To Chi Or Not To Chi, That Is The Question…

What is chi? It’s a term often associated with the martial arts and usually referenced as something mystical in popular cinema. Chi or Qi, depending on your source, is defined as a pseudoscientific , unverified concept that is believed to be the underlying “life force” or energy that sustains life (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qi).

In the Japanese martial arts, this is referred to as the Hara. More specifically, we tend to centralize this to the stomach area, although it doesn’t refer to the organ itself. But it is considered the energy field of the body that sustains us (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hara_(tanden))

I’ll admit that I’m a weird mish-mash of traditional and modern beliefs. Although I don’t believe we encapsulate an unseen, unproven energy field that sustains us and makes us stronger in the martial arts (if we can tap into it), there’s no denying that from a purely scientific perspective, we have to concede that we are primarily composed of energy.

This energy is based on the atoms that constitute us, and in no way forms some unseen energy that allows us to pulverize bricks or knock people over without touching them.

I’ve written a few times on the fact that living things tend to move, and movement creates energy. This energy is required to maintain life. One needs to wonder what the possible connections may be, between the scientific energy that we know to exist or the pseudoscientific energy that’s been discussed and studied for over 2,000 years. ☯

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Stress Is A Hell Of A Drug…

Most days, it seems as though there really isn’t a great deal of much that DOESN’T affect my blood sugar. It often feels as though if I take a breath the wrong way, my blood sugar may spike!

The past two years have caused a massive ball of stress in my gut. My thoughts often stray to the situations I’ve been dealing with. you wouldn’t think that worrying about something, being anxious or stressed, would adversely affect blood sugar, but it does. Here’s why:

When we become anxious or stressed, our bodies produces hormones. Some of these stress hormones can prevent the release of insulin in a normal person. But since most of us Type 1’s don’t really produce insulin anyway, those hormones tend to cause a whole bunch of other damage.

I think that most of us would agree that an hour and a half isn’t a significantly long period of time. Right? Or is that just me? My last karate class was a bit of a brutal ordeal. I started class with a normal blood sugar level. This usually means that I’ll stay level, maybe even have increased blood sugar, by the time class ends. This is because the release of adrenaline usually includes the release of glycol and causes spikes in blood sugar levels.

But this wasn’t the case for me. About an hour in, I was hit by a sudden wave of nausea, which is weird because nausea isn’t usually one of my low blood sugar symptoms. I bowed out and staggered over to my gym bag and tested my blood sugar through my sensor. I was sitting at 3.2mmol/L. For those in the know, this is starting to scrape the bottom of the blood glucose barrel!

I excused myself and wolfed down a handful of sour grape jellies, which resulted in a jump to 8.7mmol/L in under an hour. I have to be honest, fluctuating levels of that magnitude are exhausting. Add to the fact that class wasn’t out yet, and I tend to be too hard-headed to stop, even when it’s what’s best for me.

I spent the remaining half hour in a bit of a daze, trying to consolidate my sudden increase in blood sugar with the fact I still had to push myself to complete the class. All of this to say that even the mildest and most normal of human emotions can have an adverse effect on blood sugar.

All of this is to demonstrate how very important it is to test frequently and always be prepared. Carry sugared goods on your person at all times. Be sure to adjust your insulin levels and consult your medical practitioner often. Fine tuning and careful monitoring can often be the only way to ensure your continued health. ☯

Don’t Pop Your Clutch

There’s a natural inclination, when you’re working out to go hard and go strong right from the get-go! Although there’s nothing wrong with working up a good sweat (I generally encourage it, actually) it may not always be conducive with getting the most out of your workout.

Last Thursday’s karate class was interesting, because we practiced sets of 50 reps. The instructor would provide a specific technique and had us pair off and practice them back and forth for 50 reps each. We did this for almost forty minutes.

I was paired off with a young lad who was a green belt. We squared off and he attacked appropriately and I began practicing the assigned technique. When I had completed my 50 reps, my partner started in and performed his. Here’s what happened…

I started off at a steady, even pace. I focused on form and proper technique. By the time I reached 40 reps, my strikes got stronger and more focused. My partner started off by striking as hard as he could. He focused on strength and sheer force. By the time he reached his halfway point, he started getting tired and his muscles turned lactic.

