Archive for mindbodykungfu

The Body Line | Johnny Kuo

Posted in Martial Arts, Teaching Topic, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2012 by mindbodykungfu

After the center of the feet, usually the first “easy” idea I teach to new students is paying attention to the body line. When the hand (or more precisely, the point of contact) is inside the body line, it is easier to absorb. Conversely, when the hand crosses outside of the body line, it is easier to project force. The body line is an important transition point which needs to be recognized to maintain unification with an opponent’s force.

It’s a simple concept that is easy to demonstrate. Just move the hand inside or outside the body line and try absorbing to pull or projecting to push against a partner’s force. The importance of recognizing open vs closed becomes evident just from the touch feedback. Absorbing while open or projecting while closed only generates power from the arms and is harder. Projecting while open or absorbing when closed links up more joints in the body and generates more power with less effort.

Why this should be the case might not be immediately obvious. A quick thought experiment can explain the body line transition. Imagine the shoulder as a center of rotation for the arm in the horizontal plane. The point at which the arm is at its front-most position is directly perpendicular to the body (i.e. at the body line). If we borrow some math from the previous post on spheres of offense and defense, we can treat the body line direction as a diameter line of a circle. As the arm crosses inside or outside the body line, the diameter line is crossed. The forward-back motion vector of the arm (i.e. the tangent the arc) switches sign upon crossing the body line.

Alternatively, we can use a clock as our circular motion model. When the minute hand goes from 9 to 12, there is an upward movement component. Exactly at 12, there is no upward or backward movement component. After 12 is passed, the minute hand has a downward movement component. Once the hand crosses the transition point, there is a change from a forward to backward movement.

Of course, the human body does not move strictly according to rigid body mechanics, and movements usually involve several joints. The simple analysis is imperfect, but it serves as a rough approximation for understanding the mechanics.

Johnny Kuo

MindBodyKungfu.Com

(Originally post. 2/17/2011)

The Food Connection

Posted in Health, Nutrition with tags , , , , , , , on March 14, 2011 by mindbodykungfu

Growing up in a restaurant family, I’ve always been surrounded by good food and good cooks.  Even after I left the restaurant life to pursue my education, food has been an important theme in my life.  I’ve always felt it important to eat well and that food plays a pivotal role in our lives.  We must eat regularly to nourish our bodies and thrive. What food we eat determines what nutrition we receive and how well we can maintain our health.

You are what you eat

We obtain the nutrients we need to live from the food we eat; food is an integral part of our being.  Our health and well being is intimately tied to the food we eat.  Unfortunately, what we choose to eat sometimes (perhaps too often) only loosely qualifies as food.

The hectic pace of modern life has made fast, convenience, and junk foods a fixture in our lives.  Unfortunately, these industrialized foods are not designed for providing the highest quality and most nutritious foods.  Rather, they are geared towards minimizing costs and maximizing profits.  Achieving those goals means sacrificing flavor and nutrition in favor of transportability, shelf life, and lower cost (i.e. lower quality) ingredients.

The industrialization of our food has been a mixed blessing.  Our food is now cheaper and more readily available.  On the other hand, our food choices are now often less nutrient dense, higher in calories, more homogeneous tasting, contain artificial additives, and less like actual food.  We do less food preparation ourselves than our parents and grandparents, and have become disconnected from our food.  We have instead come to rely on the black box of large scale commercial, agri-industrial production for our dietary needs.  This has given us a host of undesirable consequences:

  • the prevalence of highly processed products full of high fructose corn syrupand all manner of industrial ingredients (preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, partially hydogenated oils, etc.).  These “food” products are calorific and shelf stable, but otherwise nutritionally void.
  • grain fed, antibiotic pumped meat unnaturally high in saturated fat and low in several nutrients (omega-3, vitamins, and various antioxidants).
  • hormone injected dairy cows producing high estrogen content milk.  Commercial dairy products are implicated in disrupting normal endocrine function and promoting cancer.
  • industrially farmed and imported produce which is unripe, insipid, less nutritious, and more monocultured than locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Combine suboptimal dietary choices with increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and it’s unsurprising that health problems are rising.  We’re seeing high rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and food sensitivities among other disorders.

Healing power of food

Fortunately, positive changes in diet can be readily implemented and effect significant health improvements.  Just as eating poorly throws a wrench into your system’s gears, eating well returns your body to the well oiled machine it was meant to be.  Properly fueled, the human body has an amazing ability to heal itself.

