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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Balancing rocks: Patience with a purpose

This past week, I took 5 days away from the everyday grind. Not that I don't enjoy the everyday grind,....I love my work and I never consider it "work". However I was invited to spend some time at the Oregon coast at a beautiful beach house, and I couldn't refuse.

It felt odd to travel and not have a "reason"  to do so. Usually, when I travel, its for my radio show, organizing martial arts events, teaching, etc. While I have fun traveling for those events, this trip to the coast was a bit weird at first. I almost felt....guilty....for not having a reason to travel.

After going down to the beach and hearing the sound of the ocean for the first time in years, that guilt faded. I stared into tide pools at low tide, did Tai Chi on the beach each morning, looked in awe at the incoming waves, we walked the dogs and let them lead us to interesting nooks and crannies in the rock formations, felt the breath of the sea as it blew strongly past my ears, slept to the sound of the ocean just outside my window..... Motivating.

As martial artists or athletes, we are dedicated to our training and self improvement. Some of us run martial arts studios or exercise facilities and we run a business. Our training and our business is what we go to sleep thinking about and eagerly wake up to. However, one part of our training regimen or business plan should never be ignored.....time for US.

Some of us seem to believe that the busier we are, the more productive we are. Everything "must" have a reason to do...for our business, for our marketing, for our training, for our next tournament, for whatever else.....

The sand and the sea reminded me that not everything needs a reason. There's no "result" to stacking rocks, there's no "marketing" when staring into tide pools, there's no gold medal in marveling at the ocean waves and no money to be made when feeling the wind press against your jacket. And you know what? It feels GREAT to not have reasons to do these things. VERY therapeutic!

However the real therapeutic experience.........

As someone who holds intuition as an integral part of my training and everyday life, I realized that using intuition for specific real world reasons (business, training, etc) was not enough.....To tap into intuition for inner world reasons, was exactly what I needed. As I walked the beach alone one day, I was drawn to certain rocks and set aside those and something told me to stack I stacked/balanced them along the beach. This type "active meditation" allows you to just be, just experience your activity and let things just happen.

At one point after my last stack (that took quite a while, because I was determined to get the arrangement to balance in a way that it seemingly wouldn't), I sat back, exhaled, felt a sense of accomplishment, and then.....felt a wave of emotions all at once.....sadness, grief, doubt, heartache of the past, loss, unvented anger from times gone by, frustration etc.  I was surprised at what what going on, even a bit embarrassed, which added to the mix. I stood up wondering "what the hell is wrong with me?". I walked closer to the edge of shore, faced the waves and just let the emotions run themselves out. I wasn't sobbing, but I did feel the sting in my eyes as tears ran down my cheek....I was just experiencing emotions. Sometimes all at once, at moments individually. I don't exactly remember.....but I do think I actually let out a roar against the sound of the waves.......

I don't know how long I stood at the shore, but as I felt the wake of that emotional tide disappear, I felt hungover yet lighter and rejuvenated. I felt the stress of the past year or so, fall off my shoulders. I realized that this was a week that I had gone for days without a headache or a migraine and I smiled at the thought. I wiped away tears, pulled myself together and continued walking, finding more stones, and balancing them along the beach.

The photo the stack of rocks that somehow allowed me to productively vent. It would have been easier to switch the top two stones, but something told me to keep at it to find the balance point on this particular arrangement. The "pain" of patience must have released something.

I once read somewhere that balancing rocks tests the patience and forces one to not 'make' something balance, have to let go and let patience, intuition and tactile sensitivity guide you in finding that "one spot" where everything aligns.  I believe, that this test of patience is what allowed me to just let go.

Many times we really don't know that we actually actively hold space for negativity.....we actually need some of these emotions for balance.....however, when you hold onto some of these things from days or years long gone past (namely anger, frustration, grief), we run out of space for the positive things. We hold on to the stress of dealing with that irate boss, we hold onto the hurtful words that someone said years ago, we hold onto anger, we hold onto the betrayals you convinced yourself to forgive. Slowly, these stresses get tucked away somewhere deep, and one day even the most ordinary thing brings these emotions to the surface....where you have to experience them, to face them, to close those chapters and move forward.

That "pain" of patience that became close to frustration (you know the feeling!) opened a floodgate that I myself put up over the past few years. Sometimes, you have to face some of the very things that you put on the backburner to consider for later. This was my "later".  With that said, I'll have to remember to make time for meditate, to vent, to talk with a friend.....and NOT try to be tough and put things on the backburner.  This was a lesson learned, and one that I'll remember.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bullying: Are we raising "pansies" if we don't teach them to fight? It takes more than fighting to instill confidence.

(photo courtesy of

I recently read a news article about a 9 year old boy who took his own life due to constant bullying at school:

So Sad. I'm very supportive of teaching kids to defend themselves and find their personal power. But you know what burns me?....when people say "You're raising pansies if you don't teach your kids to fight".

