Should I Try Martial Arts?

I’m 33 years old. I’ve never done any martial arts training or even been in a fight. I mentioned in a blog post recently that I’m exercising more at home. The thing is, it’s not really working for me. I mean, I’ve not been doing it that long but I feel like I need more structure. I think the reason the gym (or home gym) isn’t working is because I’m trying to teach myself, and I’m just not inherently good at the gym. I’ve taught myself lots of things. HTML. Blogging. Twitter. Video editing. But the gym just isn’t in the cards on my own. A personal trainer could definitely help. It would be the least disruptive choice. It’s not the most exciting thing, but it would work.

Or I could do something super crazy and try to learn Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga, kick-boxing, or Karate, or something. It would be a lot. I work full-time and I’m in grad school. But, let’s say I could work it out to where I go twice a week to learn whatever martial art. That’s about as often as I should really be going to the gym, and it might be more fun. One of my professors in my graduate program takes Jiu Jitsu and she seems to really like it.

I said it MIGHT be more fun. I don’t know.

Eric Shay Howard thinking

Louisville has a lot of martial arts places.

Right. So, I’m looking up Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga classes in Louisville and I’ve found a couple of places. One place looks super professional and nice. I sent them an annoying email inquiring about classes for adults who are complete beginners and don’t even know which end is up on the pullup bar at the gym. They haven’t responded yet. I might call them sometime tomorrow and just ask my weird questions all awkward like over the phone.

I’m fairly certain I’ll need some new wardrobe and maybe some guards for various body parts. I think also some gloves? That might also be jumping the gun. I have no idea. These MMA gloves seem popular on Amazon. Just so you know, I’m a member of the Amazon Associates Program and may earn money from qualifying purchases with the ad for the gloves below.

I looked up belt progression because I think that Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga have belt systems to track progress, but I wasn’t sure if that was real or just something I saw in a movie or whatever. They do, but I don’t see any mention of this belt system on this one martial arts place’s website. Maybe they don’t do it there or maybe a belt color system is just a given for all martial arts classes.

What am I supposed to look for in a martial arts school?

I confess I have no idea what I should be looking for other than:

  • Does the martial arts place’s leadership have diversity or is it only ran by cis-gendered straight men? If it does only have straight men, then why?
  • How much do classes cost?
  • How big are the class sizes? Do they teach all newbies together, or do they teach all skill levels together but keep track of people’s progress individually?
  • What belts do the trainers have? How does testing for new belts work?
  • Are they associated with a national group or are they a stand-alone school?
  • How much time will this take up? Can I fit it in my schedule?
  • Are the students assholes? Are the trainers assholes? If so, why?

Also, do I refer to it as a gym? A dojo? A school? I tried to look it up but I wasn’t able to find much consistency.

Which martial art do I pick? Karate? Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Krav Maga?

I don’t want to settle on a particular art yet. However, if I had to pick one based off of what I can find available here in Louisville, I’d pick Krav Maga. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu seems cool, too, but seems more competition-based than self-defense based. Again, I am new to all of this so who knows? I’m sure it’s mostly advertising keywords anyway.

My gym hasn’t opened back up yet and so I have some extra money to see about trying out some martial arts for a little while. Maybe I’ll like it? Maybe I won’t? I don’t know. It’s not a dream of mine to be a master at it super soon or anything. I’m just looking for ways to keep things interesting. I also really want to lower my cholesterol.

I will let you know what I find out, which gym (dojo? school?) I end up trying out. If I can’t seem to find a place that I click with, I might just move on and stick with the resistance-band exercises at home until my gym downtown opens back up or the gym my apartment property is building opens.

Do you like Jiu Jitsu or Krav Maga?

Perhaps you prefer something else? Do you prefer the gym? The couch? Comment below and let me know, because I’m curious about all of it. The gym is still super new to new, and so is this martial arts idea. You can contact me via my contact page, follow me on Twitter, or like my page on Facebook.

Also, this has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been watching Cobra Kai on Netflix and it’s pretty awesome.

