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I feel like I should write a short combat wombat update. I am still playing with the wolverines two or sometimes three times a week. We had to take a break from training during the Corona lockdown period, but are now back and fully functional. Those of you who follow me on twitter know that I tested for orange belt (10th kyu) in February and somehow passed and even got awarded the 9th kyu, even though I still cannot do the required ten push-ups. Well, unless you count wombat flop-downs as push-ups, that is. And even though I am quite proud that passed the belt exam, the wombat in me feels like I don’t completely deserve it, because I might be good at remembering Japanese terms and the techniques that go with it, but strength and fitness wise I don’t feel up to par.

Funnily enough, the Corona break did help me a little bit, because even though I did not train all that much during that time, I did some other fun home workout stuff (like the 30 day push-up, situp, squat, dips challenge and some random YouTube workouts) and I converted my oversized balcony into a rooftop garden, which, considering I shlepped some 1500 litres of potting mix, compost and top soil up the stairs, counts as a bit of a strength workout in itself. And I suspect that was more than most of my kyokushin training partners did, because ever since we started training again, I can now magically keep up with the group during warm-ups and circle training. Sometimes I use slightly smaller weights and my push-ups are still mostly cheated, but I feel that for a wombat I am doing quite well.

My actual fighting skills are still very much what you would expect of a clumsy groundhogging marsupil, though. Slow, sluggish and with no power to speak of. I can throw myself at a wolverine with as much power as I can possibly muster and it doesn’t even flinch. It is a bit frustrating, to say the least. So I decided that I need more power (and also that I want to convert those flop-downs into actual push-ups) and that I’d do something that has been on my wombat bucket list for quite a while now: Hire a personal trainer. Due to the Corona induced lull, I am currently only working half of my regular hours, so I do have a lot of days off and that gives me a good opportunity to do that.

So I did have a look around on the internet. I wanted a personal trainer in the area, who had at least some martial arts background himself. I narrowed it down to two different choices and then went for trial lessons with both of them. The first one was also a physio therapist and did a lot of relatively static core strength stuff. It was good, but it wasn’t terribly exciting. Yes, this wombat is a bit of a thrill seeker at the moment, sorry. I want to kick and punch things. Hard. Not stand on one leg while trying to balance a medicine ball on my nose. (Okay, I totally made that up … but you get the idea).

So in fact the second trainer, Mischa, who owns his own fight gym, was much more to my liking. His workouts are more action packed and when he lays out what he wants me to do, my first reaction (at least in my head) is always: I can never ever get through all that. But in fact, I usually can. And that is a good feeling. Actually, I think at the moment, my biggest problem is in my head. I am so used to being the eternal wombat, to being the slowest and weakest person imaginable, that I really struggle to trust my own abilities. Every time on the way to training, no matter if it is the regular Kyokushin classes or the personal training sessions with Mischa, I worry that I won’t be able to make it through. I get seriously nervous about it, every single time. And it takes a lot of mental strength to go there anyway.

It is not a reasonable fear, of course. I mean, the worst that can happen is that I cannot complete an exercise and just take a little breather instead. It is not as if that never happened before. And it still happens sometimes, but it is no big deal. Nobody is going to kick me out because of it. Actually, the longer I train, the more often I see legit wolverines sometimes sneak in a few push-ups on their knees, when they reach their limits. But anyway, at the moment I have the feeling that the main reason that I stay a wombat is not that I am stuck in the body of a wombat, but rather that I have the head of a wombat. The school sports induced trauma is a deep one.

The fitness wombat is back. And of course, it is still a wombat. I think I managed to progress to wallaby at one point, but then a whole lot of life happened and I went back to my wombatty ways. I had a terrible golf season this year, partly due to hurting my back and being unable to play and practice much, partly due to my mom having a stroke at the beginning of the year, which took a lot of enjoyment out of the game for me for a while, because we always used to play together.

Anyway, I spent way too much of this summer sitting on my ass or lying flat on my back and gained some weight in the process. I did try to get moving again for a few times, but the pain in my back always got worse, even when I only went for a short walk. It was a really bad downward spiral, not just physically, but mentally as well, because I might not be much of an athlete, but even I get stirr crazy when I can’t get at least a little bit of activity/exercise in. It also made me even more lonely, because basically I only left the house to go to work.

