Sunday, February 28, 2016

Athletic Performance Models - Celebrating Flexible Structure

So back to the muscle guy image,
the white parts, or connective
tissues are vitally important to the
nature of movement.

Let's call the guy on the left Athletic Stance.

Guy on the right we'll call Horse Stance.

Look at this anterior view and match it up
in your mind with the Horse Stance

Horse Stance relaxes the muscles and
allows the weight of the body to rest
on the tendons. To say this is "different"
than the common practice is a gross

With the weight resting comfortably on the tendons,
the body has considerably more tonus, or state of

This facilitates movement in ways Athletic Stance
can never know.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Athletic Performance Models - The White Stuff

Have yourself a good look at the
image above. What do you see ?

The red muscles jump right out
at you. If you have any education
about the muscles, your mind
starts to piece together how the
muscle groups actuate and move
the bones using the joints as
fulcrums and levers.

But MUSCLE-BOUND does not
denote "bounding with muscle,"
or even "muscular and strong."
Muscle-Bound means "having the
muscles large, overstrained, and
inelastic, as by overexercise; it
means tied up with one's own
muscles. The overdeveloped muscles
actually inhibit range of motion.
The fastest sprinters never look
like power lifters, and neither
do figure skaters or ballerinas.

This is what I like to call the
"Nose Plumb," and I want you
to adopt this idea for yourself.
From a side view draw an
imaginary line from anyone's
nose straight down to the floor.

If the nose-plumb line lands
out in front of the feet, or even
on the toes, it indicates a real
tendency to lean forward--
and a real ignorance of the
White Stuff, or connective

This is commonly termed the
"athletic stance," or a return
to a state of correctness. But
you don't have to think hard as
to whether or not this body
position is balanced sagittally--
or front to back. This guy
is forward, and he ain't going

And it's nearly ubiquitous.

Weight is on the toes.

Even this guy--

What if I told you that a real
parallel universe exists where
the red muscles in this image are
not the important parts. What if
I said, "focus on the white parts.
They are the most important."

After all, if the tendons do not
function correctly the muscles
do not matter.

Did I lose you ?

Did you say, "Yeah, tendons.
Okay, so what ?"

If you did, you're going to have
to stretch out your mind now
and use your imagination.

Old Shaolin illustration attempting

to explain the spirals of the tendons

So, imagine the ability to rest
your weight comfortably on
your system of tendons. Imagine
relaxing deeply and expending
very little energy in maintaining
an upright position, or even an
athletic stance with your knees

The iliotibial bands (that wrap
helically around your legs)
stretch and suspend your weight
the way a hammock does.

Your spine is straight and bears
the weight of the upper body

Your muscles relax deeply--
except those wrapped around
your pelvis.

Your weight is on your heels.

With a little imagination (and Photochop)
this is the same guy back to back
with his exact doppleganger--
but the one on the right has some
of the skills to correctly take
advantage of the White Stuff:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Athletic Performance Models - Overview

Now I'd like to take a short detour
and create a series aimed at discussing
optimum athletic performance.

To start, I want to explain a concept
called athletic performance models.
You see, athletic coaches and trainers
work with athletes to develop them
from point A to point Z. First the
trainers work to hone basic skills;
then they integrate exercises to gain
physical capabilities such as strength,
flexibility, or cardiovascular endurance.

As athletes improve, trainers teach
theory and sports-specific movements
to help the athletes help themselves.
There is an adage that goes something
like, "Teach the athlete the concept
and let her (or him) figure it out for herself."

For example, let's say one trainer tries
to work up a 14 year old boy to become
a football player; while another trainer
invests time in a 14 year old girl to
become a figure skater. Like an artist
creating a beautiful sculpture, each
trainer has an image in his or her mind.
This image is the athletic performance
model. It is a vision of what the coach
wants to catalyze the athlete to become.

