Archive for the Exercise Category

Everybody wants their cake

Posted in Buddhism, Christianity, Exercise, Happiness, health, New Age Baloney, Reality Bites, Religion, tai chi, taijiquan, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2009 by wizardsmoke

Been reading a lot about Jodo Shu/Pure Land Buddhism lately. It sounds a lot like Christianity to me: everybody goes to paradise as long as they can faithfully recite Amida Buddha’s name out. Even the negative actions of a sinner cannot stop a true believer in Amida’s Pure Land from going there. Amida’s Pure Land is also locate in the west. Why the west? I couldn’t tell ya. Well, I do have my own speculations on the matter, but they’re worthless even to me, much less to you, lolz!

I gotta say, though, this whole deal of thinking heaven and paradise are somewhere else and you get to go there miraculously for being a good little lamb — I don’t believe it. Not because I don’t believe in paradise, but because I don’t think you’ll have to wait around to go there once you see it. When it happens, it happens, kapicz?

In fact, the whole problem of getting to paradise is a lot like the whole problem of learning to relax and issue power in Taijiquan. The only way we can issue power is by focusing on relaxation, so the only way we can go to paradise is to focus on… …. ….

Okay, I don’t really have much of a point here, but think about this! For some reason, everybody (and I’m not just generalizing) builds up chronic muscle tension in their back, hips and shoulders over time. This eventually leads to back problems and serious back pain, joint pain, etc. which further builds up depression, listlessness, and so on. But instead of getting up every morning and going through some half-hour routine to deal with this inevitable physical pain that accompanies existence, most people complain about it or want some easy solution later in life when it builds up and finally hits them. Which, again has some kind of analogy to yearning for paradise, though again I am slow and not quite getting to the …

Oh well. Paradise actually doesn’t exist, because if we conceptualize it in advance, it’s not paradise.

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Fangsong 4eva

Posted in Exercise, Fighting, health, martial arts, meditation, New Age Baloney, Qi, tai chi, taijiquan with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2009 by wizardsmoke

I’ve been busy and haven’t had much I care to write about lately. Society has had its way with me. But I have been practicing a lot of Taijiquan (TJQ). That’s the only thing in life that doesn’t seem like a complete waste of time — it levels up the soul as well as the physical body all at once.

The principle you hear superior TJQ bloggers talk about these days is maximum use of relaxation, specifically the Chinese term fang-song. The principle of using the waist efficiently in movements (“waist is the commander”) is the core of most martial arts; pretty much every martial art does that at advanced levels. But in TJQ and “internal” martial arts, the key unique principle or secret above all else, is total softness and the ability to relax muscle while fighting.

But even if you don’t practice TJQ or any other macho head-games, fang-song is a beautiful concept to work with. It literally means a combination of “relax” and “unclench the muscles”. It’s pretty much the idea that all meditation teachers are trying to point to, but don’t usually have the vocabulary or practice methods to elucidate. Whenever I am sitting somewhere with nothing to do, or lying in bed drifting off to sleep, I just fang-song my whole body. Sure, sure, you could sit and “be mindful of the breath,” but a lot of people do that without taking heed of their levels of tension. Fang-song is a lot like meditation-class body-scanning-for-tension, but it’s a method that was developed to also function when confronting extreme violence or threats to one’s life.

Most tension starts when the back isn’t straight, and immediately ripples to the shoulders and hips. When the shoulders and hip joints are tense, there is a parallel effect on the elbows and knees respectively. The other big issue is the verticality of the spine, which is a whole additional TJQ principle in of itself (all the principles are co-dependent upon one another). Ideally, one wants to tuck the coccyx until the whole spine, from the bottom (or top of the ass), up to the neck, is one straight line (as when viewed from the side).

It’s also very important to unclench jaw and facial muscles. The reason to wear sunglasses in on bright days is to keep your face from scrunching up and becoming incredibly tense. Excess jaw and facial tension can lead to migraines, headaches and other kinds of annoying pains. Shoulder tension can do this too, and practicing TJQ-related fang-song is practically a miracle cure for chronic back pain, myofascial muscle issues, etc.

As far as qi and issuing energy goes — without total relaxation, the amount of qi a person can circulate and issue in strikes is pretty minimal. I’m not entirely sure what the energy programming instructions are in external, muscular styles like Karate, Shaolin, Silat and so on, but in TJQ and internal styles, it’s the total relaxation which gives you the qi explosion. A lot of beginners are always interested in qi circulation and bringing it out in striking energy, but once you get somewhere in practice, you realize the qi naturally appears and soaks into everything when you relax really deeply.

