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Midlife Crisis in Canvas: Week 1

Updated on May 22, 2016

Mike as Grumio ... crushing it

Week 1

Day 3

I awoke this morning aching all over. Not quite the same feeling of playing rugby – more the delayed onset muscle soreness and lactic acid hangover from a body that knows it has to recover. I had a reasonably busy day ahead and was aware that it was going to be difficult to fit in a mats session. A short film at AFTRS required my attention, so I was going to spend another day on buses and hopefully catch up with my girlfriend as we attempted to rebuild or poorly tested relationship.

“The body is basically evil and deserves to be punished”.

As part of my training regime I have begun a strength and conditioning program modelled on training techniques that I had stolen from Craig at Holistic Physio Fitness in Mona Vale. Due to the chronic tendonitis and joint damage that I had incurred in my military service I had to abide by a 5 second down - 1 second up extension and contraction of muscle groups. This required more focus , discipline and core strength as the muscle stabilisers get quickly overworked however it almost eliminated chances of injury. It was a harder way to train but I used the counting as a form of meditation and it actually became part of my morning process as mush as the two skim lattes that would shortly follow it

The exercises that I did were:

  • Russian gymnast pull ups (overhand close grip with legs braced 45 degrees to the front)…ridiculously hard but once you start getting reps done the improvement is amazing
  • Swiss ball roll outs (planking with elbows on a swiss ball then rolling them forward and back)…these are ridiculously hard as well : you can see the pattern here
  • Shoulder rows
  • Arm curls
  • Deep squats with weight. Always the hardest mentally…but I immediately notice the impact on my waist line once I hit these, plus BJJ is spent mostly crouching


This work out took approximately 30 minutes and woke me up. I then had a breakfast of four poached eggs and a hamburger pattie. My aim is to establish an adherence to a ketosis diet. This meant that only one day a week I was allowed bread and sugar. I had garlic prawns for lunch and a beef stew planned for dinner. Essentially this diet let me fulfil my boyhood fantasy of eating copious amounts of meat guilt free. As I found out on the toilet later that day, my barely healed scars from surgery would be less than forgiving to this particular diet unless my boyhood nightmare of copious amounts of vegetables complimented it.

Aesthetically for a 40 year old I was in pretty good shape – fitness is a completely different thing though. Due to the rolling that I had done over the last couple of days I underperformed and resolved myself to make a diary of strength and conditioning reps in order to not get complacent. I have decided on days off I am going to work in 30 minutes of skipping but for my first week back I have to listen to my body…if its buggered – let it rest.

Day 4

I woke at 6.30 and immediately began the second day of strength and conditioning. Today was chest and shoulders. It consisted of:

  • Swissball roll outs
  • Hand stand press ups
  • One armed dumbbell military press
  • Push ups with feet on a swiss ball
  • Push ups with hands near hips
  • Calf raises with weight

I had a visit with my son today, Benjamin. The fall out of the battle of access to see my child has meant that my time is limited to once a week whilst lawyers manoeuvre to get parity and allow for common sense to prevail. The fight has been going on since he was 8 months old. He is now 3. Seeing him is my highlight of the week. It is also bittersweet as I am very aware as the visit comes to a close that I won’t see him for another 7 days. Thankfully I was able to get the supervisor to meet me at Fox studios where there is so much more for me and him to do together.

Ben kicked off our visit by throwing himself head first down a slide and putting his tooth into his lip. Blood went everywhere and I nervously tried to calm him. I looked for a more padded environment. The aptly named “Monkey Mania” was 50 metres away. After bribing him with an ice block that served the dual purpose of distracting him and stifling the swelling of his lip I beckoned my Mother who was also in attendance and carried him inside. We walked into the place to be confronted by a three story jungle gym with tunnels , slides, nets and jumping castle like areas. My work out in the morning had been pushed to failure to shock my system. Little did I know that the real session had just begun.

Everything in “Monkey Mania” is built to accommodate children. The place was empty and my son forgot about his grievances with the lip and took off like Bambi on Bendrazine with me in a scrambling crouched pursuit. An hour and a half later I was lathered in sweat trying to catch Ben as he ambitiously climbed the wrong way up the largest tunnel slide in the place. “Daddy C’mon!” he ordered me with a stern countenance that I recognised from my shaving days. He plodded upwards and I clawed my way after him my shoulders shaking with the load bearing. Ben lost his footing, came crashing into me and in a “live play” version of Snakes and Ladders we crashed and tumbled two stories down. Over the speaker they announced Monkey Mania was closed. I breathed a sigh of despair and prepared myself for the painful goodbye. I hugged and kissed my son and for walked away with my mother to the train station. I was gutted. My sunglasses were immediately inserted to conceal my glassy eyes. Mum asked me what was in the bag I was carrying. “My Gi” I replied.