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On-Campus versus Online Universities

COVID19 is real and you should wear a face mask and stay 6 feet apart from people that you don’t live with, at least until your local governor lifts the mask mandate. Now that that’s out of the way, a lot of people are opting to continue their education online this year. I also have friends’ whose first-year college kids decided to go in-person but to stay at a local community college instead of going to their dream university right away. Either way, college is a little different this year. Are you on the fence about a traditional on-campus experience or choosing one of the online universities?

First of all, most universities that are regionally accredited, no matter if the university is an online university or a traditional on-campus university, will accept federal student aid and you will have to fill out the FAFSA. I wrote a blog post about how financial aid works here.

I got my bachelors degree in-person at a state university. State universities are usually nonprofit and usually regionally accredited. I’m getting my masters degree online at an online university. This online university is also nonprofit and is regionally accredited. My roommate is getting his masters degree from a state university but his program is mostly online this year. Our online experiences are very different because our colleges have different online approaches.

Online Programs All Do Things Differently

All online universities have different approaches from one another. Do not assume all online programs are the same style. My online university doesn’t prioritize lectures. They have them, but attendance isn’t a requirement. (I know, crazy, right?) I still do as many live lectures as I can. When I can’t, there’s usually a recorded lecture for me to watch. There’s not a lot of wiggle room in my program for other classes – my program is my program and I just have to do it. My roommate has a little more leeway with his classes, but not much. He also has to go to campus one or twice a month. I’m not sure why. I don’t completely understand his program. I think he just has that “one professor” who is preferring to do his class in-person or something.

When I was getting my bachelors in-person, I had so much leeway I didn’t really know what to do half the time. One semester that messed me up pretty bad. Most of the time it was kind of nice to be able to look into different interests every now and then, though.

You’ll Need To Figure Out Your Study Habits

You’ll need to figure out how to study best based on your program style. When I was doing in-person classes, generally I just did the reading and went to class and didn’t study much. The lectures were helpful. The discussions were even more helpful. I could ask questions in-person and get an answer with a face that came with emotion.

In my online program, I generally do the reading and watch the lectures as well. However, the lectures don’t help as much as they did when I was in-person. Also, the lectures usually aren’t really over the reading content. The lectures are more “additional information” or how to navigate certain things, or tips with the best way to approach the material in the course.

That’s fine and it still works. I have always been pretty good at reading through everything myself and making sense of the material eventually. Some people may not be very good at that.

Your Equipment Needs Will Vary

For my in-person undergraduate degree, I took notes in a Moleskine notebook. I tried a laptop every now and then but I was more at home with a notebook. For my online program, I needed a laptop. I chose a Surface Pro 7 so that I could handwrite some things with the stylus and touch screen.

Here is the laptop I bought in the ad below. Just so you know, I’m a member of the Amazon Associates Program and earn money from qualifying purchases.

Adjust Your Expectations For Social Interaction

On a much more depressing note, there is hardly any social interaction in my online program. A few of us made a little Slack group and we complain about classes and keep up with each other in that, but that’s about it. My graduate advisor calls me every week and makes sure I’m doing alright. I can always reach out if I need to. My roommate’s online program has more social interaction because his lectures are more designed to replace in-person classes.

Some Online Universities Let You Accelerate Your Classes

On much more happy note, I find I’m getting through the material a little faster since my program doesn’t prioritize traditional lectures. Western Governor’s University is “competency-based”. To them, that means if I pass the assessments, I get credit for the class. The amount of time I spend in a class isn’t weighted at all. A month and a half into my program, I’ve essentially completed an entire semester of full-time graduate classes. (Full-time for graduate students is 9 credit hours.) The classes are getting harder as they go, though. It’s looking like I might get done with my program in a year instead of 2 years. Not all online universities are competency-based. In fact, they’re quite rare and are a newer idea.

Be aware that the phrase “accelerating” is generally for marketing purposes. There’s no real set standard for “accelerating”. All universities handle it differently. What one university considers accelerating won’t necessarily be what another one considers it to be. Sometimes universities may also use other terms in its place, like “fast-tracking”. Don’t choose your school based on the advertising of accelerating. Plan on the program taking you the normal amount of time: 4 years for an undergraduate degree, 2 years for a masters degree, 3 years or more for a PhD.