What does this teach us? Well, it teaches us that learning the technique properly as a first step is of the utmost importance. Strength and power will come later. What is that quote from Bruce Lee? “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Essentially, you need to try and focus on learning things properly before trying to apply it. This is sort of what form and kata are for. When entering the dojo, everyone wants to punch and kick as hard as possible and make it look fancy.

Good things take time. Patience. Perseverance and practice. There are no easy paths and even when you have experience, you sometimes need to back it off a notch and take some baby steps to ensure you gain the most from your training. ☯

Hey, Great! You Showed Up!

There’s a growing trend that seems to have emerged in the last couple of decades; one in which the newer generations are rewarded simply for the effort of trying or showing up as opposed to receiving the rewards of accomplishing the goals through hard work.

If you’re like me and are either Generation X or Gen Y, you’re likely used to how things USED to be. That is to say, you didn’t get anything unless you accomplished the goal, you didn’t move on to the next grade in school unless you actually PASSED and you didn’t get trophies simply for showing up and playing the game. But for Millennials and Centennials, actually accomplishing something seems to be taking a back seat to being praised simply for trying. And I certainly don’t mean to paint all Millennials and Centennials with the same brush, so there’s no need for anyone to get offended (yet another issue with modern society!)

Look, I get it! Acknowledging one’s efforts can be extremely important and rewarding on its own. And it can feel good knowing that a teacher or a coach will still pat you on the back and assure you that “we’ll get it next time”. But the current world perspective may be creating a weaker generation of adults.

According to an article written by Ashuthi Kanneganti in the Queen’s University Journal, “The issue with participation trophies is they promote a disheartening concept: that failure is something to be ashamed of.”

Kanneganti goes on further to say, “Failure can shed light on our shortcomings, and making mistakes is necessary for personal growth.” And the article continues by describing how such practices leave children unprepared to face real life failures later on in life, such as college or university. Many of them have difficulty coping with these failures as they grew up without ever having to face them. (https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2018-09-10/opinions/participation-trophies-are-creating-a-weaker-generation/)

Another interesting perspective is from Dr. Jonathan Fader, Sports Psychologist, who wrote an interesting article in Psychology Today, in which he explains how trophies and accolades may not be in the best interest of the winners or the losers; pride should be had in the win based on your effort and not the trophy at all! (https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-new-you/201806/should-we-give-our-kids-participation-trophies)

So in a world where some schools in the world have adopted a No Child Left Behind mindset, where is the happy medium? Certainly, I was never a “sporty kid” while growing up. Health issues and lack of popularity saw to that. But as I trained in the martial arts, I remember the literal blood, sweat and tears that went into each and every belt rank I achieved. I also had the benefit of knowing that when I wore that belt, it was with the knowledge that I had earned that level of skill and I was entitled to wear that belt with pride, unlike some modern karate schools where you can earn a black belt in two years! (Which is impossible to do properly, by the way.)

Failing at things, regardless of what category of life they fell under, taught me the value and importance of recognizing my skill level and knowing what I had to work on. For most kids, if you reward them even if they failed or lost, you may be teaching them that trying isn’t all that important. After all, why exert yourself if you’ll get rewarded regardless of the outcome?

This has been a hot topic issue for a number of years now, and everyone falls to one side or the other; either they absolutely hate participation trophies or they totally endorse them. I, for one, will be teaching my son that if he wants that black belt, wants that trophy or wants that University degree, he will need to work his proverbial a$$ off and earn it. Otherwise, all we’ll be doing is watering down our society with generations who can’t handle the future. ☯

The Real Holy Trinity

Quite a while ago, I posted about the cycle of life. I tend to forget how long ago, considering I’m close to having posted everyday for almost a year at this point. But given the passage of time, sometimes it becomes acceptable to repeat some of the information I’ve shared. And here we are…

Ask yourself: what is the one thing that all living things have in common? The correct answer is MOVEMENT. All things that live tend to move. This is true of even the most basic of life forms. Plants move to adjust to the environment and some flowers will even turn with the sun.

So, what does movement create? If you answered ENERGY, you are correct. Think along the lines of a hydroelectric dam. Powerful currents of water sent through turbines that create energy. It’s a proven concept of basic physics that movement promotes energy. Almost like running on a treadmill or wind turbines… Movement creates energy, no doubt.

