Monday, January 28, 2013

Extraordinary Results and Curing the Incurable

"What are you prepared to do?" -Sean Connery, Untouchables

If you look at Tai Chi and Qigong literature you will see stories of practitioners who cure themselves of incurable illnesses. These men and women cultivate their qi and beat the illness. Tai Chi and Qigong can help lots of illnesses such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression, diabetes, MS, Heart Disease, Cancer, Anxiety,and other physical and mental problems. There is even the potential for cure. Yes I said cure.

Just practicing Tai Chi and Qigong 20 minutes everyday or a few times a week is enjoyable and can yield great benefits. Curing an illness by these means requires far more commitment. As Mr. Robert W. Smith once wrote: "Commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved but the pig is committed." This is the attitude one must have if one wishes to defeat an illness. You have to be prepared to learn the methods of Qigong and Tai Chi and practice them very hard for at least an hour or two everyday. You have to work hard and sweat and labor. I was once part of the half hour per day Tai Chi will fix all my problems club. The truth is it ain't so. If you want to become strong and overcome your ailments (mine was extreme obesity brought on by poor diet and lack of hard work) then you have to be prepared to work very hard at your regimen.

You will have to alter your diet, you may very well need to consult with a good Oriental Medical Doctor. You will have to work for these extraordinary results. Too many times we see these arts as an easy way out an alternative to hard arduous exercise. But the truth is it's another kind of exercise. A brilliant wonderful mindful exercise but you still have to work hard.

I advocate that rather than seeing things as alternatives in terms of health and exercise look at each one as a tool. I love the Tai Chi, Qigong, and Martial Arts tools they help me achieve my goals. Those are tools in a toolbox that I use to maintain and improve my state of wellness. I can still use Western Medicine if I choose. I can go to an herbalist, a chiropractor, or acupuncturist as well. I can consciously choose what I want to eat. I can take walks, meditate, practice yoga. These are all tools that can help me to live well.

The key is that cures and improvement are possible. Even if you never get that cure you still get the benefit of your efforts. A cure is an extraordinary result and extraordinary results require extraordinary effort. So then what are you prepared to do?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tai Chi is a Martial Art

Here is a nice little example of Tai Chi fighting

I was talking with a friend today who happens to be a skilled Tae Kwon Do practitioner. He was chuckling as I mentioned that Tai Chi is a very powerful martial art. I asked him why he was laughing. He was under the impression that Tai Chi was a no contact discipline. Tai Chi has a good and well deserved reputation as a meditative health exercise but it is more than that. It is a powerful fighting art.

Most people want to learn Tai Chi for health. That's good and it's ok. You simply attend a class, learn some gentle movements, breathe deeply, and come away satisfied. However there is more to Tai Chi than health practices.

With proper training a Tai Chi practitioner becomes an incredibly powerful and capable martial artist. The quality of touching hands with a good Tai Chi player are a feeling of softness coupled with an iron like immovability. Wherever you attempt to touch him or her your force just falls into emptiness. You push as hard as you can on them but your force never reaches their body and pushes them over. Then they can without warning strike or push you with tremendous power that can knock you back or take you to the ground in agony. If you try to grapple them you find that your best throws don't affect them they are incredibly strong and heavy no matter how big or small they may be. Their power is subtle and goes beyond simple understandings of muscle and mechanics. Tai Chi and the other internal Chinese martial arts Xingyi and Bagua are truly beyond the normal experience one has with martial arts.

Beyond the form and the healing exercises Tai Chi has a two person practice called push hands. Push hands is an exercise that teaches you to relax and adhere to Tai Chi principles all while being touched and pushed by a partner.

After Push Hands you move on to learning San Shou or free fighting. This is where you take the lessons learned in form and push hands and apply them to an opponent situation. Without proper two person training Tai Chi can never be a martial art.

Aside from the form and two person exercises there are training methods to help build a Tai Chi body. The kind of body that creates the qualities I have described earlier. Tai Chi is definitely a martial art and a very powerful one.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tai Chi, Awareness, and Healing

Tai Chi is a fantastic way to start your morning. It makes you breathe deeply, move slowly with awareness and causes you to wake up and become more accustomed to the activity of the day. It's fun and the intensity can range from a gentle flow to a hard core workout with your leg muscles screaming from keeping a deep stance. Even if you don't feel like practicing a whole form take one move and practice it over and over investing your awareness into the exercise.

Awareness is so important. I used to relax and focus. I then learned to think of and feel energy moving. Now I use the more direct and useful method of shifting my awareness from place to place. In qigong circles there is the saying that where the mind goes energy follows. I have come to feel that mind isn't the best way to state this. Awareness is better. You can be aware of your mind, or your hand, or a tree in the distance. Imagining something happening, say a stream of light or some other image creates an expectation and that expectation creates unnecessary anxiety in many folks (myself included).

