Monday, 27 December 2010

Latency in Martial Arts

Ever had an argument with someone and not come out of it well because it happened so fast that you could not express yourself correctly? It's terrible. You spend the next few days thinking about all the things you could have said. It can play on your mind for a long time. 

One of the biggest deciding factors in any conflict (physical or verbal) is your personal latency. 

The word Latency is used in many fields of industry. For the sake of this article, the engineering definition for latency is as follows:

Latency is a measure of time delay experienced in a system, the precise definition of which depends on the system and the time being measured.

My definition of latency for a martial artist is:

Latency is a measure of time delay experienced between the sensory observation of danger and the correct physical reaction.

My father told me a story of a soldier who came back from war. His family celebrated his safe return by throwing a party. During the party, his daughter surprised him by jumping on his back, and he swung around and smashed a glass in her face. Although this is a very sad and  extreme example, the soldier interpreted his sensory input as danger, and as a result, did not  deploy the correct physical reaction.

Whether it is a heated debate, or someone trying to mug you for your money, life forces you to make decisions quickly. If you do the wrong thing, it is probably because the parameters of your latency have been compromised. The price you pay can be high. So what can you do to improve your latency and enable you to make the correct decisions quicker? Let's take a look at some of the things that slow you down and how to make improvements:

Body weight: If you cannot handle your own body weight correctly, you cannot hope to physically react quickly - whether it is running away or just moving out of trouble, making yourself physically mobile is your highest priority. 

Economy of effort: Learning to move correctly will not only reduce your day-to-day physical stress, but will improve your ability to move quickly. Any martial arts class will give you a way to do this. 

Experience in physical contact: Self-defence classes and martial arts classes are very good at putting you into non-threatening physical contact with other people. They enable you to discover more about how the human body works.

No formal training: Violence is - by it's very nature - chaotic. Having a technique - a set way of defending yourself is very important. Having faith in that technique is even more important than you think.

Sensitivity: By this, I mean two things. The first is the ability to read situations and people's body language. If you are aware that you are angering someone, you can change your approach or walk away before the conflict becomes physical. The second is in a physical conflict, where you should be able to use all your senses to observe your opponent's state. This will give you the important information to end the conflict.

Fear, anger and other negative emotions: This is by far the largest barrier to your latency (remember this is about making the correct physical reaction). Fear roots your feet to the ground, turns your brain to mush or makes you over-react to situations. Anger makes you resort to violence where none was required.  One of the biggest differences between modern martial arts that have evolved in the ring, and the more ritualistic, traditional arts is that the modern arts do not have any strategy for calming the mind.

The more ritualistic traditional arts have elevated their practice to a higher level than mere ring craft. They transcend physical conflict and in doing so, resolve many of the reasons for it. There is a taoist phrase that sums it up:

"There are two types of people. The warrior and the sage. The warrior is a powerful person who covers his own weaknesses and exposes the weaknesses of his enemies. The sage merely has no weaknesses. He gives himself up, and in doing so, gains everything."

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Making room for things

There's no getting away from it... My house is full. Two children, all their toys. It's bedlam here. Something has to change. But what? Do we have a throw-out of old toys and junk? Do we buy a new house? Do we get an extension on our present house? Do we re-organise furniture? 

There are so many options. 

When meditating on this problem a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by a realisation that our lives are like this. Sometimes we want to change, but we cannot  because there is no room in our lives for change. It made me think about the bigger picture of how I was living my life.

I came to the realisation that there was a lot of emotional clutter caused by useless activities I was doing, simply because other people wanted me to do them.  I decided to stop doing these things. Now let me be clear, there is a lot of things that people ask me to do, which are useful. These things, I continue to do. This is not a slackers mandate.

I started this two weeks ago, and although at times it has been challenging, I have space in my life again. But a strange thing has happened. New opportunities have started to present themselves to me. It seems that the meditation is correct - you cannot possibly get new things and change in your life until you make room for them.

As for the house - I guess a clear out is on the horizon. Now I just need to work out what we need and what we don't. As far as my stuff is concerned, it is easy. Somehow, I think my Wife and the children's stuff will be a more difficult issue.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Something new is coming

I recently attended a social evening at a new consciousness centre in Somerset.

Nestled in the tiny hamlet of Otterhampton, the Parsonage Side Retreat is the brainchild of the Bexx family and the culmination of many years of hard work. They have taken an old set of buildings  and created a nurturing space with accommodation for 17, and large rooms for hire and meditation spaces.

Those who are familiar with the Monroe Institute and their use of Binaural technology will feel right at home with PSR's state-of-the-art CHEC units. Nestled within these small rooms, advanced sounds are played to alter your state of consciousness and allow you to experience profound states of meditation, learning, focus or relaxation.

Other more conventional activities are already planned, with healing, meditations, chanting and consciousness workshops. Visit the website to find out their up and coming schedule.
As I sit and ponder this impressive facility that the Bexx family have created, my mind is drawn to one of my favourite quotes by Rumi: 
‎"Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love."
To me, it is clear that they have been strongly drawn by love to create a space for exploration, contemplation, healing and discovery. It is evident in the very fabric of the building - a building that will be the foundation for positive change for many, many years to come.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Ten percent worry

About two months ago, I was playing on the sofa with my 1 year old daughter. She grabbed my arm and I jumped through the roof in unexpected pain. On closer inspection, I found a sizeable lump under the skin. There was no discolouration of the skin or any pain - just when it was grabbed by a small child with sharp nails. It looked for the world like a cyst of some kind.

But it played on my mind, and later that evening, I searched my body and found two other lumps. One was about 4 inches from the original lump, and the other was under my other arm, near my armpit.