What, so if you teach a kid conflict avoidance he/she is a pansy? A boy has to man up and throw a punch against some bully kid who is most likely all bark and no bite, in order to prove he's not a pussy or a pansy? Pardon my French, but WTF. We see you, the old school men who say "I was was bullied and I just socked that boy in the mouth. We're raising a generation of soft pansies". You're not raising a "pansy"....the kid simply doesn't have the emotional/verbal/physical skills to deal with it.So I ask you HAVE YOU REALLY TAUGHT YOUR KIDS ABOUT ALL ASPECTS OF SELF DEFENSE outside of punching someone's lights out? If you haven't then your're actually raising a kid that only knows how to punch someone and has no other skills outside of that.

No skills outside of that......who's a pansy?? Hmmm.

You can teach any kid to box, but unless they know what is going on in a bullying situation, those skills have no context to attach to. Its like learning to spar as a beginner martial artist, getting confident in those skills then getting thrown into a tournament where the other people spar differently enough to beat you. You're not ready for it and you get scored on because you don't know how to adjust, nor do you know how to deal with the pressure to having to score points so you don't look like you don't know what you're doing.

As someone who was bullied in school, let me tell you something:
Don't look at me and say "well you you were sheltered in your little Filipino family home and don't know the streets, that's why you were bullied". Well that's right i haven't, but that didn't make you any better than me nor does it make you any less likely to have been bullied. Sure you can act all tough so no one chooses to mess around with you, but honestly can you put up that facade 24-7?

My parents didn't raise a pansy yet I was bullied. My parents taught me (yes, in my "sheltered family home") that my personal space was mine and mine to keep and mine to determine how big or small to make it at any given time. They taught me how to use a pointy umbrella to make someone's day a very bad day. They taught me how to stand big and speak big even though I was very small. The "speak big" part involved no shouting , it involved ATTITUDE and what I call "The Look". My Dad (who DID know the streets, by the way), especially, taught me that if anything happened to me or my sister or anyone else in the family, that there would always be other family who will "take care of things" in the old Filipino way. I learned Karate and became very good at it.

Yet, when I was bullied, I chose to not fight back. That makes me a pansy you say?

t wasn't that I couldn't fight.....I chose not to fight back because I was was taught to be aware of what I could do. I was taught to know my anger triggers and to be aware that if I allowed my temper to flare it would not be pretty. Even back then as a child, I knew my anger was awakened at personal insults or jabs at my intelligence or slights against my ethnicity or way of life. I was aware that each time I cried as a bully taunted me, *it was not because i was scared, it was because I was SO angry that it actually hurt to stop myself from lashing out and making someone's day a really crappy one that would land them in a hospital.* These things I had to deal with....the fantasies of wreaking vengeance upon my tormentors....When you actually wish to see blood, you have to take pause and ask yourself "What's up with that?" Back then, there was no instructions on "proper use of force" or "legal ramifications of self defense". Plus....I really did not want to hurt anyone. Did I want the bullying to stop? Of course! But did I want to injure someone badly to do it? That was the dilemma. I wanted it.....I actually wanted to see my bullies suffer....but I didn't want to make my fantasy THEIR reality. Such stuff for a child to think about, eh?

Back then all I knew was point sparring for the Dojo and outside of that, "blow their knee out and break their face so they can't breath, walk nor talk". There was no in-between....I had to learn the "in between" myself through trial and error. As I grew older and more confident in my verbal skills I realized that defending oneself from bullies involved MUCH more than just learning basic boxing or even martial arts. Conflict resolution, the "talking down" the violence, its a skill that many don't have. I've heard some people say that Police negotiators are just those that "couldn't handle walking the beat or being out on the field", but I tell you what....I admire the skills of negotiators. It involves a sense of empathy aligned with justice.

ts okay to teach kids how NOT to be Mr. or Miss Milquetoast. Its okay to teach kids to defend themselves in all methods....verbal AND physical. Let your kids know its okay to feel scared of a bully....that its okay to complain and tell and adult and even call police (yeah yeah, some will say "what good will that do, just punch the bully in the face")... yet let the child know its not okay to be hurt by a bully and they have the right to defend themselves. However those who say kids are pussies for being scared of bullies....get a clue. Remember the adage..."courage is not the absence of fear, courage is the proper use of it". Confidence cannot be "taught" must be developed by the child...period. You can't force confidence on a kid, nor can chastising another kid's parents for not raising their kids correctly, instill confidence in that child.

