Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The importance of focus

The two main reasons for practicing Tajijquan are health and self-defense. It cannot be stressed highly enough the importance of focusing your thoughts on your desired outcomes when practicing the form. Practicing martial arts is the cultivation of a state of mind, as well as a desired fitness. Many people refer to this as Evolution of Consciousness.

So what is consciousness? Thomas Campbell defines, it as the information that your brain holds. This should not be confused with the physical brain - even though the brain is important, we are concerned with the information it holds - or your consciousness. Why do we have a consciousness? A consciousness is required if you are to experience reality. The better your consciousness, the better you can deal with life in general.

Take the example of a car battery. When is it fully charged, all the molecules have their poles in line with each other and it is able to discharge power. Physicists call this a Low Entropy state. As the charge is released by the battery, the molecules become more and more disorganised, until the battery can no longer send out any more electricity (or High Entropy state). In this case, entropy is a measure of the organisation of the component parts within a greater system.

Martial arts are a practical way of lowering the entropy of your consciousness, with specific emphasis on the body-mind connection.

To lower the entropy of your consciousness in line with your goals is then quite simple. If you wish to focus on health benefits, concentrate on correct movement and the flow of the force and energy going through the body. For those who wish to concentrate on self defence, start with the above and then move on to focusing on the practical applications (striking etc).

All Tai Chi forms are designed to be a moving meditation to lower the entropy of your consciousness and unify the mind-body connection. So consider your train of thought while you practice. Do not play taijiquan form while under the influence of negative thoughts. If you are angry and want to practice, calm yourself first or your movements become a meditation on anger. Anger is a disorganised mental state, so if you practice the form whilst being angry the entropy of your consciousness will be raised, and your ability to objectively deal with reality will diminish.

High entropy states to avoid: Anger, Fear, Jealousy, Hatred, Need, Infatuation, Control, Power, Addiction, Selfishness, Ego, Arrogance.

The lowest entropy state is love. When in a state of love, the body is nurtured and moves correctly; the mind is calm and all is good in the world. For both health or self-defense, love is a valuable state to focus on. If you think that love is a bit too wishy-washy-touchy-feely for a tough martial artist like yourself, start with philanthropy....

... and work your way up.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Are your knees trying to tell you something?

After many years of teaching, the most common physical complaint by far is aching knees. It's not a sharp pain, but more reminiscent of dull toothache. Practice seems to exacerbate the problem until you are forced to rest for a few days. The pain stops for a while, so you resume practice only for it to return as though it never went away.

There can be a number of reasons why you may be feeling pain:

This generally affects people over 50, however, if you have had a history of high impact exercises you may have torn your meniscus or suffered ligament damage. Such damage can also bring on early arthritis in the knees. There also appears to be a genetic predisposition towards arthritis of the knee, so check your family history. Ask your doctor for a diagnosis.

Incorrect usage:
Very often people who practice tai chi do not have their knees correctly aligned. Start by checking that your knees are pointing the same direction as your feet in your postures. If that is ok, check that you are not bending them too much. The yang knee should NEVER extend beyond the tip of the toe (i.e. if you draw a vertical line upwards from the toe, the knee should not cross that line). If that is OK, check your movements. Are you over-twisting the knees, by not letting your ankles relax. Thoroughly warm up the ankle before starting. Another common problem is caused by not being supple at the hips. This causes the knees to over-compensate.

Treatments should go in this order:
1. Consult your doctor. Make sure you do not have arthritis or any other injury. A doctor will be able to recommend surgery or injection etc that will definitely help. You may not need any of these, but it is good to rule out the big problems first.
2. Study your form and find out which movements give you pain, then ask your tai chi teacher. They should be able to correct you.
3. Take supplements. Glucosomine and Cod liver oil are great helps to get the joints moving.
4. An acupuncture specialist will be very effective at helping you to reduce pain. Seriously, it works.

However, there is a more profound way of reducing knee pain, arthritis and general stress on the body. It has a greater impact than most eastern and western treatments. It requires no specialist equipment, and can be done in the privacy of your own home with just a little bit of self control. However, in this modern age of political correctness, recommending it is a little controversial. It has lost me more students than I care to mention by saying it. But I'm trusting you to be strong and not take it personally.......

.....lose weight.....

No really........ lose some weight.

There I said it. We're all still alive and no harm has been done. Not so bad, was it? Not only will it increase your energy, lower your cholesterol, improve mobility, improve sleep pattern, prevent angina, reduce risk of heart disease & stroke, but it will also reduce the stress on your knees.

So are your knees (or ankles or hips) trying to tell you something?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Surviving Christmas

The festive season will soon be upon us all. For many Christians it is a time of contemplation and worship. For most of us, there is a lot of peer pressure towards partying and excess. It just takes a little too much indulgence to tip a perfectly good Christmas over into a downward spiral.

Alcohol: Remember, one unit of alcohol takes (on average) one hour to be filtered out of the body. If you really have to drink, take the following precautions.

1. Get a good night's sleep before your party. Tiredness exacerbates the effects of alcohol.
2. Eat well before you drink. Food absorbs some of the alcohol and acts as a buffer to stop you getting drunk too quickly.
3. When partying, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.
4. Don't drive. Book a taxi, stay in a hotel, anything. Just don't drive.
5. Before you go to bed, get a large drink of water.
6. Get plenty of sleep afterwards to recover.
7. Do not party two nights in a row. Give your body time to recover.

Martial Artists: Be extra careful about getting drunk in bars and public places. You have been trusted with important skills that are not to be wasted on drunken fools. Many of the great Chinese masters liked a drink. But more often than not, they drank at home behind closed doors with close friends. Don't disgrace your Sifu/Sensei.

Exercise: I lose more tai chi students over Christmas than at any other time. It is such an all consuming activity that we often forget to exercise. The longer you stop, the more difficult it is to start again. So make sure that you stick to your regular exercises - whatever they are. They will also help you to digest your.......

FOOD..... peer pressure is very powerful at this time of year. "Oh go on, have another mince pie." If you don't want something, say no and mean it. Real friends will understand and respect your wishes. Whatever they may say, people do not judge you by the capacity of your stomach. Stick to your guns.

So plan carefully, pick your parties wisely and have a great festive season.