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Becoming more ninja

Some of you may just assume that I practise a lot and that I’m already quite ninja. This is true, but only to a certain extent. I practise a lot less than I have done, even though more structure and more coherence have made me stronger today than I’ve ever been before. This is what I do now in terms of physical activity:

  • Gymnastics, twice a week, roughly three hours each time
  • Occasional workout in the gym, perhaps a few hours per month
  • Diving, three or four times a month, approximately two hours

If we sum this up, it becomes roughly 36 hours a month or 9 hours a week. I think I’ve practised more than twice that amount a couple of years ago, so this doesn’t really count as very much (although I realise that it’s above average, but as usual, I compare only with myself, not with others). Also, take into consideration that some of this time is horrendously inefficient. It’s not as if I spend the three hours practising gymnastics doing handstand push-ups, no, I’m more likely to discuss said push-ups with a friend or simply chat.

A solid foundation, but no ninja yet

This is a solid foundation, but I do think there are some things lacking. I could identify more than two things, although I will limit myself in this post. Since I intend to spend more time in these two areas, they have to be fairly restricted and adding other areas will have to wait. These are the first two steps on my ninja course:

  • Become more flexible
  • Get good at handstand

The first area is quite self-explanatory, even though some introduction might be necessary. To begin with, I’m already quite flexible when it comes to the movements important for diving (such as pike). I’m also okay in some other areas, but the problem is that I completely suck at everything which involved bending backwards. This includes hip flexors, shoulders and abs, which are all too tight and stiff. Changing this takes practise over time, and even though I have improved, I’m not satisfied. Therefore, I pledge to spend at least 15 minutes/day stretching, with one day off a week. Stretching can be of any kind and of any muscle.

The second area might seem more puzzling. I can quite easily stand absolutely still on my hands for a minute, go from handstand to elbow-lever, do handstand push-ups and so on. This misses the point, however. I could do all these things a year ago as well. Simply put, having reached this level, I won’t advance if I don’t pay particular attention to handstand. I really like this kind of practise, so there is no reason I shouldn’t. So, to improve my handstand, I pledge to spend at least 15 minutes a day on my hands, also with one day off each week. This time should be interpreted loosely, I don’t meant 15 minutes effective time on my hands (i.e., I will count rests between sets and so on).

Encouragement and reporting

I’d appreciate any help and any encouragement, but remember that I don’t really need it now, but in a week or so. How about asking me regularly how things are going? I will probably write something about this later, but in the meantime any help is appreciated!


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This is the sixth of the posts in which I explain and motivate the items on my 101-in-1001 list. The list itself can be viewed here, where you can also find a list of all posts related to the list. If you want to follow my progress in more detail, you should check my profile page at the Day Zero Project.

Note: I’m skipping many goals here, because they have already been explained in detail. Look at this post for more details. Thus, I will only mention the goals not discussed in the previous article.

Be able to perform 15 dives with a degree of difficulty over 2.0

This goal needs some explaining because the number 2.0 is probably meaningless to most of you. Here are a few dives I can do that have difficulty 2.0 or above:

1. 1m, inward one-and-a-half somersault, tuck
2. 1m, forward two-and-a-half somersault, tuck
3. 3m, forward two-and-a-half somersault, tuck
4. 1m, back double somersault somersault, tuck
5. 3m, inward two-and-a-half somersault, tuck

There are also a couple of dives I have done, but that I don’t consider myself to be able to perform now:

1. 1m, forward double somersault
2. 10m, handstand forward one somersault
3. 3m, forward one-and-a-half somersault with one twist

This means that I have a couple of old dives to pick up, but also need to learn a few more. Learning to do a number of the above-mentioned dives in a piked position will give a few and adding twisting would also increase the number. I would say that this goal isn’t very hard, but it will take diligent practising over the next year or so.

Perceived difficulty: 4/10
Estimated time needed: ? hours
Progress so far: 35%

Walk 100 metres on my hands

This is an old goal and it’s really here mostly because I don’t want to give up. I managed somewhat more than 70 metres juts before I moved to Taiwan, but then I decided to put the project on ice for a while since the climate wasn’t very kind to physical performance. I now have no good excuse not to learn this. Sure, the goal is rather silly, but handstand endurance is quite good to have both in diving and gymnastics.

This task has been misunderstood by quite a lot of people. The problem is not balance. If never tired, I could probably walk for an hour without falling. Alas, strength is the big problem. Advancing up to 50 metres was okay, but after that it became really, really hard. Perhaps I’ll try a different method this time, but more importantly, I won’t give up.

Perceived difficulty: 8/10
Estimated time needed: ? hours
Progress so far: 35%

Be able to reach full front split and side split

Almost everything I do for fun (except perhaps studying Chinese) requires flexibility. In many cases, being flexible not only increases performance, but it also makes it more fun and decreases the risk of injury. I don’t mean to say that I’m extremely inflexible, but increasing flexibility has been a goal for some time and front split and side split seem like good goals. This is more a test of discipline than anything else.

Perceived difficulty: 7/10
Estimated time needed: ? hours
Progress so far: 0%

Sargent’s jump 80 cm

A Sargent’s jump is simply a rather crude method to measure vertical jumping height. Measure how far you can reach up a wall with one hand standing still, then jump and make a mark at the top of the trajectory. Measure the difference between these two points, this is your vertical. I currently have a vertical of 58 cm, which is without any dedicated training whatsoever. I don’t know how difficult it will be to reach 80, but it will either be hard or very hard.

Perceived difficulty: 7/10
Estimated time needed: ? hours
Progress so far: 0%

Study an anatomy handbook and learn at least 200 anatomical words

Some auxiliary knowledge about sports is always good to have. For instance, studying anatomy makes it easier to talk about training and to analyse what’s going on in a specific exercise. Studying one handbook won’t turn me into an expert, but it will probably help me understand the other tasks in this section of the list!

Perceived difficulty: 3/10
Estimated time needed: 20 hours
Progress so far: 0%

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I have several tasks on my list dictating that I should do something for a specified period of time (often a month). These tasks are not really what they at first may appear to be, since the goal is seldom to just achieve the objective and then be done with it. Instead, the main idea is to make the task a habit, so that I will continue doing it even after the month has passed. Even though it varies between tasks, I have found that a month is generally enough to establish a habit.

One item on the list reads “Stretch after all physical activity for a month” and is, therefore, an attempt to introduce stretching as an integral part of my regular training regimen. I think this is a good idea, mainly because I want to avoid injuries, but also because I need to become more flexible in order to improve my diving. Having increased my efforts to learn to walk on my hands properly, lack of stretching is guaranteed to lead to injury or at least impaired performance.

Anyhow, the stretching has slipped into my daily activities without much effort. Often, I do it in combination with something else, like watching films or chatting with friends. I cannot say I have gained much flexibility, because I have not measured, but I feel comfortable most of the time even though I have vastly increased the time spent training since the start of term.

By way of conclusion, I would like to recommend Juji’s flexibility tutorials. He has not only succeeded in composing one of the most comprehensive guides to stretching I have seen on the net, but he has also managed to present it in such an eloquent manner that it is a joy to read (and watch!). The tutorial covers most things from basic theory to fairly advanced exercises. Happy stretching!