Stimulating the System

Written by bryan. Posted in Health and Fitness

tai chi, health and physiologyDespite the multitude of different martial arts and infinite variations on training methods there is one common component that links all systems and styles – the human body.  Regardless of culture and ideology, size or shape, armed or unarmed, modern or traditional or any of the other divisions that have arose in the martial world the human structure is the one thing that unites all.  Understanding the core principles that govern the human body forms the foundation of all arts and our awareness and view of the body has a direct correlation with how we engage it and more importantly develop its potential.  At the heart of studying these core principles is the awareness of how the human body is constructed and how best to train it for optimum performance.

The common view of human construction is that our body is formed as a series of bones that sit upon one another to form the structure we know as the skeleton.  In my treatment room I have a skeleton and in order for him to stand erect he has numerous bolts, springs and wires that hold him together – without them he’d be nothing but a pile of sticks on the floor.  In reality our skeletal structure is exactly the same and on its own it has absolutely structural integrity.  Far from being a like a house of bricks with one bone being stacked upon another our body structure far more closely resembles a suspension bridge in design than a static pile of bricks.  Our bones form only one component of a far more dynamic whole.  It is only through the way the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia) weave the bones together that allows us to stand tall and dynamically move and interact with our environment.

In the book ‘Anatomy Trains’ renowned structural bodyworker Tom Myers likens the relationship of the soft tissue and skeletal system of a human to that of a mast and rigging of a sailing boat.  In sailing if you didn’t have the rigging attached to the mast and various points of the hull, the mast would be ripped from the deck as soon as gust of wind caught the sail.  What the rigging allows for is the distribution of the ‘pull’ on the mast to multiple points on the sturdy structure of the hull.  In exactly the same process if you think of the spine as a mast and our muscles as the rigging, when the spine is pulled forwards the rigging at the rear will tighten and pull to stop the spine from snapping forwards and vice versa if it is pulled backwards.  Many people who have back pain often visit me to have that specific area treated and are surprised when I sometimes start work on the front of their bodies to address ‘pulls’ that may be causing the ‘rigging’ in the back to pull harder.

To enable dynamic movement our bodyweight needs to be suspended within the ‘rigging’ of the body rather than being precariously balanced on the bones.  Understanding the way this system of ‘rigging’ pulls and slackens is the key to grasping the anatomy of human movement.  Thinking holistically will provide clarity and reason for all of our movements and may even help identify areas for improvement and allow you to develop a ‘holistic’ training regimen.

Another misconception that often shapes peoples training routines is that muscles work independently of each other.  Luckily this view is beginning to change as many athletes and martial artists are pursuing what is being coined as ‘functional strength training’ or ‘whole body workouts – yet still far too many people still train their body parts in isolation rather than as a holistic unit.  In my opinion I think isolation training actually negatively impacts on the performance of the body when compared against whole body function specific training programs.  The only context I recommend for good sleep buy ambien and isolation training to my clients is during rehabilitation to bring an isolated body part back up to strength after which I advise them to switch onto exercises that will re-integrate the damaged or dysfunctional area back into line with the whole system.  Other than for aesthetic reasons I see absolutely no benefit to isolation training and in clients I have dealt with who follow “legs today, chest tomorrow and then arms the next day” programs I see imbalances in the body that lead to injury and tension in the system as a whole.

The key to both health and performance in the martial arts is having balance and harmony in the body.  When in balance the body can operate as a coordinated unit rather than as a series of isolated units that fire up independently all scrambling to fulfil their roles in life.  In tai chi we have a concept called ‘passing muscle to muscle’ whereby we train the muscles of the body to work co-operatively and efficiently and this is one of the primary purposes of the seemingly slow pace you often see tai chi practiced at.  This pace is needed to ensure that the muscles engage sequentially in a clean continuous partnerships and this level of coordination cannot be achieved through isolation training.  It is like tuning a car.  Once the muscles are tuned properly you can then begin to increase their capacity by moving more enthusiastically to stimulate synchronised growth throughout the whole body.

This then takes us onto another vital concept when engaging the body in a therapeutic manner to encourage health – something in our system we call ‘stimulation not decimation’.  Back in the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s martial arts people used to do thousands upon thousands of exercises, drills and techniques – many people believed that the muscles and bones would respond favourable if pushed to a point exhaustion.  The theory was that as the body recovered it would repair and adapt itself into a stronger machine. Many of the old timers from this era now spend a lot of time nursing chronically bad backs, knees, shoulders and other constant aches caused by the years of abuse.

