Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Progress the Self, Until...

Bobby Czyz, Champion
I continued training at Arcaro Boxing straight through the Fall of 2016. I timed most of my sessions for open gym hours, focusing on doing as much of the typical boxing workout elements as I could accomplish on my own. I attended a local Police Athletic League amateur boxing show in which four or five of Trish's fighters showed well and made my goal to be the oldest of her competitors. To make that goal happen I needed to get the bodyweight within a simple water-cut of cruiserweight (190 to 200 pounds). That made sense as one of my favorite all-time boxers, Bobby Czyz, fought a substantial portion of his professional career at Cruiser.

I was still pretty heavy when I shot the edit included in the previous essay, but my rope work continued to improve and my weekly round-count increased throughout the Fall. I was sure I was ready to start taking sparring classes and to make sure, I started attended a couple of Trish's classes every week. Class work, while regularly focused on conditioning modalities, also introduce the Arcaro training population to facing a class mate for defensive and mitt work, both essential steps for sparring aspirants. And those classes can really groundtruth one's conditioning because, as they say, the heavybag never hits back but an opponent does.

The plan was working great entering December 2016. Walking around at 204, I started harboring fantasies of competing at light heavyweight (166 to 178 pounds); just as I had hoped when training with Irish Spud Murphy in San Diego so many years ago. Then the unthinkable, er, or rather, the totally expectable occurred. After a so-so session by myself in gym in late December, I decided not to overdo it and packed it in for the day. I was planning on bringing home chicken and waffles from Nate's Chicken and Waffles, ultra-conveniently located just a few doors down from Arcaro Boxing. But at some point, stepping out of the door and locking the gym behind me, my right knee went tender and I knew right away I had torn my meniscus.

For all intents and purposes I am on account with my orthopedic surgeon as the guy's been in both of my knees four times now. The most recent was to fully replace my left knee a few years before, and before that to reconstruct the ACL (1997) in my now newly-aching right knee. Now I needed to see what was going on in my previously-dubbed "good knee." After one meeting to take some film we scheduled surgery for mid-January. Surgery was an amazingly simple, outpatient process. But the news as I came out of anesthesia was, "please stop jumping rope." One surgeon's opinion was that between the pivoting, foot work, and jumping rope, I had chewed-up a good bit of my medial meniscus and it needed to be debrided down to a point where the knee would be less troublesome but far less stable than before.

That latter aspect drove my decision to give up boxing and boxing training in January 2017. While the weight loss from the training was awesome and no doubt beneficial, I also lost enough leg strength that the soft tissues in the knee could not keep up with stability demands of the work, at the age of 54. And while I frequently confront a strong desire to get back in front of a heavybag, I have not. In fact, I spent most of Spring 2017 focused on my son's Freshman year of college baseball, and not on my health. Oh I still went to the health club on a regular basis, but did not engage in any sort of purposeful training, under the barbell or otherwise. But if you've learned anything from the past couple of essays, that wouldn't remain the case for the entire year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Arcaro Boxing and Me

As I mentioned in a previous essay, I have always loved boxing as a spectator and participant. I boxed Boys Club as a well-under-50 pound 3rd grader in New Britain, Connecticut. A few years later, I exchanged skin with a neighborhood bully who later went to prison on a felony battery/attempted murder beef. Thereafter and for several years, I managed to preserve my ass, avoiding the scrapping life save a for a few tense moments here and there. It wasn't until I moved to San Diego for graduate school that I turned my interest in the then resurgent pro-boxing scene (thanks to Mike Tyson and Marvin Hagler, among others) into a fitness pastime and joined Irish Spuds Murphy's Gym in downtown San Diego.

As I also mentioned in the previous blog, the professional boxing gym in the mid 1980's was anything but a mainstream fitness outlet. Murphy's joint, like most gyms, was dark, dirty, beaten-in, and uninviting. However, as professional boxing grew in the 1980s, the boxer-styled training gained traction as a way for workaday folks to get fit and meet other personal challenges. The market rose to meet the interest in "white collar" boxing, "boxercising," and other versions of the same. In addition to pro-gyms opening their culture to a different type of trainee, new gyms sprung up specifically catering to boxing fitness, teaching, training, and classes.

For me now, a self-styled "gnarly old guy," the best of these new gyms present as authentic boxing gyms offering both competition training and fitness classes. Arcaro Boxing fits this category perfectly and because of the eponymous Coach, is an exceptional place to train.