The football trainer might imagine a
physically strong yet graceful man who is
tough, coordinated, explosively fast, and
intellectually savvy to react to various
strategic plays on the field with finesse.
Of course coach may well imagine many
more goals on his training wish list
depending on the specific position.

The skating trainer might imagine a
graceful, flexible, fluid young lady
who is also coordinated and explosively
powerful, yet as soft and resilient as
a tender, new blade of grass.

What do the two different performance
models have in common ? Both
trainers imagine their young athlete
becoming strong, coordinated, healthy--
and having rehearsed ability to return
to a balanced position. But the major
point I want to make is that even
though the coaches include stretching
they will both focus their training on
muscular development and strength.
After all, it's the muscles that make
the movement.
(more text after photos...)

The World's Greatest Athlete is
the title bestowed on the athlete who
wins the Olympic decathlon--
which is a multi-disciplinary event
involving running, jumping and
various feats of strength. The all-
around requirements of the event
typically demand that this "word's
greatest athlete" is proportionally
muscular, and also flexible, toned
(meaning relaxed-- not trim and fit),
and highly efficient in movement.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Whole-Body Power and Coordination

Even if you don't like martial arts much, watch
this video and check out this guy's power.

At the 0:20 mark, he clearly references turning
his waist to create whole-body power-- which
extends out to his arms. In kinesiology, this is
called the "Serape Effect."

The Serape Effect is the coordination of the
trunk and the extremities to create incredibly
powerful movements like a pitcher throwing
a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, or a football
player kicking the ball way down the field.

You have to watch the movements in this
video very closely to see that coordination
and power originate at the waist, and that
the rest of the body has to follow along.
The only way to get it all to work is to
relax deeply, and control the body with the mind.

Friday, October 31, 2014

On Memory

Some time ago, maybe 15 years ago,
I read a story about a brain researcher
who had a vivid memory of being
a young child in England during WWII.

Around the age of 20, he recounted
his memory to his mother, of bombs
dropping and his neighborhood being
destroyed-- then his mother corrected
him. She told him that while those events
certainly did happen, their whole family
had gotten out of England, and were
hiding safely in the country somewhere
else in Europe at that time. The young
man was in disbelief from what his mother
was telling him because his memories
were so clear and so real.

This event shocked the bright young man
so much that he studied psychology and
the brain at university, and went on to
research memory and the effects of trauma
and suggestion. His false memory became
the catalyst for his life's work.

Now imagine for yourself some traumatic
instance that sometimes haunts you, or
even some sour memory of how someone
insulted you or did you wrong. Admit to
yourself that your mind may be inflating it,
or if radical enough, that it may not have
happened at all. Think you were abducted
by aliens ? Eh, probably not.

The point of this exercise is to root yourself
in the now. The past can really hamper
your ability to be all you can be. What
really matters is "the now."

Focus on the now, and focus on your self.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Missing From Your Exercise: Stance Training

I'll tell you a little story.

Once there was a boy in China who
wanted to learn martial arts. At the age
of 10, he saw the martial arts of a great
master, and asked to become his student.
The master found the boy's character to
be satisfactory, so he asked the boy if
he were willing to endure any kind of
pain and suffering in order to learn.
The boy said he would.

The master taught the boy one stance,
and said he would be back to check
on him. The boy practiced the stance
every day for a year with no other
practice. When the master returned,
he asked to see the stance. The boy
positioned his body, and the master
struck him hard on the back. The boy
did not lose his balance.

The master was pleased, and went on
to teach the boy many more skills. The
lesson here is that great balance can be
attained from practicing a special stance.

By the way, the boy's name was
Sun LuTang, and the stance is
called San Ti.

Many western trainers teach "athletic stance."
This is usually a wider-platform,
bent-knee position for "readiness."

Some trainers teach "wall sits."

Most yoga instructors teach a myriad
of straight-leg standing postures.

But these do not have the same kind
of benefit as what I'm suggesting.

The most common Chinese stance
is called the Horse Stance.