I scoured a couple of medical dictionaries, and made a self-diagnosis of Lipomas. Lipomas are benign cysts of fibrous material that appear in the layer of fat under the skin. There is no medical reason why they appear, they just do. I was 90% sure that these lumps were Lipomas. I rang the doctor's surgery several times to make appointments, and the administrators were so unhelpful, I decided to wait a couple of weeks until I had some time off work.

When I finally got an appointment, my doctor took one look and said they were probably Lipomas, but that I should go for an ultrasound scan to be 100% sure that they weren't malignant cancers. 

I was very pleased that the doctor agreed with what I thought, and went along to the scan. The doctor who took me through the scan explained everything. We saw the first tumour, and we could see clearly that it was the correct colour and that there was no blood supply. He repeated the procedure with the other two lumps, and they all showed up as Lipomas.

It was at that moment that I realised that the 10% of doubt had been weighing me down for a month. I really don't like worrying about things going wrong until I am certain that things have gone wrong. But it goes to show that doubt can drag you down and lay you low.

So what have I learned about this?
  • Doctors' receptionists are a layer of unqualified triage. If you have a worry, be assertive and insist. I could have saved two weeks of worry if I had been more insistent. If my tumours had been malignant, I would have delayed vital treatment.
  • If you find a lump, get it checked out by qualified doctors and specialists as soon as possible. Not knowing is far worse than you think.
Ultimately, it has been a timely reminder of my mortality and that I should be living my life more. I'm not sure how this shall take form, but watch this space.....

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The age of the phone?

The last 3 years have seen an explosion in the popularity of smart phones. Whether you want one or not, unless you have lived under a stone, it's impossible to avoid seeing one in action.  

These phones are like mini computers, allowing the user to not only make telephone calls, but also manage communication and information from a variety of sources, including SMS messaging, internet, email and wifi networks. They take and edit photographs, play music and films. The very latest ones now offer face-to-face video calls. 

I believe that these communication devices were inevitable. As humans, we have an instinctive desire to keep in contact with the people we care about. As more and more of our lives is consumed by the demands for work, the smartphone allows us to keep reassuring each other without having to step away from our desks or shops. Conspiracy theorists would no doubt have a field day with this idea. However, it brings me to my first point..

Are we becoming too reliant on this technology for reassurance? Is it a crutch? Undoubtedly, many people will be using their phones as a means of emotional support. It is so reassuring to know that the emergency services, all your friends, and all of the information and all  the services that the internet offers are there for you - instantly. You can get your friends social status and personal information at the touch of a button. A recent survey with teenagers said that they would rather go without anything else than their phones (perhaps this is no surprise to parents of teenagers!). Are we breeding a generation of phone junkies who fall apart when separated from their phones? Perhaps.....

But, I truly believe the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. There are so many areas of society who have benefitted from the smartphone. Many people fear information overload. I consider this as a challenge to our generations, but future ones will adapt. I see the increasing complexity of our technology as a sign of humanity's collective consciousness improving. The more connections we make, the more knowledge we share and the more issues we discuss will only serve to broaden our understanding of what it is to be human.

Love them or loathe them... smart phones are going to be with us for a while. The challenge will not be whether we can make new technologies, but whether we can resist using them for personal gain at the expense of others - like warfare, unethical selling and spying.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Modern Weapons

One of the joys of learning traditional martial arts is that you get to train with some pretty interesting weapons. There are swords, knives, sabres, spears, whips and all manner of sticks. Personally, I love the Chinese Straight Sword (or Jian). I find it a quick, light, precise weapon that suits my body size and style. I love the movements and postures. The Chen sword form is one of my favourite forms.

But in the real world, how can I possibly carry my sword down the street without attracting lethal retribution from the local rapid response unit? In short - I can't. It is against the law for me to have a sword in public when I am not travelling to and from my place of practice. And what's more - swords are a relic from a bygone era. You are more likely to be confronted by an attacker with a concealed weapon like a knife or a gun. If an assailant has a gun, your sword is going to be pretty useless.

There are a whole plethora of small weapons that can be concealed. One of the most popular is a metal pen that can be used as a weapon:

But to be honest, any hard, blunt object can be jabbed into your assailant's tender spots - sharp handle to a brush - anything. Use your imagination.

Have you seen "The Men Who Stare At Goats"? It is a film about an American military group who were inspired by the new age movement. It is an interesting subtle film - well worth a look. But what has caught the imagination of modern martial artists has been this clip:

This is an actual weapon that was produced - and is still being used by the US troops in Iraq.

This seemingly innocent piece of plastic is used to exert pressure against the vulnerable parts of the body to cause pain. This pain can be used to neutralise an attack and then as an aid to make your assailant compliant.

Although the movie calls them "Predators", they are called "Defenders" in the shops. I have one of these weapons, and I have to say they are brilliant. Although they are ruthlessly efficacious, I don't believe they are a good weapon to carry, because they do not have an innocent use. Even a hand gun can be used to hunt for food (theoretically). There is no innocent use for the Defender. It is purely designed to inflict pain.

Traditional weapons like nunchucks, three-piece staffs and the 10 piece whips were all based on rice flails - things that were in everyday use during simpler times. So consider the applications that the Defender videos show, and try to find everyday things that are close to hand - like pens, keys, hairbrushes, coins, combs, torches (maglites) etc. They could become your best friend in an emergency.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


As the academic year comes to a close at East Cheshire Community Education, it is time to reflect upon an eventful year. The recession is starting to bite, and this has been reflected in the trials and tribulations faced by myself and many of my students. Three have had children, one has got married, two have changed their jobs and four have moved to another area.

