Archive for the ‘Older’ Category

Let’s Talk Equipment

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Equipment, Older

This post is all about the stuff that will keep your injuries to a minimum.  I’ve seen and talked with people who show up to class without owning/wearing some key equipment and see their reactions when they are injured in class.  Baffled, moaning in pain, and — at that moment — utterly convinced that they need to make an investment in some more gear.

I am pretty sure there would be a fair amount of debate over what gear is essential vs. optional so I’m not going to go there.  This post is about what I use and some of my rationale as to why it matters to me.

The Cup
If you are a female reading this post you can safely proceed to the next item in the list (unless you have a male partner in training who hasn’t yet “seen the light” on this piece of equipment — believe me they will once they get clocked in the nuts once).


This, to me, is the most critical of all protective equipment for guys.  I was stupid enough to show up to my first several classes without owning or wearing one, ignorantly believing that it was something you needed to invest in only when you started sparring.  Dumb. Fortunately for me, I never got beaned in that area so I was one of the lucky ones.  I did, however, become aware of this mistake when an instructor told us about the importance of one in class.  I found the time to order one online the moment I got home.  The HELL was I thinking?

Anyhow, as I found out, there are many brands to choose from but startlingly they haven’t changed shape since I wore one as a kid playing football.  Same awkward pyramid shape which gives you the least amount of room where you need it most.  Leave it at that, ladies. I went ahead and ordered the most highly-rated one anyhow (the Shock Doctor Men’s Ultra Supporter with Ultra Carbon Flex Cup) and wore it to my next few classes.  It didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t going to be the most comfortable form of protection I was going to own.  I immediately went searching and eventually found a standout cup that had rethought the whole notion of a cup, the Nutty Buddy.

My Nutty Buddy made a huge, huge difference and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a cup.  Super comfortable and its design allows for you to slip in or remove the cup while you’re wearing the jock strap, making the drive to and from class even more comfortable. You should know that the customer service was non-existent and the order status on the site was completely broken but I got mine in a week in perfect condition and have been liking it a lot since.

Note: you don’t have to buy the compression shorts from Nutty Buddy.  There is nothing unique about theirs and I think you can find cheaper ones elsewhere that are actually machine washable.  Champion is a good brand to seek out for these.

By the way, you can check out my other blog post, Never Without a Cup, for more details and thoughts on cups.

Ankle Supporter Wraps
I was finding that my ankles were turning during sharp turns and could use some more support during some of our bouncing around.  I got my hands on some Muay Thai ankle support wraps (more like heavy elastic socks with the heels cut out really) and have felt a lot more confident in class as a result.  I have big ankles and calves and these tend to really hug me tight but so far my feet haven’t turned purple and the benefit outweighs the slight discomfort so I’m sticking with them.

421R Brace

Knee Brace
Clearly not needed for most people but I have had a history of knee problems starting about 20 some-odd years ago when I dislocated my right knee and subsequently tore my MCL.  I was having a heck of a time with knee pain after class and a trip to my doctor (and an X-Ray later) I found out I have arthritis in the knee.  Anyhow, a good OTC patella knee brace from McDavid (the 421R, Protection Level II for me) really did the trick.  Yes, I can still tweak my knee but this little neoprene wrap does wonders to supply a little stability and keep me aware that danger lurks beneath if I’m not very careful.

MMA gloves

This is somewhat of a “luxury item” and some folks in class wouldn’t bother with them as it detracts from the tough image they are trying so hard to cultivate in class.  Nevertheless, I found that during partner routines when bag holding was needed, these gloves have saved unnecessary injuries to the ol’ hands and made it easier to keep control when I am disgustingly sweaty, which for me is pretty much all the friggin’ time.


Venum Gloves

There are loads of MMA gloves to choose from.  Ultimately you want a pair that fits right for you and everyone’s unique. How do you strike on your hands? Where is the greatest area of impact. Do you like a lot of padding? How hard/soft do you prefer your padding? Do you like open or closed palms? Do you like short of long sleeves on your fingers? These are just some of the things to consider when fitting a pair. I like Venums and Ring to Cage myself.

Spray Bottle
A spray bottle?  Yeah, just a regular old spray bottle filled with water and maybe an ice cube or two if you’re into that.  Works wonders during those super-quick hydration breaks in class.  Just close your eyes and spray your overheated noggin liberally.  You’d be surprised what a refreshing break this can make.  And, hey, in the Summer the dojo can be insanely hot and humid; I need all the help I can get!

Good Gym Bag
I think it’s essential to have a really good gym bag with loads of compartments.  This keeps all your stuff in an easy-to-find location and allows you to get to it quickly.  You should find one with pockets for your keys, wallet, gloves, water bottle…. that kind of thing.  Also, if you can find one with ventilated compartments for wet towels and shirts — even better.  I see so many people show up without gym bags, juggling their stuff as they come and go to class.  Just seems like a real unnecessary hassle to me when a decent gym bag is between $50 and $100.