Many of the diseases we suffer in the modern developed world are preventable with simple lifestyle choices–most notably diet and exercise.  Just eating well has positive effects on digestive tract health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, bone health, body weight, immune system function, mental alertness, and energy levels.

How do we go about eating well?  There is already a cornucopia of available material on the subject, but I think a quote from Michael Pollan summarizes the general strategy nicely: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Eat food

Minimally processed whole foods are superior to the cardboard and plastic packaged convenience food.  Finding these foods means shopping on the perimeter of a grocery store where the fresh foods are instead of towards the center where the processed, prepackaged, and artificial stuff usually is.  If possible, it is even better to shop at a local farmers’ markets or grow some of your own food.  With real food in hand, do as much meal preparation yourself as you can.  By reconnecting yourself to the creation of your food, you will enjoy healthier, more nutritious, and more flavorful meals.

Not too much

Fast and prepackaged foods are designed for parting consumers with their money.  They are nutrient sparse and designed to encourage overeating.  They do not fully sate you or adequately nourish you, but they addict you to eating them; consequently, you become programmed to crave and eat more.  That’s wonderful for corporate bottom lines, but not so great for your bottom (or midsection as the case may be).

In contrast, eating high quality, nutrient dense foods satisfies your body’s needs, requiring less consumption for satiety.  After a few weeks of eating a nutritious dietof fresh, whole foods, portion control becomes more natural as you deprogram the commercial food cravings and truly satisfy your body’s nutritional needs.

Mostly plants

Humans are omnivores with an amazing digestive tract that can derive our nutrition from a multitude of flora and fauna.  However, we still need to remember to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; just because we can survive on a carnivorous diet doesn’t mean that we should.  The human digestive tract works optimally with plant food sources (e.g. fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, etc) and can be supplemented by animal sources (e.g. meat and dairy).  A diet rich in plant foods provides essentials like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which help us stay healthy and thrive.

We cannot remain unaware of the source of our food, how it is grown and processed, and how it is prepared.  To disconnect ourselves from the creation of our food means paying a hefty long term nutrtitional and health price.  We must instead strive to be mindful of our food choices.  Paying attention to our food reconnects us to the vital process of nourishing ourselves building strong, healthy bodies.

Johnny Kuo

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NOTE: As anyone will tell you, always consult a physician when concerned about your health, diet and direction of your wellness plan.  As for ANY nutritional and dietary information on this site (or ANYWHERE), please use your own good judgement.  The authors of this website, are not registered dietitians, but have a strong background in health, wellness & exercise.  Proper nutrition just goes with the territory.

Thinking Inside The Box

Posted in Peace & Wellbeing, Philosophy, Spirituality, Teaching Topic with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2011 by mindbodykungfu

We often hear people talking about “thinking outside of the box.”  Usually what is meant by this metaphorical box is the boundaries defined by some line of thought.  By exploring new possibilities different from the previous ways of approaching something, whether it be a business or artistic pursuit, we hope to leap past the confines of the old ways using a novel approach.  Without people pushing through the boxes of convention, society would stagnate and we would never have the pioneers and leaders to inspire us and drive us to improvement.  We recognize Gandhi, Einstein, Martin Luther King, Amelia Earhart, and Bruce Lee as pioneers who have made their mark in the world; their excellence came about from their willingness to push past and eventually redefine the “box.”

The ability to think outside the box is a valuable skill and is requisite for improvements.  However, that doesn’t mean that thinking inside the box is useless or even undesireable.  The framework of the existing boxes have their own values. Previous established frameworks are often in place for good reason: they work.  The human mind is very good at finding structure in things and working from within developed structures.  Even without a previous framework in place, we will try to establish an underlying structure to achieve understanding.  Currently existing boxes can provide a prebuilt framework to serve as a launching point to facilitate the process of understanding.  Using pre-existing boxes saves you the time and effort of building your own model of understanding, and possibly even saves you the unnecessary effort of duplicating existing frameworks.  The conventional boxes can get you up to speed faster, particularly in pursuits that require being able to do things (for example, computer programming, painting, or even writing).

