The Missed Workout

Giving in

All of us do it. Give into the temptation of a lazy Sunday afternoon, seduced by a hot meal and the promise of Champions League football or fatigue. That ‘I can’t be arsed’ feeling. I’ve been training, in one form or another since April 1981; you would think I would be passed that ‘can’t be arsed’ feeling by now. But I’m not.

I know how you feel

I see it with students as well. So many start with all the ambition in the world, but when the sun comes calling or the beer is cold, or even worse, if the weather is cold, that resolve starts to crumble. Or the partner who says ‘You’re not going training again, are you?’ We all allow life to get in the way. And when I ask where you’ve been, the most common excuse is that you haven’t had the time lately. You forget you are speaking to a master procrastinator. A skiver. A lazy bugger who loves to read or watch something good on the TV. You forget I know your demons. Or you think your demons are different to mine. They’re not.


And yet, something separates the black belt from the beginner. The devotee to the casual trainer. It’s this. Desire. Desire overcomes every emotion you can feel. The desire to learn more. The desire to improve. To understand. To be the best you can be. To not judge yourself by other people’s standards, but to ask the question ‘what would the best in the world do right now?’ Or my personal favourite ‘will it make the boat go faster?’

Every time is different

Does sitting at home, drinking beer and watching football help me improve? Does it make me fitter? Will it help me pass my grading? The answer is no. And the fact is that every workout, every class, every run is different. You never know what you will miss out on. What experience, that may shape your life, you won’t have. The key that may take you another three years to learn.

The well

A missed workout can never be replaced. You never know when that mood, moment or time will be able to be replicated. And because of this, because of this desire to improve, to learn and become a better ‘me’ I train. I plan my weekly workouts and I force myself to go out. I’m not 100% foolproof, but my desire keeps bringing me to the well. What will make sure you keep visiting too?



Where were you?


The poetry of pain

Your fist slams into the bag with the sound of a man beating a bloody corpse with a stick. Again and again you try to build speed and ferocity as the heavy bag absorbs the best you have. It makes no judgement, it accepts all strikes and defies you to try harder. The fighter, the boxer, the mentally prepared, take heavy bag work seriously, although it takes everything you have it also gives back in invisible spades.

Each strike saps your energy and yet manages to increase your power. The top and bottom bag may frustrate the eye, but the heavy bag is where your visualisation, speed and power all come together. To stand in front of that bag without visualisation is to have only half a workout. You must see your opponent, imagine them crumpling under your punches, wincing in pain. As you smash the bag you can see the ribs breaking under your fists, like ‘Rocky’ attacking a side of beef and then Apollo Creed. Crack, snap and crack again. Body – head, head – body. Take the body and the head will fall; as boxers are taught to do.

What of the head? The control centre, where all pain is registered and all ideas form. Rapidly the hook travels from the body to the jaw. You take a step to the left, just slightly, and the hand flies up from the body crashing into where the jaw would be. You can imagine your hand destroying the face like a baseball bat: spraying teeth and fracturing the jaw or you catch him higher up scrambling his brains and destroying the message to the brain that says ‘stand up’. In your mind his body collapses and you continue to strike; when the body no longer moves then you will stop.

The seconds tick down and you move around the bag, seeing the opponent and looking for an opening. The jab whips out, rocking the head back. The cross is almost as fast, but harder, followed by two hooks, one to the body and the crashing blow to the head. Can you hit harder? Can you hit faster? Energy reserves are not important: this is all about doing the job; harder, faster, smash, crash, destroy. Your hands move in a rhythm and the bag sings the song of the victor. With speed, power and accuracy; you will not lose to someone who doesn’t train. The clock sounds the end of the two minute round. You rest for a minute and go again. UFS heavy bag

Seeking greater imagination: remembering Tyson, Sonny Liston. Roberto Duran, two Sugar Ray’s and the king of them all: Muhammed Ali. Even Tyson admitted that Ali was a killer. A surgeon of the square ring, hacking, cutting and chopping men down. You strive to emulate them all, but how? Through hard work and good coaching, but most of all dedication and perspiration. You have to want the prize. Many claim to, but most pay only lip service to the task. A thousand promises collapse in one series of exercises and a quick, fast run. Without commitment you have nothing and inside you know it. You must try harder, you will never give up. The sound of the buzzer brings you back to the task at hand. One more round, sweat drips down your back and off your hair. And then it is over.