IMPORTANT: Err on the side of getting a bag too large rather than too small.  You’ll be hauling a lot of equipment to and from class like boxing gloves, chest protectors, shoes, towels, etc. You want to make sure you don’t need to cram things into the bag because you went too small.

I have heard stories from friends and parents of students of ringworm.  Gross.  Despite the name this is actually a super nasty fungus called Dermatophytosis that you can pick up, often in the feet, from a sweaty gym surface — like a mat or shower floor.  It’s pretty easily cured but a really uncomfortable condition to have. Even the cleanest of dojos/gyms can have this danger so I protect myself as much as I can by wearing sandals in the common areas.  I have to take them off, of course, when I enter the training area but when I show up and am walking around prior to and after class I always slip on sandals to keep as safe and protected as I can.

I handle mine carefully when I remove them since it’s safer to assume that there are germs on the sandals.  I wipe them down occasionally with Lysol wipes or spray them with Lysol spray.

Mop-Up Towels
If you are serious about training you will sweat — and sweat a LOT.  I find it’s helpful to have a towel or two handy for a couple of reasons.  One, to clear the sweat from my eyes (stings like a bastard) and two, to mop up the mat where I have been creating a pond of sweat.  Not only courteous but also safe (see Sandals above). To perhaps state the obvious here, these are two completely separate towels!

Hand Sanitizer
One thing you can be sure of in Krav Maga and that is that you will be handling other people’s sweaty bodies during the course of any class.  Whether it’s a clinch, a throw, or choke maneuver, you will be getting their sweat and germs all over you, particularly your hands.  Once class is over you most likely put your shoes back on then head back to your car.  Germs find their way onto your keys, steering wheel, and everything else.  Not to sound like I have OCD or anything but this is how germs spread.  Better safe than sorry (and decrease the gross factor), you can zap these germs with some hand sanitizer, Wet Ones, or even a trip to the rest room for a quick wash before leaving the dojo for the night. I actually think dojos should have those dispensers hanging on the walls but hey, maybe that’s just me…

That’s about it.  I am not a fan of over-equipping myself but I’ve learned that this stuff makes all the difference between a painful workout and a comfortable and SAFE workout. My advice is: don’t skimp on this stuff.  Overall, this is an inexpensive sport as far as equipment goes and you might as well make the investments to keep safe.  I am not yet into sparring though when I am you can bet I’ll be buying a good quality mouth guard.  For now I am on the fence about that as it really isn’t warranted quite yet.

Last note: keep this stuff CLEAN.  Don’t cheat and wear equipment for weeks if it should be washed (i.e., jock straps, braces, wraps, etc.).  You won’t be doing anyone any favors if you are wearing these Petri dishes to class and getting germs all over you and the dojo (again, see the note about ringworm in Sandals).

This week’s lesson came to me courtesy of trying to be a nice guy.  Oh, this sounds like an enticing lead, doesn’t it?  Well, before your imagination runs too far afoot let me stop you right there.  Nothing really intriguing led me to this; rather, it was simply taking turns pad-holding and driving knees with a partner.

My partner was a young guy I’ve struck up a dojo friendship with over the past month or so.  He’s a good guy but probably weighs half as much as me and is a good foot shorter. Pairing up for the exercise he expressed concern that I’d knock him through the back wall with my knee strikes as he held the pad but I assured him all would work out.

I was up first with my knee drives and my partner held the tombstone pad, expecting the worst.  I drove a couple home and heard some grunts, leading me to tone down the power a tad. A minute or so later we changed sides and he was up. He drove knees into the pads relentlessly. Good power and focus; I was impressed. I was also getting quite a rib workout too, to my chagrin. My feelings weren’t hurt but it was then that I realized — as nothing stood between me and some high-powered knees but a vinyl covered firm foam pad, looking downward as drops of my perspiration were shaken to mat from my damp hair with each successive and violent impact — that there is no mercy in training.

What I learned is that we’re here to train and these exercises are as much for the pad holders benefit as the student performing the technique.  I have to remember to put my all into it because, in most cases, I’m going to get whatever I’m giving when it comes my turn.

Sure you can’t take this to the extreme. There are some notable size differences between students for sure and putting someone on the Pain Train isn’t what I’m talking about here. In fact, one burly student took it upon himself to go full force with a much smaller female student and ended up sending her to her doctor with bruised ribs. What I am talking about, in general, is that there is no more holding back like that in training when it comes to intensity, no more punches being pulled.  This isn’t ballet and we aren’t knitting hats; we’re learning self-defense and the gloves are off.

