch muscle fibers to slow ones, limiting an athlete's ability to react quickly and explosively."

These comments have some basis in fact, but they ignore certain parts of the Tabata study, and are misleading in some ways.

For one thing, the Tabata study makes a big deal out of the improvements taking place on "trained athletes." This is important, as it is much harder to get significant results out of athletes already "in shape," compared to relative novices. In fact, the athletes in the study had decent, but not great VO2 max averages before starting the study. The argument that similar improvements could be made with other training protocols, especially since these are relatively un-trained athletes, rarely gets made.

Secondly, even the group of athletes who were being trained with the Tabata Protocol were also instructed to perform LSD (Long, Steady Distance) runs once a week.

Finally, are we sure that combat sports are REALLY anaerobic in nature?


Aerobic means "with oxygen," and being in an aerobic state is when the body's demands for oxygen and fuel can be met by the body's intake. (breathing in oxygen) An extreme example of an aerobic athlete is a marathon runner.

Anaerobic
means "without oxygen," and the system is used under maximal effort, where the body is working so hard that the demands for oxygen and fuel exceed the supply. The body must then rely on the stored reserves of fuel. An extreme example of an anaerobic athlete is a 100 meter sprinter.

The problem with the argument that combat sports are anaerobic is that this system can only operate for a short time before it is spent. Once that happens, the demands for fuel and oxygen must be supported and replenished with the aerobic system. This happens QUICKLY. In fact, by the time that maximum effort has passed 75 seconds, more than half of the energy being used is supplied by the aerobic system. During the two minute rounds of amateur boxing, 63% of the energy requirements are coming via the aerobic system. With professional boxing and MMA fights lasting as long 48 minutes, broken into 3-5 minute rounds, it is clear that these are not purely anaerobic activities.

The point of all this is that the title is misleading. There should not be a question of anaerobic OR aerobic training, but just a matter of using both to bring up your weaknesses. If you come from a sprint-heavy background before beginning training in combat sports, you will most likely benefit from longer distance-style training. This will help lower your resting heart rate, and allow for quicker recovery between rounds. Conversely, if your resting heart rate is low, but you are lacking in speed and power, you may want to place an emphasis on interval training to bring up the lagging areas.

In short, each is good, but both is better.

Further Reading
http://www.brianmac.co.uk/enduranc.htm
http://ezinearticles.com/?Tabata-Anything---Four-Minutes-of-Pain-to-Gain&id=348486
http://8weeksout.com/

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mind Over Matter

Dean Karnazes is a freak of nature.

Thinking back on my first (and only) marathon, my mind jumps immediately to the pain of cramped muscles and the constant pounding on my knees and feet. At 26.2 miles, a marathon is about as far from a sprint as it is possible to get. As such, I didn't feel too winded either during or after the race. What I did feel was near failure in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of my legs and feet.

Long-distance running is not glamorous like the 100 and 200 meter dash. There is no explosive motion or energy. There is no eye-popping speed. Long races, endurance work; they are all about mental toughness. If your hamstrings cramp and seize at the 16 mile mark, you have another 10 MILES to think about it and deal with it. Unless you quit, your only option is to recognize the pain, acknowledge it, and carry on with your task despite the presence of it.

Most people run a marathon, they walk like they have been prison-raped for the next few days. Experienced campaigners and world-level runners, they may take weeks or months to be ready for another go at it. Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 days...in 50 different states. The endurance required for such a feat is impressive, but the powers of recovery are simply mind-boggling. The human body is just not designed to take that kind of pounding.

As expected from a supreme athlete in a sport that requires chart-topping levels of mental fortitude, Karnazes views his mind as the most important muscle in the body. "The human body has limitations," Karnazes says. "The human spirit is boundless."

Testing the limits of human performance requires a deep and abiding tolerance and acceptance of pain. Before running the Badwater Ultra Marathon, he trained in the high heat of summer wearing a ski parka over a hooded sweatshirt. He trained so hard and so long that the extreme became normal and expected. Pain, while never a friend, became at least an old and familiar companion.

Based out of San Francisco, California, Karnazes finished his 50th and final marathon of the tour in New York City. He then ran home.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fight Summary - October 2nd, University of San Francisco



I won this last Saturday at a fight card held at the University of San Francisco. Did some things well, and others not so much, and there is plenty to work on.

Focusing Intensely vs. Multi-Tasking


The ability to "multi-task" has long been seen as a good and necessary quality for the modern worker to possess. We all write it on our resume next to other complimentary descriptions, such as "good team player," and "proven leader." Multi-tasking has been seen as a vital part of today's workplace, because, the theory goes, business moves too fast these days to only focus on one thing at a time.

