Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tempe Martial Art of Awareness Highlights #69 [VIDEO]



In this highlights clip we share a little bit of I Liq Chuan's lower hand sticky hand, and moving step spinning hands training from one of our Sunday classes at Tempe Papago Park.
Many people wonder if I Liq Chuan can be used for fighting. As a system of internal martial arts, or internal kung fu aka "neijia" 內家, the answer is a resounding "yes"! Many of our older clips on YouTube only show our stationary spinning hands training. Now that many instructors and group leaders around the world have progressed in skill, we're able to better show how some of our training, like spinning and sticky hands translate into usable fighting skills. Naturally, no one will fight you standing still. Once you've developed some proficiency in maintaining fullness at the point of contact with stationary spinning hands, we start with some basic stepping and kicking. Maintaining fullness at the point, or what tai chi likes to call "peng", while moving, stepping and kicking requires quite a bit of coordination! That's why these skills are focused on more in the middle of the curriculum, once students have developed some of the pre-requisite skills and most importantly, attention!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mind & Body As One

I was thinking about right effort last night at the end of our I Liq Chuan class here in Tempe.

Right Effort is something they talk about in Zen as one of the factors of the eight fold path, along with right speech, right action, right livelihood, right intent, right concentration and right mindfulness. Typically their categorized as "discipline, concentration and wisdom." If you've ever gotten an email from me, you may have noticed these three words as part of my signature.

Despite what we want to do with our time, life often gets in the way, throwing a variety of hurdles in our path. As it happens, I'm in the middle of some stuff right now, which is all adding to my "stress bucket"; vehicle troubles, my dad's health, etc. and my sleep this week hasn't been ideal, so by the end of class, when we practice our 21 form, I just wasn't feeling it.

The 21 Form, done properly, takes quite a bit of focus and concentration do be done "right". There's a of moving parts all at once, and everything needs to be coordinated just so. It becomes a form of dynamic meditation; everything is done with full "knowing".
My hands are HERE, my feet are there, touching the ground in just such a way, gravity is pulling on my here, my body is facing this way; now that, and all the time, more than anything: I KNOW where my center is, how I move to keep the balance to change direction at any time or ready to produce power. The attention has to be there to know, every single time.

Standing at the front of the class, it would have been easy enough to just phone it in and call it a night. Who would know besides me? I've put in my 10000 hours by this point, I could just let habit and muscle memory take over, but standing there, looking out over the water I thought to myself "What are you doing? What do you really want? If you don't concentrate and put in the right effort here, you only cheat yourself."

How often do we cheat ourselves? How many promises to yourself do you break in a day, or in a week, and how do we feel when we do that?

On the other hand, bringing our thoughts and actions into alignment is like "mind and body as one". It's not always easy; in fact, most of the time it WILL BE hard, but knowing that our actions align with our beliefs and values is a form of self discipline that brings inner peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

What Do You Know About Martial Arts Now, You Wish You Knew Then? [Round Table Discussion #1, Part 1]


Martial Arts Round Table Discussions #1

This article will be the first in a series of round table discussions with other martial arts instructors and students regarding their views on all things martial arts. This is part one of two.  Part two can be found here.

Ashe: What do you wish you’d known about martial arts, 10 – 15 years ago, that you know now? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Jeff: What do I know now that I wish I knew then? Focusing more on reps. Finding a drilling partner and just drill a lot more and get better faster. Not get caught up in the hype. Back when I first started, I got caught up in some of the hype that martial arts was mystical and magical. Looking at everything that was in the magazines like ninjitsu back then; and kenpo, tai chi, all these different martial arts... Just taking what I had and appreciating what I already had and just drilling a lot more.

Ashe: It’s interesting that you say that because in I Liq Chuan, we don’t train any techniques at all. It’s all drill-based, so it’s just all “reps”. But sometimes when people are looking at it from the outside, they don’t make the connection between just drilling the fundamental skills, like body skills or whatever you want to call it until it’s, more effortless. Like smooth and natural.

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I don’t want to say ‘second nature’ because, for us, we always want to do everything consciously, and with attention; like Bruce Lee, right? He talked about “I don’t hit, it hits it by itself” or something like, but that kind of feeling, that muscle memory, training a technique until it becomes reflexive, the attention isn’t there. There’s no consciousness there.