That must learn this confidence by learning to lose and win. Let your kids learn how to lose a game. Teach your kids to learn from a loss, not get in their business and tell them what they did wrong. Teach your kids to win with tact and respect....don't teach them arrogance. I see too many kids get bent out of shape if they lose a soccer game...and I see too many kids get big headed when they win a game. Guess who their parents are most of the time....yup, the "No pansy" parents. Teach your kids to pick themselves up if they fall off their bike for the 3rd time in their life.....first time pick them up, dust them off and get back on the bike. 2nd time just dust them off and tell them they're okay....3rd time have them get up on their own and carry on. Kids learn through experience!!

I've learned this through experience. Sure its not "on the streets" confidence, but its confidence nonetheless. My parents wanted to raise confident, self reliant kids..... and "pansy" wasn't even a vocabulary word for us back then. Fear, uncertainty and doubt were part of the education.

In short.... if you raise your kids to think they are pansies for not doing this or're actually raising a generation of opinionated adults that see merely the black and white in everyday situations. And if they're opinionated, we have to look at our own generation of adults. So rather than just assuming any bullied kid is a pansy or casting judgmental eyes on the about we just take the time to instill confidence in our kids as well as teaching them self defense skills? It takes time....much more time that just saying "if they bother you just punch them".

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Preparing for a martial arts rank exam

If you are studying a martial art with a ranking system,  you'll be taking exams to earn rank, most likely in the form of colored belts or sashes. 

Rankings usually differ a bit between adults/teens and young children,  but regardless of age, a good school will require that rank candidates meet the minimum standards of a rank rather than put people up for promotion regardless of readiness solely for profit. Keep in mind however, that good schools will also keep the student in mind.....good schools will not withhold rank exams if a student has a physical issue (wheelchair, blindness, mobility issue,  learning disability,  etc) fact good teachers will take the time to introduce the art to these students in such a way as to still meet the requirement *based on the students ability*. 

Not all martial arts use the belt rank system, but for students of those that do, here's some things to work on and consider,  to prepare for your exams.

  • You are not entitled to rank, you have to earn it:  Although some schools require a minimum set of hours of training for each rank, just because you met the minimum hours doesn't mean the teacher will automatically jump to promote you. (Explained in the next point...)
  • Understand that you should meet the standards of the rank you are applying for:  Just because you meet the minimum hours of training for a rank, maybe even carry a high opinion of your efforts in class, it does not meet you are *ready* for the rank.   I hate to sound like a spoil sport, but if you don't meet the minimum standards of a rank, you'll need to practice and correct your technique until you do.  Many people do not understand this because of thinking in a "I'm entitled to this" attitude. But if you carry that attitude in a traditional Asian Dojo, you won't be staying long in that dojo.
  • Do an honest inventory of your skills:  Are you meeting the standards AND working hard? If there is no intention behind a perfect strike, or if there's plenty of effort in forms but techniques are sloppy, then more practice is required. Don't compare yourself to other people....because honestly, no one really cares that you think you are better than upper ranks. Your attitude and humility must speak volumes as much as your skills do.
  • Ask the teacher what you need to work on, or ask if you can schedule a private session for assistance in preparing for an exam:  Believe me, good teachers WANT you to succeed and will likely be willing to assist you. And honest eye can teach you so much more than your own opinion of yourself.
  • Don't demand to be tested. The teachers will determine when you are ready.  One of my own teachers once said "Everybody thinks they're ready and deserve the next rank....that's confidence. But to not take and honest look at your readiness and ability to meet the requirements and to demand rank....that's arrogance. Arrogance has no place in rank promotion"

Now it is exam what?

You've been selected for rank testing....if you've tested before, you'll know what happens at exams, but if it is your first exam, your teacher will tell you what to expect. But here's some things to remember (good advice for the experienced students too):

     ◇ Arrive early to warmup and get extra last minute practice in. Dont show up right at the appointed won't have time to warm up and the test adminstrators most likely will not hold up the exam to wait for you to warmup. It is not fair to those who showed up early to prepare.

     ◇ If there is an exam fee, take care of that before the exam day. The administrators want to concentrate fully on your exam, not accounting.

     ◇ Be in uniform (if your school has a uniform). Be sure your uniform is clean and pressed (if needed). A wrinkled uniform does not make a good impression.

     ◇ Show your best, but don't get cocky. I've seen this type of behavior,  and I've come close to telling the cocky/aargumentative students to sit down and tell them their exam is over. Sometimes stress over a "pass or fail" will bring out the worst in people. Don't let nervousness or stress get the best of you. Just do the best you can.

     ◇ If you don't know something, be honest about it and don't make excuses.  I once had a young man tell me he was busy playing World of Warcraft all night and didn't have time to prepare his written report for the the written portion of the test, yet he showed up for testing. I didn't allow him to test.e

Dealing with disappointment
Maybe you weren't selected to test when you thought you should have been, maybe you didn't pass the test. Many people get angry and point fingers at everyone else (including the teachers) *but* themselves. Rather than jumping on a pity-party bandwagon, you have to remember some things.....

