foundational exercises

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foundational exercises

Postby fivedragons » Mon Apr 13, 2015 5:08 am

I was thinking about those seemingly esoteric things that many styles practice, as foundation and attribute development for the "advanced" stuff.

You see things that don't much to do with modern exercise regimes. Countless times I have heard people disparage these primitive exercises in favor of things like weight lifting and aerobic exercise.

As a basic example, everyone talks about the infamous horse stance thing. Of course there are all kinds of practices dealing with posture, structure, etc., besides this "cliche".

At some point, I became interested in trying out different foundational exercises from different arts. I found over time that my body and mind was being affected in different ways than was happening with the "modern" generic exercises I have practiced. To bring up the false dichotomy thing again, often you will hear people taking sides for different practices, as opposed to others. Many people seem to think there is only one correct way to condition the body for martial arts or whatever.

I have some thoughts about this, and I would be interested to hear other people's opinions.

1) There have been heavy objects, and people have been lifting them for as long as there have been people and heavy objects.

2) People have been running, both over long distances and in very fast bursts for as long as their have been animals to hunt and animals that hunt us. There are also things like climbing and swimming.

So why did people create these "esoteric" exercises? Once again with the dichotomy thing, I am not a shoalin monk, but it is obvious that the tradition includes pretty much any kind of exercise one can think of. How many times have you heard someone say "you don't need to waste your time with (fill in the blank), all you need to do is (fill in the blank)?"

I've been pondering the differences in the meanings of "power", "endurance" and "stamina". Is stamina a grey area somewhere in-between power and endurance? The concept of a resting kind of strength, the ability to be firm, yet yielding.

I could be totally wrong about the terminology, just wondering about the differences and complimentary aspects of different practices. One thing that stands out to me is the idea of bringing everything together in a specific way.
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Re: foundational exercises

Postby fivedragons » Mon Apr 13, 2015 5:58 am

While thinking of power, endurance and stamina, I forgot about speed. Layers of an onion. :?
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Re: foundational exercises

Postby Bill Glasheen » Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:54 pm

Good topic and good question.

Way back when, I was that annoying student in class who would often ask "Why?", "Will this really work?", or some other question that occasionally got under the skin of an authoritarian instructor. My curiosity was genuine, as was my desire to understand. My understanding of human behavior was perhaps a step or two behind what I needed for self-preservation, but... It's a good thing I could "Take a lickin and keep on tickin." So when the instructor sometimes answered by pounding me and saying "That's why!", well... I lived for another day where I knew my instructor had issues and I had some investigating to do.

The greatest advantage and disadvantage of my own journey is that I was unceremoniously thrust into the role of chief instructor because my own moved on to advance his education at Hahvahd and I was put in charge of a very large group of 18 to 26-year-olds. As things happen in such situations, I lost almost all the current students but built up a new crop of my own. When my own very smart students asked the impertinent "Why?" question, I respected their intent. Sometimes I had the answer because I had asked it of myself way back and had to figure it out on my own. Sometimes not so much. Occasionally I would cast away the old in favor of the new - because that was the smart thing to do. Over time though I sometimes went complete circle and rediscovered the very things I had left behind. *THIS* is why I tell my students that martial arts history is important. As I become a better professional scientist who often questions the status quo (e.g. "settled science" in the global war... er... climate change arena), I learn the need not just to throw away what I consider useless. Sometimes you need at least mentally to understand why a person went down the path they did. Occasionally it was a brilliant one that deserved careful consideration. Sometimes it was a compromised one that deserved clarification and modification, as well as retranslation. And sometimes the material was just batsheet stupid, as with the no-touch KOs that were so popular in the aging kyusho crowd.

So... what to do?

First... I share the following quote.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!

So what does this mean? It means that first you should never treat any of your instructors as gurus or sources of all knowledge. The very best of them are quite learned, but they won't always give you the answer. They will instead get you on a path that over time you must take charge of. Why? Because the very best instructors know that martial arts and other similar arts are personal journeys that are individualized to the people going on them.

Yes, a style must have standards. Yes, there are indeed "wrong" ways to do things. But if you bring your students on a principles-based journey, then the way you get to your destination can be quite unique. The fact that you got there by a unique approach while someone else did so in their own way shows that the two of you shared... "something". And it is that "something" that we're all trying to capture, package, and pass along.

More in a bit.

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Re: foundational exercises

Postby Bill Glasheen » Mon Apr 13, 2015 3:34 pm

The first thing to consider in martial arts is why we do kata or forms. My own answer is that we need to codify the body of knowledge in some way that allows us to pass it on from generation to generation. There's an art to doing that well; some styles do so and some styles don't. Any style that dwells too much on specifics or dimensions having little to do with self-defense and survival is an art that isn't timeless. Any art that is able to capture the principles rather than the specifics in a parsimonious group of forms is something special. However... those styles sometimes are the most difficult to learn and to teach. This is where good instructors come into play.

