In My Dojo, Cheaters And Failures Are Welcome

Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure. ~Kenneth E. Boulding

Want to become an admired and successful martial artist? It’s easy: just find a style and dojo where the rules favor your natural traits and talents, and insist that everyone follows the rules.

Do you have long legs and flexible hips? Try sport Taekwondo.
Overweight? Take up Tai Chi or knife fighting.
Prefer horizontal combat? Enroll in a BJJ class.

If this sounds like ridiculous advice, it is because you expect more than comfort and fraternity from your martial art. You want a practice that enables you to grow, and to realize your latent potential. Martial arts are supremely useful for this purpose because, at their most basic level, they have no rules; with no impermissible attacks, no fault is too small to remain uncorrected.

How to Become a Failure

Immanent success in martial arts is always a simple matter of lowering your standards. Failure, in contrast, becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. And as the opportunity for failure decreases, the rate of learning slows.

Martial arts skill vs. practice

Progress in martial arts tends to follow a logarithmic curve. When a ten-year veteran of the arts possesses only three years worth of skill, it is probably because they long ago exhausted their opportunities to fail.

There are many ways for a student to increase their failure rate. Continue reading In My Dojo, Cheaters And Failures Are Welcome

Advanced Tai Chi Balance Training Tips

Tai Chi Parry and Punch
Zeng Nailiang’s Xin style Taiji
Parry and Punch

The positive effects of Tai Chi Chuan training on balance and stability are well known. Clinical studies have shown that, with as little as a few weeks of Tai Chi practice, students are significantly less likely to fall down accidentally, inside or outside of class. From a martial arts perspective, they are also less vulnerable to trips, throws and takedowns.

Not every slow-motion exercise routine is worthy of the name Tai Chi, though. The subtle details of your performance will determine whether your practice is excellent balance training, or just marginally beneficial. Here are three adjustments to enhance your Tai Chi form practice for improved balance: Continue reading Advanced Tai Chi Balance Training Tips

Learn The Art of Kata Seduction

Steps

Masatoshi Nakayama
Masatoshi Nakayama
  • Earn your kata’s trust. Every suitor starts by claiming they are ready for commitment, that they will do whatever it takes to master the kata. Three months later, half of them have already moved on to the next martial arts style. After so much infidelity, who could blame your kata for being difficult?
  • Shut up and listen. Once your kata has grown comfortable with you, it will start dropping hints about its deepest and most intimate secrets. “That downward arm movement in Heian Shodan? I never said it was meant for blocking kicks,” your kata might whisper coyly. It is very important that you avoid arguing with your kata, or insisting that you know its true meaning.
  • Slow down, tiger. Don’t rush through the kata like your gi pants are on fire. Take the time to explore and appreciate every inch of it.

Continue reading Learn The Art of Kata Seduction

Why You Should Never Turn Your Back on a Predator

From the March-April 2008 issue of Desi Life:

Gitanjali Kolanad: A Force of Nature

Force of Nature: Graceful yet powerful, Kalaripayat is inspired by a wilder world

Some scholars estimate that Kalari (also written as Kalari Payatte or Kalarippayattu) dates to 12th-century India. According to one legend, Kalari is the world’s first martial art.

Gita Kolanad is 54, but she looks, and moves as though she were at least a decade younger. Born in Kerala, she moved to Winnipeg at age 6. She used to do yoga, but says she found it boring and took up Kalari in her 30s to keep in shape for dance.

“Kalari is a real holistic system. It’s not just the martial art, but the healing aspect and the focus aspect,” Kolanad says. “When you get into the weapons, it’s a constant lesson in focus. When you lose your focus, you immediately get hit. I know that yoga has this aspect of meditation, but you don’t get any feedback on whether you’re doing your meditation right. Here you’re constantly getting feedback,” Kolanad says. “That’s why I love Kalari and I think it’s poised to be bigger than it is right now.”

At the highest stages of Kalari practice, it is said “the body becomes all eyes.” Masters become totally aware of everything around them. Kolanad doubts she will get to that point, but says that’s not a concern: “I enjoy every aspect of it.”