In addition to providing classes in Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Jui Jitsu, the school where I train also offers MMA as well.  In fact, there’s a whole other part of the building that is being built out — full-sized ring and all — to accommodate MMA matches.  Kinda cool. Upon hearing of this I, like many other students at school, pictured myself in the ring clobbering and getting clobbered like some Bas Rutten wannabe.  What must that be like? Sounds exciting and, of course dangerous and risky.  Is that something for me?

Former boxer Frank Corti at 71 who beat the snot out of a hoodlum who pulled a knife on him. Image courtesy of Sports Rubbish

This past week, several weeks after first learning about the soon-to-exist MMA ring I was talking with a newer male student to the school.  Big beefy looking character with a strong build and a granite chin. In talking about the school and his experience it came up that he used to fight MMA.  Naturally this led to the school’s plan to build the MMA ring and whether that was something he was considering pursuing.  Though we didn’t compare birth certificates I’d say he was approximately my age. This fact became relevant when he claimed that he wasn’t stepping into any ring at his age and that those days were behind him.

This got me thinking. How old is too old to get in a ring?  Not just MMA but also BJJ competition, boxing, Muay Thai matches — whatever. When are you past your prime and simply asking for a debilitating injury by stepping between the ropes into the ring?

Martial arts has a long history of old masters.  We’ve seen this not only in the movies and history books but also in real-life. You’ve no doubt been to demos and seen wizened old practitioners beat younger students to a pulp. I recall being in a demo in Boston as a teen and seeing an Aikido expert, probably in his 70’s, toss his young strong students around like hay-stuffed scarecrows.  Many lead instructors and grandmasters are also pushing the limit, many in their 60’s, 70’s, and even 80’s.  If they can do it in the dojo, is it reasonable to expect similar results in the squared circle?

Having thought about this I would have to admit, from my own perspective, that it’s not altogether likely that the MMA ring is any place for most people over, say, 25 or 30.  Sure there are people who can take it further than that.  Hell, the aforementioned Bas Rutten made a great comeback at 41, didn’t he?

But these, I’m sure you’d admit, are the exceptions to the rule.  The born fighters who are world class athletes and are born for this kind of thing. For normal joes like me — and probably you — I think jumping into the ring will be tempting fate. I think it’s best to focus on the training at hand and train as hard as possible. It’s within this environment that people regardless of age can succeed if they stick with it. Yes, it can be brutal and punishing in its own right. You can still take on some heavy damage and injury but this probably pales in comparison to the kinds of injuries one could sustain in an MMA match going toe to toe with someone half your age.

I don’t care who you are, it’s never easy being at the bottom of the pecking order.  It can be at work, at school, or at the local book group.  Being the “new guy”, the most junior, the least skilled of the group is never an easy thing.  This is even more evident in a physical, adrenaline-fueled activity such as martial arts.

Day One is tough for so many reasons. You’re nervous, anxious, often confused, out of shape, and completely surrounded by people who know more than you.  This is particularly difficult if you are middle-aged, successful at work, and have a family. Why? Well, you are used to calling the shots in many areas of your life and making rules that are followed. People look up to you and follow your leadership, learn from your experience. This is true at home as well as at the job. A life of hard work, perseverance, and dedication pays off with rewards of seniority and authority.

When joining a new martial arts school as a White Belt, none of this truly matters. You are in a class of people younger and older than you who have more experience and you, for all intents and purposes, know nothing yet. Every move is new, every exercise is a trial, and you spend a fair amount of time trying to stay humble and learn to fit in.  Sir, ma’am, Sensei, Master, bow, etc.  It can be overwhelming.

It’s all good.  In its own way, after all, the school environment mimics the real world in that respect.  Life has many cycles where you start as the Freshman and move up to the Senior, the Big Cheese, the BMOC.  Martial Arts schools are no different.  You start at the bottom and learn all you can, enduring the mild arrogance that can emanate some from folks with higher belts.  You put up with being in the Second Fiddle class in my school’s case (we have a Basic Class for White through Orange and an Advanced Class for Purple through Black), meaning your class might start late if the higher belts’ class is not done doing what they need to do, you step aside respectfully as they all exit the dojo, and you get used to not having a hand extended to you quite as often as you would from your Basic team mates.  To be sure, this kind of hierarchy can creep into a Basic class as well, with slightly more expererienced students (say, 3 – 6 months in) walking a little more puffed out than someone starting their very first class and nearly pissing their pants.  There are also the inevitable students who’ve watched too many action films and fancy themselves the next Bruce Lee, looking all dour and serious.  It’s their time to feel confident and at the top of the pack — and to enjoy it while it lasts because in a few short months they’re back at the bottom once again as they move into the Advanced class and are the shoeshine boy all over again. (more…)