Tai Chi and BaGuaZhang use "Zhan Zhuang"
called Wuji or Quiet Stance.
(although it doesn't look it, his knees are bent)

Or, they use various other postures.

Many kung fu teachers (sifus) explain
that stances are to develop "strong
legs," "rooting" and internal energy.
These are true, but let's take a more
simple approach.

If you try to stand in a horse stance,
and don't have much practice, you
probably won't last long. Your
muscles will contract isometrically
and give out in about a minute.

But with practice, you will last
longer, and be able to develop
a lower stance. The reason is not
because of muscle strength--
but muscle relaxation and control.

When you can relax, curl your
tailbone under, and twist the knees
to the outside, the IllioTibial
Bands act like hammocks for
the weight of your body. Your
glutes stretch, and your weight
rests in these giant rubber bands.

This creates an entirely new dynamic
for relaxed balance, and for impulse
power amplified by coordination.
Trust me, if you don't have this as
part of your physical training, you're
really missing something awesome.

And then there's Fu Style.
We also use Horse Stance, but we
simultaneously move the upper body
around in circles, coils, or both.

Please try Fu Style Rolling Stretch, and
feel free to leave a comment with
your e-mail address if you want more.
We have a more advanced version of
this exercise we call "Grinding Waist."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Brain in Your Stomach

Did anyone ever tell you that
you have guts ? Did you ever
get a gut feeling ? Or have a
gut reaction ? Did some ever tell
you to "spill your guts"? Or that
they "hate your guts"?

If something is difficult or tough,
you either can't stomach it, and
give up trying; or you exhibit
"intestinal fortitude," meaning
you're tougher than the problem.
If you're a real dragon slayer,
someone might say you have a
"fire in your belly."

These expressions didn't just come
by way of happenstance. We have
a brain in our head that does the big
thinking, and we have a second
"Enteric Nervous System" in our
viscera. Scientists describe the latter
as being separate from the autonomic
nervous system, but it "receives
considerable innervation from it."

How many times have you heard
someone talk about the "head and
heart"? This is generally the same
concept. The head does the "thinking,"
and the stomach-brain does its best
to protect you.

Imagine you're walking along the
beach when suddenly you step on
something sharp. It could be glass,
or a nail, or just a piece of shell.
Before you can even look down,
some part of your being instantly
tried to remove your weight from
that object, even if it meant you
had to fall down. That's your "heart,"
or the nerve-center that's always
trying to keep you from getting hurt.
When you say the wrong thing to
your mom, or your best friend,
maybe that's your heart trying to
protect you from something too.

This ever-present "angel" looking
out for your health and best
interest is a real blessing. It gave
you butterflies when you were
not supposed to ride that roller
coaster, and it saved your precious
foot when you stepped on the sharp
object on the beach.

But as you grow older, it gets more
cautious. It shortens your steps to
make sure you don't fall, and starts
to suggest more and more that you
don't take risks. It wants you to sit
more and walk less. It wants you to
avoid the crazy stuff.

This also seems beneficial, but the
reduction of movement takes a real
toll on the body. The joints gets very
stiff without the full range of movement.
Bones literally start to fuse together.
Then when you slip on the ice, or
step on that sharp object on the beach,
you lack the skills to keep from
hurting yourself.

When I started Tai Chi in 2003, I could
feel that my "heart" or brain-stomach
did not want me to move in that way.
It resisted. But I followed the instruction
of my teacher, and over-rode my
stomach's resistance. Gradually and
gently, I began to reorganize my body.

The scar tissue in my ankle starting
going away, and my right knee fixed
itself. I went through myriads of aches
and pains that started and ended in less
than a week. And the aches were always
in a different place. It's been weird.

Now after more than 10 years of practice,
my head-brain and my stomach-brain
are in great alignment. I think they even
talk to each other.

Tai Chi looks slow and dumb, but there
is just nothing like it to reorganize and
fix your body. That's why they say it's
the fountain of youth.