Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Keeping Fit at a Certain Age

I am 56 years old, and have two small children and a sedentary lifestyle. This is not the perfect formula for fitness.

In my youth I had one of those metabolisms that never stored fat. I was the same weight (about 140 pounds at 6 feet tall) from high school into my thirties. I really wanted to gain a few pounds and finally got up to a bit over 150 by going to the Rocky Mountains and living out of a tent for a while, eating heartily and exercising.

Then I moved to Bulgaria...

In Bulgaria at the time, there was a 10% inflation per day. There was little bread to be found (the wheat crop had been sold by the government for foreign currency), food was expensive - and I was living on a local salary. It came to about $40 per month, and they wanted $25 American for the room I rented.

Of course, I lived on my savings until they ran out, and in the meantime I lost a lot of weight. A Polish girl who came to visit me exclaimed, "You look like you just got out of Oswieciem!" (Auschwitz in Polish.)

I moved to Serbia after that and started eating better. While doing yoga spinal twists, I noticed that a spare tire was starting to develop around my middle.

Then I moved back to the States and stayed with my parents while waiting for the paperwork to go through for a job in Saudi Arabia. Eating my mother's cooking, I... perhaps "ballooned" is the word I'm looking for.

I was mortified. Getting fat had been the Fourth Dimension to me - something I knew about theoretically, but really couldn't imagine. Obviously my apostat, which had been in equilibrium all my life, was knocked out of whack. I think I hit 250 at one time.

Living in Saudi actually helped. Middle Eastern food is healthy and delicious, and the climate encourages one to eat light. And since there was very little to divert the attention, forcing oneself to exercise was easy. (It probably didn't hurt that the bootleg beer was godawful either.)

After that I returned to Poland and kept the weight down with exercise and eating well. I never diet, in the sense of counting calories. Eating healthy and staying active is all I've ever had to do - so far.

Now my weight has stabilized at 200. That's not bad for an active guy of six feet, but counts as a tad overweight, and I've got a beer gut I don't like at all.

I want to be around to see my kids grow up, and hale enough to enjoy any grandchildren that I might have, so I must do what everyone should do. (Though if junior is as retarded as his old man in that respect, I'll be 100 when I see my first.)

I take inspiration from the fact that Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje (see Pekiti Tirsia) is in his 60s, Chuck Norris is pushing 70, and Danny Inosanto is already past it.

However, those guys are professional martial artists, they do it every day. I don't, I do it in my spare time. And sometimes there isn't a lot of that. In addition, there isn't a lot of spare room in the house and during winter I can't go outside to exercise. Going to a gym? Fuhgeddaboudit! Two small kids remember?

So, given that I need to do exercises that don't require a lot of space or equipment, I've evolved a routine that meets my needs during the winter.

For equipment I use: Indian clubs, two fist-sized lengths of bar stock, one 15-pound dumbell, an 8-pound sledgehammer, a 12-pound medicine ball and a 35 pound (one pood) Russian kettlebell.

I start with simple Chinese Chi-gung exercises to warm up and get me in the mood if I'm feeling sluggish: a face rub, arm swinging, head tapping, and light beating on the lower back and long muscles of the leg while bent over in a wide stance.

Next, punching with the bar stock fist loads: classical chambered Kung Fu punches in a low horse stance, straight punching from a medium horse, Wing Chun chain punches from a high horse, hooks, uppercuts etc.

Procede to medicine ball lifts, side stretches, leg lifts etc. Follow with a set of dumbell curls and graduate to kettlebell lifts. Kettlebell lifts are OK if the kids are in the room, but if I want to do a set of swings I have to shoo them out, so all I'll destroy is the TV if I lose control and it flies.

I do an exercise with the sledgehammer I found on an old documentary about Sir Edmund Hillary's trip by motorboat up the Ganges. It's from the traditional Indian physical culture. You grip the sledge with two hands, much like a samurai sword, with the lower hand near the corresponding hip, shaft slanted across the body and the head above the opposite shoulder. Swing around the back to the other side until the hand positions are reversed.

I include Indian club swinging - carefully, because the ceiling is rather low, and about a hundred-plus knuckle pushups interspersed in sets of ten between the other exercises. Follow with situps. I combine the situps with punching with the fist loads or medicine ball thrusts.

All this time I drink LOTS of water. End with yoga stretching (I'm hoping to regain some of the flexibility I used to have.) I try to do this at least three times a week. A session takes a little over an hour, or I can do an abbreviated one in 45 minutes.

Classical forms? The three Wing Chun forms can be done in a confined space - but unlike the Northern Shaolin Long Fist forms, they aren't very strenuous. If the weather is good I go outside and do a 5-minute Tai Chi form for warmers. (Some Tai Chi people say you shouldn't mix it with strenuous exercise. Sorry.) Some of the short Pentjak Silat jurus can be mixed in when you don't have much space.

During the summer I can do all this outside and get a bit adventurous with the kettlebell and Indian club swinging. I can also add suburito, classical Japanese sword cutting exercise done with a long heavyweight wooden sword, and Filipino Kali exercise with a heavier than normal stick.

And whatever the weather, long walks are just the thing. If it's cold - dress for it.

I've made an Indian club video (look for it yourself, I don't get any money for it) and I'm going to get around to doing a longer, more comprehensive one someday. Sometimes I think about doing a fitness camp for people in my situation.

Hey, I'm not an exercise guru - but then neither are you.

Final tip: don't let your kids distract you. Remember, you're setting a good example. And don't be afraid to say, "I can't now, I'll be finished in a half-hour."

PS Yes, I take vitamin supplements. With the proviso that I am utterly unqualified to speak to the question of whether, and how much good it does, I've noticed that medical opinion has shifted in my lifetime from "absolutely unnecessary" to "take a multivitamin and mineral a day."

I take that, plus a combo of L-acetyl carnatine/alpha lipoic acid, fish oil, vitamin E and reservatrol. Some of that may be useless but heart disease runs in my family so I'm covering the bases.


  • At 1:33 PM, Blogger Jim Sullivan said…

    What long fist forms do you know? Do you have a favorite?

  • At 9:09 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    I know Gung Li Chuan and Lien Bu Chaun, two very basic Long Fist forms, though I haven't practised them in some time.

    I learned them to familiarize myself with the basics of Long Fist and give myself something that was more energetic than the Wing Chun forms - and more flashy to demonstrate.

    Since we've all but decided to move to North Dakota, I may have to renew my acquaintance with them. Wing Chun is an art of crowded cities, boat decks and indoor spaces. It's not really suited for fighting knee-deep in snow...


  • At 5:41 AM, Blogger Jim Sullivan said…

    I am unfamiliar with Gung Li Chuan and Lien Bu Chuan. What school do they come from?

    I have a familiarity with some Choy Lee Fut forms. Siu Sup Gee, Siu Moi Faa mostly. Other than those, I'm in the dark to a lot of the long fist styles.


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