All of you, given to the bag. Black and tall, arrogant, but silent. It views your efforts with scorn, but reminds you to pay it a visit again. You must improve every time. Stronger, harder, better, faster. You walk away, now calm. Your heart rate returns to normal and the aggression inside has gone. Now silent, peaceful, the black outside contrasting with the light inside, you strip your gloves off and take a towel to wipe yourself down. Just the sound of the gentle to and fro of the bag as the energy fades. The light goes off and inside a phrase comes to mind: the poetry of pain.

What do you want?

The first quarter of 2015 has been an interesting one at UFS, the introduction of massive changes in the grappling part of the syllabus and a host of learning and re-learning. That will continue onwards into the future now, but a few weeks ago I began thinking about what the next changes would be. Having had some meetings with Gary Dawson, Stacy Coles and Mo Teague it became more and more obvious that the way we approach fitness needs a shake up and it is coming this month. The introduction of the fitness test will help all of you evaluate where you are in terms of fitness and in your state of health; or not,as the case may be.

However, the more I thought about this particular question the more it also made me question other aspects of life and training. Last year I heard a phrase that has stayed with me ever since:

“How you do anything is how you do everything”.

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Until you think about how you do things. Some people are always late, some people are always early, some people are really messy and some people are very, very neat. Some people believe that they are only scatter-brained in some areas of their life, others that they are completely ordered in their life. What is the answer? Whatever works for you, except I would also add the caveat “Moderation in all things, except moderation”. You also have to consider the impact you have on other people and how they view you. It’s not quite so easy now is it?

I would then add the question, what do you want? What are your goals? Your ambitions? What do you want from your martial arts? What do you want from life? From your relationships? Over the next three months (April to June) I will be working with you to help you achieve, or at the very least plan, where you want to go. I wouldn’t want you to be like so many people and drift through life, because they will be the one’s getting to middle age wondering where their life has gone.

We will also be discussing strategy and tactics. How do you deal with a one on one attack at 7am as you walk to work? How do you cope with a knife attack? What do you do if 2 attackers jump you? Or it could also be life questions. How do you cope with life’s bumps in the road? I want you to bring your questions, your challenges, your desires and your ambitions. The next 90 days could change your life forever, if you want it to.

Martial arts is so much more than just the physical side of training, but the physical side cannot be neglected. If you keep getting injured we will look at that, the same if you keep getting ill. Balance is the key, rest and diet are as important as physical training. If you have questions email me at or message me on Facebook. It’s going to be an interesting three months.

100 years of remembering. Making the stories personal.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping transform our martial arts centre into a lovely and moving tribute to all the soldiers of Remembrance Day. We celebrate it in the USA as well but most Americans can’t see past the fact that they get a 3 day weekend. It was nice to see that there is still one nation that honors these brave men, women and let’s not forget animals that served in this war and sadly the ones that followed. As Andy said, sadly the War to end all wars didn’t. He asked for our stories so I’d like to share this with everyone. My country has an annoying habit of showing up late to World Wars. However, we did eventually get in and fight. I was always very close to my granddad. We were all proud of the fact that he served at the Normandy Invasion and survived.The bad weather of the day probably saved his life as by the time he got to the beach the German line had already been broken. Still, it was quite an awful scene to come across with so many casualties on both sided laying dead across the shore. However he said that this was far from the worst thing he saw during the war.