Though the box is often depicted as a constraining structure, the box paradoxically often empowers creativity and the ability to change.  With no reference framework, our perceptions of the task at hand consist mostly of unknowns.  With so many things unknown, we become uncertain, tentative, and possibly frozen into inaction.  It is here where working inside the framework of the box becomes most valuable.  The box provides a model which either explains the unknowns or defines a course of action to break the cycle of uncertainty and inaction.  The box framework provides the starting point for exploration, and it is from this process of exploration that creativity and change can arise.  You can hand a child paints and brushes, but the child probably won’t become the next Picasso without some framework for learning how to use the paints.

It is the exploration of the box that eventually leads to the recognition of the limits of the box.  Being able to think outside of the box requires that we know what inside and outside the box actually mean.  Thinking “outside” of the box is meaningless without the context of understanding what defines the box; understanding the box and being able to work from within the box gives us a starting point to learn to recognize and perceive the box.  Recognition of the box is the first step needed to move beyond the box and push outside of it.

While we may ultimately wish to break through the confines of the box and become one of the innovators thinking outside of the box, we cannot completely discount the value of thinking “inside” the box.  Thinking inside of the box complements the ability to move beyond the box.  As long as we can learn not to be confined by the box, we can find value thinking both inside and outside the box.

Johnny Kuo

Point Of Contact

Posted in I-Liq Chuan, Internal Arts, Teaching Topic, Techniques, Training with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by mindbodykungfu

In my experience with learning and teaching I-Liq Chuan, I have noticed that a lot of time is spent training the point of contact.  Once the basic understanding of body unification is achieved, training can quickly progress to framing movements in terms of the point of contact.  The point of contact provides a context for movements and serves as a training aid which guides the training progression.

The way I usually introduce the the point of contact is as a physical link for coupling force into your opponent.  To affect your opponent’s structure (or control balance via the structure), you need a link to couple your force into your opponent.  The most straightforward way to do that would be to grab at the point of contact.  The coupling of force can also be done without grabbing.  The touch contact needs to align to solid structure (i.e. bone), and the body must unify to the point of contact.  When those two conditions are met at the point, usable force can be coupled into the opponent’s structure.

The nature of the point of contact is dynamic.  Outside of static demonstrations for teaching, the point of contact will be constantly changing.  This necessitates attention to the point of contact to perceive the present conditions at the point.  The act of focusing the attention to feeling and adapting to the changing point is itself training.  Like breathing in sitting meditation, paying attention to the point of contact is a mental focus tool during partner training.  Spinning to flow at the point is largely a mental exercise.

Probably most importantly (at least from my point of view as an instructor), the point of contact provides a feedback tool.  Whether a student understands body unification or movement applications can be felt from touch.  The same touch at the point of contact can be used to provide kinesthetic feedback.  Once the correct touch has been demonstrated and felt, the student has a diagnostic to gauge whether the body alignments and movement modifications are correct.  The point of contact serves as a training diagnostic for both the instructors and students to assess and correct alignments and movements.

I-Liq Chuan Reflections

Posted in I-Liq Chuan, Internal Arts, Martial Arts, Styles with tags , , , , , , , on January 10, 2011 by mindbodykungfu

What originally got me interested in I-Liq Chuan (literally translated mental-physical fist) was an interaction I had with Sifu Sam F.S. Chin. When I was still in North Carolina, we invited Sifu to give a workshop introducing his family art. I touched hands with Sifu during the seminar and experienced something quite unexpected. Sifu’s touch had me jammed up. My structure was locked up, and I could not lift my feet from the ground without Sifu controlling my balance. At the same time I had this sinking feeling that releasing his touch from my arms was not a safe method of escape. It was disconcerting to be completely dominated on touch.

The skill level demonstrated got my attention, but what hooked me was the teaching approach. The first thing taught was not techniques, drills, or forms. The first thing Sifu discussed was mindfulness. The emphasis from the beginning was that martial skill was based on the mind being free to perceive what our senses are telling us. At the time, the philosophical discussion left my head throbbing and wondering how it was relevant to training a martial art. Yet, it is this very grounding in Zen thought that has been the most important lesson imparted from the training. Training one’s mental attentions develops the mind-body connection and unification of the self; it also enhances perception of the conditions of the moment, which is essential for harmonizing with an opponent.