So, for [I Liq Chuan], because we put so much emphasis on training with the attention that everything that we do, we want to know.

But you still have to train, there’s still a nervous system element there; if you train movements over and over and over again, the nerves that “fire together, wire together”, so you increase the myelination on all those motor pathways to increase the efficiency of how well you move in that movement pattern. But yeah, that’s all of our stuff, and like I said, people see it but they don’t see the connection, or value between just running simple drills over and over again, and high level martial arts skill.

Sometimes, with us, I’d say it’s a bit of a shortcoming sometimes to be able to help people bridge the gap between ‘Hey, this is drilling. This is how we drill and then there’s still a little bit of a leap from drills into application.

Jeff: Right, and that’s where I’d look at in jiu jitsu, we drill and drill a few times, then stop and not just develop that muscle memory, but also having that type of resistance training that will help prove whether your stuff is working, or not.

Because sometimes I’dl do a move back then, and when it goes to a live situation where I try to apply it, it kind of falls short, because I wasn’t adding resistance from a partner.

It’s just like in lifting weights, slowly adding more weights over time so you can handle more, it’s the same with technique. So I wish I had more resistance training [against an opponent, i.e. pressure testing] earlier on when I first started and that would have jumped me a lot farther on in progression , just focusing on the fundamentals and then testing them, always testing them.



I see how you [I Liq Chuan] guys do it, too, the connection with the hands and you guys move around and it kind of has some form of resistance to be able to move the way you need to move and make the techniques work, the same idea. Training different moves that you can slowly add to sparring.Like, I can tell you from my experience in the striking arts, like with Shaolin Kenpo for example, that’s at the school I was at: when I used it, it was difficult to get the techniques into sparring a lot. Just because of how I was approaching the training process.

I would just do the point sparring style; back fist, punch, reverse punch type stuff, but trying to get all the techniques into sparring was more difficult. I should have spent more time trying to drill it more under resistance and figure how to make it work.

Ashe: Right. And what I was going to say, too, is the value of having a good partner, or good training partners, is so important and valuable. Somebody that is able to kind of scale their level of resistance to your skill level. It’s like if they can push you to just that threshold of where skill growth occurs, at the edge of your ability, but not so far beyond your current ability that your nervous system will shut down, then you’ll just fall back on your habit. There’s some interesting research that was done with that kind of stuff around extreme athletes, like X Games athletes etc., and they found that the threshold is about, if I remember correctly, is around 4% of your current maximum. (You can read more about his in the book "The Rise of Superman".)

So, somebody that can be able to kind of find where your 96% mark is, for your threshold for resistance, and kind of keep it right there.

That’s one of the things I like so much about a lot of the Thai boxing gyms. You know, when you see those guys training [sparring] it’s almost like play fight. They’re so smooth and relaxed, and they use everything they trained, everything, but it’s almost like full speed, but only 10% power or even 5% power so they don’t hurt each other, and they can play freely with all the different kind of attacks and strikes that they like to use.


For me, that’s one of those things that is hard about being a martial arts coach is to be able to get people into that space where they can just be relaxed enough to keep it at that level and not escalating the drill.

Jeff: Oh, absolutely. You made a good point about Muay Thai, and play fighting...

About Coach Jeff Rogers

Coach Rogers has an extensive background in the martial arts, as both a student and competitor. He began his martial arts training in Shaolin Kempo with Shihan Jerry Shaw in June1997 with whom he achieved his 1st degree brown belt.

In 2002 he achieved his black belt in White Crane Karate /  Hakutsuru under Mr. Larry Naranjo.

Coach Rogers began training Brazillian JiuJitsu in 2009, and currently holds a brown belt under Gustavo Dantes, with whom he continues to train in Tempe, Arizona.

Coach Rogers is an Army veteran, having served from 2003 -  2009, and then Army Reserve from 2009-2013.

He was deployed to Iraq from 05-06.

While serving active duty, coach Rogers achieved Army combatives level 3 instructor, after which taught fellow soldiers while stationed in Korea.