Anyway, I have a feeling that Taijiquan will get super big in a martial way soon, right before the world implodes. Considering that there are a large number of MA teachers pitching TJQ efficiently now, I don’t see how it could go any other way. Especially since TJQ is the best.

But what difference does it make if TJQ becomes commercially popular in a martial way? Is that really better than the current trend of it being popular as a New Age healing tonic? I guess I don’t care either way.

Go Straight!

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, Exercise, Fighting, health, martial arts, meditation, Monasticism, tai chi, taijiquan with tags , , , , on March 7, 2009 by wizardsmoke

Lately, in my Taijiquan practice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the principle of verticality. One of the five fundamental principles of Zheng Manqing-style Taijiquan (and numerous other branches) is to maintain verticality in all movement. This means, keep the back straight — and very importantly — keep the eyes looking ahead on eye-level. This last part about the eyes is often neglected unless folks practice wholeheartedly and on a daily basis.

Verticality is important if you do Buddhist or Taoist meditation practices too (and probably other branches, i.e. Hindu stuff, but I really don’t know and can’t say). Of course, in seated meditation, when it is done with the eyes open the eyes are not straight ahead, but must fall a few feet in front of where you are sitting. The exact spot will vary from person to person, depending on their height, torso size, etc. and must be determined by the individual through consistently practicing and discovering which position allows for good posture with minimal tension.

But the point in either case, is that the eyes are directly related to posture, even though we commonly associate the idea of verticality only with the spine. When the eyes drop below the normal eyeline of the head/body, the body slumps and begins to lean forward. In a combative situation, one will lean on or into the opponent, or overextend the limbs and let them become handles by which to manipulate the body. This can also be related to — or an exaggeration of — sloth, torpor or laziness. It is usually an extension of bodily tension and chronic poor posture, further cyclically exacerbated by this eye scenario.

The other possibility, that the eyes extend too far above the relaxed, default position, reflects tension and excitability or irritability. It’s less common that people have this problem, rather than the previous one of slumping. If people are overly upright in posture, they typically are carrying a lot of tension in the shoulders because they’re using too much muscle mass and are disconnecting from their dantien or hara — their bodily center below the navel.

It seems pretty obvious, but the eyes are a subtle part of our posture. Most people walking down the street are looking at the ground, only glancing up at noises or approaching people. By looking at the ground, their posture is already beginning to suffer — and they’re revealing themselves to be a more viable target for predators seeking people lost in their own thought-worlds. In fact, the drooping of the eyes and the slumping of one’s neck and back is directly tied to thoughts — the more lost in our thoughts we are, the more our posture will suffer.

Killer Apps

Posted in Exercise, Fighting, martial arts, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2008 by wizardsmoke

The idea of martial art forms and applications… forms are just a method of meditation and ingraining solid body mechanics and physical movement into the practitioner. Forms in karate, gongfu, whatever — they’re always wider, exaggerated movements than when the “moves” are actually being “used”. But the funny thing about forms is how they, like any position the body finds itself in, can have “martial applications”.

What MA nuts love about fighting gurus is the way they can make offensive/defensive use of every physical situation they get into. In other words, for an experienced fighter, every physical position that exists becomes one with martial applications. In that sense practicing the forms are just like practicing musical scales and exercises — they appear over and over everywhere, and thus are re-emphasized. They just appear more subtly in the gist of actual movement (melodies and harmonies).

This is why it’s so funny to watch super-tough bouncers show “applications” of Taiji/Tai Chi movements. Because experienced fighters could show you the application of any movement — opening the refrigerator, turning on a lamp (the titty-twister!), throwing a frisbee, clapping your hands, drinking a beer, and so on. Destruction is available from any angle at all times — it just takes the right intent and structural coordination. A deeply experienced fighter can pull it out of anywhere. A person who is an expert with one move can pull it out of almost anywhere if you aren’t paying attention.

So on this level, everything in existence is a form that can be utilized to one’s advantage. So I suppose in practicing MA, this is what one learns — not killer death moves or street fighting talent — but a nuanced, complete understanding of the patterns and ways our bodies move and connect to each other. In this regard, I like the adage at Weakness with a Twist — that we should cultivate weakness. The weaker we are, the more perfectly we move. Everything is an application in progress.