  • Remember that the art you study has standards of skill to uphold. Each rank means an improvement of standards. Maybe you try really hard in class, but let's face it, if  you're testing for an intermediate or advanced rank and that front stance still has a bent rear leg or your elbows flare out when you punch, the testing board will take notice that it doesn't meet intermediate or advanced standards. 
  • Remember that self perceived skill and actual skill might be two different things. This is why teachers provide an outside eye for the students, and many time bring in other black belts from the style (but not from their own school) to help judge the candidates. 
  • If you didn't get selected to take a test, don't complain or demand to be tested. You are NOT entitled to rank, you have to meet the standards of that rank to earn it. Complaining about not being selected isn't going to make the teachers jump to test you. Complaining also shows that you question the teacher's judgement and that of the upper ranking teachers above him/her. And honestly, I only let my own masters question my judgement.  Get your Ego out of the equation and just work to improve what you need to work on.
  • Kids normally get disappointed at not passing a test. But you know what I've noticed? They are the first to ask me what they can do to improve for the next test. They cry a bit, but then they get right back on the dojo floor and don't wallow in self pity. They are the ones who comfort other kids who don't pass a test. Adults.....sometimes we need to learn from those kids.

Celebrating your promotion
You worked your tail off at your rank exam, sometimes for many hours, and you were successful at attaining your new rank! You have every right to celebrate and be proud of your accomplishment. However don't let it go to your have more work to do the very next day you set foot in the Dojo. New requirements and new techniques will need your attention now. You'll need to work harder now, to gain higher skills.

You know what I've found to be a good way to constantly celebrate your new rank? By being a consistent good example for other lower ranked students. Remember that you're not leaving the lower ranks behind. Instead, you're paving the way for them. Be that older brother or older sister to the younger ranks. You'll find that your understanding of your art will grow though this.

I always say to my students "Pass or not, you're still learning".....but I'm pretty sure anyone that had failed a test don't find those words very uplifting. Disappointment is such a funny that only comes about if one knows what "grabbing for the goal" feels like. However keep in mind that Martial Arts teaches us to toughen up and move ahead.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School: Benefits of Martial Arts afterschool programs for kids during the school year

Summer is almost over, and kids all over the United States are gearing up for school. Whether they're attending the same school as last year, or a different one this year, kids will be transitioning from summer activities to classroom activities.

You've got all the gear for your child....but do they have that one thing that ties all the things necessary for optimal progress, such as work ethics, time management, and discipline?

Enter: Excercise.  Studies have shown that regular vigorous exercise helps children's brains keep fit, as well as keeping physically fit.

Kids naturally love to play and romp, and as adults we should encourage healthy play. While traditional games such as "hide and seek" are fun and helps develop cognitive skills, understanding rules of play, etc, scientific studies have shown that Martial Arts training helps in these aspects and MANY more. One of things that makes martial arts training different than, let's say, games of tag, is that good Martial Arts training will help a child develop a sense of self discipline that can apply to anything else in their lives. Studies have also shown that regular martial arts class attendance can help foster focus, goal setting & achievement, compassion, altruism....all aspects that can help children be well adjusted in school.

Afterschool Martial Arts programs are becoming more and more popular. These programs are usually open to K-8 grade kids, and run a few hours after school, on school days. Since parents can arrange for school their child's school bus to directly drop off their child at a martial arts studio with an afterschool program, it is a great way for parents to know that their child is safe, supervised, and getting plenty of exercise....and learning great life skills as well.

Many afterschool martial arts program provide supervised homework time (often a mandatory activity before any martial arts activity starts, martial arts training just like the regular classes, opportunities to test for belt rank, game days, and other great activities to keep the children engaged until pickup time.

Here at Body Movement Arts ("BMA"), Our mission is to provide a safe and fun venue for children after school, where kids can get their homework done alongside their classmates, make new friends,  get a rousing healthy workout, and learn leadership skills.

Our 2014 "Afterschool Warriors" program begins September 15th. Sessions are Monday through Thursday, open from 3:00 to 5:00 pm (allowed to stay for extra class till 6 pm for only $5 more). 

Here are the benefits of the program:

  •  "Homework Hubs" precede each day's martial arts class. Black belts and senior student kids available for questions. 
  • Students may test for belt ranks and receive the same benefits as regular club members (10% off special seminars and one free 30 minute private lesson per month).  
  • Kids will learn aspects of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino martial arts.
  • Only $139 per month. 10% discount for family members. (Filipino martial arts stick set is extra: $20 for a set of two Eskrima sticks)
  • On school breaks, members of the Afterschool Warriors may attend the regular classes of their age group.
  • Afterschool Warriors Signature red uniforms included with registration.
  • Current members can upgrade their membership to the AW membership by simply transitioning to the AW program fee for the school year.
For only $139 per month, parents can rest assured that their child is receiving the best afterschool activities, and getting their homework done before they come home!

