Change of life.

So.  Here it is.  My return to writing this blog.  I’ve been meaning to put up a post for some time, I even had one half-written in my head.  It started out comparing the arrival of my birthday to a cloud of dust on the horizon of an Old West town: was it a mounted gang of bandits coming to settle a score or pillage the townsfolk? Or maybe it was an approaching storm.  Either way, it wasn’t looking good.  I chose the time around my birthday to restart writing again because I was turning forty-two and it seemed like such a late start to shift focus from dogsledding to something else, but that is just what our family did.

The funny thing about dogsledding is that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you are being active.  After all, there is the carrying of two, 5 gallon buckets full of meaty water and kibble during the twice daily feedings, the scooping poop, the loading and unloading of dogs (and tons of food, every three months), as well as the harnessing and hooking up.  But that’s it, really.  If the dogs are any good at all, you don’t do much else.  You just stand on the runners for four hours at a time with the occasional push of the sled up a hill.  I stepped on a scale one day, just out of curiosity, and found that I was thirty pounds over my ‘ideal’, medically endorsed (and likely unattainable) weight.  I was going to have to load a lot of dogs and scoop a lot of crap if I wanted to bring my weight down.  I could no longer convince myself that it was muscle weight, either.  Face cheeks don’t build muscle and muscle probably doesn’t roll over the top of your jeans.  Nope, I was out of shape and eating poorly. Shortly after confessing my thoughts to Jenn and saying how I wanted to join a gym to get healthier, my employer sent me on an out-of-town job for the summer.  The schedule was two weeks out, five days back.  During one of my two weeks out, I came back to my trailer room, checked my phone and saw a video text.  It was Hunter in what I recognised as a karate outfit.  She solemnly stared at the camera for a moment then bowed and said “reeee-spect!  That’s what we say at jiujitsu, daddy!”  The camera swings wildly around and there is Jenn’s face – “I signed us up at the club!” she beamed.

“It figures she would wait until I was out of town.” I thought to myself, not really sharing the same excitement.  “The Club” was a local Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai place.  They also offered fitness classes and yoga.  Jenn’s friend and one-time coworker IMG_3628owned the place with his wife and although Jenn had wanted to join for some time now – and had tried to convince me to do the same – we hadn’t because I was resistant.  I’m not a fight-y sort of person. I didn’t think my daughter needed to be a fight-y sort of person, either.  And, to top it off, all I could picture was a room full of kids with an instructor barking at them: “Hai!” [the class punches], “Osh!” [the class kicks].  If you’ve ever seen the Karate Kid, then you know what I mean (and I’m not referring to the wax-on, wax-off parts).  By the time I got back for my time off, they had been there almost two weeks.  Hunter was in love with the classes and Jenn was raving about how hard but fun the Kettlebell classes were.  And now, I’m expected to go.  So, the next day, Jenn and I show up at Sudbury Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai Acadamy  for class.  I am registered due to the family membership that Jenn bought, but I don’t have my club gear yet: shirt, shorts and skipping rope.  I’m helped at the front desk by one of the employees, who also turned out to be the instructor for our class.  I go upstairs and change and come back down skeptical about the ‘workout’ I was going to get from swinging a weighted ball around.

We start with skipping, which, although rusty at, I am managing to do okay with. For the first minute.  The second is a bit tougher and by the time the third minute is over and we can get a drink of water, my legs are voting to see whether or not to keep me standing and my lungs have left me completely.  Next, it was burpees.  Then push ups.  Then crunches, then… I don’t even remember because I was in the bathroom trying to not throw up.  And we hadn’t even swung a kettlebell yet.  I had to leave the class.  The room was getting all faint and I was apparently alternating between green and pale and man! was it, like, a million degrees in that place?  I finished class humbled.  I admit it.  A half-hour fitness class nearly killed me.  By the time Hunter’s jiujitsu class rolled around at six that day, I was barely able to walk, let alone sit cross legged on the mat to watch her class.  My legs were sore, my arms were limp and my core refused to move.