Over the last two decades, he has competed in various grappling and full contact tournaments.

If you're in the Tempe, AZ area, don't forget to check out our special training package. Two weeks of training, plus one private lesson for just $60!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Reframing the Story & More [Five Post Friday]

Every week I bring you the best in health & wellness from around the web and social media.

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After two years of hard work, I'm super happy to announce my nutrition coaching program is finally OPEN. Save $50/month if you sign up before Jan 1!

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REFRAME THE STORY We all have a running dialogue inside our heads all the time. Words help us to organize our thoughts and interpret feelings and sensations, but the stories we tell ourselves can set us up for success, or they can also hold us back and set us up for failure. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When we continually tell ourselves stories that focus on past setbacks, we see failure everywhere. Take the example of an intense conversation: My heart is beating fast. This must mean I am about to fail again. Everyone else probably stays calm in these situations. I’m sure they all know I’m failing here. You could tell yourself an entirely different story: I can feel my heart rate is up. I'm pumped and ready to rock! Exact same scenario, but entirely different internal dialogue, and most likely will yield different real world outcomes. So how can we tell ourselves better stories?

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The video below is of martial artist, and national team champion (Tae Kwon Do) Samery Moras, and her struggles with becoming a national level athlete, and how she finally overcame her struggles to qualify for the national team, and how she reframes her internal narrative when she feels like quitting. Certainly in my nearly 20 years in the martial arts, I've felt like throwing in the towel more than once myself. There's a saying in the Chinese martial arts that days something like "eat bitter to taste sweet". It means something like, if you want high level "kung fu" (skill), then you're going to have to work, and suffer for it. Sometimes these sacrifices can take place in unexpected ways, and you don't even recognize them until the weight of the years starts to pile up and you look back at all the things you didn't do to get where you're at today. Thrive Market

YouTube

My I Liq Chuan brothers and sisters from Moscow recently traveled to Taiwan to compete in a large international kung fu and tai chi tournament. While there, my senior brother Alex Skalozub did some push hands with many of the other Tai Chi masters present. Over the last 20 years, I Liq Chuan has gone from an obscure family martial art style, to gaining an international reputation for turning out highly skilled students. As you can see from the video below, Alex has a tremendous level of skill after training with Grandmaster Sam FS Chin for so many years.

Podcasts

The latest episode of the embodiedMIND podcast with Prince Bell and myself. This week's episode we take a run at the topic of GMOs. Genetically Modified Organisms have been a controversial subject, and Prince and I do our best to tackle this complex topic from different points of view. Complete coaching for MIND & BODY. ● Nutrition ● Mindfulness ● Martial Arts ● Start your two week trial today - https://innerstrengthgym.com/shop/tempe-martial-arts-classes-two-week-trial/ Classes held in Tempe, AZ and workshops worldwide.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Using The Breath To Take Control of The Body (Brain Over Body Study)

Brain Over Body - Inner Workings of The Inner Fire
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I've been training in adaptation to both hot and cold for several years (each one has particular benefits to health, and performance), but it wasn't until this past October that I attended a formal workshop on the material with the Art of Breath coach Rob Wilson. Although I had done Wim Hof's 10 Week Course, I wasn't completely happy with it. I felt that there were “secrets” missing from the material, some of which I uncovered by accident, in Scott Carney's book “What Doesn't Kill Us”.
 

The workshop with Rob Wilson was a good experience on many levels, the most important of which was just validating my experience with training cold exposure up to now, and also helped clarify my experience with the Wim Hof online course; compared to deep meditation methods like Vipassana or Zen which are meant to completely overhaul your mental “operating system”, cold exposure practice is really so simple, there's not much “how to” to talk about, just do it, and nature pretty much handles the rest over time. The keys are a little bit of intent, and controlling your breathing to manage your physiological state.