Eight basic energies

Posted in Exercise, martial arts, Mysticism, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , on August 26, 2008 by wizardsmoke

In the magical science of Taijiquan, there are eight basic movements. They are the fundamental ways to react to oncoming force and neutralize it. A lot of martial arts and philosophies actually have eight basic movements/ideas/potentials, so it’s not that big of deal (or maybe that means it is). But I’m just talking about Taijiquan here so lets keep moving.

These basic movements all represent a kind of energy. When you’re pulling someone off balance, you’re using cai or “pulling” energy. When you suddenly expand your arms to block a hooking punch, you’re using peng or “ward-off” energy. There are distinct moves in Taijiquan forms that implement these basic movements; in fact the forms are pretty much exclusively made up of variations on them. But the thing is, we can’t get attached to the actual movements themselves. We want to implement into our minds, as if some kind of full-body hermetic tantra, the ideas behind these various energies.

So the eight basic movements really exist symbolically. That means, every time something expands, it is peng energy. Every time something is efficiently shrouded and deflected, that’s lu or “roll-back” energy. Within these definitions, the movements work like the Hermetic ideas about the elements — that fire represents expansion and the notion of heat, whereas water represents contraction and the fundamental notion of cold. Similarly, in Chinese five-element philosophy, the elements are (obviously) symbolic. For example, metal symbolizes things rendered and removed from direct association with the earth or elements (tools, technology, and so forth).

The movement of various energies becomes a mental exercise. After training with physical structural concepts for a while, one practices with others, and here one becomes adept at maintaining utmost single-pointed concentration side-by-side with sensitive “listening” skills. By harmonizing the basic energies with the body movements, one begins to respond appropriately to physical engagements by perceiving the duifang (uke, opponent, whatever) intimately in the mind — as a subtler mental manifestation. This is where one begins to “see into the 4th dimension”.

What really kicks ass about all this is that one gets to the point where the physical senses no longer are the primary sense faculties. They certainly are in so much as they indicate immediate qualitative distinctions in the immediate physical environment to the individual’s brain. But they cannot project onto our minds the bigger cosmic picture, they cannot sense predators or impending catastrophe. It is only as these peripheral, intuitive mental faculties increase in sensitivity from our training (again, not necessarily MA or Taiji), a greater awareness of the universe opens up.

100 Posts of Solitude

Posted in Exercise, Fighting, Reality Bites, society with tags , , , , on August 25, 2008 by wizardsmoke

*gasp* *pant* *wheeze* I made it! *hack* 100 posts! *cough* A real achievement here at WS HQ, considering: (A) life is suffering and (B) I’m perpetually disheartened and demoralized by my insufficient writing ability. So…. pat yourself on the back, ‘Smoke! You’re a survivor! (Thus far…)

Now… the Olympics are a weird tradition, full of creepy events (underdeveloped teenage girls in skimpy leotards doing horrific contortionist acrobatic maneuvers) which are all at once alluring, intoxicating and yet so utterly empty and soulless. Which pretty/strong young things shall we sacrifice to the gods this time around? Nationalism is pretty dead, yet the Olympics trudge onward into oblivion — because the gods need to eat!

I think some things are cool in the Olympics, but the athletes (at least in the individualized events) have to sacrifice their youth to get to that point. It’s a celebration of the pinnacle of physical achievements, but at the same time it means nothing because it is so fleeting. Never mind the natural physical dilapidation from old age…

Hee hee, that’s why I sorta scoff at the team sports, full of typical twenty-something jocks. No way is the pressure cooking on these punks the way it is on the 15 year old girls competing for China! Consider the insane performance pressure put on the underage girls; I bet those kids need affirmation and approval from adults/superiors for the rest of their lives.

If you ask me, the Olympics are basically only the lunatic performance/race events: gymnastics, track/field, diving/swimming, etc. The team sports are just there to make it longer. ‘Coz who really cares about that team stuff? Team stuff is losing track of what the Olympics were all about: “wrestling” matches to the death! For real, old school Greek wrestling was basically kill or be killed: anything-goes nude fighting.

The Olympics also make me think about the fact that sports are male-created military simulations. Sure, it’s obvious — especially when you look at football and rugby and so forth. But! the main point is: the only difference between sports and actual battle (besides the obvious intentional deaths) is that sports have rules. As soon as you add rules to a competition it pretty much becomes identified as a sport.