I had an impromptu meeting with Justin Poppleton. Justin had been my mentor since I was 16. He was now more akin to a brother. We laughed about how Justin was getting very senior executive jobs being thrown at him in his new consulting role. Out of all the people I met and dealt with in business – Justin was the one with the best combination of competence, integrity , intelligence and values. He was one of the nicest guys I knew. At times this proved to his detriment but he never compromised who he was. After a difficult 12 months I remarked how well things had resolved themselves. I always believed in him to go and kick ass as a consultant – he was simply just too good not to. Justin is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and was intrigued as to the nature of my experiment. As usual he told me not to give up, stay the course, maintain my focus and concentrate on the good things. All sound advice that I knew deep down – but when a man of accomplishment reaffirms your journey it makes it easier to step back into the fray and then bussed it out to Mona Vale BJJ Gym on the L90. As I arrived I had a conversation with the girl I had been seeing about her not being ready to move forward in a relationship. She was confused about what she wanted. I was still back in Monkey Mania. I walked onto the mats numb and hoping that my predictions of salvation through this experiment would come to fruition.

There was only two of us, although Marucio’s wife was there to open up and a brown belt I had seen at training a few times was running a class with me and one other guy. He focused on flexibility to begin with in a drill that would have really served me well that morning. My core locked up on numerous occasions due to the hours spent hunched over in hot pursuit of Ben. A new drill was taught to me of passing guard through the middle. It was followed up with how to escape if tied up by the opposition in half guard and how to execute the always elusive Heziekial choke. The Hezekial was a simple grabbing the Gi cuff and doing a scissor motion to cut off blood supply to the neck. I had it performed on me many times but never really got the hang of it. Once again whilst cross facing my instructor and leaning in to apply it I realised the numbness and the cloud had lifted. I was simply trying to learn a choke. Mindfulness eat your heart out.

It was a light session that finished with a roll with the brown belt. During the roll I practised my escape from the rear naked choke. I used a lot more strength in the roll than I should of because I was trying to expend the anger built up from the day and exhaust myself before my walk home. My sparring partner patted me on the shoulder at the end. He told me to work on my flexibility. I told him I was 40. He also complimented me on my strength…

If only he knew.

Day 5

I got out of bed stiffer than a 13 year old with a Hustler. I actually had to have a hot shower before I trained to help my back warm up… the lower lumbar feels like its pregnant and my leaden forearms had me using two hands to brush my teeth. I did my strength and conditioning and became very aware of the lactic acid immediately. Oh well – first week is the hardest.

I was scheduled for a roll with David at his gym the Dojo in Bondi Junction. The dramas that seemed to incessantly plague my life had been on my mind and I was now very aware that my training was the main respite. In almost a Pavlovian response to the expectation of serene calm – I was beginning to salivate at the prospect of training. The best part about mixing up who I was training with was the constant variation of instruction and the different techniques I was learning. This was not my first attempt to take on BJJ but due to the solid commitment I was very aware of the steps in the journey – no doubt augmented by the writing of this journal.

The great thing about rolling with a black belt is that you learn so much. The bad thing is you are constantly reminded of how little you know. I have close to 20 kgs on Dave but it counts for nothing. Dave will always find a way to tie me up just when I think I may have got an advantage. In this particular session he proceeded to rough me up in the first roll. Generally, this is a bit of a tradition between us. I come in cocky and full of piss and vinegar. Dave spends however long he needs to tire me out and fend off any attempted submissions. He then takes a break, tells me to relax, talks about my progress and then gets to the business of actually teaching me.

It had been a while since I had “flowed” properly in my rolling. You would think that it would be easier to coast in BJJ but in a weird way, like most combat sports , it is the learning to relax and pace yourself that is the first lesson. Your clarity of thought is unhindered and you remain prepared to use your energy in efficient bursts whilst adapting to the situation as it unfolds. Hard to do when you can’t breath. The discipline of dropping the beserker rage and channelling your aggression is a skill within itself and is generally the deciding factor on whether you can roll for five minutes or 30.

The other adage I had let slip was four of Dave’s maxims:

  1. Keep your enemies close and your elbows closer – loose limbs sink ships
  2. Always stay on top – something I forget when going for submissions
  3. If it ain’t there don’t force it – the BJJ equivalent of white line fever
  4. Flow – relax (JUST F$(@&ING RELAX OK!!)