Contact our Director of Children's programs to register your child at Body Movement Arts: Restita DeJesus, (206) 596-7880 9629      17th Ave SW Seattle, WA 98146

Experience the BMA Benefits: BODY * MIND * ACTION!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

All these "30 day challenges". Well how about the "30 day Zhan Zhuang meditation challenge"??

Over the past few years, we've seen "30 day challenges" such as the "30 day plank challenge", "30 day squats challenge", etc. Most of these activities challenge the participant in some type of physical fitness activity to strengthen the body.
Well, what about strengthening the Body, Will, AND Mind?

I propose the
30 day Zhan Zhuang Challenge!

What is Zhan Zhuang?

For those not familiar with Tai Chi or other types of martial disciplines or meditation methods, Zhan Zhuang loosely translates to "standing like a post" or "standing on a stake" (pardon if my Chinese loose translation is incorrect, as English is my main language).

 There are many variations to this meditation practice, but the general idea is to stand firmly yet relaxed, all the while keeping aware of breathing and proper posture. It may sound easy, as many of us stand in lines for a substantial period of time.....but how many times have you STOOD MOTIONLESS without changing foot position or slouching or leaning to one side?

In Chen style Taijiquan, my classes and I practice this posture most frequently, as depicted in the accompanying drawing of Chen Zhenglei, my Grandmaster. Knees slightly bent, top of head to tailbone aligned, shoulders /hips/core relaxed, weight evening distributed on both feet and centered on both feet (no pronating or supinating), and arms raised in front of chest, as if "embracing a tree".

Most people jump right into this exercise, believing that standing is easy. But I suggest that if you try it, that you go into this with an open mind. Many people go into it then give up when their arms are tired.

"Wait....arms tired? I thought meditation was supposed to be easy!"

I suggest that people start with 2 minutes maximum to begin with. However you should always be aware of your body starting to compensate for shoulders fatigueing, etc. THIS IS NOT AN ENDURANCE EXERCISE as some people might believe. I do not suggest that you try going for as long as you can the first day just so you can have bragging rights. (yes, I've had students in the past do this...."look, I can stand in Zhan Zhuang for 15 minutes!" yet they don't see that their arms drop, they start to slump, their breathing changes due to discomfort, etc. ). Zhan Zhuang is not a contest to see who is strongest. The only competitor you have is yourself. The key here is to do Zhan Zhuang correctly and to not convince yourself that a bad posture is "correct". This is the hardest part, because if an individual is the competitive type, they will try to do too much too soon, thinking that they will gain benefits faster. Nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to Zhang Zhuang.

Take your time and you'll see the benefits over time. For some, the word "time" detracts them from the practice.....which means the Zhan Zhuang practice will most likely not be for them, and that's okay.

However the purpose of this challenge is to get people to try it.

Okay, In a nutshell, here's how to do basic Zhan Zhuang (refer to photo below)

1. Place feet about shoulders width apart. Place weight evenly on both feet, not pronating or supinating on the feet. Bend knees slightly.
2. Stand tall but relaxed.....have a feeling of having the top of head reach for the sky, let your center of gravity drop downwards. Relax your core, including chest......don't let your chest raise up and out like military style standing. Gently tuck your tailbone slightly as if seated in a chair in a relaxed upright position (try sitting on a chair with keeping torso upright as described....that is sort of the posture I'm trying to describe).
3. Raise arms as if hugging a tree. Relax shoulders. Keep elbows lower than shoulders and wrists.
4. Keep hands "alive". Don't curl the fingers in a limp fashion, yet don't use too much tension to keep them open. However, if you have conditions that prevent you from opening your hands, allow your mind's eye to keep an intention of "openness".


Now stand, keeping aware of your breathing and proper posture.

Remember, this is not a contest to rush into in an attempt to gain faster results. You would only hinder your training with impatience.

Keep in mind, if you feel any discomfort or pain, chances are you are using too much force or strength to stand in the posture. So stop the practice for a few minutes and go back to it or start again the next day. Your body will let you know of any postural mistakes as you stand.

Let's try.....

Phase 1, Finding your center, regulate breathing.
Day 1:  2 minutes
Day 2:  2 minutes
Day 3:  3 minutes
Day 4:  3 minutes
Day 5:  4 minutes
Day 6:  4 minutes
Day 7:  5 minutes

Some of you might say "Hey wait, why arent we going for 7 minutes in 7 days?". If you've never done Zhan Zhuang before, you need to 1) get into the routine of doing the activity and 2) allow your body to get used to standing motionless instead of sitting motionless and 3) slowly let your arms get used to remaining in that "embracing the tree" posture. 