Whilst there is some wisdom in this approach this approach a distinction needs to be made between ‘decimation’ and ‘stimulation’.  Overtly intensive training requires the body to repair damage rather than develop a stronger unit – there is only so much repair work the body can cope with before it breaks down.  This brutal approach to training is what we refer to as ‘decimation’.  ‘Stimulation’ of growth lets us tap into the body’s ability to evolve and requires us to look at the system as a whole and how best to engage it.

In my last article we discussed how humans learn from experience and we can use this quality to evolve the body’s physical capacity.  To stimulate the development of the body for martial arts you need to look at which function you want to improve and then decide an exercise or drill that will suit that function.  You then need to push the body through that drill just to the point that you can feel it start take effect – this is as far as you need go.  The body will take notice and then start to adapt and strengthen the structures you have worked – you have stimulated growth.  If you push past this point you start to decimate the body and it then has to divert resources allocated for recovery and regeneration to repairing and patching damage and ultimately this places a load on the body that you’ll eventually pay the price for.

When planning a program for self-development we need to look at how to nurture the body – not torture it.  In order to do this takes awareness and discipline.   It requires us to dispassionately apply reason and ‘holistic’ thinking to our training.  We need understand the system as a whole and it is impossible to evaluate that which is weak and that which is strong without first considering an individual components part in the whole – the evaluation of strength and weakness is always relative to the condition of body as a complete dynamic unit.

In order to ensure that our training is therapeutic and having a positive effect on our body we need to understand how the body is structured and functions as a holistic unit to avoid any training that will take a certain isolated part out of synch with the rest of the system.  I believe wholeheartedly that we should walk away from training in a better state than we walked into it.  As a martial artist I have no interest in what looks pretty I’m merely interested in the practical and the functional.  I love the martial arts and want to train every single day so I refuse to do anything that will stop me getting up and doing what I love every morning.  I’ve long ditched the training sessions that took three days to recover from and opted for ones that stimulate and invigorate my body on a daily basis.  Understanding these concepts is fundamental to long term prosperity and health through the martial arts!

Thursday, 25 November 2010 11:06 Written by Gavin King. 

Gavin King is a martial arts instructor and physical therapist who runs Shi Kon’s Martial Arts Essex kung fu and tai chi classes.





Written by bryan. Posted in Coaching


You don't have to be a Panda to do Kung Fu

You don't have to be a Panda to do Kung Fu


Sometimes the most dreaded words to any Martial Arts teacher and sometimes the most pleasing.


Adults start Martial Arts for many reasons, fitness, exercise, self defence, a new challenge or even to become a Black Belt. Children also start training for many reasons, some their own, some from their parents including fitness, confidence, discipline and exercise.  Often when one asks a student soon after they start training, the response is usually that they want to gain their Black Belt.


When you start to look at why people start there are many good reasons and they all start with high ideals and lofty ambitions. There is an oft quoted statistic that “Only one person in 1000 will ever earn their Black Belt.” Whilst I don’t think there is a way to actually empirically prove this number, it is fair to say that more people quit learning a Martial Art before they achieve the coveted status of Black Belt.


There was a study in America and out of 210 adults questioned in a telephone survey, the reasons that they quoted for quitting their Martial Art (Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, Kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do and other mainstream arts were all included)


Personal or work time constrains – 31%

Moved away from area – 23%

Lost interest – 18%

Medical Problems – 13%

Classes finished – 8%

Financial – 7%

Some things a Martial Arts teacher has no control over. We can’t change how someone determines to spend their limited leisure time. I’ve been in positions where I’ve not been able to attend a regular dojo for months, because I’ve been travelling around Europe working and living out of hotels working 18 hour days. Likewise I’ve also limited some of my training in order to spend time with my family and woe betide the instructor who tells me that I’m not committed enough because I want to spend time with my family. Family, work, Martial Arts in that order is the right approach for most people.

I can speak with recent experience of people moving area from the Basingstoke area. One of our students left to go and work in Denmark, another to live with her father in Wiltshire, two more moved because their job forced them to move. 20+ years ago I handed over the reins of a very successful Karate club I ran, because I was offered a chance to buy into a business that was 200 miles away from the club and I had to move, or rather I chose to move to start a new business adventure.