All of these are more or less guidelines when rolling. When rolling with someone with the experience Dave or Marucio. Rolling with a Black Belt feels like doing magic tricks with a tiger. You put on a great show until something pisses the tiger off and then Siegfried gets towled. I am wary of Dave depending on what time of day it is, who is watching and what mood he is in - particularly if it looks like he is feeling pugnacious (he is a professional fighter after all … I mean its not like he is a monk – even of he looks a bit like one).

This was a good roll. I learnt a lot, was breathing hard and particularly got a lot of practise working from the back and defending the rear naked choke. I figured out how to apply the body triangle correctly and how to slide out when stuck in an opponents half guard. I left Dave with the intention to roll the following day and walked up the road to visit with Igor Breakenback.

Igor is the owner of IGOR MMA in Bondi Junction, martial artist, businessmen, stuntman and film producer. I was involved in a film recently where I accidentally broke 3 ribs of a friend of mine in a stunt gone wrong – I had contacted Igor – whose gym I had trained at years ago. We had run into each other at an audition and I realised he was the guy that was perfect to be cast in some projects I had been working on. We struck up an immediate rapport and all in all it was a great meeting. I think there are various projects we would be compatible on. Fascinating guy – owned cafes, had his own production company, produced films, acted in films, wrote scripts and had a gym. Measured success in areas he was clearly passionate about. Respect … there is something this bloke understands better than me.

Day 6

Jesus I am sore.

Tony Vandenhurk my residential martial arts expert warned me I might over do it this week. Tony had left a whole bunch of books about martial arts out the front of my door. He has been key in me getting this journey off the ground. His expertise (he fought professionally and is a multiple black belt, ex navy and ex cop) . He is one of the people whio believes in me. Sometimes its those kind words that change lives.

I am going to have to eat well, drink plenty of water and stretch. Today will be my day off. I’m off to watch one of my best mates in a play tonight. The Sport For Jove theatre company is doing there interpretation of Taming of the Shrew at the Seymour Centre. Mike is playing the comic relief, Grumio. I have seen him in this role 4 years ago it was amazing to see him ply his trade in a major venue. He was this time around better than I remembered.

I reflected in the fact as Mike belted out a sea shanty on stage (that was different – he was never known as a singer) that he has always been an inspiration to me. He remained loyal to his passions and kept his integrity by working on his acting and physical comedy…. And singing apparently. What I watched on stage was 10 years and 10000 hours in training to produce a memorable performance. As I spoke to people afterwards waiting to congratulate him on his efforts I was quietly eavesdropped on numerous people who singled him out. It reminded me of the journey to excellence, the sacrifices Mike has made for his craft and that he has never given up … because he loves what he does and refuses to compromise. Stormy seas a strong sailor makes and Mike had spent a better part of twenty years sailing in Bass Straight. As I waited patiently at the docks he walked in with a smile. He was happy.

Half his luck…

Day 7

Forearms hurt like hell and back is killing me.

I stretched again. Lots of water. Swiss ball rollouts and deep squats. Leave the arms alone today. I reflected on what I have achieved this week and began to plan the next week. I have a training session with Dave on Monday and will roll at Gracie in Mona Vale tomorrow night. As it will be a tough day physically tomorrow I have to listen to my body today. I’m very aware that my chronic tendonitis in my forearms will quickly become a problem if not correctly managed.

I am in a constant battle with my own over commitment. Hopefully discretion will prove to be the better part of valour (that must be a Shakespeare hangover from last night)… and stave off the tennis elbow.

I met with a director discuss the character I was playing in the film “Vessles” that he had written. Tim had just returned from a writing masterclass where he learnt, asked questions and networked with the tenacity of a pit bull if pit bulls could talk and produce films. Tim is perpetual motion. He is a musician by trade who has extended his passions and expertise to film making. Tim is a virtual almanac of knowledge on film and how to write, shoot, edit and score it. He literally is as relentless as the double base rock beats that he effortlessly produces on his drum kit. It was a timely reminded on a day where my body felt as useful as seven diggers on the piss that a quest for knowledge is never over and to get better.

They say you begin to reflect the character of the people that you spend most of your time with. I think if I repeated the company of those of this past week : Tony, Justin, Marucio, Dave, Megan, Igor, Mike and Tim …. I would be hard pressed to find fault in the character traits they would enforce in me., Although I had not been consciously doing this , it certainly seems to have been a timely change in my tactics to live my life.

The character discussed had to be a lonely yet focused ex soldier that misses his son.

Yep… I’m not making this up.

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