Martial arts forms are the study of human interaction and movement during extremes of neurohormonal stimulation. When facing The Grim Reaper, the body is in a unique physiologic state, as is the mind. Teaching a person to survive that special state takes good material and good training. And this is why we do things the way we do in a good martial arts school.

WHAT WORKS

1) Principles of movement that adapt to myriad situations.

2) Gross motor before complex motor, and never fine motor coordination.

3) Movement that taps into the sum of all body parts - either simultaneously or sequentially.

4) Movement that acknowledges the line of force, and how to control it.

5) Methods that take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses while preserving one's own.

6) Methods which seek constantly to sharpen and strengthen the sword that is the practitioner.

7) Movement that can be taught to the majority of people in a reasonable period of time across most of their lives.

8) Methods which acknowledge that skill takes time to develop, so keep the student training.

9) Methods that are the best use of available resources.

This is ideally how we evaluate "the old" vs. "the new". It's also how you can compare and contrast "traditional" vs. "newfangled" vs. just plain faddish.

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Re: foundational exercises

Postby Van Canna » Mon Apr 13, 2015 3:49 pm

Great posting Bill, Thanks.
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Re: foundational exercises

Postby fivedragons » Tue Apr 14, 2015 5:34 am

Thanks, Bill. This made me think of the jar exercise you guys do. One can do different things to strengthen the legs, grip, etc., and it is all good, but when I watch a clip of a master doing this ritual, it is clear that this is a MARTIAL ARTS exercise. When I see it, I can feel it and I know it is part of the same "language" as my sanchin. As a matter of fact, I intend to get a pair of rice jars when I can, and learn how to do this. It just fits. In other words, any exercise is good for what it is worth, but this Uechi foundational exercise just calls to me, like it is the missing half of my sanchin practice.

I recently started exploring tai chi with a dvd, so far starting with the basic chi kung exercises. Along with the postures that are used in the form itself, there is a "squatting stance" that is used only as a foundational exercise, in which one is supposed to hold the position for five minutes. So far I am up to two minutes, and it burns. :lol: I don't have the science to express the physiology but it feels like it has a different effect than say, doing squats, running or what have you. It feels like it is there for a kind of stamina, for want of a better word, that is part of the art.

I don't know, I guess I want to express my appreciation for this holistic physical culture. As someone who has done sports, been through boot camp and worked many manual labor type jobs, I have gained a new appreciation for movement from martial arts. It is beautiful to me.
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Re: foundational exercises

Postby Bill Glasheen » Tue Apr 14, 2015 2:46 pm

fivedragons wrote:This made me think of the jar exercise you guys do. One can do different things to strengthen the legs, grip, etc., and it is all good, but when I watch a clip of a master doing this ritual, it is clear that this is a MARTIAL ARTS exercise. When I see it, I can feel it and I know it is part of the same "language" as my sanchin. As a matter of fact, I intend to get a pair of rice jars when I can, and learn how to do this. It just fits. In other words, any exercise is good for what it is worth, but this Uechi foundational exercise just calls to me, like it is the missing half of my sanchin practice.


The jar exercises invoke several of the points I listed above.

Item 3 above talks about getting the body parts to work together, and the jar training does that to some extent. To use a slang expression, you have to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time. In this case the "gum chewing" is developing that Uechi hand grip (of doom). Absolutely none of the gripping or pointy things work without developing the muscle memory, muscle strength, tendon strength, and bone strength that is a foundation to Kanbun's art. At first it seems impossible, but it's not. If a person with my long, slender fingers can make it work, then an average person can make it work. The key "extra" feature of these exercises that aren't easily reproduced in the gym is that you have constant traction on the fingers while doing these exercises. This helps preserve the articular cartilage surfaces in the finger joints - the places where osteoarthritis eventually sets in.

Item 9 talks about the best use of available resources. Why were rice jars used? Because it's what they had sitting around the house. Do we have rice jars readily avaiable to us? No. What are good substitutes?

The first thing one must remember is how the exercise is done. This isn't grip strength per se; it's developing strength and muscle memory for the hand in a very specific orientation. In particular, the thumb must not be directly opposing the fingers. Rather it's rotated 90 degrees at the base so that - if you clench the tiger claw - your thumb forms either a shoken or a hiraken. The side of the thumb must meet either the back of the index finger (shoken) or back of the middle finger (hiraken), and that modified a-ok foundation can pinch and pull flesh. So the jar works because you can align the thumb such that its last digit is oriented along the line of the lip of the jar.

The problem with the jars in the modern era is that: 1) they aren't available resources, and 2) they break too easily. I've seen people come up with gadgets that they sell, but none impress me. *I* have some ideas, but have yet to meet the right materials person that I can team up with and manufacture something.