Coach Tricia Arcaro and I share a background and network of friends in rugby. As a rugby player. Trish competed at the highest level, garnering five "caps" or starts for the USA Eagles in the highest level of international competition.

After rugby, Trish boxed in the amateur ranks between 2002 and 2005. She went pro in 2005, accumulating an 8-4 record before taking off the gloves and opening Arcaro Boxing in 2013. She's as serious and invested as they come, working a stable of amateur fighters, constantly studying video, and now immersing herself in the study of movement and performance development. At the same time, she's an utterly beautiful human being having created a fight gym with a culture of inclusion and support.

I looked at other gyms in Seattle while I was really looking for Arcaro Boxing the whole time. They are all good places to train. But they didn't have Trish. And while the space can fill, Trish, like any good boxing coach, understands the angles and the classes work perfectly. And most importantly to me, the gym has ample open gym time for the self-trained athletes and Gnarly Old Guys alike. So after hearing from my doc that my blood chemistry was a mess and I needed to lose some weight and focus on conditioning, I started training at Arcaro Boxing in July 2016.

Progress was difficult. I had hit my PR powerlifts in May at a ginormous 236 pounds. I was big for me when I played rugby at 228. 236 changed how I moved, slept, and ached. So getting back into rhythm on a jump rope, getting my feet moving, and opening my hips was a tortuous chore. I worked the modalities, added mobility work, rolled my body like raw pie crust, and visited the Russian spa as frequently as I could afford.

By late summer I began to get a little movement back, and set about the process of dropping weight. My round-count was growing and I was so enthusiastic about the experience, I made a motivational edit which I posted on YouTube. You'll love it I'm sure.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Restarting the Blog--I am not a mellow man, Part 2

In June of 2016, just after setting some personal bests in two of the four powerlifts, and following four serious years of structured programming and requisite training nutrition, I visited my physician and got just terrible news. Despite the effort in the gym, including some grueling conditioning work that I thought could account for the enormous number of calories I consumed to support my powerlifting gains, my blood chemistry was really screwed up. My doc, uncharacteristically, called me at home the evening my labs came in and my blood lipids were extremely out of balance indicating an extreme health risk. Doc literally (I expect that's a correct usage of a word that is mangled all the time) told me that I needed to change my diet that night. Not next month, next week, or even tomorrow; I needed to change my diet at my next meal.

In response, and because I am a GREAT medical patient, my wife teamed with me and we tackled a month of the Whole 30 elimination diet. The diet in not complicated.  Whole 30 purports to eliminate most foods from groups that have been linked with inflammation and blood sugar/insulin resistant syndromes. These includes sugars and certain grain-sourced starches, eliminated for 30 days.  Many find these changes very difficult to tolerate, especially in the first week of the program. Neither Angela nor I did; we struggled instead with sheer eating boredom in the last two weeks as we both anticipated adding back sushi, pasta, and wine to see how we would newly tolerate those things. Neither of us cheated once and I lost a substantial amount of bodyweight.

Already moving better after a month of eliminating sugar, grains, and other inflammatory foods and beverages, Angela suggested I investigate an activity that I started while in law school in San Diego in 1986: boxing in a pro gym. Of course, in 1986 the pro-boxing gym was a largely unexplored space for fitness-focused amateurs with little or no aspiration to competition. Peter Depasquale wouldn't publish The Boxer's Workout until 1990 (aimed at the so-called "white-collar boxer"), so if a civilian wanted to box, it was either hang a heavy bag in the basement, or show up a local pro-gym and work one's way into the population of amateur and professional competitive athletes. And that's just what I did after meeting Irish Billy Murphy, head trainer at Irish Spud's Murphy's Boxing Gym, and father of the namesake, Spud. Spud was a just little older than me and I trained with both men until Spud's tragic death in 1988.

Irish Billy Murphy continued to train me into the early 1990's, even allowing me to spar with a variety of professionals including world-ranked light heavyweight, Ramzi Hassan. These sessions were about far more than merely being the lone white color guy in the guy staying in shape. I learned more about seeing through sweat and pain and about the intelligence and vision of these exceptional athletes. The experience peaked as I watched local San Diego super welterweight hero 'Terrible' Terry Norris prepare at "our" gym for the fight that ended Sugar Ray Leonard's professional career. After passing the bar, Billy told me he would not help me get my amateur card, probably owing to the way he processed his son's death. While I desperately wanted to compete, and was a strong amateur candidate even at 28 years old, I now appreciate his foresight. And by 1993, we had moved to Seattle to start our current life chapter.