The one thing that becomes clear is that many people have used the recession to take stock of their lives, work out what they truly want and re-prioritise accordingly. Although undeniably stressful, it is also a time where we let go of behaviours, beliefs and aspirations that hold us back.

One of the easiest ways of cutting back is to cancel that gym membership, give up your regular exercise or quit a hobby that costs you money. Be careful about doing this. It is easy to label activities that keep your health and sanity as being superfluous and wasteful. It is also tempting to work longer hours in the pursuit of money in case you may lose your job. Denying yourself your health and recreation is storing up problems that will prove more costly in the long term. Short term gains may result in long term burnout.

So when re-prioritising during a recession, stay clear of a mentality based on fear and protectionism. This is not a mandate to keep spending and ignoring the climate. It is about nurturing yourself and growing in a new direction.

Mental viruses

The internet has proved a fantastic tool for the circulation of ideas and concepts. It unites groups of people with common interests and is the perfect forum for discussions and networking.

There is a down side. The internet is also a breeding ground for a phenomena that I call the Mental Virus. A mental virus is like a computer virus. It is a thought or belief that has no possible use to the owner other than the creation of fear and mistrust. It spreads from person to person and is almost impossible to get rid of. An older version of the mental virus is the urban myth.

Urban myths were rife before the internet. Whoever told you about them said that they happened to "a friend of a friend". Generally, there is no proof that they happened, and there is an element of possibility. Here are a few:
  • The old woman who dried her wet dog in the microwave and the dog exploded.
  • There are alligators in the sewer put there by people buying them as pets and flushing them down the toilet.
  • The young woman who stopped to help an old woman whose car had broken down. She offers to give the old woman a lift to a garage, and notices manly hairs on the back of her hand and drives off before the old woman can get in the car. It is only when she stops that she finds that the old lady's handbag contains a large knife or a small axe.
Mental viruses are just like urban myths, but are on a much grander scale. They start with an idea that snowballs into international conspiracies and life and death issues. People do enormous amounts of research that joins together unrelated facts to make a unified whole.

Some other mental viruses are as follows:
  • All modern inventions like computers and stealth aircraft are inspired by recovered flying saucers being reverse-engineered by the US government.
  • Princess Diana's death was ordered by the royal family.
  • Humanity is being secretly enslaved and ruled by seven foot blood-drinking lizards.
  • When NASA landed on the moon, they found alien bases and have been covering it up since.
  • NASA never landed on the moon. It was all a hoax.
  • The nazis landed on the moon during the second world war.
When you first look at the concepts, they appear pretty far-fetched. But the people who perpetuate mental viruses spend a great deal of time researching for phenomena and facts that support their ideas. They then place these facts into a logical order to build up a picture that points to their theory. They also conveniently ignore all evidence that points to a more logical conclusion. But when you de-construct their arguments, they don't bear well under scrutiny. Many of the conclusions are measured incorrectly - like trying to say that someone is 6 ft tall by weighing them.

More dangerous mental viruses can be perpetuated by religious cults and groups. In these cases, mental viruses are the start of extremist behaviour.

So when learning new concepts on the internet, please consider whether you are taking on a mental virus. Consider whether there is significant scientific backing for the facts and concepts. Also, consider how the ideas influence how you feel about yourself and others. Be rational, sceptical and challenge everything. Ask the right questions, and many of these theories fall down like a house of cards.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Making life simple

I recently bought the new Apple iPad for my wife. She has never been a fan of computers. They are too logical and cold for her. Usually, when she writes an email, I have to stand at her shoulder and advise her. You can see the unease that creeps up every time she gets near a keyboard and mouse. I have a computer in our living room, and she won't sit near it.

Now I am guessing that there is a whole chunk of society who feel exactly the same as my wife. To them, computers are confusing, irrational and frightening. This fear is so bad that they make a thousand excuses why they should not use one. I've heard every little argument.

But something really interesting happened when I gave Claire her iPad. She ENJOYED using it. My self-confessed computer hating wife not only smiles when she uses it, but she is now asking me "Will it do this" or "will it do that". She WANTS to use it more. Possibly for the first time, she sees a computer's potential.

Everything wooshes around at the flick of a finger. The whole package is so slick and capable that using it is instinctive. There are no instruction manuals. You don't need one, because it's all common sense. When my four year old daughter was allowed to have a go, she picked it up straight away. My one year old daughter also understood the interface without any prompting.

This is the way computers should be.... clear and simple. Why make them complicated? Why do you need a million different configuration options? It keeps software engineers and computer companies in money, that's why. Most people don't want to be computer engineers. They just want to get on with their lives with the minimum fuss. Apple understand this more than anyone, and in the iPad, they have delivered a computer tool that understands how people work and delivers simple, effective services for them.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The teacher's teacher

For the past two weeks, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei has been in the UK conducting seminars for a wide range of abilities. The class I attended was the advanced Laojia Yilu. In the picture opposite, he is demonstrating wrist locks to an eager group of students. Special thanks to Master Liming Yue for bringing Chen Zhenglei to our shores once more.

This time Chen Juan (CZL's eldest daughter) ably assisted in the classes and provided additional tuition and support to the students. It is good to see the Chen lineage coming through strongly in this excellent, spirited Tai Chi player.

While training is of paramount importance to me, these classes are also a great opportunity to catch up on old friends and make new contacts. After the first day, it was clear that the large majority (if not all) of the students in Master Chen's class were Tai Chi teachers in their own right.

This made me think about where do teachers go to continue learning about their art? It is important to keep your skills relevant and improving, so how do you know that you are learning with the correct teacher?