So at some point (about 2 months ago) I decided that I seriously had to change something. I had heard and read a lot about the benefits of fasting recently, and while I wasn’t willing to embark on a full several day fast, I decided to give intermittent fasting a try. I researched a bit and decided that doing the 5:2 system (fasting or mostly fasting for 2 days of the week, eat normal the rest of the time) was probably the best fit for me. I started the very next day. 5:2 allows for 500 kcal on fast days for a woman (newer versions even encourage up to 800 kcal) and I was surprised how much food you can get out of 500 kcal if you stick to mostly vegetables and a lean protein source. So now twice a week I skip breakfast completely (except for a few cups of green tea) and don’t eat anything until my lunch break, when I’ll have a little snack of 100 to 150 kcal. That can be a low fat cottage cheese with fresh herbs, a soup or an egg with some raw veggies to nibble on. When the hunger gets too bad during the afternoon I eat 5 almonds or drink a cup of broth. And for the evenig meal I normally stick with eggs, fish or a lean piece of meat and a mountain of green vegetables. Seriously, my plate looks a lot fuller on „fast days“ than it does on regular days.

The first day I did this did not feel so good. I drank a lot of water and tea to keep the hunger at bay and at some point my gut just rebelled at that onslaught of liquid, I think. I got terrible diarrhea and felt very weak. I did force myself to go for a short walk after the evening meal, but I was really just dragging my feet around the block for 30 min or so. The next fasting day was already a lot easier though, maybe because it fell on a Saturday and I did not have to work, making me a bit more flexible with when I had my meals. I went for a walk again, but this time I walked further than I had in months, even through a little strength workout in on the way, and felt absolutely fantastic afterwards. It was as if all my energy had come back to me. From that day forward, I managed to get a little bit of activity/excercise in every day: a walk, a round of golf, a short HIT workout, a bike ride … I did not put any pressure on myself for that, it came relatively naturally. I am still amazed at how much impact that simple change in routine of fasting (or rather just eating less) twice a week could have.

It also changed the way I eat on the non fast days pretty much automatically. I crave vegetables much more than I used to and I pretty much automatically went down a low carb/high fat kind of road. Not low enough to get into ketosis (except for the fast days), but my carb intake is very moderate and comes mostly form fresh vegetables, some fruit and only very small amounts of bread, potatoes or rice. I do have the occasional piece of chocolate, ginger bread or marzipan, though. It’s just too tempting at this time of the year. So far I’ve lost 5 kg in the 2 months I’ve been doing 5:2 fasting, which is pretty much the weight I had gained over the past year or so. But what’s more important is all the other effects it did have and that it made me able to move again.

Now the days are getting shorter again and playing golf or even going for a long walk after work is not possible anymore (well, one can walk in the dark, of course, but that always seems a bit pointless to me). So I decided it is time to go back to the gym or find some other indoor activity to build my fitness over winter. My old gym is not really an option anymore, because it now is too far away to cycle or even drive there (especially in afterwork traffic). Also I would love to find something a bit more social and communicative than just lifting weights in a gym on my own. During my time in Kentucky as an exchange student (30 years ago this year) I did a little bit of Goju Ryu karate at a small dojo. It was brilliant and intense and just what I needed at the time. I always thought about picking it back up, but I never really got into it and what I did find in Germany was mostly sports oriented Shotokan karate in bigger sports clubs. A completely different world from the small cozy dojo over a pizza restaurant where we had trained in a group of just four beginners. I meddled a bit with judo and shaolin kempo during my first years at uni, but that’s the extend of my martial arts experience.

Well, walking into a gym as an anti-social wombat is intimidating enough, walking into any kind of martial arts class when you can’t even do a single proper press up is downright terrifying. On the other hand it is the kind of thing that just takes courage for about ten seconds or so (however long it takes you to walk through a door) and the rest just falls into place automatically after that. So I did some research into what martial arts schools, styles and sports clubs would be available in the area. As it turned out, there were quite a lot. From Aikido to MMA and from Thaiboxing to Tai Chi anything is possible. In true nerd girl fashion, I made an Excel table and ranked the different options by cost, travel distance, difficulty, fitness-factor etc. And then started trying them out in random order.

The first place I checked out was Körperschmiede now in Willich, actually a gym which specializes on martial arts and offers courses in boxing, taekwondo and kickboxing. The class I tried was the kickboxing class, which focusses more on the fitness aspect than actual fighting and does a lot of cross fit like functional training. The place was great, to be honest. Pretty much a gym dream come true: none of those stupid limiting weight machines, but almost exclusively free weights and a functional tower and a few cardio machines for warm up. Like, if I would build a gym for myself, this is probably what it would look like. The atmosphere was very nice and friendly as well. The class ran for 60 minutes, and despite my wombatlike fitness-level, all the different stations in the circle training were adjustable so that I found it surprisingly easy to keep up. I did get a good workout out of it, but I never felt like the athletic failure I usually am. The actual kickboxing part was a bit disappointing, though, because it did not take up much of the overall training time. I went home feeling like I had found a viable option in my very first try, but I was also even more motivated to try out some of the other schools as well, now that my first experience had been that encouraging.

