Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aches, pains, and Bruises

Given most of the guys in the dojo are old - I mean at the age where if they were Scotch whisky, they would be very expensive and appreciated- it's not surprising most everyone has some nagging chronic aches, bruise a bit more easily, and need a bit of help for recovery at times.

Massage, ice, heat, ibuprofen, all help. But for us untraditional traditionalists, we have been making our own Dit Da Jow and Tendon lotion. Using formulas from Tom Bisio's book- A Tooth from the Tiger's Mouth - these are surprisingly effective for slow to heal injuries(tendon) and new injuries(Dit Da Jow).

While a lot of people claim these don't work at all, we have had very good results, especially with the Tendon lotion for those chronic aches and pains that take longer and longer to stretch out and don't heal. I personally have had a problem shoulder pain go away, and not return, with use of the tendon ointment. Another friend has had his inflamed thumb, a problem for years, return to normal after 2 weeks of use. And most everyone in the dojo has a similar story.

Our new batch of Dit Da Jow has yet to age enough for use. We are currently working through the last of my 15 year old batch of Dit Da Jow made from a formulation I was given that came from Ark Wong, the 5 animals Gongfu sifu who was based in LA. That batch has helped me through numerous bumps and bruises healing faster than would be expected without. I made a 5 gallon batch, takes a long time to use that much, even giving it away to people.

If you have not tried any of these for your chronic aches and pains, give them a try. Plenty of sources of information online if you want more info or want to buy ready made versions by e-commerce. Or head to your local Asian herbalist and buy a ready made version or get the herbs there. And if you are local or a friend of the TNBBC, too busy to make it yourself, and want to buy some of ours, we can put you in touch with the keeper of the ointments.

Pain is just weakness leaving the body, this stuff makes it go away a bit quicker.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting the Most Out of It

I have been training with my dojo, the TNBBC, and under my teacher, Neil Yamamoto since 2002. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always been able to train with them consistently. I took a half a year off to travel, and about 3 & ½ years ago, I moved 80 miles away from the training hall, knocking my training time down to once a week at best. How the heck do I keep up with my fellow deshi, and improve?

Well, I’ll tell ya: The secret is solo training and focus and retention when one has the opportunity to train with others.

When I’m in the dojo: I do my best to “get” what’s being taught. I also attempt to understand how it works into previous techniques or lessons. Doing this allows me to create a system of understanding techniques based on principles and proper body mechanics, rather than trying to remember tons of disparate rote movements (such as “twist arm here, apply pressure here”, etc.).

I’m also lucky to have a very generous group of martial artists to study with. They don’t let me fake or muscle my way through techniques, and they offer observances and advice from their view on how certain techniques, etc. should be performed. Often this leads to a clue to something I was missing. They act as editors to my process and I do the same for them. We push each other to success with criticism, observations, and applied resistance-- we don’t baby each other into delusion with over-cooperation and ego stroking false ukemi.

The dojo can be overwhelming, in terms of revelations and new understandings of mechanics, etc. So, I try to retain what I believe was the focus of that day’s training. Sometimes I’m able to “get” several new or previously misunderstood things at once, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t. There’s always the next time.

I would also say that in terms of acquiring this knowledge, I don’t worry too much about immediate perfection or total understanding, but rather I focus on relating how it fits with the spectrum of previous teachings, with body structure, similarities to movements or alignments of the body or ways to generate power.

I have a few categories of understanding martial stuff (techniques, power generation, principles, body mechanics, etc.):

1. I understand it fully. It is part of my body’s response. I can perform it AND teach it to others.

2. I understand it somewhat. I can do it most of the time and I can talk about it, but I’m still unsure of what’s missing or why I can’t always perform.

3. I understand the concept, at least enough to begin to develop it in my body and to talk about.

4. I am at a loss to fully grasp the concept, and am working on wrapping my brain around it.

5. It is an unheard of concept or one that is so far from #1 or #2 that I am withholding judgment until I feel it or see it.

With each new thing I learn, I try to relate it to a #1 or #2 concept, to try to distill the principle and the engine behind it. This has been a very successful way of working for me. It has allowed me to take many different types of martial arts I have learned over the years and have the muscle memory of them stay in my body, because I’m always working them in to a whole concept, using the same “engine” to drive them (doesn’t mean they all have the same effect or purpose, but it’s the best way I’ve found to fully synthesize these things within myself). With weekly practice at the TNBBC, I attempt to do the same thing, breaking down each new item into its parts and trying to see how they fit into a #1 or #2 model—how are these things driven, by what common power/structure/angle/motion? It is this kind of reverse engineering that enables my ability to build and improve my skill set.

At home or when traveling: I take the distilled concept or skill and practice it. Sounds simple enough, right? It is, but it doesn’t end there.

Visualization is the key. I remember the distinct point of clarity from the lesson in the dojo, and I relive the motion/moment over and over in my mind. I do it at work. I do it in the shower. I do it while cooking dinner.

Most importantly, I do it while performing tanren/chi gung/solo conditioning exercises and while shadowboxing techniques. When I was a kid, I would move and practice hard for the sheer joy of movement and enjoy the strenuous and flowing exercises, but it took me longer to improve, because I didn’t have the right combination of visualization, conceptual and mechanical understanding AND body performance. Now, I will take each technique or motion and break it down to tiny bits, working on each one as its own important thing, stressing to myself what was significant about each part, what tied it to a #1 or # 2 concept. I do the same thing with structural exercises, even ones in which the posture is just held static. I use my mind the whole time I’m using my body, analyzing, “What should this feel like? Where should there be tension/relaxation?” etc.

I shadowbox techniques a lot, meaning I perform a technique or part of it, without an uke. This is a vital part of learning for me, and has helped me to correct lots of aspects of my abilities/structure. What is important to do in shadowboxing a technique is to fully engage the mind with the body. Don’t just go through the motions. A shadowboxed technique should be as engaging and demanding as any tanren/chi gung/solo conditioning exercise. I have made great leaps in understanding previously misunderstood stuff from my technical lexicon by obsessively trying to relate every bit of shadowboxed techniques to previous revelations, and to correct myself until I could perform well vs. realistic resistance. I also shadowbox techniques in my mind, when not able to practice physically. Believe it or not, I know this has helped me greatly in my ability to break concepts down and understand more fully what I’m doing, as well as help improve the performance of my technique.

And then I take this stuff back to the dojo with me to try out my understanding/ability. I get feedback and tweak what needs fixing. The cycle continues, and I continually upgrade #5s, #4s, and #3s to #2s and #1s.

To sum up, my key to being able to learn more completely and usefully from teachers who are far away, from seminars, from skill share sessions, and to rework “old” techniques from my repertoire is this:


Break it down

Recognize patterns

Recognize concepts that are shared


Practice with intent

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