Online Universities Work Well For Some People

In some ways I would have preferred an in-person on-campus program, but then again I’m not sure what I benefited from with my in-person program for my English degree. I still got lost in the shuffle as an older student and didn’t get to take advantage of many of the on-campus opportunities. I think that has more to do with my personality than my age.

What’s more important than online vs in-person is the school’s accreditation and if they are nonprofit or for profit. I do not have experience with for-profit universities and don’t know much about them. For profit universities aren’t inherently evil in theory, though, so as long as you do your research on your program and you’re okay its accreditation status, you will probably be okay.

You can ask current and former students about their programs at all the universities that interest you. If you’re getting your masters degree, I would double check with any future PhD programs you are specifically interested in to make sure they will accept your degree from your master’s program when applying. Most of the time, PhD programs like working with you as long as your program is accredited and you can product some sort of transcript showcasing at least a 3.0 GPA, or the equivalent of a 3.0 GPA.

I’m Looking Into In-Person State Universities for my PhD

I’m personally looking into in-person PhD programs at state universities instead of online PhD programs at online universities. I like getting MBA online, but I want experience teaching while I get my PhD, which is something you will miss out on in most online masters and PhD programs.

Do I prefer in-person or online universities? Personally, I still recommend in-person programs for your undergraduate degree. They force you out of your shell a little and better prepare you for bureaucracy you’ll experience out there in the real world. For masters programs, online classes or online universities can really make things easier and less stressful for you if you’re the right person for them. You will, however, miss out on some networking benefits and teaching experience.

I’d love to do a comparison of the undergraduate level and the graduate level. Unfortunately, my programs are so different there’s really not a good and fair way to do it. This blog post is probably all I’ll be able to give you about it for now.

Is there anything you would like to know about online universities or in-person universities? Or is there anything else you’d like to know about college? All I have is my experience in my programs, but I’m happy to share. Leave a comment below if you have more questions or want me to blog about anything else.

You can leave a comment on this post, or you can contact me via my contact page. You can also follow me on Twitter or like my page on Facebook.

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Writing A Friend In Prison After 13 Years

One of my best friends in high school is in prison for doing something awful. He was on the run for 2 years and has been in prison for 7 years. I haven’t spoken to him for longer than that – maybe 10 or 12 years? Let’s just say 13 years. I have been wanting to write him a letter but I don’t really know what to say. I’m not even sure if he wants to hear from me at all. We weren’t exactly on the best terms after high school. Here’s the story on why I’m writing a friend in prison.

I had a crush on my best friend in high school.

We met freshman year. I had just moved to a new school. He let me sit with him in math class. He was nice. We talked a little every day. We loved the Resident Evil video games. Eventually we started hanging out after school and at each others’ houses playing video games. We were really good friends for a few years. About a year or so into our friendship, I was crushing on him. Eventually I told him and it was not cool. Being gay in 2001 was sort of like awful. He stopped talking to me.

Here’s the thing: up until the point that he dropped me, he was really nice and cool. He was nice to other people, at least from what I remember. He wasn’t a bully. He liked X-Men and Super Smash Bros. He liked wrestling. He had a dog. He had values. His older brother was really important to him. If I needed him he was there. He fended off other bullies for me from time-to-time.

He bought me this X-Men 2 dvd for my birthday once:

Disclosure: I’m a member of the Amazon Associate Program and earn money from qualifying purchases with the ad below.

After high school we made up and talked a few times, then he did something awful and went to prison.

I want to write my friend in prison a letter.

I want to write him a letter, but I don’t know why. Here’s the other thing: our friendship was very short compared to other friendships I’ve had. I had friends in high school after he dropped me that were my friend much longer. I’m not entirely sure why I still think about the short friendship as if it was the best thing ever I had. I don’t have any romantic feelings for him anymore. To be completely honest I’ve seen his prison photos and I’m not attracted to him at all anymore either. But, I miss having his friendship. Or, maybe I miss feeling like one day we will be good friends again. I used to feel like that before he got charged for the awful thing.