A good martial arts club that follows the guidelines laid down by The Martial Arts Standards Agency  should have good procedures in placed to help reduce the risk of injury.  However, along with every sport, there is always the risk or injury, no matter how carefully you practice. Before starting any training you should discuss with your instructor any injuries that you have and whether they limit your participation during any particular exercises. A good experienced instructor may be able to help you find a work-around that suits your body. There are of course other medical injuries that may prevent someone training, a friend of mine did Ballet for many years, sadly it caused injuries to her knees, which has currently curtailed her Martial Arts training due to having a knee replacement.

The financial reasons why people quit can be varied, it might be due to a short term change in circumstances, for example redundancy. It might be that there are other ‘more important’ things for that family to spend there money on. Whilst it may be possible to provide free classes to that person/family, the instructor always has to consider that they still need to pay their hall hire, insurance, rates etc. It’s also worth noting that some people can also use this as an excuse instead of giving the real reason why they are stopping training.

So out of the answers given by people who gave up a Martial Art, an instructor has little or no control over 74% of those. That does leave 26% of people who the instructor can influence.

8% of people said that there class has finished. New classes when they start are often small in numbers and unless the instructor has got the mix of advertising right, they are unlikely to grow too successfully. Ergo it becomes a financial drain on an instructor to teach a small class and they can close down. When starting a class an Instructor needs to carefully think about how to maximise a new intake and keep people interested and attending in order to build up numbers over a period of time.

The final one and the one that Instructors have the most influence over, is people losing interest. Instructors need to consider how to structure their syllabus and also their teaching style to engage and motivate people. Everyone has a different reason for practicing Martial Arts and therefore their approach to their training can differ. But this is the one key area that instructor can influence whilst teaching. The instructor should consider:-

  1. Do they teach the same thing all the time in the same format?
  2. Do they use any equipment to liven the lessons up for example bags, pads, grappling equipment?
  3. Is each student sufficiently personally challenged?
  4. Is there a clear and demonstrable path for progression? Are there different things for the student to work on as they progress?
  5. Are the classes actually fun (for both the instructor and also the student)
  6. Is feedback given in the right way and at the right time?
  7. Are you still actively training and learning new things to pass onto your students?

The correct practice of Martial Arts should be a natural progression, there is always more to learn and more to teach. I’ve seen too many classes where a green belt is practising exactly the same techniques in the same way as a brown belt or even a black belt does. Being a higher grade doesn’t just mean that the techniques are performed the same as a lower grade, albeit faster. There should be a whole new depth to the techniques and you need to make sure that as an Instructor or Coach, that you are teaching your students these new skills in order for them to grow and develop. Moreover as an instructor, you need to be learning new skills to aid your development as a Martial Artist and as an instructor, if you are not training for yourself, then you have no right to call yourself an instructor.

At the end of the day an instructor won’t keep every student, but if they can engage their students a little more effectively, then maybe just a few more people will stay the course and reach the coveted Black Belt.

As a final point, it is also worth considering that although a student may say “I quit” a coach or Instructor also has the right to tell a student that they are quitting them or in business terms laying them off. Of course an instructor has to earn the right to teach someone, but equally a student has to prove that they deserve to be taught and that has nothing to do with money.

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Are you a Chicken?

Written by bryan. Posted in Martial Arts

You practise Karate/Judo/Taekwondo etc, you can’t be afraid, you’re tough, are n’t you or I would n’t want to mess with you.  I’m sure many of us will have either heard these phrases or something very similar. But are they true?

As a Karate (I’ll say Karate for ease of typing, but this article applies to any Martial Art) person you must learn to be afraid.  I can hear you all saying, he’s mad, well maybe but think back to your very first grading, the first competition you went into or the first time you fought a Black Belt,  Go on tell me you won’t nervous and scared of the experience.  Bet not many of you could truthfully say you have n’t been afraid during your Karate experience. Wait until you get to black belt, that all changes, right? Wrong, at least not if you are a proper Black Belt.

Fear is something nearly every human being has to cope with. How we cope with it, defines us as a person and a martial artist.  Look at all the things we have to worry about today – Will there be a global recession, is my job safe, my pay is not rising in line with inflation, are my kids happy……………..the list goes on and on for most of, these important things make any Karate worries pale into insignificance. Learn to use your Karate to challenge the fears and beat them, both by using the relaxation and meditative aspects of it and also by the focus and determination, you should be using to move up the grade ladder.