I remember one evening when I was about 10 years old he told me the story that kept him awake at night. I still don’t know why he told me and, to my knowledge no one else in my family this but I got the privilege of hearing one of the most gruesome scenes anyone could witness. My granddad was a mechanic in the war. He used to fix the Sherman tanks. We later learned that he had won a medal for bravery when he had stop stop and literally fix a tank to get it moving again in the middle of gunfire. He told me one day he saw a young lad of about 15 or 16, a young soldier get run over by one of these machines. He was German and if I’m not mistaken so was the tank that ran into him. It was unintentional but that didn’t make it any less awful. What stuck out in my mind the most about this story was how my granddad described the screams of this young man and the sight of the blood that followed. I don’t think I ever saw my granddad cry in my entire life but he was on the verge when he told me this story. He however mentioned what happened when everyone else around saw what was happening. for a few fleeting moments people forgot whose side they were fighting on. The forgot the politics involved they forgot if they were American, British. German, Allies or Axis. They all simply pulled together to try and save this poor soldier. They were too late. This scene kept him awake at night and had stuck in my mind since I was about 10 years old. I still don’t know why he chose me. My brother serves in the military and, in my opinion, would have been the better choice. The only thing I can think of is that he knew I would see a deeper meaning to the story and perhaps get the opportunity to re-tell it, learn from it and teach others.

I, like my granddad, see no glory in war. The press give us statistics which dehumanizes the efforts. We forget that on both sides people are involved. Lives are lost and families have to bury loved ones. My granddad didn’t see marching on the beach in Normandy or serving his country the way he did as anything to be proud of. He saw it as senseless. He saw people he knew being killed in a strange land for reasons he couldn’t understand. My granddad won several awards for his time that he served and never went to collect his medals. It wasn’t until after he died on a trip to the national archives building in Washington D.C. that we learned how many and what an effort he had put in. So thanks Andy for the opportunity to talk about my granddad. He passed away at the age of 80. He was about the nicest person you’d ever want to meet. He had a great sense of humour and the mouth of a sailor at times. If telling dirty jokes was an Olympic sport the USA would claim the gold. He had a generous and kind heart and would do anything he could to help his friends and family. I like to think that some of him has rubbed off on me.

Gretchen Ivey.

I have two stories of WW2. My granddad, my dads father, went into concentration camps Belsen and Auschwitz.  He told me the story of when they went into the town and made the locals clear up the concentration camp; they claimed they knew nothing but he said you could smell this musky lingering smell. Like nothing he had smelt before. He said the horrors in Belsen was nothing like he had seen. He said for most his life he had difficulty sleeping having seen what he had seen in that camp.

My Mums father, my other granddad, I have so much respect for on a personal level. It didn’t surprise me at all that he saved lives in Egypt when he lost friends in a horrific fire in Egypt. I think we was fighting the Italians; he said that Italians always walked in single file they would hear gunfire and surrender. He managed to get a very well paid job due to his heroics after Egypt. Granddad also served in Lebanon and Palestine. part of which became Israel. He always kept quiet about the war, he never really bragged or even really told stories, he only mentioned this one episode. After my granddad died in 2005 I found lots of letters and photos of his time in WW2. I suppose that’s why I had the respect I did for him because he never liked long speeches or taking credit for anything. I guess I’d say he was humble.

John Turner

My grandad and Uncle Fred were in Tunisia during World War II, grandad in the tanks using a flamethrower. Uncle Fred wrote a book about his experience in Qued Zarga, Tunisia, one story was- Midday our company received orders to go forward at 17.00hrs. Vickers machine guns gave us cross fire cover over our heads as we descended the hill. Company officer captain Morgan, took the lead and I was following him down the hill, the rest of the company following in single file. Approaching the valley between the hills an enemy machine gun opened up, we fell flat to the ground, while our platoon mortar man returned 2in mortar shells. Captain Morgan stood upright and fired several shots with a rifle, receiving a hail of machine gun fire through the stomach, he fell like a log quite close to me. He said,”tell the corporal to get the men out of here. “(One of the stretcher bearers told me later that captain Morgan died the following day. ) The shouting of the words ‘stretcher bearers’ could always be heard everywhere whenever in action.
Also my uncle Willie was on the HMS Southampton when it was torpedoed and sunk and survived.