Recently I posted about a review paper that detailed some of the relationships between breathing exercises and improvements in immune function and now, we have some more exciting new findings in regards to respiration / breathing exercises and cold exposure from Wayne State University as part of exerting active control over normally autonomic functions in the body. The study is titled “Brain over body”–A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure Here are a few highlights from the study

  •  fMRI analyses indicated that the WHM activates primary control centers for descending pain/cold stimuli modulation in the periaqueductal gray (PAG)
  • The periaqueductal gray (PAG), also known as the central gray, constitutes a cell dense region surrounding the midbrain aqueduct.
  • In addition, the WHM also engages higher-order cortical areas (left anterior and right middle insula) that are uniquely associated with self-reflection, and which facilitate both internal focus and sustained attention in the presence of averse (e.g. cold) external stimuli.

I think one of the more interesting findings from the study was that BAT, or brown fat, played a negligible role in generating heat to maintain core temperature during cold exposure, but instead the muscles of the rib cage, the intercostals, played the chief role by burning massive amounts of glucose.
This helps add some understanding to my own experience with the practice, which is that anytime I'm sleep deprived, or in a fasted state I have a much more difficult time resisting the cold compared to when I'm fed, and rested.

I commonly fast two days a week, and the first three or four days of every month. In a fasted state, core temp drops a bit anyway, and my system may not yet be fat adapted well enough to efficiently keep up with the higher demand for blood sugar through gluconeogenesis. (I suspect this is true, as I still have not recovered 100% of my exercise performance since switching to a ketogenic diet in June of this year). There was also a recent study done that showed blood ketone levels above 2.0 (which wouldn’t be uncommon during fasting) basically results in “ketone resistance”.

 Similarly, cortisol levels are high, and you're naturally more insulin resistant when sleep deprived, so again, this could potentially play a role in not being able to keep up with the glucose demands of the “inner fire” practice.

If you’d like a  nice animated synopsis of the study and the results, the official Wim Hof YouTube channel released a nice video about it.

 

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References 1. “Brain over body”–A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure
Author links open overlay panelOttoMuzik
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811918300673?via%3Dihub

Friday, November 23, 2018

Qigong For Health - The New Science Behind Ancient Practices [Part 1]

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The Science Behind Qigong & Pranayama

The old masters discovered centuries ago, that deep breathing practices like qigong and pranayama lead to long life and abundant health. I teach several of these traditional qigong sets as part of our local martial arts classes here in Tempe, AZ including a variation of yijinjing unique to I Liq Chuan, as well as a qigong for health set taught by GM Sam Chin, and the “five contemplations of breathing” taught by Venerable Jiru of the Mid-America Buddhist Association.

 

 A new review article recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry [1] reveals some of the mechanisms behind such practices, as well as their applications in treating both mental and physical disorders like anxiety, depression, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn's disease.

At over 15 pages, and full of scientific jargon, the original review paper is quite long and dense for many readers, so I will summarize some of the more important details below. Even as a summary, I’m going to break this post up into multiple parts:

  • Part 1: some basic anatomy 
  • Part 2: The Immune system 

 Basic Anatomy 


The human gut has an estimated 100-500 million neurons. This is more neurons than the spine, and is the largest accumulation of nerve cells in the human body, and is often referred to as “the second brain”, but is more properly referred to as the enteric nervous system. Well known author of martial arts and qigong books, Yang, Jwing Ming has been writing about this since at least the 90’s.

The enteric nervous system produces more than 30 different neurotransmitters and communicates directly with the brain (and vice versa) via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve originates in the brain stem, and extends downward through the torso connecting to all the major organs, including the brain, heart, liver, lungs and the gut. Due to the nature of its length and complexity, it’s called “the wandering nerve” (vagus means wander in Latin).

Photo credit - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/

This “two lane highway” between gut and brain via the vagus nerve is referred to as the gut brain axis, or GBA.

From an “Eastern” point of view, the body tissues can be divided into yin and yang types like flexors and extensors in the muscles, or arteries and veins in the circulatory system. Nerves are similarly divided into two different fiber types: afferent (long “A” like hay) and efferent (long “E” like feel) fibers.

Afferent fibers bring information from the point of contact (stimulus) back to the brain and central nervous system, while efferent fibers bring information from the CNS back to the other end of the system. In other words, afferent fibers bring information “from out to in”, while efferent fibers bring information “from in to out”.