Soo...

My first choice for this is the following - because it is readily available in a gym.

Image

The indentations are perfect slots for the thumb, and the ridge is the best place to line up that thumb in the correct orientation. The fingers can mostly grip the indentation on the other side, with the pinky and index finger grabbing wherever it makes sense. IT WORKS! I can't hold on to a very large amount of weight without dropping the dumbbell, but I can do sanchin stepping and myriad kettle-bell-like exercises with the sideways grip(s). In one gym I teach we have two racks of these dumbbells at the side of the classroom. As long as my people put on their sparring booties, we have no issues with the gym owners and the insurance company. (Insurance regulations won't let members lift weights while barefoot.)

The other thing that sorta kinda works is protein powder jars.

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Finding a variety that matches your hand and doesn't have a sharp edge to the top is the trick. You can fill them with sand and make them quite heavy. And the thumb fits nicely in the indentation near the top of the jar.

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Re: foundational exercises

Postby Bill Glasheen » Tue Apr 14, 2015 6:55 pm

fivedragons wrote:I recently started exploring tai chi with a dvd, so far starting with the basic chi kung exercises. Along with the postures that are used in the form itself, there is a "squatting stance" that is used only as a foundational exercise, in which one is supposed to hold the position for five minutes. So far I am up to two minutes, and it burns. :lol: I don't have the science to express the physiology but it feels like it has a different effect than say, doing squats, running or what have you. It feels like it is there for a kind of stamina, for want of a better word, that is part of the art.

Sometimes I embrace exercises like this. Other times I use them not as a training tool, but rather as a measurement of progress.

If you had to choose one and only one free-weight weight training exercise to do (not including Olympic lifts), it would be the basic squat. It teaches you how to generate energy with the legs and core, and transfer it to the shoulders. Doing it with free-weights also adds in the extra coordination element that you will not get with machines.

What I recommend to get a robust benefit is to alternate between the following exercises.

1) Traditional back squats.

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2) Front squats. I find the first easier to do than the second. Either will do.

Image
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3) The very technically difficult overhead squat. Most people choose a barbell; this however looked like fun.

Image


4) Walking lunges -- with the weight held UP on the shoulders. I've seen elite athletes do the overhead variety. I'm not there. Yet...

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Add in a series of PNF stretches to maintain flexibility and work on usable full range of motion, and you've got it. Do this in conjunction with your martial exercises, and you're good to go.

I also find it important to work on core exercises (abdominal, back, obliques) using myriad methods that you can find in any gym. Mix it up. This is where I find newer machines can be helpful - particularly if they make you go back and forth between lumbar lordosis and a pelvic tuck.

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I do these two while holding weights.
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You see the pelvic tuck done overtly - with dynamic tension - in Goju Ryu kata. You won't get it until you do those abdominal machines and then try a Nakamatsu-style sanchin thrust. That movement is lost to many in Uechi Ryu, but not all. This is the effortless caffeine in your Sanchin.

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Re: foundational exercises

Postby fivedragons » Wed Apr 15, 2015 8:33 pm

This got me thinking more about static exercises. I have started practicing the standing meditation again, after neglecting it for a while. I was thinking about what I can get from it that is different from dynamic exercise.

While thinking about the process that it involves, I started visualizing the body as a kind of hourglass thing. If I am top-heavy and need to let the sand fill me from the ground up, I need to slow down time and pay attention to what is blocking it from flowing downward.

This kind of thing lets me become aware of every place where there is gratuitous tension. It lets me make micro adjustments to the alignment of my spine, hips, etc.

By slowing down time and not focussing purely on exertion/power, I can feel how my breathing, and sense of balance is affected by each part of my body.

It helps me to kind of let go and settle down into the posture.
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Re: foundational exercises

Postby cxt » Wed Apr 15, 2015 10:56 pm

Interesting question and intersting discussion.
Forget #6, you are now serving nonsense.

HH
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Re: foundational exercises

Postby fivedragons » Mon May 04, 2015 4:49 am

Had an interesting development with the tai chi squatting stance thing. I had been up to two minutes with it, and by the time I was finished, my quadriceps would be swollen and hard as if I had been doing squats or whatever. I had to push on my knees with my hands in order to stand up. Excruciating. :lol:

The last couple times, I made it to three minutes. When I finished, my legs were almost normal and not really pumped up like before. Still some burn, but it was actually easier to straighten my legs and stand up.

One thing I changed was that I stopped watching the second hand on my clock while doing the exercise. I just let myself get into the feeling of it, and checked the clock at long intervals to see where I was at.

I noticed that I wasn't shifting my weight around as much, and wasn't tensing my muscles to the same extent.

Maybe the load is being more evenly distributed throughout the body.
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