So yeah, anyway, I’ve decided to write him a letter.

What do you say to an ex-best-friend in prison?

I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. I can’t bring up the old crush because what if someone finds the letter and gives him a hard time about it? We haven’t spoken in like 13 years so I don’t even know if he’ll want to read the letter in the first place. I also don’t know anything about him anymore. I doubt he still enjoys playing Resident Evil. From what I can tell, this limits our conversation to something like:

“Hey, what’s up? Remember me? You’re in prison and that sucks. I’m not in prison and I’m in grad school. Okay ttyl.”

Yeah that’s pretty much all I’ve got. Writing a friend in prison you haven’t talked to in 13 years is hard.

I could just talk about what’s been going with me, but why would he care really? I could talk about some of the good unique and interesting times we had, but I really can’t think of anything crazy that happened. There were no super funny stories or anything. There’s just us playing Resident Evil 2 and Super Smash Bros.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I want to write him and I don’t know what I want to say. I don’t know why I’m blogging about this and I don’t know if best friends are even real anymore anyway.

Have you ever written a friend in prison?

Have you? What about an ex-friend who you sort of made up with before they went to prison, but not really and you’re not super sure about it and it’s awkward? I suppose I could ask him that in the letter. So far that’s:

“Hey, what’s up? Remember me? You’re in prison and that sucks. I’m not in prison and I’m in grad school. I remember we weren’t speaking for a long time in high school and then I remember we talked after high school and sort of made up. Did we? Are we friends again or not? Okay ttyl.”

Well, at least I’ve got somewhat of a paragraph. Writing a friend in prison who you’re not sure is a friend anymore is awkward.

Have you ever written a stranger in prison?

Don’t they have things like pen-pal services for prisoners? Aren’t there people who write prisoners because it’s nice and it helps them feel less lonely? Are those real or am I just making them up? Maybe I heard about them in a movie or something. If they are real, maybe I should start with writing strangers first?

I used this app called Slowly a few times to write people from other countries. I was kind of cool because it simulated real mail. It took days for the mail to arrive to their inbox and more days for you to get your response back. But like most things in my life I didn’t keep up with it and I haven’t used it since like May. I guess I should respond to some letters on there.

Anyway, I can’t write him like I don’t know him at all because that would be really weird. I know him, or at least used to, and we have a history.

What he was charged for doing was really awful.

I’ve said this a few times, but it is a factor in how I approach my letter. What he did (at least according to the system) was super bad. Like, really bad. I know that there are secretive groups of people in prisons who watch the mail and watch for people who write certain people. These people have people who check up on these people to try to figure out how they’re associated with them. I’ve heard of them causing trouble for some of these people. I definitely don’t want that. I also don’t want someone giving him a hard time when they find out a gay dude is writing him.

I just want to write him because I used to know him and I miss having a friend like him. Well, the cool him. He really was very nice before.

At some point after he dropped me, he joined the military and got really buff which was nice, but then he got into drugs and stuff. I didn’t know him during those times. I only knew him when he was skinny and played video games and watched X-Men. We shared Nintendo Power and Game Informer magazines. We called each other all the time to help each other get through sections in video games because you couldn’t just look up a let’s-play on YouTube back then.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I should bring up what he did or not in the letter. Probably not.

So I’m writing a friend in prison a letter but I don’t know what I’ll say.

I’m going to write him because if I don’t I’ll always feel like I should have. The letter will probably be short and awful and stupid, but I’m going to do it anyway. It might cause trouble, it might not. I hope it doesn’t. Seriously, have any of you ever written a letter to a friend in prison after a long time? How did you approach it? Why did you write them after so long? Please comment below and let me know because I’m kind of needlessly stressing about it. Am I crazy for writing a friend in prison after 13 years? I mean ex-friend or a maybe friend?

Me having my coffee this morning. When I’m done with my coffee I’ll get started on the letter.

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Update: I wrote the letter. Now I just have to figure out how to address it. I doubt he’ll actually write back, but at least I got this out of my system.

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