If you are not afraid when training in Karate, you are doing it wrong. If you are not afraid when training in Karate, you are doing it wrong. Yes I did say it twice, its true and its an important point to reflect on. 

We all have comfort zones, most us live within these comfort zones. If you are happy doing this, that’s okay, but don’t expect to improve as a martial artist. Look at the instructors many of us have seen, as soon as they became an instructor, they developed the Sensei strut and stopped training in order to start teaching. They become comfortable with their new position in the dojo and being held up in esteem by their students. Firstly their skills levels are (generally) likely to decrease because they are not putting themselves in harms way enough. Consider also, that it’s a really brave Sensei, who tries something new or different with all their students watching, when they are scared that they will belittle themselves in the eyes of their students. Fancy reducing that godlike status to that of a mere mortal who and is n’t perfect and actually makes mistakes. A good instructor won’t be afraid of making these kinds of ‘mistakes’ and they will use these lessons as a good learning experience and to improve their own and their students Karate. A good instructor trains hard with the students to set them an example, he tries to do better than he did at the previous class. He falls over because he tries to kick  a little bit higher, he messes things up. He even admits to being fallible and says “I don’t know” when a student asks him something he does n’t know.  A good instructor seeks feedback from anyone who will give it to him and acts on it. a bad instructor is too scared to do these things.

What about Kumite time in class? Decide on who the best / hardest / fastest fighter in the club is and pick them out and make sure you fight them at every opportunity you can. If they are of a so much higher standard than you, that’s even better.  If you fight someone that you are better than, there is nothing to stretch your skills. Fight the best people you can and quickly your skills will improve, depending upon your partner’s skill levels, you can progress very quickly in a relatively short period of time. Are going to be out of your comfort zone, sure, will you be scared yes, will you get better at Karate, definitely, will you get hurt, maybe (you can’t make an omelette without cracking an Egg). Karate is meant to challenge you physically and mentally, if it is n’t challenging at nearly every lesson, then either the practitioner is n’t training properly or the instructor is n’t a good instructor.

Lets not even think about using Karate in self defence. If you are not used to being scared in a fight and being put under heavy pressure and then overcoming that fear/pressure, then you probably won’t be able to defend yourself well. Take comfort that anyone can learn to draw on their emotions to help them fight better, if they’ll go with it and pressure test themselves.

What about that class with a new instructor or in a different school. “I can’t go there I’m scared I’ll get hurt/humiliated/laughed at/they’ll all be better than me etc  NO NO NO. Fear is good, take yourself out of your comfort zone and you will improve. Why do people fear training elsewhere. Well you could be due to the reasons mentioned at the start of this paragraph, it might be because they are lazy or more likely that they have gotten into a rut through being in a predictable comfort zone. “I’m to far away, its too different, everyone will better than me, my Sensei won’t let me, I know all about that already”……all answers I’ve heard when I’ve invited people to train with me. Some of the time they might even be true, but most of the time, people are too scared to challenge themselves. You claim you want to get better as a Karate-ka, even one day attain the exalted status of being a black belt or for those that are black belt, a high grade black belt. If that’s really true, then change your mindset.

As an instructor are you pandering to your student’s self doubts and insecurities. Do your students get given things to do that they know how to do or are comfortable doing, do they do the things they need to do, instead of what they would like to do? Your responsibility as an instructor is to take your students to a new level, one that they did n’t think they could reach or that they even knew existed. Every student needs to be brought out of a different comfort zone, but you’re the big fish in the small pond and that’s what you are there to do. You need to teach them how to deal with fear, you need to (safely) pressure test them, you need to build them up, you need to make them into Martial Artists. Are you up for the challenge or are YOU to scared to be a good competent instructor? 

Let me be very clear. As a Karate-ka, if you are not taking yourself out of your comfort zone each and every week, then stop wasting your time and that of your instructor doing Karate. Go and do Morris Dancing or Knitting or something else where you can quite happily live in a little world of mediocrity and not have to worry about learning new skills and developing them or being taken out of your comfort zone.

 Fortune favours the brave

 The coward dies many deaths, the brave only one.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Dune Series by Frank Herbert

Funakoshi’s Principle 11 of 20 states – “Karate is like boiling water: if you do not keep the flame high, it turns tepid” or more bluntly use it or lose it!

Dead duck or a chicken – you decide!