The next class I wanted to try was the Shotokan karate class at my local sports club. It is conveniently close to where I live, one of the two places they use for practice is actually a school gymnasium directly on my street. So one Monday night I packed my sports bag, gathered my courage and showed up for class. Unfortunately, I did not take into consideration that it was the autumn school holidays. As a result, while I showed up, the class didn’t. So here I was: fully motivated, sports bag in hand … I chose to improvise and just go to another random entry on my list which offered a class on Monday. And that’s how I ended up in a kyokushin karate class.

Kyokushin karate is a full contact karate. Meaning that, while most other styles of karate, at least in competition, are satisfied with proving that they could hurt the opponent if they wanted to, in kyokushin they actually do. Which is one of the reasons that this place had been pretty low on my list. My aim is to become a better golfer and a faster and stronger wombat, not to get kicked in the face. Kyokushin is more for wolverines (the Marvel version, with the adamantium skeleton), not for fluffy wombats.

But here I was. Because I can be a badass, if I set my mind to it. And because they said on their website that everyone’s welcome. So if that leads to random wombats showing up at their door, that’s their fault. The next 90 minutes were an eye opener. The warm up made the functional kickboxing class look like a walk in the park. And that was before they even started the strenght and conditioning training. I felt more like a wombat than ever before. But I learned something important that night: wombats might not be strong, fast or flexible, but they are a lot tougher than they look. And toughness comes in handy at kyokushin karate. I was also reminded that adrenalin is a very powerful drug. And as a result, after going through the hardest workout I’ve had since … I don’t know … since highschool, I guess, and after taking a few kicks and punches during sparring (even though they were quite gentle with me), I felt more alive and energized than ever before. I was physically exhausted, of course, but at the same time I felt like I could handle anything life would ever throw at me.

Still, I fully expected to feel awful and unable to climb out of bed the next morning. But I didn’t. The bruises hurt a bit and during the day some muscle soreness set in, but none of it was as bad as I had expected it to be. Instead, I had a growing desire to go back there and do it all again. But, even though the club offers the opportunity to train for free for up to two weeks, that had to wait until Friday and their next training session.

So I decided to look around some more. By now, walking into a random martial arts class wasn’t that intimidating anymore. Because I had a feeling that if I can make it through that kyokushin class, I can make it pretty much anywhere. I asked around in an online forum for recommendations and one of the users there, a teacher for Krav Maga, Eskrima (or LSA or Kali or whatever name for fillipino martial arts you are familiar with) and Kickboxing invited me to try out his classes. So on the Thursday I chose to do a LSA (Lightning Scientific Arnis) and Krav Maga double pack. Yes, that’s right. Two different martial arts classes back to back of each other. Because, hey, why not. I’m a tough wombat now, I’ve proven myself in fitness kickboxing and kyokushin karate. Forged by steel and hellfire. Or something like that. What can possible go wrong?

Well, two sticks, one in each hand is what can go wrong. Because coordination of limbs is a lot harder than it looks sometimes. I really struggled to hit and block in the right order during the LSA class. It was a lot of fun though. We even did a little bit of sparring with fluffy childrens therapy sticks. It was almost like sword fighting with LARP weapons. But to be completely honest, that’s what the whole class felt like a little bit: a training camp for wannabe swordfighters. A lot of show and pretend. I am sure if you do it long enough, those sticks (the real ones, not the fluffy ones) become formidable weapons, but I didn’t have the feeling that this class would do much for my fitness. Or prepare me for any kind of self defence situation ever. I mean, the self defence aspect is not what draws me to martial arts in the first place, but if we are at it anyways, I don’t mind learning to kick someone in the shin or elsewhere and other useful stuff.

Now, Krav Maga promised to be a bit more hands on. The group was nice enough and the things we trained appeared relatively useful to me (like getting up from the ground quickly and safely without exposing too many vital bodyparts to an attacker or to instinctively block attacks with your arms). The best part was when the trainer switched the lights off while we were sparring. That’s something that seems to be relatively unique to Krav Maga: you train to not be fazed by the unexpected. Still, since the fitness aspect is most important to me at the moment, that class did not really appeal to me either. And I actually hurt more after that one hour of Krav Maga than after the kyokushin class, because we did not warm up at all (and even after one hour of LSA I was far from warm) and I tore a muscle during the „getting up safely“ exercise. So even though the people in both classes had been really nice, I knew right away that neither class was what I was looking for.

So I happily returned to the kyokushin dojo the next day to get some more bruises. And the Monday, Wednesday and Friday after that. And then registered as a member. Because I’m officially a tough, badass combat wombat. Now let’s work on building that adamantium skeleton …

Juni 2023