Category Archives: Fitness Philosophy

Back to Basics… And Back to Blogging!

Wow! Have I been neglecting this blog! I haven’t posted anything new in two months. I let the holidays and other projects distract me. Bad blogger! Well, time to make up for lost time.

In coming weeks I plan to ramp up the number and variety of posts on this blog. While I will still be writing on general fitness and training issues, expect to see more posts on diverse topics such as martial arts and self-defense, healthy lifestyles, philosophy, recipes, and more.

And keep in my this blog is for you. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered or any new features you would like to see, let me know.

Training-wise, I’m embarking on a new 4-6 week  regimen. My goal is to increase my overall strength as well as put on a bit of size. I have a small frame and very long limbs, which tends to make me more of an endurance kind of guy. My conditioning is quite good, so I figure I can afford to work on building some muscle. Of course, with my martial arts training, I can’t totally ignore conditioning, but I can safely tone it down a bit for a while.

So what’s my plan of attack? For the next several weeks, I’ll be focusing on the following:

  • Chin-Ups
  • Dips
  • Long Cycle Kettlebell Clean and Jerks (both 1- and 2- handed)
  • Swings

Why these four? For one, they are all extremely effective. Steve Maxwell has written about the impressive results he got from a program of nothing but chins and dips. (They also proved quite effective for Daniel Craig.) Pavel Tsatsouline often refers to the Double KB Clean and Jerk as the ultimate muscle-builder. And kettlebell swings are just an incredible overall exercise.

There’s also the fact I just happen to love all these moves and enjoy doing them. I figure if I really like doing something that’s also really good for me, it’s a win-win situation.

While the four above moves will form the main basis of my training, I will still find time for other activities, such as Hindu push-ups and squats, swimming, sprints, and bag work. Yoga will remain part of my daily routine. It goes without saying my martial arts training will continue.

I look forward to the next few weeks, not only as I tackle a new training regimen, but also because of the new things I plan to discuss on the blog. Stay tuned!

Bruce Lee’s Top 7 Fundamentals for Getting Your Life in Shape

There’s a great post on The Positivity Blog entitled Bruce Lee’s Top 7 Fundamentals for Getting Your Life in Shape.  Here’s the list in a nutshell:

1. What are you really thinking about today?
“As you think, so shall you become.”

2. Simplify.
“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

3. Learn about yourself in interactions.
“To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.”

4. Do not divide.
“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.”

5. Avoid a dependency on validation from others.
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
“Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”

6. Be proactive.
“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

7. Be you.
“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

As a Jeet Kun Do instructor, I of course love this. The above is just a highlight. I highly recommend reading the full post.

Stronger Legs Without a Barbell

Most bodybuilders and strength athletes would thing this is a heretical thing to say, but here it goes: I hate barbell squats. Yes, I know they work a gazillion muscles and build strength and burn fat and so on and so on. I’ve just always hated doing them. It may be partially a bio-mechanical thing, as I’m 6’3″ with about a 36″ inseam. Or I might just not like them.

It’s been years since I’ve seen the inside of a gym, so it’s been years since I’ve been anywhere near a barbell. And surprise… my legs haven’t shrunken to toothpicks. Granted, I’ve always had fairly solid legs, which I owe to a lifelong love a very long hikes and walks. But I’ve found you can get very strong legs without ever having to step into a power rack. In fact, my own legs have gotten quite a bit stronger, bigger, and more muscular this year even though I hardly ever do weighted squats. How did I do it?

There are two major exercises I’ve added to my routines over the past several months, and I think they are the key factors to my improved leg strength.

The first is the Hindu Squat, which in recent years has been popularized by Matt Furey. This is essentially a very deep, bodyweight-only squat. It’s excellent for not only strength but incredible endurance as well. The best written explanation I’ve found is on Fitness Black Book:

How to Do The Hindu Squat

  1. Start with your hands pulled into your chest and feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Squat down while keeping your back straight and bring your arms down behind you for balance.
  3. Unlike the Prisoner Squat, you are going to want to roll up onto the balls of your feet as you lower down. At the very bottom you will almost be up on your toes.
  4. At the bottom, swing your arms forward as you push up of your toes.
  5. Your arms will reach out in front of you as you approach the top. Once you reach the top, your heels should be touching the floor again and then you pull your hands back in towards your chest. At this point start the movement over.
  6. The breathing is important and different than other exercises. Exhale on the way down and inhale on the way up. Do this for each and every rep. The breathing is as important as the movement.
  7. Start with 20-30 reps and slowly work up to 500. Within time, you will want to do this for 500+ reps for 15 minutes straight. This is easier said than done…and is a serious cardio workout.