Remember, I suggested "Don't Rush!" Moving on......

Phase 2, standing "in" the legs instead of top of them, allow breathing to relax tension.
Day 8: 5 minutes
Day 9: 5 minutes
Day 10:  6 minutes
Day 11:  6 minutes
Day 12: 7 minutes
Day 13:  8 minutes
Day 14:  9 minutes

"What?? not 10 minutes at 10 days??"  This is not a pattern based thing....its a "challenge the body yet allowing the body to gradually acclimate" thing. Again, dont rush. Its only a guideline meant to try Zhuan Zhuang for a bit each day.  Moving on.....

Phase 3, body strengthening
Day 15: 9 minutes
Day 16:  10 minutes
Day 17:  10 minutes
Day 18:  10 minutes
Day 19: 10 minutes
Day 20: 12 minutes
Day 21: 12 minutes

Phase 4, mind/will strengthening
Day 22: 12 minutes
Day 23:  13 minutes
Day 24:  13 minutes
Day 25:  14 minutes
Day 26:  14 minutes
Day 27: 15 minutes
Day 28: 15 minutes
Day 29: 15 minutes
Day 30:  15 minutes

You'll notice that its not a 30 days to 30 minutes schedule. It takes much more practice to get to 30 minutes. Resist the urge to try for 30 minutes right away....believe me, if you've never done Zhan Zhuang before or have little or limited exposure to it, don't go for quantity too soon. You'll just miss out on the subtle improvements to your practice other than the usual academically noted "relaxed and calm" items. To truly listen to your body take TIME. If you miss a day or two, that's fine. Just pick it up a the next opportunity. This is merely a guide, not a rule book. For experienced practitioners, stand as your skill allows.

Time....time for skill to develop. Skill gained through time, persistence and effort is.....


Who's in for the 30 day Zhan Zhuang Challenge?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to punch with impact. No, no, not with your fist...

Today at one of my satellite classes, the students actually wanted a lecture....can you believe that....they wanted one! What teenager actually asks for lectures? Hahaha! But they playfully call it "story time", because,  as a few of the teens put it, "They love learning from the stories".

So here's what I told them today.....

As a martial arts instructor,  I've taught many people how to form a good fist and how to punch. I've have seen all sorts of fist variations from beginner students...... thumbs inside the fist,  fingers sticking out, wrists bent in cockeyed fashions,  etc.

If there's one thing that students find out while they're learning to punch, it is that the fist has to be tight, especially when striking a target. I tell my little kids class "all your fingers want to ball up tightly together,  to work together to make a punch strong" .  How many of you have I reminded to keep that fist tight? Yes, I'm aware that some people dont have all 5 fingers and will have to modify their punch technique. But I'm not talking about the technique itself. Instead I'd like to discuss the intention of a punch....I'd like to use the punch as a metaphor.

What is the purpose of a punch? That's right,  Pretty hit something. But if we dont pay attention to the elements of punching (such as proper fist formation and body mechanics), I won't matter how hard we want to make impact with the target...missing an element of punch execution will result in a poor strike.

Okay, so let's compare a punch impact with life impact.....

As I mentioned,  we want all fingers to work together tightly to make good impact with the target. Imagine punching a punching bag as hard as you can with your pinky sticking out or your thumb tucked inside your fist.....sounds sort of painful, doesn't it? In those examples, a single finger prevents proper striking. Now lets apply that thought by giving each of those fingers a "quality"....let's say, that each of our fingers represent:

- Persistence: Keep plugging along no matter what.
- Upbeat attitude: "Upbeat" does not necessarily mean to act happy all the time. It also means carrying the ability to see the positive even when you're not feeling so jolly.
- Nurturing quality: Too often we associate this word with "motherly", but we want to think about the quality of the nurturing intention. It is to care for the development and well being of other people or things. Nurture your self development,  nurture your learning.
- Confidence: Pretty self explanatory....
- Honest: Not only to others, but most importantly to yourself as well. Know what your goal is, and don't lessen your expectations just to meet your lack of action.  Honesty with oneself includes being able to recognize when we're making excuses, and admitting them without fear.

These qualities should work together in concert to make a tight "fist". When one of these qualities doesn't work at the same level as the others, then it becomes like a sole finger sticking out ofnthe prevents the rest of the fist from making an impact.

P ersistent
U pbeat
N urturing
C onfident
H onest

To make a good impact, punch strong. Uncommitted punches don't hit well. Remember that making an impact doesnt always mean hitting hard, it means to also hit the right put anothwr way, making an impact doesn't necessarily mean getting rich, being famous, or reaching thousands of people.  If you reach just one person or reach even just one of your goals, you've made an impact.

Of course,  I made some points on the importance of staying in school, etc....and I hope they understood what i was trying to say.

Even if I reach just one teen.......

