Sunday, October 30, 2011

10 Things to Improve Your Fitness

Here's an article originally written for the Miami Arnis Group martial arts newsletter.  The information is just so important I had to also share it here on Urban Survivalcraft.  Having a good level of fitness is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.  I will allow you to fight harder, work longer, and make you an all around more useful person.  It is too important to ignore.

Hi All,

I know it’s been a long time since the last article I wrote.  Sorry folks, sometimes life gets hectic.  This one has been floating around my head for some time.  In my first article, I gave my thoughts on practical fitness ( in a later article, I spoke of  the role of fitness in the survival/victory/success triangle (  In fact, I spoke so much about fitness some people actually questioned whether this was even a martial arts group and not a fitness group.  Well folks, fitness is that important!  Practical fitness will give us the endurance to train at a high level with adequate frequency.  It will also give us the resiliency not only to survive, but to thrive in the training environment.  Additionally, even if you aren’t involved in martial arts, having good fitness levels translates to a greater work capacity making one more useful in general. 
For the average martial arts enthusiast, who also juggle all the elements of a full life such as family, work and other interests, finding time to get fitness training in may be a challenge.  Which is why rather than trying to prescribe a particular fitness regime, I will share with you ten ways you can fit exercise into your lifestyle .  

1.       Jump rope whenever possible.  An easy way to fit it in, is to use it in your warm up for most workouts including your martial arts skills training.  I jump rope for about 5 minutes as a general warm up.  Rope jumping strengthens the calves and improves proprioception and balance at the ankle joint.  All of which prehab the ankle making it more resistant to injury but also improve your footwork making you “lighter on your feet.”

2.       Work your grip.  By improving your grip strength you are actually improving your upper body strength in general.  Your hands like your face have a greater “representation” in your brain.  The sum total of improved hand strength is that the freed nervous energy can now be better used by the primal movers.  It is as simple as keeping a challenging grip training device in your desk at work and using it a few times a week.

3.       Train the finger extensors.  A simple exercise done by placing a rubber band around your straight fingers and then opening them will reward you with more balanced hand strength.  This not only increases the amount of grip strength you can express due to structural balance but helps prevent imbalance injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.  This is another exercise anyone can easily do while sitting in their desk at work.

4.       Master the pull up and its variations.  Here’s the upper body equivalent of a dead lift.  It works most if not all the upper body musculature including the abs.  Any fighter wishing to improve his power in either striking or grappling will be well served by working the pull up.  Additionally, the pull ups, helps improve the muscular balance of the shoulder which will increase the durability of the shoulder.  Anyone who regularly does heavy pressing, should include a steady diet of pull ups for shoulder health.
5.       If your are already working the pull up, also include hindu push ups.  This variety of push ups are excellent for shoulder and hip mobility.  They are also very suitable for high rep practice which leads to upper body endurance. They will both stretch the abs and work the arm extensors.  This will not only help maintain the balance in the upper body musculature but also help prehab the elbow.  The elbow naturally take a beating when one does pull ups on a bar on a regular basis.  This is an important reason for varying the grips or doing them on rings instead of a bar.

6.       Squats!  If you are not squatting you are missing out on possibly the most important exercise you’ll ever do.  Free squats (unweighted) are great for developing basic leg strength and endurance.  In very high reps they will have you breathing heavy in no time.  They can be quite “cardio.”  The do wonders for hip mobility.  They promote blood flow in normally stagnant area for most desk jockeys.  They massage internal organs and promote lymph flow.  They can be done with weights for improving strength and are a must in any serious practitioners fitness arsenal.

7.       Few people consider that even a visually “fit” person may still be quite sedentary and suffer many of the same ailments a regular sedentary person suffers.  An hour a day of training, will simply not counter hours of being sedentary.  Getting in some physical activity every hour or so is a great way to get in beneficial movement.  This method was recently popularized by Fitness Guro Pavel Tsatsouline who called it “greasing the groove”.  Free squat are an excellent exercise for this method as are push ups for anyone needing more upper body work.  I like burpees  for this and will do 10 an hour while at work. 

8.       Take the stairs whenever possible.  This is another way to get in more daily activity.  Increased daily activity will do wonders for your body composition.  They will also do wonders for heart health since activity promotes veinous return effectively allowing the heart to rest some.  Additionally, the short range knee extension which occurs while taking the stairs strengthens the vmo  (vastus medialis oblique) and common culprit in knee pain.  Next time you’re given the opportunity to avoid an elevator and take the stairs do so! Your heart, body and knees will love you for it.