This ignores the fact that it is physically impossible for a person to be thinking of two separate things simultaneously. We are unable to hold more than one thought in our mind at any given instant. The idea of multi-tasking requires us to split time between two or more projects, transferring our focus from one to the next, defusing our ability to concentrate, and short-changing each. Take, for example, a case where you are on the phone and checking e-mail at the same time. Both of these tasks suffer in our attempt to "get things done." We are not able to give the person on the phone the focus that they deserve, and we can't really believe that they we are getting any deep reading done either.

These and other similar situations should be handled separately, allowing yourself to give each of them as close to 100% of your focus as possible. A related, but slightly different habit is allowing yourself to get distracted from meaningful work for small, less-important tasks. E-mail is probably the most common example. After a small distraction like e-mail, it can take us 5 or more minutes to refocus on whatever we were working on before the interruption.

Creating and using time-blocks seems to be the answer. These are periods of time where you focus entirely on the project you have chosen. We don't work in a vacuum, so yes, distractions will happen. A client, colleague or your boss may come up to you right when you achieve your Zen Buddhist state of concentration and insist that you handle something completely separate. And yes, sometimes emergencies will come up. That being said, do what you can to minimize non-vital distractions. Perhaps close out Outlook, or at least turn off the volume so that you don't hear the alerts as each new e-mail comes in. What your time blocks are made up of, and how long you devote to each is dependent on your particular job, goals and the amount of time you are able to concentrate on one task. If your job is heavily dependent on e-mail, you may want to schedule that first. Other time blocks can be for work on an upcoming presentation, business trip, or inter-staff meeting. Take short breaks in between each block if time is available. A walk around the block, or just getting up to get water can suffice. Do your best to focus entirely on that one goal for the time period to the exclusion of all else.

We should endeavor to feel better on a task done well than the number of "to-do's" checked off your list at the end of the day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Dangers of a Safety-First Mentality

In sports, the "Safety-First" mindset is often characterized by players known to play NOT to lose, rather than playing to win. This occurs when the pressure, fear and anxiety of all the conflicting feelings and emotions get the better of a person. It has become more desirable for the athlete to focus their efforts on avoiding embarrassment or injury, and they sacrifice the glory or victory that could be obtained by being willing to take risks. Being intimidated by the circumstances that the athlete has found himself in convince him that it is better, smarter and safer to stick to the status quo. The downside is that he finds himself tight, stiff and unable to react or make changes to the different "looks" his opponent shows him.

Combat sports bring this mindset to the forefront. It's one thing to be "safety-first" in basketball, where the pain of losing or being embarrassed, while real and traumatizing, is all that is risked. In boxing, grappling, and other martial arts, the athlete is faced with the very real danger of serious bodily injury. He still has the emotional fears that go along with other sports of being up-staged, humiliated, and made to look bad. There is nothing quite like getting your ass kicked in front of people that care about you.

In boxing, there is a whole sub-species of fighter that is known as a "Gym Warrior," who embodies this mindset perfectly. Often very talented, they are known to get the better of top-flight fighters in the relative safety of a hard sparring session. They work hard, train hard and smart, and can often be the most skilled fighter around. However, once you add an audience and the bright lights over the squared circle, they fall far short of their capabilities. The emotional stress overcomes them, and they lose to inferior fighters.

Success in boxing (and everything else) requires us to take risks at the right time. Some will work, some will not, but they need to be taken to have a chance at winning. Preparing yourself physically is a given. Preparing yourself mentally is the harder part. Experienced athletes develop consistent rituals for the days, minutes and seconds leading right up to competition. Some meditate, some focus on deep breathing, some work to convince themselves that it's "just another day," but they all do something to kill the waiting time. Whatever works for you, don't be a gym warrior. Whether your battles are in the ring, in the cage or in the boardroom, rise to the occasion, thrive on pressure, ignore the desire to avoid risk, and perform at your best.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welcome


Greetings.

Welcome to "This Rugged Life." The focus here is about living a life of adventure, enthusiasm, competency and presence. This will be explored through interviews, analysis and reviews of people, events, and ideas that push the limits of our mind and body.

In today's age, possessing the couth, persistence and discipline to live such a life is much harder, and thus, even more important. Distractions come at us from all angles, and being innocuous, they are the most dangerous kind. So many of these distractions seem innocent, or even helpful. Television, twitter.com, 60 Second Abs, all of these reward the instant gratification, short attention span, low-effort medley that has become our society.

And I am as guilty as most. I have a twitter page. I have a facebook page. I have cable television, and I spend too much wasted time on internet discussion boards. I am being rewarded by a declining ability to focus deeply on one task, and a disturbing tendency to give in to instant gratification over long-term fulfillment.

In fact, I believe that the only two things that might distinguish me from most is that 1) I am at least aware of what is happening to me, and 2) I am determined to stop the bleeding. The goal here is to begin rewarding wisdom, long-term focus, discipline, and other honorable characteristics over the short-term, whatever-is-easiest mentality.

You are welcome to come along.
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