Guest Post by Tommy Pressimone: Karate is Supposed to be Good Exercise, but why is Sensei so Fat?

Submitted by guest author Tommy Pressimone

Karate is supposed to be good exercise, but why is sensei so fat? How important is our training? I suppose a lot depends on individual goals. The debate still runs deep over what is real or not so real or correct or incorrect or the importance of this or that. All that aside, there is a common element that is often overlooked or at least taken for granted; that of “exercise.” While training should be specific to your goals (in other words if you are training to fight then train to that end, if you are training to perfect form then train specific to that), at the heart of it all should be vigorous enough training/exercise for a fit and healthy body.

If you were to begin weight training you might start out light and eventually progress to hoisting a decent amount of weight. What was once heavy now seems relatively light. However if you stop progression and remain at that weight the exercise benefit will begin to drop. The body is able to adapt itself to many things over time and needs to be attacked from different angles all the time…mix it up. Martial arts practice can be the same. If you do the same thing all the time it isn’t really “training” anymore. More of a routine. We need to constantly challenge ourselves and stay fresh; we need progression. The point here is not self defense, not fighting and not martial arts specific. What I’m talking about is health, specifically heart health.

I recently suffered a heart attack and while it surprised the hell out of me, it shocked many who know me personally. I’ll be 53 in two months and have been practicing good eating habits since my 20’s. Around 1980 I decided to start taking my karate seriously as well as my eating habits due to the fact that heart problems ran through my family on both sides. After both my parents died of a heart attack I took my diet even further. I was also one who trained very hard not only at the dojo but at home also. I could never find satisfaction in my karate and always sought harder and more realistic training. That took me from Shotokan to Kyokushin, a place where training is very intense and fighting is as real as it gets. Think Muay Thai with a gi. Eventually that wasn’t enough so I moved to MMA and left karate completely behind. I began the move at 49 but at that time I still also trained at both Kyokushin and Shotokan, eventually dropping Shotokan. At age 51 I completely dropped all karate and focused solely on MMA. As far as my conditioning, it was the best move I could make. It was completely different and it gave me a new attack on my fitness. I was training harder than ever and in better shape than I was 10 years ago. Even my fighting was better at 52 than at 42…or even 32!! I was out doing some of the 25 year olds also.

My main focus was fighting and I was getting plenty of it, but what I am addressing here is health. At the root of it all was my goal of longevity and beating the family history thing. I thought it was working. Do you think you are on track? I had checkups regularly and had a complete blood work done every year to check cholesterol levels. It was always fine and my last check a few months ago showed good levels. My doctor actually said I was perfect, and to keep doing whatever it is I’m doing. Actually every doctor I’ve had over the years said the same thing. But guess what…there is more to the story, as there usually is. While I was able to control my weight and my fitness level, what was not in my control (or anyone else’s) was my genetics. We can’t control our genes. The catch is that I think the doctors can. If I were on cholesterol lowering meds early I could have prevented this. But the tests never showed that I needed them…weird huh? Yes, the clogging and ultimately collapsing of my artery happened that fast! My first thoughts after the heart attack were what’s the sense? All the work…my life’s work, down the drain. I worked hard at my health and fitness most of my life just so this wouldn’t happen.

After the dust settled and I learned more by speaking with the doctors, I felt better. Now that I am in rehab I can clearly see what my prior training has done for me. Number one on the list is “I’m alive.” I have minimal damage to my heart and what damage there is will heal. I have no permanent damage. The doctor said this could have been much worse and that the reason I lessened the blow was because of my diet and exercise/training routine. I’m the poster boy at rehab and have a lot of say concerning my own exercise and progress. I’m far ahead of even those who have been at it longer. People can bicker and nit pick over many points or martial arts/fight training, but one common thread should not have any argument; that of fitness and health. I am always amazed that people think it’s manly or macho to skip doctors’ orders after such events. What really confuses me is how people won’t go a mile over 3000 miles without changing the oil on their car. They will only use the best gas and/or oil, shop for the best tires and wash and wax that thing every weekend. Yet they never take care of their body! The most important machine. For those with families, that seems a bit selfish at the very least. What about karate and self defense? I’m reminded of the fat sensei who long ago gave up doing anything harder than showing his rank. Is self defense just about guarding against or “avoiding” conflict? What about defending your body against illness? It all goes hand in hand.