9.       Develop your neck muscles.  I use a variety of exercises but the easiest and most accessible is the wall bridges.  Simply rest your head on a wall and walk your feet out.  For martial artists or people participating in contact sports, strong necks are a must!  For fighters not only having a stronger neck but also a thicker neck can help avoid being knocked out.  Everyone could benefit from having stronger necks not only for general resiliency but because strong necks contribute to good posture.

10.   Make sure you are stretching.  I like to do static stretching at the end of the day.  It helps me relax and sleep better.  Stretching is super important for health and balance.  In fact, the reasons and benefits of stretching are so many that it’s actually beyond the scope of this article.  Static stretching is not the only the type of stretching you should be doing .  I include dynamic stretching and mobility work during most of my workouts and skills training.  Exercising using full range of motion exercises and some extended range exercises will help develop your dynamic flexibility.  Rotating your joints through their full range of motion as well as including squats and hindu pushups in your exercise regimen will improve your mobility.
There you have it folks… 10 easy ways to improve you general fitness!!!  Making opportunities where there seemingly aren’t any is the trademark of the true warrior and survivor.  This is more than a technique it is a mind set.   A dear friend of mine Coach Laren Umphlett once commented to me all day is a training opportunity.  By training not only with intense physical exercise and skills training but by learning to also relax.  Also exercising the mind with study, creative endeavours, and practicing staying calm in challenging situations.

In the spirit of getting more training opportunities let me tell you about or remind you of our Youtube channels, blogs and Facebook pages under the names Miami Arnis Group and Urban Survivalcraft.

Your Brother in Arms,
Tony Torre

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons From The UK Riots

Here is a great article our training brother Guro Parv wrote for our martial arts group "The Miami Arnis Group" about his experiences during the UK riots.  Great stuff here enjoy.

UK riots – lessons of common sense – Parvez Alam, PhD

We’ve all seen the pictures and heard the sensationalised media stories on the UK riots. Some stories bring about a sense of unease, others pure revulsion whereas some of the stories bring about a chuckle of some form. Whatever your individual view is on the causes and solutions to the UK riots, the fact is that when faced with situations of rioting – you need to prepare yourself.

This summer, I found myself in a slight predicament – I was tasked to go to Croydon during the midst of the rioting. While Croydon was set alight, rather than drive far from the scenes of rioting, I was actually tasked to go there. This brings me on to why I am writing this article for my brothers and sisters in the Miami Arnis Group. I happened to contact my long time friend and teacher Guro Tony Torre a few hours before making my way to Croydon. We had a little discussion on preparation in situations of urban conflict and agreed that this would be an interesting topic to discuss/bring to light. Needless to say, I saw no violence at all whatsoever. But wasn’t Croydon on fire? – well some of it… here is how one can go about getting prepared for situations of urban violence when travelling:

1. The power of the internet – there’s a lot of worthless rubbish floating about on the internet, however, when it comes to preparation for travel, it is indispensable. In the case of finding out where rioting is taking place in real time, you can’t get better than google and youtube. Videos on the rioting were appearing every few minutes and a general picture of rioter-movement is estimated by simply pinpointing targeted areas. Avoid these areas and you don’t even need to start fighting anyone.

2. Improvised weapons – this is something Tony and I were discussing a while before I left for Croydon. Some interesting thoughts went through my head after our discussion. Of course it is imperative that we try to keep weaponry legal and the laws differ from country to country – state to state. If you’re walking around with a knife or gun in the UK… you are the enemy. In volatile situations such as riots police may question anyone even slightly suspicious looking. Improvised weapons therefore, are critical. Have good solid well structured pens that will work like your “dulo dulo”, have fitted trousers/short “with” a belt in case longer range whipping or tying people up becomes necessary, have an awareness of your surroundings. Look to see what weapons are available in the streets – bins, stones, dirt, bottles, sticks, bricks etc. Everything is there for your taking and your training should bring about an natural and intrinsic feel for their use. Awareness is your periphery, be sure to not get suckered, eyes open whether inside a car, train or just walking to your destination.

3. A full tank of fuel – if you’re driving, make sure you have enough “get away” fuel. Things can become hairy and the last thing you want is to run out of fuel when it’s time to leave.