And guess what? Energy creates life. At the end of the day, whether your beliefs are religious or scientific, one needs to acknowledge that we are all essentially made of the same stuff: energy. Down to our atomic base, we are all composed of energy. And even basic electricity has movement contained within it… Electricity is fundamentally the movement of electrons through a conductor, creating a current.

So here’s the equation: life creates movement, movement creates energy, energy creates life and so on and so forth. It’s a cycle, and an important one. If you remove or lessen any of the three, you jeopardize your health and your life. Think of unplugging your smart device, where the current of electrons stops and it is no longer receiving energy. The device effectively loses its “life”.

Look at it this way: If you happen to be a couch potato, you don’t move much. This means that your energy turns stagnant and non existent and you reduce your ability to maintain your life. In medical terms, you gain weight, your cholesterol rises and you basically die from sitting still.

So keep moving. Keep yourself motivated and energized. Even if it sometimes feels like it’s better or easier to relax and take it easy, your body and health will thank you later. ☯

Peace Means Having A Bigger Stick

Sure, the title is a quote from Robert Downey Jr. as he played Tony Stark. But wisdom often comes from the most unlikely sources. Today, I’d like to touch on a martial art style known as Kali.

Depending on your course, this style of martial art may be referred to as Escrima or Arnis. I have come to know it as Kali because of it’s attachment to Kempo karate, which is the style I currently study and train with.

Because RIOKK has roots in Hawaii (RIOKK means Regina Institute of Kempo Karate, by the way), there is a significant Filipino influence on the style. As such, the school tends to train with the Kali sticks a great deal.

Kali is extremely versatile and offers a number of variations unlike most weapons I’ve seen in the martial arts. It can apply to the sticks, machetes, blades and even empty hands. Just to be clear, my main focus over the past three decades has been empty-hand combat. I’ve had very little experience in weaponry with the exception of the samurai sword, which I have trained with in depth.

But since training with the RIOKK school, I’ve started training extensively with Kali sticks. It’s a whole different ball game when you start fighting with a stick in your hands as opposed to empty-handed. How much more basic can you get than fighting with a stick? Since the times of our ancient ancestors, using a stick to fight has been an expected tactic. Spears, lances and similar weapons that have evolved from the use of a basic stick all demonstrate that Kali can and should be considered as an effective weapon.

Some background information can be read through Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnis

An example of wooden rattan kali sticks

Listen, I’m still an empty-hand guy, no doubt. But if I HAVE to use a weapon, it may as well be a weapon that can be accessed anywhere, right? Any old stick will do with this fighting art. Sometimes the simplest methods are the best. ☯

How Buddha Got His Groove Back

Well, Labour Day weekend has come and gone in Canada. Kids are back in school and with the start of school comes the re-opening of the karate dojo I train with here, in Regina. We usually close for the summer as the school gymnasium we rent isn’t available during the summer break. Last night was my return to class after a couple of months without training.

For those of you who read my posts religiously (I’m assuming everyone does!), I wrote a post a week ago about how in recent months, I seem to have fallen off the rails, fitness-wise. There are a number of reasons behind this, but needless to say I’ve been hammering out a few workouts at home since I wrote that post in an effort to try and get myself back on track.

Last night’s opening adult class was the icing on the cake. The reason I specify that it was the adult class is because the other black belts had the advantage of having trained at the kids’ class last Saturday. So they were full of piss and proverbial vinegar, ready to go. Meanwhile, I suffered just a BIT more. Let’s see if my vocabulary is eloquent enough to describe the experience…

I was the second one there, preceded only by Master Harding. He was setting everything up and we chatted for a few moments about our respective summers. It was good to be back and I was anxious to see how many of the students would actually show up.

I started with some casual stretches and experienced a sound akin to several hundred mousetraps going off at once! I felt muscles pull and realized that despite the workouts I’ve performed at home recently, last night’s class would put me through the paces.

The class was small but energetic. There were two other black belts besides Master Harding and myself. We spent almost forty minutes stretching, warming up and practicing techniques as a class. I recognized how out of shape I truly was.

By the end of the class, my movements were so sloppy that it almost looked as though I was performing some sort of dance that seemed to be a combination of an Irish jig, square dancing and twerking! By the time we closed and everyone bowed out, I was spent.

Needless to say, I’m in a reasonable amount of pain this morning. But it’s a good pain. It felt good to get back at it and practice the martial arts in a class environment. Next class is Thursday and I’m looking forward, despite moaning and groaning. ☯