Friday, April 12, 2013

My first attempt at knife making

One of my Tai Chi students set up a private class with a local knife maker, David Lisch. "What a great opportunity..." I thought. "...To learn how patience and hard work forge into something sharp".  A full two day workshop, we were excited, and a bit nervous.

David's school, "Studio 4" (which ironically is in room #3 in the building) was in an old metalworks building in industrial Seattle. Drafty and cold, we soon forgot the chill as we got down to business. David had already laser cut knife blanks for us, and we had a choice of style.....skinner, hunter, or Santoku style kitchen knife. I chose the hunter.
I looked at this hunk of steel and thought...."Now how am I supposed to get this blank looking anything like a real knife?" I was actually questioning my ability to make it happen. But David assured that if we paid attention and "didn't try thinking about shortcuts", we'd go home with a beautiful knife by the time the weekend was over. We chose our handle wood....I chose a beautiful purple analine dyed multiplex.

David took the time to explain geometry, steel characteristics, Metallurgy of carbon steel, safety precautions, etc. Then, down to work. Our first duty was to establish our plunge line and initial bevel, as well as rough shaping the handle. Standing at the grinder I was pretty happy to have a bracket that established the exact grinding angle for the plunge line . I would've freaked out if I was told to do it "by eye". hahahaha!

Luckily, establishing the plunge line and grinding out the rough shape of our handle wasn't as hard as I thought. But I knew it was going to get more challenging. Next, we drilled our pin holes and we rough shaped our wood.
The fun part....heat treat! We watched as our teacher explained using a forge, and we had a choice of using the forge or the salt pot (which was much more consistent and suggested for first timers). No brainer....we chose the salt pot. We had to pre-treat our blanks with a torch to drive out extra moisture. When he reminded us that the blanks still carried a bit of moisture, we all shuddered..."Single drop of cold water in a pot of high temp molten stuff....that's an explosion!!". Needless to say, we all made sure to have Dave check our blanks to be sure they were good to go before we dropped them in the pot! Two treatments in the salt pot and oil quenched, we were good to go for that first class. Dave would put the blanks in the oven to temper, and by the next morning, we'd be set to for the real grinding and polishing.

David explains and demonstrates at the furnace

Knife held in the salt pot

Day Two:  The polishing begins. After the tempering, we each had stations where we stood with sanding sticks, starting with 400 grit sandpaper and gradually going to 1200. Funny, just as I thought the steel was beginning to polish up, scratches that weren't there before, revealed themselves. I thought I was going to be sanding and polishing for hours.....which was pretty much the case. Two hours of patient polishing, and I had a shiny blade in comparison to the dull salt pot/oven tempered color that I started out with.

Where the heck did those scratches come from?

Almost there!

After the polish, which evened out the harsh bevel, it was time to epoxy the scales to the handle. Dave mixed the epoxy for each of us, as "two part epoxy was a tricky thing....if you don't mix it right, it will screw everything up and you'll need to clean off all the gunk and start over". Well, no one wanted that, so we welcomed the fact that he was willing to mix the epoxy for us.

Ready for epoxying to tang....
Then...the fun but mind bendingly exhausting part......grinding and shaping the scales to the tang. I was doing fine until I messed up the underside of the handle (the area that sits above your fingers when holding in a standard grip). I had inadvertently put a bit too much pressure on on side, and completely lopsided that area. But Dave said "No worries...." and helped me fix it without changing the profile too much. I did my best to learn as he shouted over my grinder, and voila....all fixed.

This underside part was all lopsided until Dave helped me fix it....

After things were all even, I opted for a slight palm swell. Dave gave great tips on how to use not only the belt part of the grinder but the platens as well. A final deep polish on the handles, and it turned out to be a beautiful blade.

After a final profiling of the blade, we all had Dave put the final sharpening on each blade. We all watched intently, and I tried to take mental pictures of how he did it....even down to how he took his stance in relation to the grinder and blade. Each of our blades were sharp.....mine not "crazy sharp" as Dave noted that since I wanted a utilitarian knife, he left enough "tooth" so as to cut through rope and twine, whittle wood, etc. Now my students who made Santoku style kitchen knives.....those knives were crazy sharp. Like "cut paper thin slices of tomato" sharp.

The youngest of our group, a 14 year old kung fu student of mine, turned out a beautiful hunting knife. Dave was there with Isaac all the way, guiding him through the power tools. I was so proud of this young man making his own knife, with the scary power tools! His mom, the Tai Chi student who initially set up this workshop, was a proud mama hen too.

The finished product!

All and all....a wonderful weekend. It felt great to know that a little bit of "me" was in this blade...and no amount of money will buy this blade from me. save up my $$ for more classes. The "great grinding" class sure sounds like fun......