And here’s a video of the Hindu Squat performed by Steve Maxwell:

I currently do Hindu Squats as part of my warm-up for Kettlebell training, and frequently do them on off days to stay limber. Hindu Squats have definitely improved my grappling, which isn’t surprising as they have long been popular with Indian wrestlers.

The second major exercise I’ve added to my routines that has helped to improve my  leg strength is the Long-Cycle Kettlebell Clean & Jerk. This is a fairly technical move, and is difficult to explain in writing, so I’ll sit back and let Scott Sonnon do it for me via video:

While at first this might seem primarily like an overhead lift, a great deal of leg and hip work is involved. Just because you aren’t squatting very deep for the Clean & Jerk doesn’t mean your legs aren’t getting a work-out. They are… trust me! The Clean & Jerk is very much a full-body exercise.

Like the Hindu Squat, Long-Cycle Kettlebell Clean & Jerk are great for improved athletic performance because they incorporate so much of the body and greatly improve both strength and conditioning.

To be honest, if you’re looking to build enormous bodybuilder legs, you will definitely need to do more than these two exercises. But for those of you who are looking to build solid, functional strength in you legs, give Hindu Squats and Kettlebell Clean & Jerks a try!

Back from a Break

I admit it… I’ve left this blog dormant for a few weeks. Frankly, there’s been so much going on I just got very busy.

On the training front, my friend and training partner Travis was waylaid by injuries and illness, so we took some time off from our workouts. I remained active, but instead of concentrating on set routines, I just more or less did whatever I felt like on any given day: swimming, yoga, Hindu exercises, simple kettlebell work, Kali with my friends, etc. And of course I had my regular JKD and BJJ practice.

I actually welcome the short break from my regular training schedule. When you train hard pretty consistently, you sometimes need to take some time off to let both your mind and body recharge, regroup, and refocus. So now I feel fresh and ready for a new phase of training, Fit Monkey style!

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes, Part Three

In Part Two of this series, “Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes,” I looked at some of the films that inspired me. In this segment, I turn my gaze some of the novels that provide me with inspiration.

Caveat: The N0-Atticus Rule is still in placeAtticus Finch is one of the most inspiring characters in fiction. However, my website is primarily about fitness and martial arts, so for the sake of simplicity I’ll be focusing on fictional heroes who inspire physical greatness. Sorry, Harper Lee.

The James Bond Series by Ian Fleming

Unlike many people, I read several of Fleming’s novels before I ever saw a James Bond movie. If you’ve never read the original books, you’re missing out on a vital part of the 007 experience. And trust me, the book Bond is quite different from the film Bond.

As a model for health and fitness, Fleming’s 007 is problematic. He drinks way too much booze, and smokes about 60 cigarettes a day. Yet throughout the series there are some inspiring passages. I particularly like the parts of Live and Let Die (a book that is vastly superior to the film) describing Bond getting into shape through long swims in the ocean and runs along the beach, followed by a massage. That sounds good to me!

In From Russia With Love, we learn James Bond’s daily fitness regimen, which consists of…

  • 20 slow press-ups, done lingeringly
  • As many straight-leg lifts in the supine position as will make your stomach muscles scream.
  • Enough arm and chest exercises and deep breathing to make you dizzy.
  • 20 toe-touchings

Admittedly, this is a pretty mild workout by today’s standards. But I give Fleming credit for bothering to address this topic at all.

The Quiller Series by Adam Hall

There are two extremes of espionage fiction. On one hand, there is the glamorous, exciting, yet totally unrealistic world of Ian Fleming and James Bond. On the other, is the believable, realistic, but occasionally dull realm of John LeCarré. Straddling the middle is Adam Hall (pen name for Elleston Trevor) and his flawed, vaguely neurotic spy Quiller.

Quiller a fascinating character. Unlike James Bond, he doesn’t drink or smoke, nor does he engage in relentless womanizing. He hardly every uses a gun, preferring to use his wits or martial arts skills. (The author of the series was well-versed in both Shotokan karate and Aikido.) Quiller is also the type of individual who relies on herbs and traditional Asian massage to deal with injury and illness. At one point he even mentions he once traveled to Tibet to meditate.