Martin Riddell

I only got to see my grandad a couple of times a year due to him living in Scotland and money being tight. On one trip when I was thirteen years old I was fortunate enough to have him all to myself one afternoon. I never know how we got onto the subject of the Second World War, my grandad had served in the navy and as far as I’m aware had never talked about it before to anyone and I don’t think he ever did again apart from a few funny little tales that usually involved him getting into mischief. However I have always shown an interest in the First and Second World War so maybe that’s how. Anyway I think I was trying to impress him with my knowledge of dates, facts and figures as most kids do when he quietly rose from his chair and went upstairs, when he returned a few moments later. Nearly fifty years after the end of the war he sat me down and showed me a photo, it was a black and white photo of the group of men he had trained with. He then proceeded to name each person by there first name and surname and then inform me of what ship they went down with and when. If I remember rightly there was twenty men in that photo, there may have been a couple more but one thing I do remember, there was only my grandad and one other that had survived. That afternoon my grandad taught me so much and some of the things he taught me I didn’t realise until years later but I like to think he knew what he was doing.

Dave Morrison

My great grandfather William J Merchant, during World War one he fought in Northern France, he came home injured and my grandmother was conceived, unfortunately after he returned to France he was killed in action in the battle for Albert, which is where his grave is. Sadly he never met his daughter.

He was a volunteer soldier with the Essex Rifles regiment.

Kenneth J NashKenneth J Nash - grandfather

Top line From left to right

First photo is my grandad, served in the navy during world war 2

Second is my father, served in the navy as a communication officer during the Cold War. He joined at 14 when a navy boat docked and asked the local boys who wanted to join the navy, my dad raised his hand and was told to pack a bag, go tell your parents and get on board.

Third is a 16 year old me during my basic training in the Royal Marines.

4 pictures below

2 left hand pictures are my great grandfather Joseph Gimber. He served in World War 1. He was injured during duty taking a grenade to the face permanently blinding him. He still served by doing communications and I still have his Braille typewriter. He was a keen rower, even when blind. He’s the one on the far left, all the males on my mothers side are over 6″2′.

Top photo on the right is my father when he was based on Singapore, he lived there for 5 years of his service, he’s with two of his bunk mates. He can’t remember their names.

Finally is my grandfather who served in world war 2. This was his wedding photo from August 1941.

Top is my great grandfathers “dead mans penny”.These were issued to the next of kin after the Great War. These were made of bronze and known as the “Dead Man’s Penny” because of the similarity in appearance to the penny coin. 1,355,000 plaques were issued, which used a total of 450 tonnes of bronze.

To the left are about 40 letters sent during the Great War and some after, some of the letters still have visible postage dates. Even though my great grandfather was blind, he still got mail which was read to him.

Second picture is a machine gun bullet, now filled with concrete and was my grandfathers (wedding photo) door stop. This is a similar bullet to what would have been used against the allies during the d-day landings. I used a playstation controller as scale.

To the right are my blind great grandfathers dominos (which were raised) and Braille playing cards. Unsure when he revived them though.

Final row is firstly my blind great grandfathers discharge papers which them were scrolls and shows he was discharged in 1918.

Final picture is his Braille type writer with several documents which are in Braille, he later taught people to read Braille.

Adam Freeman

Adam's wartime family

Adams wartime family 2

1350 poppies displayed at AG's Martial Arts Centre. 4th -11th November 2014

1350 poppies displayed at AG’s Martial Arts Centre. 4th -11th November 2014


Train hard – event easy

It’s been a long road
It really is amazing what you can find on YouTube these days, if you want to train for a particular event then there will be a video on there telling you how to do it, so why this blog? Having just completed Tough Mudder in Yorkshire it struck me that my different experiences over a variety of challenges helped me cope on the day and also that the diversity of challenges may be of some help to you. With that simple idea in mind here are my thoughts – taken from my marathon days of my 20’s up to the present day.

Continue reading