4. Know the public transport system – whether you are driving or not, knowledge of the public transport system is an absolute must. When one or two escape options fail, you should have some more in your back pocket.

5. Inner wallets – an interesting but highly useful contraption that I use often when travelling to underdeveloped or volatile countries. The inner wallet sits comfortably between your underwear and your trousers. Many muggers will be happy to receive your external wallet, which can contain some coins, a few disposable cards and some paper money. It is less likely that they ask you to take your pants down, especially so if you’ve already given your external wallet – but know – your internal wallet contains sufficient money to travel, eat and lodge. The inner wallet contains your real cards, like credit cards etc – your inner wallet is your actual lifeline and should never be taken for granted.

6. Functioning phone fully recharged – this is really self explanatory but think about it – how many times have we run out of battery life when we needed to speak to someone? Well it could be worse if in a volatile situation. Do you have a charger in your car? Do you have a solar charger available if there are no other options? I have taken my solar chargers to some underdeveloped countries and quite honestly, they are so useful and yet usually far smaller than your phone.

7. Know the location of a hospital with an emergency unit – all it takes is one good hit from a glass bottle and you might find yourself bleeding profusely – perhaps even to the point of death. Make sure you have basic first aid training for wounds – patching, pressure, heat, cleaning. Ambulances can be very busy when riots are going on, so don’t expect that you’ll get one on time – know what to do with your wound and where you are going to go – then go there imminently.

8. Have some basic food and drink supplies – shops might be shut, you might not have anywhere to go – if you have a car like I did that day, just take some water bottles and extra food. I have experienced mild starvation in the past and the facts are that your body goes into a survival mode, your metabolism slows down to a snail’s pace, you become sleepy and almost completely unable to function as normal – this is NOT what you need, not even when there is peace in the surroundings. Simple things can make the biggest differences.

I hope this article on common sense helps everyone to realise that “physical combat” is actually a last option – and you want it to be – when you just use a little common sense.

Kindest regards

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wild Edibles (Fire Bush)

Acquiring food and medicine from the natural environment are skills which all survival and self reliance enthusiasts should seek to develop.  Even if for no other reason than it is extremely rewarding.  In this treatment  I will be discussing one of my favorite wild edibles/medicinals commonly found in my area. The Hamelia Paterns also known variously as fire bush, scarlet bush, Texas fire cracker, humming   bird bush,  and  sanalo-todo.  

Fire bush is a fast growing, semi-woody bush that is native to the American subtropics and tropics and easily found in the lower united states including Texas , Florida, and California.  It is also very easy to indentify with distinctive flowers and red veined leaves.  It also produces an edible fruit berry which turns from green, to red, to then black when ripe.  Its beauty and adaptability make it real popular for landscaping.   

While the berry is edible it does have a bitter after taste and its astringent qualities tend to dry out the mouth some.  It is used as a condiment for fish in some parts of the Caribbean and even fermented into wine in Mexico.  I suppose it could probably be made into syrups or jellies although I’ve never tried it.  Its real strength I believe is as a wild Medicinal.  It has a long history as a medicinal plant throughout the Americas and even the Caribbean.  The ancient Mayans called it Ix-canan “the guardian of the forest.”  Indigenous people of Belize use this plant to treat a variety of skin ailments including sores, rashes, burns, cuts, stings, and even skin fungus.  In the Peruvian Amazon the leaves have been used by indigenous people for treating dysentery, fevers, rheumatism and scurvy.  It can be prepared as a poultice and used to treat bruises, strains and sprains.  In Cuba the leaves are used externally for headaches and in a decoction used for rheumatism.  

This fascinating plant has many uses ranging from culinary uses to the various medicinal uses.  My favorite quality is its hypothermic or body cooling effect.  To use it like the natives of the rain forest simply take a leaf and chew on it.  You should be pleasantly surprised with a mild cooling of your body and most noticeably your forehead.  This very neat trick I learned from a landscaper is very useful to know here in sunny South Florida where heat injuries such as heat exhaustion and sun stroke are common.

Now folks while this is a relatively safe plant to use, it should be known that none of this should be considered medical advice.  This information is for information purposes only and any use of it is at your own risk.  That said go out forage, learn, and most of all enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Get Home Bags and Range Extenders

Yesterdays walk about found me following the railroad tracks for over ten miles.  For me, taking these freestyle walks is part of my weekly “stress management” protocols.  A way to lose myself in order to find myself.  Often I’ll log in upwards of ten miles. Since I never really know where I will end up until I get there! I usually pack a day bag with some water, lunch, a pad, pen and maybe my ipod.  This got me thinking about bugging out or coming home by foot.  What it would really take and how useful get home bags (GHBs) and “range extenders” would be.