So with Quiller you essentially have a tough, capable secret agent with some rather hippy-trippy, New Age tendencies. And that’s exactly what makes him such an inspirational character to me.

You can learn more about this great series here.

Man on Fire by A.J. Quinnell

This book is probably best known as the inspiration for two films: The first made in 1987 starring Scott Glenn, the second in 2004 with Denzel Washington. Alas, I haven’t seen the Glenn version, but I did enjoy the latter film, even if I thought the last third or so had some serious story flaws.

Unlike the 2004 movie, the 1981 novel Man on Fire takes place in Italy and around the Mediterranean. One thing in particular I liked about the book is how it describes the hero, Marcus Creasy, getting back into shape after being seriously wounded in a gunfight. He doesn’t do anything fancy. Creasy instead retreats to a small island of Gozo in Malta, where he spends his time going on long ocean swims and helping villagers with projects such as building stone walls out of heavy rocks.

Readers of this blog probably know I’m a fan of going on ocean swims. Sometimes when I’m out there and the currents feel especially strong, I think of Creasy’s hard swims and it helps to motivate me to keep going.

Incidentally, Man on Fire is the first of a series featuring the character of Marcus Creasy. I can’t comment on the rest of the books as I haven’t read them, though at some point I will.

Critical Space by Greg Rucka

Alert! Partial violation of the No-Atticus Rule! This book is the fifth in Rucka’s series about bodyguard Atticus Kodiak, who happens to be names after Atticus Finch. It also marks a turning point in the series. While the first four books were essentially bodyguard-based crime novels, from here on the books become something more akin to international thrillers. Many fans were not happy with the changes, but I think the series went from good to great with this book.

While all the Kodiak books are worth reading, this one really stands out from an inspiration standpoint. Atticus Kodiak finds himself on an island in the Caribbean, where he spends months making learning to be one hell of a badass. The chapter in Critical Space detailing his regimen is one of the best of its kind I’ve ever read. It’s sort of like a written version of a training montage from a movie. Essentially, Atticus spends his time strength training (with lots of pull-ups) and practicing martial arts. To aid in balance and recovery, he uses yoga and ballet. (Don’t scoff at ballet; it’s far more challenging and even dangerous than people realize.) He also goes on long ocean swims. As for diet, Atticus gives up alcohol and caffeine while eating lots of fresh fruit (especially watermelon) and seafood.

By the end of his training, Atticus Finch is essentially a new man. Critical Space is a great example of how a committment to fitness and wellness can lead to something akin to a personal rebirth.

The Elvis Cole/Joe Pike Series by Robert Crais

Of all the characters on this list, Elvis and Joe are the characters I most relate to on a personal level. The two of them–Elvis, a smart-aleck private eye with a goofy streak, and Joe, a tough but sensitive Marine-turned-mercenary–each in a way speak to different aspects of my own personality. Other people no doubt feel the same way, as the series is extremely popular.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are both smart guys, but they are also each very physical. Both practice yoga, and both are martial artists. There are references throughout the books to Elvis transitioning from yoga moves to Taekwondo forms as part of his morning workout, or Joe learning Wing Chun from a tough old Marine sergeant.

While in personality I’m much more like Elvis, it’s really Joe I find the most inspiring character. My favorite book in the series, L.A. Requiem, details Joe Pike’s transformation from a weak, sensitive child to a very dangerous man. This novel above all others was the biggest inspiration in getting me to get serious about fitness and martial arts.

Oh yes… did I mention Joe Pike is a vegetarian? That’s just icing on the (vegan) cake!

The John Rain Series by Barry Eisler

These are my current go-to books for inspiration. Barry Eisler is, in my opinion, the best thriller writer since the genre’s glory days in the ’60s, and his half-American/half-Japanese anti-hero John Rain is probably the coolest assassin in fiction, and one of the best characters since James Bond.

If you’re in to fitness and martial arts, the Rain novels are must-reads. Eisler lived in Japan for many years, where he earned his Judo black belt at the famous Kodokan. He also knows a bit about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kali, Sambo, and other fighting arts. The fight scenes in the novels are brutal, believable, and realistic. If you practice a grappling art, reading Eisler will make you want to put down the book and find a partner to roll with. In fact, sometimes before a hard BJJ session, I find myself thinking a variation of Bruce Lee’s “Be like water.” I think: “Be like Rain!”