Many traditional martial arts place great importance on lineage. Lineage is the way you connect yourself to the inventor of your art and their direct inheritors. For example, my lineage is that I was taught by Master Liming Yue, who was in turn taught by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei and up through the Chen Family history to Chen Wang Ting who invented Tai Chi. Your measurement of success is how few the degrees of separation between yourself and direct lineage (in this case, the Chen family). While lineage is one way of assessing a teacher's knowledge, it is not always a guarantee of quality.

There are other ways of proving worth. One way is through competitions. You can perform your movements and have them judged by a panel of officials. This kind of marking is subject to interpretation, and external appearance is no guarantee of martial skill. Cage fighting and Mixed Martial Arts tournaments are becoming more and more popular as a way of proving self defence skills. Other martial arts have simulated combat competitions (Judo, Tae Kwondo, Tai Chi push hands etc.) But many of the most effective traditional martial arts techniques are banned in modern tournaments. So while tournaments are a good barometer for isolated requirements, they are not necessarily a guarantee of a teacher's fighting skill. Also, they are not a guarantee that the teacher can teach. There have been many naturally gifted fighters who have surrounded themselves with students who have learned very little.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself after attending a martial arts class for the first time:
  1. Did the lessons make sense?
  2. Were things demonstrated slowly and clearly?
  3. Are you happy with what you have learned?
  4. Was your health and safety considered?
  5. Did your skill and understanding of the martial art improve (or did you just learn how good at martial arts your teacher is)?
If you can answer yes to all these questions, you are in a good class. Finally, have a good look around at other students. How good are the more experienced students? This is a guide to your future.

At the end of the day, it is about trust. Who do you trust to correct your technique? I personally know I have made the right decision to learn from Master Liming Yue and Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. The content of their classes is outstanding, they give clear instructions, they have everyone's safety in mind, and taking a look around their classes - I see so many other teachers there, so I know I have made the right decision.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Tai Chi and Meditation

@KarlRichard (His website here) asked me the following question:

"Can you explain how meditation and Taiji work together as one? Not an easy task, no doubt... Coming from a Buddhist perspective!?"

Many Chinese martial arts (including Tai Chi) were influenced by the Shaolin monks' training, which was taught to them by Indian Buddhist monk - Bodhidharma. He was disturbed by the monks poor physical health, and showed them "tendon changing" exercises (Yi Jin Jing), which were later adapted into the self-defence forms and skills we recognise today as Shaolin Chuan (Shaolin Boxing).

Bodhidharma was responsible for introducing meditation techniques to the Shaolin and he is associated with the idea that spiritual, intellectual and physical excellence are an indivisible whole necessary for enlightenment. It is this ethos that has cascaded through to many of the modern Chinese martial arts today - including Taijiquan.

To delve a little deeper and understand Tai Chi as a meditation, we have to understand the concepts of Wuji and Taiji (Tai Chi).

Wuji is the fundamental principle of stillness. It is a quality that is - in essence - empty and non-polar.

Taiji is extreme opposites (or supremely polar) and represents the interplay between yin and yang. (incidentally, it is this concept that was mis-translated for many generations as "the Grand Ultimate", which fuelled the fires of mysticism and bad teaching that is being corrected by better modern understanding). It is dynamic and polar, and represents the substantial and yielding qualities that are required for self defence.

Now - to attain Taiji (dynamic, polar) gongfu (skill), you must first attain wuji (stillness and emptiness). Meditation is merely focused consciousness. When practicing Tai Chi, the consciousness, movement and breathing are co-ordinated and can be interpreted as a holistic meditation. There are also meditative postures like Zhan Zhuang.

For further reading on Tai Chi and consciousness, try here:

Friday, 30 April 2010

Knowledge or skill?

In our modern technological age, it can be argued that information is the new currency. Never has it been more important to be able to exchange information. It is something that as a society we have become addicted to. 24 hour media, internet, mobile phones, laptops, ipods - the world hammers us with information.

This is fantastic. I look at how quickly my daughter has picked up the internet and I predict that she will not know the meaning of "I don't know". Almost all the information in the world can now be obtained with a few mouse clicks. Everything is always on and always available. I remember when my parents had to use the local public telephone if they wanted to call someone.

There are some people who are wary of this technological revolution and fear information overload and social stagnation. I disagree. I really do believe that our increasing need for information will eventually drive the evolution of consciousness, which in turn will have a positive effect on our physiology.

But... (and there is a big but.) Knowledge is nothing without skill. Tell someone once, and as long as they are able to retain the fact in their head, they have acquired knowledge. Knowledge is easy to obtain.

But skill takes time. Unless you are a genius (and most people aren't), you have to do the same things over and over and over again. You have to make lots of mistakes - and every time you make a mistake, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and either fix your error or learn how not to do it again. Is this tough? Yes. Can it be frustrating? Undoubtedly. But the rewards that skill brings to the practitioner are beyond description.

Gongfu (or kung fu) is literally translated as skill. So when you go to a martial arts class, be prepared - first and foremost - to acquire a skill. So have courage. Be prepared to make repetition your friend, boredom your enemy and skill your ultimate goal. Everything else will fall into place.

Friday, 23 April 2010


One of the most important and most overlooked aspects of modern health is the quality and quantity of sleep. In our always-on and plugged in society, poor quality sleep can make us angry, irritable, fatigued, sick and unable to concentrate or memorise anything.