Awareness has a profound effect on healing. When I had a headache I used to try to imagine healing energy going there. Sometimes it would help but most of the time my head just kept hurting. Then I discovered that if I simply became aware of my head, really felt the headache and paid attention to it without judging or taking action then the headache simply went away. There was no need to try to make something happen. Just breathe and observe. In Chinese medical terms my energy followed my awareness and healed the problem that was causing the headache. This was really a fantastic breakthrough for me.

In martial arts when I want to hit something I put my awareness through it or inside of it. In qigong I move my awareness through my body and it experiences healing and comfort. In relationships there is peace to the level that I am aware of the other person. The mind is constantly moving. It is never silent until of course you move your awareness away from it. Then it can keep on blabbering but your awareness, that essential you that observes, has moved on to another thing. This observer viewpoint is incredibly powerful and is a wonderful thing to explore. Your ticket to controlling consciousness is not so much beating it into shape but controlling where you put your awareness without judgement.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ip Chun, Son of Ip Man

It's been a long week and I'm gonna update you more on it in coming posts. Here though is the awesome and spry Ip Chun imparting words of wisdom about Wing Chun Kung Fu. His attitudes apply to all martial arts. Until next time practice hard!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inner Power and Master Yuanxia Zhang

My friend and Tai Chi colleague Mr. Lester Holmes posted this video on his Facebook feed this morning and it was too good not to share. The vid comes from Mr. Novell Bell. Novell is an excellent martial artist and a very good teacher. Check him out! Without further ado here is the video of Master Yuanxia Zhang, he is discussing Xingyiquan (Mind Shape Fist), using the whole body, health, and inner power. This is premium stuff.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Me, Punching, and Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee looking awesome because real badasses smile and show respect!

Bruce Lee once said: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

Like most martial artists I am a bit of a Bruce Lee fan. He was a pretty cool actor and his athleticism was impressive. He had some Traditional martial training but never completed it according to many sources so he had to kind of piece together the rest of his martial training which was geared for looking great in movies. Nothing wrong with that. The other side to Lee however was apparently his basics served him in good stead because most folks report that he could punch and kick with more force than almost anyone they had ever encountered. I think a lot of this power came not from his learning background but the man's sheer tenacity and demanding work ethic.

So I decided to test out the 10,000 times rule. I started practicing my basic punching and blocking combinations from White Crane Kung Fu. I started at doing 120 per day. That set of 120 felt great. So I did two sets... finally I worked up to doing 10 sets per day. That is 1200 punches performed slowly and with an eye on getting all the basics of posture, movement, and relaxation in order. In typical Chinese martial arts fashion I vowed to do these 1200 punches every single day for 100 days. At the end of this period I will have thrown 120,000 punches with perfect form. In the 11 days I've been doing these simple punches I have managed to improve my power, speed, and ease of delivery. I am able to knock down a 350 lbs. partner bracing himself with a pad with a nice effortless punch. I'm looking forward to seeing where I can go from here.

An added benefit of this insane punch regimen is that I am getting more endurance and my shoulders and abdomen are getting stronger. I think that the 1000 slow reps of any skill regardless of martial art is a good idea. If nothing else it gives you more movement in your day. Something we in the modern world desperately need.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Art Never Fails

I was pondering today upon what makes up martial arts. Soldiers get hand to hand combat training in their Basic Training regimen. Some basic self defense can be taught in an good 8 week course. Cardio Kickboxing is a great way to get out your aggression and get some cardio done. But martial artists spend years learning and practicing. Contemplating this has led me to the conclusion that the purpose of the martial arts is the pursuit of excellence.

Military training, self defense, and exercise are worthy goals but they are not actually martial arts. They are activities. A true martial artist falls in love with the martial arts and works hard to perfect his or her skills. Whether it is kung fu, Tai Chi, Karate, MMA, Aikido, or anything else we work hard to perfect the techniques, the fundamentals. In MMA that would be learning proper techniques and conditioning so that one excels at ring fighting. In Karate one practices mainly blocking and punching. In Tai Chi we practice producing effortless power and neutralizing an opponent.

The problem is that when we fail to stop an MMA player or a karate-ka we get the idea that we need to focus on studying the art that defeated us. That is just silly and is a waste of time. You need to focus on the art you love and work harder. Condition yourself practice until the art works to stop your opponent no matter what they happen to do. If a Brazilian Jujitsu player takes you down then work on neutralizing his grab and beating the snot out of him before he can use his techniques. If that pesky Tai Chi guy trounced the BJJ player then the BJJ player needs to work harder on perfecting his techniques.

If a Karate-ka claims that his or her system is about one hit, one kill then he or she needs to prove that by simply taking out an opponent carrying a pad with one swift punch. If you cannot knock someone holding a pad off of their feet then you have failed in the objective you were training for.