Book Review: "When the Fight Goes To The Ground", by Lori O'Connell

This book can be purchased here: When the Fight Goes To The Ground, at

Being a Kajukenbo practitioner, I looked forward to reading this book mainly because of the expectation of seeing a mix of striking, kicking, and ground work. I wasn't disappointed. Now, before I go on, I just want to say that although I've learned very basic groundwork through Kajukenbo, I'm in no way skilled enough to even so much as compare myself to Brazilian Jujitsu or MMA. *This is why I read this book*!!

The Book:
First off, I'd like to say that I've already read a few reviews of the book. What I've noticed in one review that was a bit less than favorable, is that it was written from a *established grappler/BJJ* point of view. I think that some others who reviewed the book, were looking at it from a competitor's point of view, and I'll bet, flipping through the pages to see if the triangles were done correctly or if Kimuras were locked in tight enough. Ms. O'Connell clearly states that she is not a BJJ black belt, so I find it unnecessary that people review the *techniques*. Its so easy to read into things and get a bit critical as an "expert" rather than look at this book from a "martial artist's point of view" or a "teacher's point of view", I'm going to get right into it as a "practitioner's" point of view....a view stemming from several decades of martial arts but not as much groundwork, and also look at the book from a woman's point of view.

It is refreshing to see a book that gets to the point right away, without leaving a reader guessing as to whether or not the book was a "win in the ring" or an "introduction to grappling". The author, Lori O'Connell, has been a practitioner of Can-Ryu, a "modern/traditional" system of sorts....and being a woman, she mentions "What I lack in size, I make up with tenacity". This drew me to the book because 1) In the case of women using ground skills for self defense, its one thing to get a  man teaching a woman how to handle herself on the ground if she's ever put in that situation....its another when you get a woman teaching a woman. Women who are skilled at the ground game already know what tools they have at their disposal, and what limitations they have to consider. Guys....well....have to guess at those. Even if men are smaller in stature, the upper body strength factor is still something that won't allow men to really understand how women roll. No pun intended.

Ms. O'Connell adds well researched information on the percentages of fights going to the gound. These percentages aren't educated guesses.....she took the time to research legitimate sources to attain the statistics, and the statistics would make anyone consider learning even basic ground skills if they didn't have it already.

Before the book even gets into techniques, Ms. O'Connell makes a clear delineation between the ground "game" in the competition situation, and the ground skills for actual self defense. She makes it clear from the get go that the street has no rules, and that no announcer is going to preface your self defense situation with "Let's get ready to Rumblllllllllllle!".  When the book does get to techniques, it covers the primary tools...understanding the ground, how to stay safe on the ground, understanding size differences, training options, vital targets for striking and kicking (not just grappling, but yes, striking and kicking),  and other "need to know" (or "need to be reminded") items. This was a good thing to see, in that I've seen many books that cover history, then shoot right to techniques.

The Techniques:
Ms. O'Connell starts off with "weapons of opportunity". Let's face it, we're probably not going to be wearing our sponsor-patched keikogi and obi out on the street, so it makes sense that she introduces the use of found objects, the environment,or things in our pockets as equalizers to the fight.  I liked the reminder that there are no soft mats to roll on in the street, and  introduction of how to fall on concrete.

The photos in the book are very clear....great choice of contrasting shirt colors to make it easier to follow the photos. Techniques against standing attackers and mounted attackers led the segment. All of the techniques were photographed well, and each photograph is accompanied by steps on performing the technique, and things to watch out for.

What I found interesting, was defenses against side controls and bottom controls. One might think "If I were to be using ground skills in a real self defense scenario, why would I need to worry about being put in a side control, bottom control, or even neck restraints and submissions like in the ring?". Well, a good point made was that you never know if a grappler will be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even just showing off to friends and don't know their own strength or have proper control. I also see that many split second moments in time during a fight, will have physical reference points with which these techniques against side controls, bottom controls and neck restraints will apply.

For the most part, the techniques are easy to follow, although there were just a few places where I couldn't quite get the gist of a movement. But....that's what the DVD is for.

The DVD!
Okay... a DVD was included with the book! Good call, Sensei O'Connell. One can actually see the techniques depicted in the book, done in real time. All you have to do is rewind a bit to catch a technique over and over. Well filmed. Kudos to Sensei O'Connell's Ukes for taking the brunt of the techniques!


Final Words:
In short, the book is an excellent source of reference for students of grappling arts, a great introduction to using basic ground skills for those with little or no grappling or martial arts experience, and a good reference for established grapplers to look at the art from a self protection or woman's point of view. By all means, this book is not meant to teach a complete art or system in 192 pages. If you get this book, which I do recommend, use it as a reference for tactics and all means, if you want to get more in depth, seek the tutelage of a qualified instructor. This book will be a good supplement to your training.


Interview w/ Sensei Lori O'Connell

Humorous "Making of" video