I also believe that a lot of obesity is started by people not getting enough sleep. They eat because they feel fatigued and they think they need something to give them more energy - but what they really need is more sleep. If you feel you aren't getting enough sleep, check out the advice here:

You can't get off to sleep:
  1. Kit your bedroom for sleep only - remove any computers, televisions, stereos, telephones, books or distractions.
  2. Keep it dark. No lights on. Fit black-out blinds to your curtains if they let the light in.
  3. No caffeine, drugs or alcohol. (Alcohol can help you to sleep, but your sleep will not be restorative).
  4. No big meals late in the evening - the food will sit heavily on your stomach.
  5. Practice meditation to calm you down before bed.
  6. Avoid sugary snacks in the evening.
  7. Check that your bed is comfortable. If it is not, fix it. There are some great products, like memory foam that are really comfortable. They are worth the investment.
You get to sleep OK, but you keep waking up in the middle of the night:
  1. Don't switch the lights on - light resets you body clock, so try keep a tiny torch if you need to navigate to the bathroom.
  2. Don't eat, unless hunger is keeping you awake.
  3. If you are woken by ideas, keep a pen & paper to write them down. You should be able to sleep after that. Only make sure you don't switch on the lights - use your small torch.
  4. Don't you dare touch a computer, book, phone, tv, radio, playstation, xbox or ANYTHING that will distract you.
Your circadian rhythm is your body's internal clock for sleeping and waking patterns. This clock can get knocked out by things like jet lag, changing work shift patterns, stress or lack of sleep. To get your body clock working again, get yourself a timetable for sleep and stick to it. Go to bed at the same time every night - even on nights when you are not working, like weekends and holidays. Also, get plenty of sunlight during the day. This will let your body clock know the difference between waking and sleeping times. Do some exercise during the day (like a martial art, swimming, jogging, walking etc.). Exercise will also tell your body clock that this is the time for waking, so the night is for sleep.

Finally, learn a guided method for progressive relaxation - in other words, think about each part of the body and imagine it relaxing. Go through all parts of the body until you are feeling totally relaxed. When you can do this on a comfortable bed in a dark, quiet room without any distractions, you will soon find yourself slipping gently off to sleep.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The dangers of LSD

A friend of mine used to manage "up and coming" bands while he was in university. We were having a chat, when he pointed out a new band he was working with.

"See the guy in the denims?" he asked, "I'm looking for another singer. The rest of the band hate him. He's got a serious case of LSD."

I thought the guy looked stone cold sober and said so. I then discovered that in this case the acronym "LSD" stands for Lead Singer's Disease.

Lead Singer's Disease is the fevered ego of the frontman that gets inflated by the never-ending adulation of fans. People with LSD are a constant annoyance and embarrassment to the rest of the band, with their pompous diva antics. LSD (often fuelled by real drugs) is the main cause of perfectly decent bands splitting up at the height of their careers.

So what has this got to do with martial arts? I hear you cry. As teachers we are performing to groups of students very day. Not only that, we are constantly demonstrating how tough and clever we are with all these self defence techniques we have learned. It is easy for untrained students to become impressed, and we can find ourselves being raised onto a small, dojo-sized pedestal. That's the beginning of LSD. We may not be lead singers, but as soon as we start to believe the hype, the disease will strike.

When planning your class, if you are thinking "how can I impress them today?", then you are coming down with LSD, and you are on a slippery slope that may end up with you injuring yourself, one of your students or driving away your class. People aren't stupid. They can spot a teacher who is on an ego trip a mile off.

The best masters I have known all have one vital ingredient.... humility. Couple humility with tolerance and respect for others, and you will not get LSD. If you value an honest and mutually rewarding relationship with your students and peers, practice humility. You will be rewarded with genuine trust, respect and honour.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Thomas Campbell - Consciousness Explorer

Thomas Campbell recently joined the Monroe Institute to deliver a lecture on the origins of scientific consciousness exploration with Bob Monroe:

Special thanks go to Martin Peniak for putting this video together.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Many a truth is said in jest

I love jokes. They clear the air, they relieve tension and they reveal the truth in a more profound way than any earnest pleading can do.

But sometimes, jokes transcend comedy and elevate us beyond our limits. I would like to share with you one of the greatest comedy speeches I have ever heard. Parental guidance is required...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Are we at our limits?

Scientists are constantly looking for new ways to measure things... The Hubble telescope, radio telescopes, electron microscopes, gas spectrometers etc, etc, etc. Why do you think that is?

Since Hans Lipperhey - a spectacle maker - first put lenses together to make a telescope, we have realised that our five senses are just not up to the job. They are good for interpreting our immediate surroundings for survival, but do we experience things as they really are? As we look for increasingly more accurate ways to measure our world, physicists are making even bigger leaps in how me must change the way we think

If we consider our evolved origins, our brains are fundamentally built to keep us alive. But as a result of that, we are not thinking about how things truly are... we are thinking.... fundamentally.... about consumption, reproduction and survival.

Our whole way of perceiving and understanding is based on evolved existence under a tiny strip of gas that surrounds a small rock spinning around a small star in the vastness of space.

Our challenge is to break away from our primitive origins of conflict and survival; and redefine ourselves, each other and evolve to greater more unified consciousness.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Rooting is a term used in Tai Chi to describe the quality of the contact of the feet with the ground and the sinking down of the weight through the floor. For Tai Chi practitioners, rooting is everything. The video below is Master Liu Yong demonstrating his rooting (I trained with him for 6 months):

This is not parlour trickery. It is simple and effective body mechanics arising from correct posture and sinking the weight below the direction of force from the people pushing. All Tai Chi footwork is geared towards keeping the body rooted to the floor at all times. This is because Tai Chi is mainly concerned with getting into contact with your opponent and using your body as a fulcrum between your opponent's weight and momentum and the floor. Tai Chi also relies heavily on rooting to strike the opponent.

Other martial arts use rooting differently. Orthodox western Boxing relies on rooting to ensure a powerful strike against the opponent, just like Tai Chi. If you are not fully rooted when you punch, the effectiveness of the punch will be greatly diminished. However, the boxer must be more mobile to pursue and evade his/her opponent.