 I mentioned in a previous article that survival kits whether they’re BOBs (bug out bags) or GHBs or survival kits, need to be customized to the exact circumstances where they would be used.  For example, in colder climates winter gear may be crucial.  For me in the heat of a South Florida summer it’s a hat, bandana, bug spray, sun block and a ton of water.  With the terrible frequency of heat related injuries in my area, these are not just range extenders but critical survival gear.  Where I walk the risk of getting lost is not a big deal since I’m in the city, but someone in a rural area or a true bug out situation may need a GPS or a map and compass.  If navigation is important, redundancy in this gear may be wise.  GPS smart phone apps are an easy way to back up more serious navigation equipment. Proper route planning with options is very important.  The method I like is the P.A.C.E. method used by the military.  The acronym stands for primary, alternative, contingency and emergency or plans A, B, C and D.  If I where trying to return home during an emergency my first choice would be in my car.  That’s my primary means with public transportation as my alternative. As a contingency, I have other routes which I could take with either.  Walking or if I could acquire a bicycle would be my emergency method.  Additionally, a person anticipating a multi day trek, may also require portable shelter if it wasn’t readily available along the route.  Adequate rest is critical to survival.  Keeping this in mind and adding a few comfort items to your kit is probably very wise.  For me a poncho, ground cloth, and some cordage is perfect.  More than once I’ve made my shade and had lunch at a public park on a beautiful and maybe not so beautiful day.

Once the critical survival gear is taken care of, then we start to add “range extenders.”  Those pieces of gear which help us drive on getting more “range.”  One of my more important range extenders is a small highly portable first aid kit.  Contained in this kit are the usual boo boo items such as band aids, pain meds and alchy wipes but also contains a blister kit and ace bandages.  Since blisters and mechanical injuries can slow you down dramatically it make sense to have such items in a bag designed to increase and improve your ability to move.  Also in my first aid kit I have electrolyte replacement powder.  In my longer walks if the day is particularly hot, I may go through quite a bit of water.  A gallon or more is not unheard of.  With so much water going through me, it is quite possible to get hyponatremia or water poisoning a dangerous even deadly electrolyte imbalance.  Of course, eating food also helps balance your electrolytes but also adds very important calories, your “drive on” fuel.  Depending on my mood, my choices can range from some energy bars and trail mix to true hiking food and a light weight cook kit.   In a true bug out situation those are great choices as is peanut butter.  Peanut butter not only contains lots of carbs and fats providing lots of calories but also contains a lot of protein.  Two spoons fulls of peanut butter contain as much protein as a steak.  Great range extending fuel!

It should go without say that a good pair of shoes and the right clothes are essential but the means with which to repair them is very valuable should any of these items break.  For me a small sewing kit and some duct tape is just about perfect , small and light.  The right bag can also make a huge difference.  My day pack is a shoulder bag which and depending on how much water I carry can weigh twelve pounds or less, usually less.  My true GHB weighs a bit more and is a back pack.  The small school book bag type back pack.  It carries easy.  Blends in well and can be carried on one shoulder when my back gets too hot.  Since that one lives in the back of my car my food sources are a little more heat resistant.  See my previous blog post titled “More Thought on Food Storage” for more info on the food.  I also have two one quart water containers which I normally keep empty.  I keep a gallon of fresh water in my car at all times.  Should I need to use my GHB I would fill the two containers and pre hydrate.  Since the best way to carry water is in you, I’ll drink as much as I can before taking off thereby extending the usefulness of the water I carry as a range extender.  Also in my GHB are binoculars and a small radio with ear phones.  Both will allow me to get valuable intelligence should I be in a true SHTF scenario.  In a civil unrest situation this would be critical.  Avoiding trouble is infinitely preferable than fighting for your life.  

While I could easily write volumes on this subject alone I believe I’ve included some very important ideas for you to ponder.  Let me leave you with one last thought, possibly the most important idea.  While it is very important to have the right gear it is all for nothing if the user does not have the skill to use his equipment correctly or if the user is not in good enough condition to physically endure the task.  Perhaps the greatest range extenders of all is a strong mindset and being in excellent  shape.