People want their kids to play sports in order to develop “sportsmanship” (whatever that is), and be social and healthy. But really they want their kids to be competitive — to triumph over other kids. It’s also an opportunity to dominate a place in the social hierarchy and so forth. As Conan might describe it, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”

In the end, the Olympics are a huge letdown. All moments of glory — they’re so… bittersweet. The moments of Olympic glory seem a little overdone/phoned-in/commercialized, but all heroism is ultimately the same in the way it is so fleeting. Total gangland warfare!

Of course, the real letdown of the Olympics in the USA was the horrible, horrible coverage by the NBC-affiliated TV stations and the conniving, racist American commentators. And where was the Judo, Tae Kwon Do, archery, fencing? And most importantly — why didn’t one channel show every single women’s volleyball match? Why did we miss a single one of those matches with their consistently captivating, uh…. volleys? For shame!

Ninja Melt

Posted in Exercise, Fighting, martial arts, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , , on July 18, 2008 by wizardsmoke

I’m not one for traditional aerobic activity. I don’t jog or go to the gym or road bike or fight bulls. I certainly have done those things, but in my experience they seem like a lot more trouble than they’re worth. Plus, I cannot stand to get all sweaty and hot in front of a bunch of staring strangers and their smog-inducing cars (apparently I’m OCD/Social Anxiety-prone, hee hee!). Gross!

No, for me rolling is the sweetest exercise ever. I feel like I’m 7 years old all over again, every time. It’s so much fun! The thing is, you have to be careful when you roll. I actually used to intuitively tumble as a kid, but I picked up a wide variety and knowledge of rolls from throwing down with Bujinkan classes over the years. Some of those guys (along with maybe Systema) teach a crazy variety of rolls. Much more than in Aikido or Judo, where a lot of people get exposed to the idea. I’m actually surprised Dave at Formosa Neijia hasn’t talked much about rolling or roll-conditioning, considering he’s a true chameleon and full-time blogster on “soft” martial arts.

Rolling functions as an aerobic exercise that builds up the muscles on the back. Oh, sure, if you do it incorrectly or when you’re tense you will shred your back but that’s part of the fun, amiright? Point is, if I just work on rolls and (my half-assed attempts at) handsprings for a half-hour every day, I become incredibly powerful. Although! I should point out that I pre-empt and finish each practice session with some serious zhan-zhuan or zazen-type muscle relaxation meditation activity. Rolling incorrectly a few times can tense up your back pretty good.

If you already do Bujinkan/Systema/Aikido/Hapkido or whatever else curriculum that incorporates this rolling stuff, my advice is not that special. But, since nobody reads this blog anyway, what do I care?

Some precautions:

  • Do not drop onto your shoulder as you roll! Just as you smoothly transition between steps in Taiji or any martial art, the weight transition from the feet to the shoulder and then the back is like slowly pouring water into a glass. If you drop on the wrong part of your shoulder, such as where the collar bone connects to the shoulder, you could do some serious damage or pain to yourself.
  • Relax throughout the roll! The more worried about the roll, the more you will tense up. Even a little tension at the beginning of the roll will build up and create giant gaps in movement by the end of the roll.
  • Work on them slowly! Learn to do them with little momentum or slowly. Learn to feel your way through the roll, as though the muscles on your back were tire treads.
  • Never pre-meditate a roll or act when excited. Just practice rolls slowly until they are a natural part of your movement.
  • Don’t finish on your knee and don’t push with your head. If you practice on concrete this can really mess you up! Don’t do that until you’ve mastered this.
  • Practice on concrete or a hard surface once you’re getting good. This will let you see where you are too stiff or where you are relying on your hands/knees. It will also strengthen your back and smooth out your technique.
  • Go back and break down the fundamental basics and watch them as you go through a roll slowly. I.e. make sure it’s always going shoulder-to-opposite-hip and that you aren’t placing impact on any portion of your shoulder blade.

People make fun of the Bujinkan sometimes because there’s so much cheesy ninja romanticism that goes along with it. Fair enough — there are many guys (including teachers) who have simply spent too much time playing Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Ninja Gaiden. But a lot of practices in martial arts are mistakenly discarded because they take too long to implement into one’s natural movement. Rolls are sometimes thought of this way. But with rolls, if they’re practiced every day for a couple of years, they become one’s natural movement. This means: no more fear of falling on pavement, the ability to jump from greater heights by channeling the momentum into a ground roll, and the ability to leap out of the way of gunfire while saving hot babes (this is the Roger Hamburger technique).

There are some truly legitimate videos of the Bujinkan Shihan demonstrating basic techniques that have finally weaseled their way onto the internet. Also, there are some Kadochnikov Systema examples that are slick: the dude just melts into the ground!