Mohammad Ali was a great innovator in Boxing. His "shuffle" was designed to hide the nature of his rooting, and thus mislead his opponent as to what kind of punch was coming next. It was very effective. Watching Ali, the most impressive aspect of his work (for me) was his ability to instantly switch between being on the toes and planting his feet for striking. This meant he was able to change from defensive to offensive techniques - and back - in the blink of an eye.

Other martial arts use rooting differently again:

It can be argued that styles like Tae Kwondo concentrate more heavily on kicking and mobility and less on rooting. Although they require rooting for basic blocking and punching, many of their kicking strategies rely on generating rotating power. When spinning the body around, the rooting becomes a hinderance, and many techniques can be effectively done with both feet off the ground. But the jump and spin have to be instigated by a push against the ground. At that point the feet must be effectively planted or else the necessary spin and height cannot be achieved.

So one of the ways we can measure gongfu (or skill) is the quality of rooting and the way it changes in accordance with posture, movement and practical applications. The quicker and smoother you can make your rooting changes while remaining mobile and balanced, the less likely it is that you will be caught off balance. This is the fundamental basis upon which to build any comprehensive system of self defence - regardless of style.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Martial ARTist

I recently discovered that a colleague I work with has a very successful brother. His brother is a turner prize winning artist. Reading about his creative and challenging work made me think deeply about the concept of a martial artist.

The oxford english dictionary gives the following definitions:
  • A learned person or Master of Arts.
  • One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry (obsolete)
  • A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice - the opposite of a theorist.
  • A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic - partly obsolete
  • One who makes their craft a fine art.
Along with the artist comes the concept of aesthetics - or the rules that measure how good things look (beauty). From a martial perspective, we must consider a different set of aesthetics for each martial art separately. Our aesthetics must concern the quality of posture and movement within our individual frameworks. Movements should display balance, power, skill and also reflect the nature of our consciousness.

We must consider movement - not only as a way of defending ourselves - but also - being artists - as a form of entertainment, a display of skill and a deterrent to attackers.

A lot of art also carries important political and social messages. So consider what your martial art is saying about you socially and politically. Ask yourself if your art is still socially and politically relevant? Consider more importantly what you want it to say. It may a have considerable effect on your performance.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Motivation and Goals

Motivation can be an elusive quality. You can be steaming along feeling great about things, practicing hard or getting on with your purpose in life. Then something happens and suddenly every action is too much effort and it's like wading though treacle.

So what is motivation? Basically, it is the activation of goal-oriented behaviour. It is the impetus that we feel to ensure our goals are reached. Without motivation, the drive goes from our lives and we lose the will to apply effort. Understanding why we lose motivation is a good way of finding out how to get it back.

Where motivation is concerned, discoveries change everything.

You can discover that your goals are not what they used to be. People's priorities change, and what you may have gladly spent plenty of your time on last year becomes a waste of time now. It is normal for this to happen, particularly when relationships change (Love, Marriage, Children, Divorce, Bereavement etc.). The people we spend our time with affect our goals far more than most of us admit to.

You can discover that your goal is unattainable, or that despite very hard work, you have actually moved away from your goal.

The worst goal to have is one that relies upon how other people think about you. "I want to be respected" or "I want everyone to look up to me". These kind of goals are the hardest to attain, because they are the most fragile. One wrong word from someone and your world comes crashing down. You may discover that people don't think as highly of you as you thought.

It is at times like these that you need to reassess your personal and professional goals. If you don't have your goals, how can you progress?

1. Write your goals down. Whether it is on a spreadsheet or a piece of paper, make sure you have a clear reference of them so you can keep reminding yourself.
2. Make sure they are specific and measurable. In other words, make sure they can be done and measured. "Get more money" or "Get fitter" are not specific goals. Try something like "Increase my net income by 20%" or "Increase my exercise recovery rate by 10%". These are all specific goals that can be measured.
3. Vary your timescales. You should have long-term, overarching goals that define your actions. You can then break them down into smaller, achievable , more short-term goals.
4. Make sure they are realistic.
5. Stay focused. Don't set too many goals. 5 - 10 non-conflicting goals are ok.
6. Always have at least one simple goal and one difficult goal at any given time.
7. Prioritise and be flexible. Decide which goals are the most important and set your deadlines accordingly. However, you should always be aware that some of your goals may move quicker than others and allow some flexibility in your schedule.
8. Balance: Don't have all your goals in one area of your life. Try to spread them about.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Technology and Violence

It is so much easier to be violent now than it was before "civilisation". First we used our fists, sticks and stones. Then came knives and swords. You had to be face-to-face with your enemy and within their reach. Violence was a purely physical activity and risk was very high. So you had to be reasonably sure that you could win. This is the time when many martial arts were evolved.

The invention of the gun changed everything. It is so much more accurate and effective than previous weapons (bows arrows etc). Your enemy just needs to be in your direct line of sight. You do not have to invest any physical effort. The ancient act of murder that used to put you in equal risk to your opponent has now been effectively reduced to the squeeze of one finger against a trigger. With the invention of intercontinental nuclear missiles, it is now possible to destroy the city your enemy lives in from another country by the press of a single button.

This is old news. Guns have been with us for a couple of centuries, and nuclear technology since the 2nd World War. With technology comes power, and with this power comes the responsibility to use it wisely. So what has happened recently to change the rules of engagement?

With the rapid innovation of computers over the last 20 years, it can be argued that we live in a new age of information technology. Never before have communications and intelligence been so accessible and so easily disseminated to whoever you like. This is great news for the empowerment of the individual, but that also gives people more opportunity to exploit others. Espionage or spying is the covert acquisition of information for use against an individual or organisation. People can abuse or steal without coming anywhere near their victim. So what risks do people face from modern technological espionage and how can we protect ourselves?