Want more proof of Eisler’s martial arts cred? Check out this quote from the great BJJ site OnTheMat.com:

Grapplers should be excited to know that going against the typical grain grappling techniques are vividly described in the books many action sequences (in both John Rain’s “field” work and in a visit to the famous Kudokan).

(Quick Aside: Barry Eisler’s great website features a fantastic article called “Practical Martial Arts Tips from Assassin John Rain” that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject.)

Eisler also makes a point to tell us just how John Rain stays in shape. His typical workouts include lots of Hindu Push-Ups and Squats (Matt Furey’s Combat Conditioning is specifically mentioned in some of the book’s acknowledgements), a grappling-based form of shadowboxing, and Pull-Ups. That’s a great, simple, effective approach to fitness, and I’ve been known to do workouts specifically inspired by Rain’s routines. To be honest, while I was familiar with Hindu Push-Ups and Squats, I didn’t do them regularly until is saw them referenced in one of Barry Eisler’s novels. I got inspired, added them to my workouts, and haven’t looked back.

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That’s it for this series on Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes. Hope you enjoyed it. I encourage you to take some time and think about  your own sources of fictional inspiration.

If you haven’t already, please check out the earlier posts:

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes, Part One

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes, Part Two

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes, Part Two

I recently wrote about being inspired by fictional heroes. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of my own sources of inspiration from films and television.

Caveat: The N0-Atticus RuleAtticus Finch is one of the most inspiring characters in fiction. However, my website is primarily about fitness and martial arts, so for the sake of simplicity I’ll be focusing on fictional heroes who inspire physical greatness.

Films

Casino Royale (2006)

I’ve been a James Bond fan since my early teens, but this film in particular had a big influence on me. In my previous post, I mentioned all the people who “Googled ‘Daniel Craig workout’” after  Casino Royale inspired them to get into better shape. I was certainly among them. What I found was a short article by Craig’s trainer, Simon Waterson. According to Waterson, to get fit enough to be the new 007, Daniel Craig did quite a bit of bodyweight work. Specifically, lots of Dips, Pull-Ups, and Push-Ups.

By this point in my life I was pretty much fed up with the whole gym scene, so the idea of getting into shape using mostly my own body was very appealing. I quit the gym and started training outdoors, concentrating on running along with Dips, Pull-Ups, and Push-Ups. It worked, and along with some major changes to my diet, I dropped my body fat by nearly half in 18 months.

I should also note that it was nice to see James Bond use some good fighting moves. Check out the great fight in the staircase. BJJ fans will surely note 007 of a rather fatal Rear Naked Choke. He even has his hooks in!

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The Bourne Identity, 2002

I was very excited when I first heard about The Bourne Identity. The idea of an old-fashioned thriller directed by Doug Liman (who had already directed the excellent films Swingers and Go) and starring Matt Damon sounded very promising. And then I discovered that Damon would be training in the Filipino art of Kali for the role. That was just the icing on the cake!

While I had not trained in Kali myself at that point, I was very interested in the art based not only on what I had read but on some family history. My grandfather–a Marine saber champion–knew some Kali from his time fighting in the Pacific during World War II. He was taught by Filipino rebels working against Japan. Plus, the idea of swinging sticks around just sounded fun.

Then when I actually saw Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in action, I knew this was what I wanted to pursue. The mixture of Kali, Boxing, and Jeet Kun Do looked practical, efficient, and (I must admit) cool. After all, the fight scene in Bourne’s Paris apartment is far and away my favorite fight scene in any film.

When I finally got serious about martial arts training, I specifically looked for a school that would incorporate some Filipino martial arts as part of the curriculum. I ended up finding Burton Richardson’s JKD Unlimited and Battlefield Kali,  which utilized not only Kali but also kickboxing, grappling, etc. I started training with Burton back in 2002 and haven’t looked back. Not only am I still a student of Burton’s, but I’m one of his instructors as well.

And all in part because of Jason Bourne. No wonder I still sometimes listen to Moby’s “Extreme Ways” on the way to train!

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Miami Vice (2006)

This is sort of a dark horse choice. Not many people seemed to like this film. As a big fan of both the original ’80s TV show and of director Michael Mann, I loved it.

It terms of inspiration, I really liked how both Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell–not actors best known for their action roles–both got into top shape to be the new Crockett and Tubbs. Plus, Michael Mann made sure they got realistic training in assorted combat techniques, as can be seen in this video by trainer Mick Gould:

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Full Contact (1992)

Probably the most obscure film on this list. In all due respect to John Woo and Jackie Chan, Ringo Lam’s Full Contact is far and away my favorite Hong Kong flick.