One by one, the kids start to fill the mat.  Most have white belts, some have yellow, some are yellow and white striped and still others are orange.  The instructor walks to the front of the room, where I had not too long ago nearly died, and asks the kids to line up.  They do.  All in rows.  Neatly and quickly.  He looks them over and says “…we begin our class with?” to which they all say in unison, “reeee-spect!”  The class begins with a jog around the mat and some warm ups: jumping jacks, rolls (front, side and back) and ‘shrimps’, a move, as it turns out, that is pretty key to the whole jiujitsu game.  For much of the class, kids pair off and roll around on the mat.  They are supposed to be practicing the move taught to them by the instructor but they are also having fun, giggling and falling down.  At the end of the class, the instructor sits down with them in a circle and spends a few minutes on character development.  They talk about what it means to have empathy; to be a good citizen; to be a leader.  They talk a lot about bullying and how to deal with bullies.  Talk to them.  Tell a teacher or parent or adult, verbally stand up for yourself.  He stresses time and again that fighting is an absolute last resort and if he hears of any of his students – children or adults – starting fights or being bullies, he will kick them out of the Academy.  They end each class on a fun, non-serious note: dodgeball played with two giant exercise balls.  The kids love it.  And so do I.  Like, right away.  After several months of watching Hunter’s classes, I decide that I might like to try Brazilian jiujitsu, too.

This is Hunter (white gi) and her training partner doing a Bubble Sweep.

It’s now January, 2013, and I’m standing on the mats in a borrowed gi, the white karate outfit that most of us are familiar with.  Except it’s heavier and thicker because all the grips, grabbing and pulling would shred a lightweight karate gi in no time.   I’m not really sure about this decision now.  There are at least eight other guys all looking at me like I’m the newest doggie chew toy.  Class starts and, after the warm ups, I am more or less used to wipe the mats: everything I do — absolutely everything — is countered and defended with ease.  I leave the mats soaked with sweat while my opponents have not even started to breathe heavy.  My first few classes go pretty much as you might expect. I wonder what I am even doing. Even worse, I do jiujitsu like I wonder what I am doing.  But there is something about this sport, something really hard to explain, that draws you in.  Jiujitsu’s fans liken the sport to a game of chess: for every move there is a counter and for every counter there is another counter and so on.  It is a complex game, this martial art.  But it’s not that.  Not really.  I never really felt as though I needed empowering, but there it is — that feeling.  Once you get the hang of jiujitsu (and I am not at all trying to say that I am some master.  I’m just a white belt, after all) you really feel different.  In control.  Confident.  Coupled with this new confidence was my drop in weight and an increase in my cardio and strength from both the Kettlebell classes and Jiujitsu classes.  It all added together to create this really strong feeling of being in control of our lives.  Jenn began jiujitsu shortly after I did and immediately took to the sport, although it took her a while to be comfortable with being choked.

All of this exercise and focus on our health has led to us re-examine how we eat.  We have always eaten well: mostly healthy with a lot of home made food and home prepared foods, but we snacked a lot.  Chips, pop, candy and sweets and it

Our kitchen was mid renovation here, but these are all the sugar containing items from our fridge.  We donated it or gave it to family.

Our kitchen was mid renovation here, but these are all the sugar containing items from our fridge. We donated it or gave it to family.

was not doing us much good.  Recently, some people at the club have challenged themselves to go sugar-free for a year and although I admired their resolve, I thought to myself that I would never be able to do that.  Give up sugar?  Not likely.  That is an entire food group for me.  Jenn, too, was skeptical in her ability to cut it out of her diet altogether.  But then we saw Hunter put away a giant Mars bar in one sitting and we knew we’d have to do something, so we agreed to join the challenge.  We would be going sugar free for a year.  We have removed all refined sugars from our diet, keeping only honey and maple syrup for cooking and baking.  We also have not cut out the sugars found in fruits and vegetables, as long as they are still in the fruit and vegetable and not added to something.  As per the deal with the challenge, we are allowed one cheat a month.  We are two weeks in to the challenge now and I plan to write a post soon about how our first month has been and what effects, if any, we have seen.  So, stay tuned.

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