Cyber-attack: The internet is rife with viruses that can damage the performance of our computers or trojans that steal personal information. I'm not going to make many friends here, but the main reason for the proliferation of viruses is that we have all chosen the same kind of operating system - microsoft windows. If you are really interested in ensuring your PC is virus free, don't use windows. Find another operating system. There are a lot out there - some of which are free! If more people used windows alternatives, viruses would not spread. If you cannot do without your windows operating system, more information can be found here.

Cyber bullying: Why stand in front of someone and insult them when you can do it from your home? So much more convenient... The main source is social network sites like facebook, bebo or via email or SMS on your mobile phone. The main thing to remember is that you should not answer back. Mainly because this means you can be implicated as being part of the problem. Remember, all their activities can be recorded. Save emails, take screen prints. Don't delete abusive texts. They are all evidence. When you have enough evidence, go to your school, local authority or police. It is abuse, and there are laws against it. More advice here.

Robbery: Firstly, don't publish your home address. Secondly, don't go on facebook and tell everyone you are going on holiday for a week. You might as well put a sign on your house saying 'rob me'. Avoid putting your smart-phone location on twitter or facebook for the same reason.

Identity theft: Another reason why you can't publish your personal details is that others can use your details to get loans from banks etc. Also, get a shredder and shred all the mail that goes into your bin. That way, people cannot steal your identity.

Bank account details: Don't put them on your computer or smart phone. Need I say any more?

Smart phone: Make sure it is password protected. If you have it stolen and you haven't locked it, you may lose more than the phone. Your address book contains all your details and all your friends' addresses. Nice list of places to be robbed or identites to steal.

Make sure you use these new technology and communication skills to your advantage.
  • Children - use your communication networks to warn each other where bullies are so you can all avoid them.
  • If you don't like walking through that tough neighbourhood, you can use your smartphone to order a safe taxi home.
  • Text ahead to let people know when to expect you.
  • Access national statistics to find out how crime is dealt with in your area. If it's not good enough, lobby your political representative.
  • Email police websites to report public disorder.
Let's all work together to ensure our communications are effective and safe.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Kung Fu Tricks

The world of martial arts is full of rich tales and folklore. Ancient qigong masters were reputed to be able to transform the physical properties of objects and magically influence the weather. There are many people who claim to have powers that are almost supernatural:

But really - most of them are just smoke and mirrors or auto-suggestion at best. Most people
scoff at these parlour tricks as being far-removed from modern martial arts. And perhaps they are. For modern people cannot easily be fooled by such things. We have seen TV magicians doing these kind of things since we were children.

But consider simpler times, when such tricks could convince many that you had magical powers and were a force to be reckoned with. Would that not deter people from attacking you? Would it - at least - make people think twice about getting on the wrong side of you?

Consider this sword form.....

There is very little in the way of practical sword fighting going on here. Don't get me wrong, it is a great piece of balance, athleticism, power and sword control. But it is completely devoid of practical applications, and would be totally useless for sword fighting of any kind....


It does make people think you are a force to be reckoned with. Wouldn't that not deter people from attacking you? Would it - at least - make people think twice about getting on the wrong side of you?

Deception, smoke and mirrors take many forms.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Binaural Beats - an introduction

Binaural beats are delivered using stereo headphones. They work by playing differing frequencies into each ear. The brain tries to make sense of them as one sound, and by doing so, modifies it's own frequency. Binaurals can be used to change the state of arousal in the brain - from high energy focus, through deep relaxation to very deep delta sleep.

The internet is jam-packed full of people selling different products that incorporate binaural beats. Some companies make some pretty tall claims as to the efficacy of their products - they can turn you into a millionaire, they can make you live longer, they can help you cure disease etc...

Let's put these into perspective. Binaural beats change the frequencies of the brain. They can help you achieve a desired state of focus. They can help you enter a state of hypnotism, so suggestions for change can be fed to you. You get great sleep on them, and amazing deep states of meditation. They are not a panacea. If you are taking medication for something like depression or cancer, don't stop. If you suffer from strobe-induced epilepsy, consult your doctor before using them. What you do, is your trip entirely, and don't hold me responsible if you are sucked into any health "cures" or "instant wealth" scams using this technology.

Now we've done a little bit of expectation management, there are a lot of products on the market. There are two main approaches:

Passive: These products are generally suggestions that are fed to you - either verbally, visually or subliminally. They help you to make change. Some incorporate Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Hypnotism, Subliminal suggestions and combinations of those. They can be very effective in changing habits like giving up smoking, biting nails, healthy eating, public speaking or phobias. All you need to do is listen.

Active: These products offer a service that is more give and take. They are generally much more expensive, and follow a set curriculum. Typically, they can involve spiritual growth, shamanic journeying, out-of-body experiences or merely scientific self-exploration.

I have been more interested in the active products - choosing to use binaural beats to deepen my state of meditation. Let's start with the cheapest and work our way up......

SBAGen: This is an open-source command line program. If you are comfortable with computer languages and are interested in brainwave experimentation, this is really good. Once you get your head around how to write the programs and run them using the machine, it's great. What's more - it's free. Get it here. You can get it for all platforms.

iPhone Apps: there are a number of iPhone/iPod Touch apps that can generate binaural beats. one of the best - Mindwave 2 - costs £2.99 on itunes. There are many more. Just do a search.

BwGEN: This is a much more user-friendly program. It comes with lots of presets for different applications. You can download the shareware version here. The better service costs. It's $40 to register and get the full version.