If you’ve seen Lee Marvin on Point Blank or Mel Gibson in Payback, this movie will seem familiar to you. Chow Yun Fat plays a Harley-riding crook out for revenge on those who betrayed him and left him for dead.

While there’s much I love about this movie–great supporting cast, awesome actions scenes, etc.–what earns Full Contact a place on this list is the short but cool montage showing Chow Yun Fat getting into shape and training himself to go wreak vengeance on his enemies:

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The Crow (1994)

Lots of people love this film. I’m not one of them. While it has some great scenes, a fantastic soundtrack, and a classic performance by the late Brandon Lee, I just felt the overall movie had some serious flaws. The screenplay in particular could have used some work.

So why is it on this list? Simple: As  slender, sensitive guy with Goth tendencies, I loved seeing another slender, sensitive guy with Goth tendencies kick some serious butt.

And to this day I find Stone Temple Pilot’s “Big Empty” a great song to listen to on a rainy night, driving home from a hard evening of training.

There are no doubt other films I could list, but these are sort of the “Big 5.” What are yours?

In Part Three of this series I’ll look at some of my own sources of fictional inspiration from books.

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes, Part One

I admit it: I have some geekly fanboy tendencies. I’m not really an SF, fantasy, or superhero kind of guy. No, my passion is for well-done crime and thriller stuff, especially if there is an espionage element involved.

I’m not alone. We spend countless dollars on action films and thriller novels. But here’s the question: What do we get out of them besides entertainment?

Personally, I find fictional heroes to be good sources of inspiration. By serving as larger-than-life role models, they help me to focus on what aspects of the characters I like and want to in some way emulate.

Some people may dismiss looking to action heroes for personal inspiration hopelessly pathetic and dorky. These naysayers are all too willing to say “Who do you think you are? You’ll never be like [fill-in the blank].” And I will partially concede their point: You never will be just like your favorite fictional character. (Nor should you want to be; you are you!) But how about if you were just a little bit like your favorite fictional character?

Let’s say you’re a James Bond fan. I certainly am. Face it, you never will be James Bond. But you can be a little bit more Bond-like. Maybe, like me and all the others who Googled “Daniel Craig workout,” you watched Casino Royale and got inspired to get into better shape. Perhaps you are impressed with 007’s foreign language skills and decide to learn a second language. Or maybe you go back and read Ian Fleming’s original novels, learn that Bond trained in Judo, and find a dojo to train at. Getting into shape, learning a new language, and taking up Judo won’t turn you into James Bond. But perhaps you’ll be about 10 percent Bond, which is better than when you started. Isn’t that better than zero percent?

I also think fictional heroes serve as powerful visualization tools. We all know how important it is to use visualization to fuel success. Of course, if you really think about it, visualization is a form of fantasy, just like action movies and thriller novels. I once knew a mixed martial arts coach who told his fighters to imagine themselves as huge samurai, and to visualize cutting their opponents in half with a giant sword. This sort of thing works for all sorts of training, and since there are plenty of fictional heroes just floating around in your brain, why not enlist them to help you? Next time your running sprints, instead of just thinking, “Oh man, sprints are hard!,” imagine yourself as James Bond running down a terrorist, or Jason Bourne sprinting along Moroccan rooftops in The Bourne Untimatum. Going back to martial arts, I wonder how many professional fighters imagine themselves as Bruce Lee before stepping in to the ring.

The only real drawback to finding personal inspiration in fictional heroes are the naysayers I mentioned earlier. Luckily, there’s an easy way to deal with them: Keep it to yourself. If someone asks you why you started to train in Keysi, you don’t have to answer, “Because that’s what Christian Bale used as Batman and I’m a big Batman fan.” No, you can just say it looked like it might be fun and leave it at that. And keep in mind that those who would mock you for your source of inspiration might very well have no source of inspiration themselves.

I don’t recall who wrote this (I think it was Pavel Tsatsouline), but I once read something along the lines of “Some people watch The Bourne Identity and think ‘Kali looks cool… I’m going to find a place that teaches Kali. Others watch The Bourne Identity and think ‘Kali looks cool’ and grab a cheeseburger and sit down in front of the TV.”

Which are you?

In Part Two of this series I’ll look at some of my own sources of fictional inspiration from the movies.