In the vagus nerve, a whopping 90% of the nerve fibers are afferent fibers, bringing detailed information about the gut, and the state of its internal environment back to the brain, then to brain stem and limbic system (more on this later), while the remaining 10% of fibers are efferent, communicating information about our external environment and mental state back to the gut. This intimate connection explains why you feel moody when you’ve eaten the wrong foods, or why you get butterflies in your stomach when you get nervous.

How It Works - Respiration

So that you don’t forget to do important things like breathe, say, after you fall asleep, by default, respiration (breathing) is hardwired into the autonomic nervous system. However, being able to voluntarily speed up, or slow down our breathing is an ability we all possess. (As a side note, I recently heard about a condition in which people lose the autonomic function, and basically can't sleep anymore. Every time they try to fall asleep, they wake up because they quit breathing, and eventually die of sleep deprivation!)

The nervous system can be divided into two main parts, the voluntary (somatic) nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system, which can be again divided into the enteric nervous system, the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. The vagus nerve is the primary regulator of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. To make a rough analogy, if the nervous system was your house, and the autonomic nervous system your central heating, the vagus nerve would be the thermostat.

As you may have guessed by now, breathing practices can directly stimulate the vagus nerve, by increasing the vagal tone, leading to an improvement of autonomic regulation, clarity of thought, improved mood and ability to cope with stress.

Simple breathing exercises seem to restore vagal tone, at least in part, through heart rate variability.

Each of us naturally has a different heart rate between the inhale, and exhale, as well as from beat to beat. When you inhale, the heart rate speeds up a bit, and when you exhale, the heart rate goes down.

Good heart rate variability indicates that you're in a relaxed state, whereas poor variability indicates a stressed, sympathetic state. So by slowing down the number of breaths we take in a minute, and focusing on making the exhale longer than the inhale, we naturally cause the heart rate to drop, which restores vagal tone, and increases relaxation as we shift from a sympathetic, into a more parasympathetic state. Once in the parasypmathetic state, the gut then upregulates production of “feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin, which go back to the brain, increasing relaxation and beginning a cascade that feeds forward into itself.

The old saying goes "happy wife wife, happy life" but "happy gut makes a happy brain" might be more accurate.

Although the effects of practicing various breathing techniques are at least initially global, masters of breath like Wim Hof have shown that conscious and direct, targeted increases in autonomic nervous functions like immune responses to pathogens like e. Coli can be achieved.[3]

Slow your breathing, heart rate drops, and the gut starts doing all kinds of things beneficial to our health. We can do all  this consciously because the forward, “thinky” brain is wired into the brain stem through the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain), which is in turn wired to the vagus nerve.

Part two will continue with how stimulating the vagus nerve through breathing exercises like qigong and pranayama help to regulate the immune system and improve blood pressure and gut health.

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[1]Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders
Sigrid Breit,  Aleksandra Kupferberg,  Gerhard Rogler and Gregor Hasler

[2] Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health
Sameer A Zope, Rakesh A Zope [3] Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans
Matthijs Kox, et. al

Monday, November 19, 2018

Tai Chi Low Stances For Leg Strength & More 19 NOV 18 Weekly Roundup

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"You might be delightfully surprised by the number of people that have used meditation to tap into their own inner reservoir of personal power, and go on to do great things. Meditation doesn't make you weak, strengthens your clarity and focus."
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 Another study recently confirmed the importance of strength in regards to aging. This is especially true when it comes to the lower body. The strength and mobility of the legs allows us to get up and down unassisted in later life. In the clip below, we see Master Jia Anshu demonstrate incredible lower body stability and mobility. Unfortunately, most schools of tai chi do not practice this way. Many studies have shown that regular practice of tai chi can help prevent falls, and improve bone density in seniors, the improvements were modest. Practicing with an emphasis on lower stances could potentially yield a larger return on investment, particularly if training began before old age, and persisted over time.

 

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 Podcasts 

 I really enjoyed this episode of the Paleo Solution with Mark Bell. Mark is a world class power lifting coach, but what I found most intriguing were Mark's comments on the value of slow movements (also a cornerstone of the internal martial arts), the need to put in quality work, and how training should not be an event.

 https://robbwolf.com/2017/10/17/episode-375-mark-bell-intelligent-workouts-and-the-war-on-carbs/