Saturday, 3 September 2011

Lessons Learned from Traditional Exercises

I subscribe to a Facebook group for martial arts teachers. One of the most interesting exchanges started when I posted the following query:

"Injuries - in our profession, they are almost unavoidable. What injuries (if any) do you currently have, and how are you coping with them?"

The responses took me totally by surprise. Almost all the teachers replied with a long list of injuries, niggles and general physical complaints. From toes to necks, the cumulative list read more like an anatomy book.

Of course, as martial arts teachers, we are more likely to hammer our bodies. Injuries are inevitable. But it made me think more about the way martial arts are participated in China and how we can learn from this in the UK - not just as martial artists, but as a society.

In China, the young start off learning flexibility and balance.

As they reach puberty, the training changes to improve the strength and resistance to external force.

It is these external practices that are the quickest way of becoming proficient in martial arts. However, the nature of the training is that the body is stretched and damaged, so that when it heals it is stronger than before. What you are doing is making your body become increasingly resistant to damage.

As the body gets older, the rate that it can repair itself decreases. It takes you longer to recover from injuries. Once this is acknowledged, the Chinese martial arts practitioner transitions to a more internal form of training. Typically, this type of training is lower impact. The emphasis returns to flexibility, but the way these exercises are done has far more circular movements and less linear stretches.

So is it possible to derive a philosophy to apply to everyone? 
  • When you are young and small, making yourself as flexible and balanced as possible is the foundation for future health and growth. 
  • In your teens to early 30's, you can shape your body as you wish due to it's ability to repair itself. 
  • When the body's ability to repair itself slows down, make sure you keep it flexible with regular exercise to avoid stiffness. 
  • As the body ages, keep it stretched with regular exercise, but make these exercise movements more circular to reduce stress on joints and tendons.
Health authorities all over the world advocate physical activity to improve longevity and fight disease. What is important is that the activity you choose is appropriate to your age and your ability to recover from injury.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Another Open Weekend at PSR

On the 7th and 8th of May, Parsonage Side Retreat once more opened it's doors and invited everyone over to share their knowledge and craft. PSR's second "Open Weekend" since inception promised to be broader in scope, bringing guests from far and wide (Estonia and Spain to name a few).

The breadth of skills on display was impressive, list of contributors - Rhonda Sexton (Bowen Technique), Beltran Melgar (Monroe Institute), Graham Nicholls (Out of Body Experiences), Kathleen Knecht (Bodytalk), Luciana Haill (EEG monitoring), Kimberley Lovell (Reiki Drumming), Ruth Brammal & Kath (Crystal Skulls), Tim Wheater (Healing Mantras), Angela Delglyn (Self maintenance for the physical body), Fran Bridle (Crystal Cave Meditation), Jenny Ann (Clairvoyance and Much More), Christoffer De Gralle (Moving Sound)... oh, and yours truly teaching Tai Chi and Evolution of Consciousness.

Despite the patchy weather, the field next door was packed with cars as PSR filled with people eager to broaden their knowledge and challenge their limitations. I managed to attend many of the lectures and practical demonstrations and was impressed with the professionalism and care that shone through. The first day drew to a close, and we were serenaded by "Second Nature", a quartet of musicians and sound healers (Look them up on Facebook - they are fantastic). I finally dragged myself - exhausted - to my bed after deep, deep conversations with Beltran, the Hemi-sync facilitator into the night.

I think I must have collected too much energy over the day, because I awoke very early in the morning, still fizzing. So I killed some time by practicing Tai Chi in the rear field. As the rest of the guests came out, there was more sharing and insights from the previous day's experiences, and we all became eager to discover what the new day would bring.

From what I saw, Sunday was more relaxed in focus, but the content was just as illuminating. I learned a great deal during my two days, and I found a common link with everyone I saw, and wove it into my lecture, talking about Tom Campbell's consciousness and reality model - MBT (My Big Theory On Everything).

I then had to get away soon after lunch, so I sadly missed the other lectures and the closing.  Given the events I did witness throughout the weekend, PSR is well on the way to consolidating a bright future as one of England's premier consciousness centres.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Making starts

All martial arts are about action. They are about crystallising sensory input, consciousness and physical dexterity.

All actions start with a thought. A single decision must be made before we can move. That decision is "it's time to move". 

In 2008, the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig published their research into the relationship between thoughts and actions. Basically, they set up experiments where they could measure the brain activity of a person who was conducting physical activity. Their brain signals were monitored and timed. 

In the study, published in Nature Neuroscience, participants could decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. They were free to make this decision whenever they wanted, but had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. The aim of the experiment was to find out what happens to the brain in the period just before the person felt the decision was made.

What they discovered was quite amazing. It seems that before we make a "conscious" decision to do something, our unconscious mind is already preparing us for movement. Scientists have surmised that this would prevent our conscious minds being clogged with the many thousands of minor decisions that make up our day.

So what relevance does this have to martial arts? There are practitioners who seem to move like lightning, and with reflexes that are simply amazing. This is no accident, and does not come from building big muscles and heavy exercises. Sharpness comes through repetition. Even slow training like Tai Chi will eventually increase speed of reflexes, as the memory of the movement helps the unconscious mind to prepare for movement in detail.

From a philosophical standpoint, the Buddhist saying is "a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." 

...Only we now know that even before we decided to take that single step, our unconscious mind had made that decision for us. 

... Or perhaps, the single step is an unconscious thought that we have yet to perceive.

Either way, as we struggle to make the right decisions, perhaps the answers are there already. We just have to find a way listen to our unconscious mind.