My new goal is to get back to the Tommy I was a couple of months ago. I probably won’t fight anymore for obvious reasons but there is no reason (according to the doctors and rehab) that I can’t get very close to the type of training I was doing. This is all because of how I focused my workouts and training before. I don’t know what the personal goals are of anyone reading this and I don’t really care, it isn’t important. But whatever the reason for your training you must never overlook the most important factor. The thing that you’ll be left with after all else has faded into old age. That is health and well being. Train hard but train smart. I see so many dedicated karateka focusing on every last detail of a kata or the shape of a stance or the smallest detail on form during a block. They know every bit of history and what came from where when and how. Ask them to explain a food label and they get brain freeze. Why isn’t this an important factor in training? What about “details” in your own body and health? For many boxers or wrestlers or MMA fighters, it is an important detail. It’s your body, get in tune with it. I think this is a good enough reason for training, never mind all the other nonsense everyone can argue about. You train for life. Self defense? My training defended me against myself. It saved my life and made recovery easier. If not for me it sure makes my family happy. You want a reason why training and training seriously is important? I just gave you one. Lets see how fast you can buy (need) a new belt. A smaller one!

Tommy’s thought-provoking blog is no longer updated, but his posts can be read here .

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5 responses to “Guest Post by Tommy Pressimone: Karate is Supposed to be Good Exercise, but why is Sensei so Fat?

  1. Nice to see you writing over here, Tommy. A good reminder that, though some things are beyond our control, that’s no reason to give up on the areas where we can make a difference. All the best on the road to recovery.

  2. Hello Tommy,

    your post is quite true- I also wish you a good recovery-

    I have seen too many instructors who act and resemble more like the Pillsbury Doughboy than a teacher of fighting arts, and forget that without good health, they will not be able to show up and demonstrate techniques correctly.

    (Mikhail Ryabko of Systema and James Painter, while appearing quite roly poly, are very good martial artists and are quite agile and mobile. They are the exception, not the rule. Often genetics and )

    Masaaki Hatsumi and Helio Gracie always emphasized a good diet, and currently Hatsumi sensei is now 77-78 years old, and Helio Gracie died at 95, about the same age his brother Carlos died. Good nutrition is an essential part of the warrior lifestyle.

  3. I’m glad you are recovering. It is great to have a post of yours here on the TKRIblog. Hope you have many years of productive training ahead of you.

  4. Tommy Pressimone

    Thanks for the well wishes. I stopped participating on the internet long ago and have no desire to start again. I sometimes look around out of curiosity and nothing has changed….same arguments. I said all I have to say and I would just be repeating myself. I have no reason to try and convince anyone of anything. But Randy had a good thought. My post was born out of a few emails I traded with Randy after my heart attack. I was discussing the importance of getting checked out and keeping tabs on your health. On Mr. Simpson’s suggestion we agreed that it could be a good thing to enlighten others and to point out another way we can use out training. If it helps one person then a few minutes of writing is a minor effort. The point here is, although trainees may take their training seriously they may have the training priorities slightly off. If you want to make a comeback, should you be one of the unfortunate ones, you have to have something in reserve first. It’s like saving for a rainy day.

  5. Thanks again for sharing this, Tommy. It’s far too easy to sit back and get complacent about our health, especially for people who train often and eat right. The idea that “I’m so healthy nothing bad can happen to me” is an easy one to get stuck on, but unfortunately it does not change the reality that we’re all subject to injury, disease, genetics and the ravages of time. I have to admit that I have tended to ignore my family’s strong history of heart disease because I take care of myself, but your story hit me right between the eyes- keep an eye on it, and have the balls to see a doctor when you’re not sure!

    You’ve give us all a very good example of how we can take steps to guard our health, as well as how to bounce back after something does lay us low. Thanks!

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