Most often this failure comes from the refusal to work hard enough. A martial artist is like any other artist. You must practice the art until you become a master of it. You may be talented but without practice your talent will never blossom. Choose your martial art and practice hard. Repeat the moves and techniques thousands of times, spar with all opponents, learn how the techniques work. Eat, breathe, and sleep your art. This is how Martial Artists are made and there are no shortcuts. Remember we as people fail but the arts never fail. You either practice hard or you don't.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fu Zhong Wen- the Tiger at the Gate

Master Fu Zhong Wen was an amazing Tai Chi practitioner. He started learning Yang Style Tai Chi from the tender age of nine years old. His teacher was none other than Yang Cheng Fu, the grandson of the Founder Yang Lu Chan. By all accounts Fu was very very skilled at Tai Chi and he has been referred to as Yang Cheng Fu's "Tiger at the Gate" because when people would come to challenge the grandmaster he would let them get soundly thrashed by Fu Zhong Wen.
Fu came from the old school of Chinese martial arts where challenges were pretty common place. We are very lucky to have video of him. Check it out here he is at an advanced age moving so well and so beautifully. This is him doing the Yang Style 108 form and it is gorgeous. His son, Fu Sheng Yuan, is living and teaching in Australia today keeping up the family tradition of excellence in Tai Chi.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Four Basic Rules of Self Defense

Here are four basic rules to start you on the path to creating a wise and reasonable self defense plan.

1. Walk away if you can. I cannot stress this one enough. Do not get into a fight just because you have learned a few self defense techniques. Avoid conflict if you can. Any conflict carries with it risk no matter how skillful you are. Your life and health are too precious to waste on proving a point or avenging some slight to an imaginary thing called honor. For years I had people ask me what I would do if someone came up and insulted me or my mother or America or whatever. I always answer: laugh and walk away. Life is too short to defend concepts. If there is a real physical threat, by all means defend yourself but if someone is insulting you just let it go. So to reiterate if you can walk away do so.

2. Don't argue with guns and knives. This is really a no brainer. This is not TV. Knife and bullet wounds suck horribly. You often won't survive an attack with one of these implements. Just do ask your attacker says and let them go. This works in cases of robbery. Just give them the wallet. your wallet is not more valuable than your life. The big exception to this rule is if your attacker tries to take you somewhere. Your chances of survival drop significantly if you are being taken to a new location. In this case some knowledge of firearms and blades is your best bet. Know what you might be facing and you can make an informed decision on your plan of action.

3. Don't make threats. This is just really stupid. If someone bumps into you, cuts you off on the freeway, or in some other way damages your calm simply ignore it and move on. First, you never know what that person is capable of if insulted. They could have a concealed handgun, a knife, or be just plain old reckless and homicidal. Second, if you are going to fight someone it is tactically a huge mistake to say: I'm gonna kick your ass. This gives them a warning and any tactician will tell you that 99% of warfare is deception.

4. Be prepared mentally, physically, and tactically. Have a plan for self defense situations. Learn self defense scenarios and play them out with a friend and then mentally over and over and over. If you practice a lot then every practice reduces the panic reaction you can have when dealing with an attacker.

These four simple rules are a good start to gaining streetwise self defense. You can protect yourself if you learn the rules and back them up with action. Learn how to punch, how to kick, how to aim for targets and how to escape from holds. You don't have to get a black belt but you do have to do some work. The work of learning to protect yourself is work well worth doing.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Natural Remedies for Depression

Depression is severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. It is also defined as a condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life.

WebMD lists the common causes of depression here. The purpose of this post is not to debate causes of depression or the merits of various treatments. The purpose is to increase your awareness and give you tools that can be used in your battle with this very real and serious problem.

Many people with depression issues experience mood swings. There are dietary factors that you can control that may aid in easing these sudden mood changes. Blood sugar levels can be a major factor in the rapid changes of mood many people experience. You drink a soft drink, have some candy, or even fruit juice and this causes a temporary high feeling that creates a false sense of energy and well being. This feeling lasts until the pancreas kicks in and releases a large burst of insulin to compensate for the large amount of sugar you just took in. This insulin spike can cause depression, fatigue, bad temper, and numerous other ill effects. Cutting out sugars and pursuing a balanced diet can work wonders for stabilizing the emotions.

A great quick remedy for depression is deep breathing. Indian yogis have a saying that goes if you control your breath you control your destiny. In my experience this is precisely the case. Asian medical paradigms say that oftentimes depression is caused by insufficient qi or prana. The common thread between the ideas of qi and prana are that both come from the breath.

The technique for using the breath to combat depression is simple. Select a quiet place and sit with a straight back. Breathe deeply inflating your belly and then your lungs and then breathe all the way out emptying lungs and belly.
Breathe in, then hold for a little bit, then breathe out.
As you breathe in, think that all good things are entering your body.
As you breathe out, think that all the bad things in your body are leaving.
Try this for a few minutes and you will notice many positive effects.

Other tools in your anti-depression toolbox are: regular exposure to sunshine, exercise that raises your heart rate, doing something creative (writing, painting, doodling, singing, etc.), and acupressure.