Since those halcyon days, boxing exploded in our physical culture and a wave of gyms opened across the country that could train both elite competitors and fitness devotees, side by side, changing the culture of boxing in a positive way.  At Angela's insistence that I revisit my fascination with boxing as a healthier pursuit (at least dietarily, haha), I found Arcaro Boxing, near Seattle University on Jefferson Street on Capitol Hill.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Many Essays on Restarting this Blog: Part One--I am not a Mellow Man

I started writing a blog when it became fashionable to write a blog. Amateur writers the world over were leveraging blogging platforms from Wordpress and BlogSpot that made it easy to self publish essays nobody or everybody could read.  I had an interesting core theme focused on being a middle-aged surfer in Washington State, living in Seattle, raising a young son with my wife. We built a beach house on the Washington, achieving a lifetime dream, and I blogged every step of it. As the dream emerged to the morning reality of two mortgages, tuitions, car repair bills, and the general costs of middle-class life forced us to put the house on the rental market to help with the budget.

One night, in the midst of an evening of bourbon-fueled dismay, I obliterated that four-year piece of work. While the bourbon-fueled part is not a usual element of my way of working through problems, the dismay has been for years. My passion, its peaks and valleys both, has cost me. Some friendships, the bonds of which were probably never meant for the long haul anyways. Some prestige at work as I have needed to reach my mid-50's to recognize the value of tolerating approaches to problem solving for which I previously had no patience. Most importantly, my moodiness put me in debt to my sweet, smart girl for understanding and working with it. As a result of her clear-headedness and practicality, and my resolve, we always end up on our feet.

Despite such support, I blew up four years of gentle, introspective writing for reasons I can barely fathom now, eight years later. So almost immediately I started Plain Old Dad, in an effort to refocus my thinking on fatherhood and my physical health and fitness. Some really great essays here, but mostly filler posts to keep track of a song I liked, or a quick video of me participating in one or more of my myriad tours through my fascination with Physical Culture. After retiring from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a 10-year white belt to have total knee replacement, I thought I had gained some essay-writing and even video-blogging momentum as I decided to pursue lifetime powerlifting personal bests as I recovered from my knee surgery.

Powerlifting for me has always been an adjunct to training for another sport, especially rugby, where for some dumbass reason I was attracted to playing Prop, a position dominated by men (and women) who tend to be much larger than myself. But I have always been ironminded and have always enjoyed the thoughtful, structured way in which powerlifters trudge through their progressions in pursuit of sometimes disappointingly incremental gains.  To me, powerlifting was a far more internal, even introverted pursuit.  But the dietary demands of the sport changed my health for the worse.

No longer able to "eat to recover, eat to break plateaus, eat to gain," I hit lifetime personal bests at 455 deadlift and 445 squat. My best bench press ever at 320 happened years ago while still playing rugby, and I barely trained it this time around topping at 285 later the same week as the these two lifts. Similarly, my best overhead press happened four years ago at 210 and I barely touched 200 this time around. While I remain immensely proud of the discipline I engaged to get there, I veritably walked out the gym at the end of my peak week, into a Russian sauna to recover, and quit lifting cold.

After my four year foray into serious powerlifting training left me 30 pound overweight (by my standards; I was 65 pounds overweight by the U.S. Government's ridiculous BMI standards), I needed a change. Still feeling vigorous and healthy, my sweet wife reminded me of the fun I had boxing my way through law school and into my first job as an associate attorney in San Diego in the early 1990's. I've been a devotee of fight sports, especially boxing, since my youth when I was regularly taking beatings from the neighborhood polacks on my way to and from school. A discussion that day with Ms. Tres_Arboles lead to a day of driving from gym to gym in the greater Seattle area. And then to my (re)introduction to Tricia Arcaro and a new pursuit at Arcaro Boxing. Where I previously sought to get as strong as I could by 53, I now wanted to make Light Heavyweight by 55.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Never Be Average Pt 1

I have one phobia. Fear of being average. Or is it fear of being ordinary? Or maybe it is just a fear of being normal? I don't know. But here's a look at how one gnarly old guy strives for exceptionalism. Join me and it's a movement. Never be an average guy.

Fifth Single

Five Singles at 405, on 30 seconds rest. Except this one which I decided to video.