The above are for people interested in producing their own patterns and listening to them while plugged into their computer. I like these, becuase I like to be in charge of every aspect of my experience. Let's now see the high-end products. They are typically put on CDs. The two main competitors in this field:

The Monroe Institute (Hemi-sync): The Monroe Institute was the first to experiment with binaural beats as a means of education via the exploration of consciousness. They offer single CDs and sets that have a wide range of applications. The CDs are binaural beats with verbal instructions only. You actively follow those instructions. You are also given exercises to do your own thing with that they call 'free-flow'. The only criticism is that if you buy a CD, there is little in the way of direct support from the Monroe Institute itself. You can ask questions on the website though, and they have a growing internet community. They also offer ambitious residential programs where you can experience profound states of meditation, shamanic journeying, out-of-body experiences and evolution of consciousness. They are not cheap, but the care that has been put into the programs is great. See the Monroe Institute here.

Centerpoint (Holosync): Centerpoint offer a program that is less ambitious in it's scope, but gives more support to the home user. You subscribe with them, and get regular support via emails and telephone. My personal opinion is that their awakening course can cause undesired feelings of anxiety and stress to leak into the normal day.. This is something that is encouraged, as they say these are feelings that need to be uncovered so they can be dealt with. The CD's themselves are binaurals with rain, subliminals and ringing bells. Depending on the way you choose to work, they are either boring, or zen-like. They also offer residential courses. See centerpoint here.

Whichever way you choose, binaurals are a fantastic tool for personal growth. Speaking for myself, I now get the best sleep and the most profound states of relaxation and meditation quickly and easily.

Friday, 12 February 2010

"If - thens".. are they wrecking your life?

I was recently in a conversation with a colleague at work. It was always going to be a difficult subject to discuss, and when I asked the question, I received a comment (I am paraphrasing):

"If that means you want it to happen, then I will have to speak to your manager."

From that point on, the conversation quickly descended into a classical adversarial sparring match. Emotions spiralled higher and the real meaning of the meeting was lost.

Later on, I had a revelation - it is the "If - thens" that cause many of our problems. Very often, we do not take what people say by their face values. We attach different meanings and make inferences as to each other's true intentions. That's when the "if" part of the statement is made. Next we get to the "then" part - having pre-empted, we assign consequences to the action. In this case, he will speak to my manager. "If Thens" are classic fear-driven, consequence-threatening statements that raise the stakes of almost every conversation we have.

So what do we do? We guard against the "If Then" trap. Replace "If Then" statements with "I Can" statements.

Instead of saying:
"If you're going to take that stance, then I will have to report you."

"I think you may be taking an incorrect stance. Can we discuss this?"

Can you see how the threat and fear is taken out of - what is essentially the same message? Don't believe me? Go through your day and listen to your conversations. Find out how often you use "If Then" statements. You might be surprised at how often you use them. Learn to put aside "If Thens", and you will find people warming to you more as the fear and threat is taken from your vocabulary.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

You know you've been doing tai chi too long when...

  • All your shoes have extremely thin soles.
  • All of your casual trousers are loose-fitting "just in case".
  • You are afraid to open your car boot (trunk) at supermarkets, because you forgot to take your swords out after the last class.
  • When shaking hands with people you test their rooting.
  • When standing with people, you can't help lowering your centre of gravity below theirs.
  • People with one shoulder higher than the other really irritate you. And as for people with stoops..!
  • At the bus stop, you miss your bus because you were zoned out while attaining wuji.
  • Your significant other complains that if you rotate your lower dantien while watching a movie together one more time, it will be divorce!!!!
  • You go into a period of mourning when your favourite tai chi shoes are too worn to be useful.
  • All your clothes are black... or red .... or black and red..... or white.
  • Unlike everyone else, you really do know what your chinese symbol tattoos mean.
  • All your anecdotes start with "When I was in China...."
  • You have many silk kung fu suits... but the trousers are significantly more worn and faded than the jackets and no longer match.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Leaving a legacy

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a tai chi teacher is the moment when an advanced student of yours starts to pass your lessons on to beginners. It is such a delight to see that they have taken on your training, and have managed to translate it into concepts and points of reference that they understand.

Watching this happen recently with one of my senior students has reaffirmed my belief that leaving a positive legacy is a valuable thing to try to do. The Ancient Romans new the power of a legacy. They believed that a person did not truly die until they were forgotten by those who they knew in life. So they had a paradigm that encouraged the leaving of a positive legacy. Conversely, many Taoists in China believe that the grieving process keeps the spirit attached to the griever. So they like to leave positive feelings with their relatives so that they will not grieve for long and allow their spirit to cross over.

So why is a positive legacy so important if you are not going to live to benefit from it? Having a clear view about how people will think about you after your death extends your paradigm beyond the present. By doing this, you broaden your outlook beyond the temporary needs of body and other material considerations. This wider view will also put any present problems you have into a lesser context.

So what kind of legacy do you want to leave? What kind of person do you want people to say you were?

Awakening (Author unknown)

A time comes in your life when you finally get . . . when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out . . . ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on. Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening.

You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon.

You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you . . . and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are . . . and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.

You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself . . . and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.

Your stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.

You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and everything isn’t always about you.

So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself . . . and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties . . . and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.

You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with.

You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for you next fix.

You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.

You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not you job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.

You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.

You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.

You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drinking more water, and take more time to exercise.

You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.

You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.

More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.

You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.

You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom.

You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people . . . and you lean not to always take it personally.

You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.

You lean that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.

You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.

Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than your heart’s desire.

You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind.

Finally, with courage in you heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.

(Author unknown)

I lifted this from the Monroe Institute website.