Continue reading Why You Should Never Turn Your Back on a Predator

Cure Your Sore Lower Back with Tai Chi Ruler

Vertebral column

Although Tai Chi is an effective treatment for stiffness and lower back pain, the complexity of its forms discourages some from learning the practice.

Fortunately for back pain sufferers, not all Tai Chi forms are long and elaborate. While some traditional forms contain more than one hundred movements, others contain less than a dozen. The short forms are easier to learn and faster to complete, but no less beneficial to the practitioner’s health.

Among the short forms, Tai Chi Ruler is the easiest to learn. The ruler, or chih, is a simple wooden dowel, approximately one inch thick and one foot long. Fundamental ruler practices consist of a single movement, repeated a few dozen or few hundred times.

Many of the Tai Chi Ruler movements do not actually require a ruler, and can be performed just as well without it. Here I will describe one such exercise, which is suitable for any age and fitness level. Continue reading Cure Your Sore Lower Back with Tai Chi Ruler

Get a Tucking Clue: Tai Chi and Your Tailbone

Practiced properly, Tai Chi is among the most beneficial activities for improving one’s health. Unfortunately, some students misunderstand one fundamental alignment principle, resulting in collapsed and contorted postures that are more likely to injure health than restore it. The principle: tucking the tailbone.

A straightened spine is required for most Tai Chi postures, and the proper way to accomplish this is explained the Tai Chi classics. The top end of the spine should be lifted, from the head; the bottom end of the spine should be relaxed and allowed to drop.

Over time, the combined forces of intentional expansion and natural contraction (supplied by gravity) will pull the spine taut, as if suspended in the air. The musculature will automatically adjust to support this straightening—unless it is prevented from doing so. Continue reading Get a Tucking Clue: Tai Chi and Your Tailbone

Pigua Tongbei: Swing Your Arms Like a Great White Ape

An Exercise to Build Flexibility and Coordination

This Pigua Tongbei warm-up exercise is an old favorite of Mike Martello—Director of the Wu Tang Association of Belgium—and a new favorite of mine. It will loosen and strengthen your core: waist, back, shoulders and hips.
Continue reading Pigua Tongbei: Swing Your Arms Like a Great White Ape

Advice From a Blind Kungfu Master

While conducting some unrelated research, I recently came across an book written by the disciple of a blind kungfu master. I was gratified to read his advice, so similar to that which I received from my own martial arts teachers. I’ll explain why in a moment; first, a few quotations:

On the primacy of coordination…

The principle of “divide and conquer” may have some validity in those branches of education concerned with knowing rather than doing, but in the education of the artist, “integrate to coordinate” should be the battle-cry.

Demonstrating the ability to make one single movement by genuinely coordinated means, is worth more to the growth of the student than showing them now to negotiate any supposed technical difficulties by the employment of “end-gaining” methods.

Clumsiness in general, and technical failures in particular, have no other origins than in the making of simultaneous contradictory gestures.

Continue reading Advice From a Blind Kungfu Master

Three Benefits From Lifting Your Bai Hui Point

Taiji master Yang Cheng-Fu said that, without lifting your Bai Hui point, even 30 years of practice would be a waste of time. Why is this particular point so important to martial artists, and to everyone else?

The Bai Hui point, which sits on the crown of the head, is known by many different names. In acupuncture, it is identified as Du Mai 20 (百会), the point where the body’s Yang energy naturally converges. In kundalini, tantra and other Indian yogas, this point is named the Sahasrara (crown) chakra. In many esoteric traditions, Bai Hui is regarded as the gate between Man and Heaven.

Bai Hui diagram
Bai Hui is not in the middle of the head, but near the twirl of the hair.

If your Taiji practice is in line with the instructions of the old masters, then you are probably already familiar with the benefits of lifting the Bai Hui point. If, on the other hand, you do not currently practice Taiji, zhan zhuang or any other meditative discipline, here is a sampling of the benefits you can expect—benefits which exceed mere self-defense. Continue reading Three Benefits From Lifting Your Bai Hui Point