Sifu Sam Chin*

What committed me to I-Liq Chuan was seeing skill being transmitted to the students. It is one thing to have the master who can demonstrate the skills; it’s more impressive to see students also manifesting the same skills. Sifu Chin spent a long time contemplating the best methods for teaching the art. The result of that effort is a well-defined curriculum which first lays out the philosophy, principles and concepts, and then outlines progressions of solo and partner training. By starting with the conceptual framework, the ILC system establishes a philosophical foundation to guide the training. This top-down approach (i.e. concepts before specific training) emphasizes active attention to the core principles. In this manner, the training is guided by purpose and a clear path of progression.

Though I initially started training for martial purposes, fighting ability has not been the most valued skill I’ve learned from training ILC. Rather, I value more that ILC has equipped me to develop on my own. I haven’t always had consistent access to ILC training partners. A lot of my training has involved cross-training with practitioners of other arts. Despite this, having an understanding of key principles has allowed me to continue advancing my skill in ILC. Instead of distracting me from my core art, the cross-training has served as a test of my understanding and training of principles across different contexts. ILC has provided me with a conceptual framework and mental tools to take charge of my own progress. The ability to self-reflect and self-guide my training has given me the most valuable skill: self-improvement.

Johnny Kuo

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* Sifu Sam Chin is the founder of I-Liq Chuan.  For more info on him and this family system, visit his page [here]

Training Partners – By: Johnny Kuo

Posted in Martial Arts, Training with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2010 by mindbodykungfu

Johnny Kuo :

Originally posted on his Group “Mind Body Kung Fu

I sometimes get asked whether training with beginners is boring or pointless. When you advance to a certain level of skill, it can be frustrating to have to train “below your skill level.” However, I choose not to view it that way. After spending a significant amount of time (years actually) as the only I-Liq Chuan guy around and having to build a group from beginners, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity presented by training with a beginner.

It is tough to advance your skill when your abilities are not being challenged. As with any skill, you need to push your limits to broaden your understanding. The value of training with a beginner is not in pushing your limits. What training with a beginner does is force you into a teaching role. The best way to learn something is to have to teach it. You may think you know something, but trying to pass on your knowledge reveals gaps in your understanding. You need to fill in those gaps by approaching the skill from many different perspectives so that you can deal with the myriad of different backgrounds and unexpected questions you receive with beginners. While you may not advance your skills interacting with a beginner, you can still deepen your current level understanding and solidify your basics. That in itself is invaluable foundational training.

Training with anyone, beginner or advanced, is an opportunity for mindfulness practice. Training should always involves focusing the mind to be aware. Boredom can set in while training with a beginner, but this is a fault with the advanced practitioner rather than the beginning student. Zoning out with a beginner is losing your attention to the moment. The goal of the practice is not just to develop superior martial ability; it is also to hone one’s awareness to perceive the conditions of the moment. It is also prudent not assume that the beginner is inferior in skill. Someone trained in another art is only a beginner in your art. You need to pay attention simply because a “beginner” may still penetrate your defenses due to inattention or incomplete understanding on your part.

With the role of the teacher, there is an element of gratification from training a beginner. It does take work to pass on knowledge, and teaching can sometimes take a fair bit of mental and physical energy. But watching the light bulbs turn on as principles click is highly satisfying. The more I teach, the more I get to observe understanding blossoming. Watching the growth of understanding is a nice perk of the teacher’s role.

Training a beginner is never really boring. The training process with a beginner can be tiring as you may need to assess and correct poor movement patterns, find ways to prod their understanding, and present concepts from multiple perspectives. All that effort can be rewarding though. You get to deepen your understanding, get extra mindfulness training, and most importantly, build up your future “advanced” training partners. (original post)

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Johnny Kuo

MindBodyKungfu.Com

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A Day’s Lesson [9/17/2010] : KUO

Posted in Day's Lesson, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2010 by mindbodykungfu

The Beginner’s Mind

One skill that I continuously work on is approaching training with the attention of the beginner’s mind. Every time I do even the simplest of drills, I work hard not to just tune out and go through the motions. I try (with varying success) to approach each and every session as if I’m seeing things through the fresh eyes of a beginner. Each session is its own unique experience and is a unique opportunity to learn.

Time and again, when I think I already know something and stop paying attention, I will later find out that I didn’t know the concept as well as I thought. I can touch hands with my Sifu or my kung fu brothers, and it becomes clear that there’s something missing in my training. What I glossed over for being simple basics earlier, later becomes the weakness I need to improve.

Johnny Kuo

MindBodyKungfu.Net

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