Sunday, November 15, 2015

To the people of Paris

My deepest sympathies go out to the people of Paris.

There are plenty of profound points made by some very eloquent people in the world. I echo the sentiments that encompass the desire for justice. I also pray for the sheep dogs, may they be vigilant and safe.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Always a Student First

Back to Basics

First, I have recently set aside my rank again to start over as a beginner in an Aikido school here in Denver. Some of my Aiki skills are a bit rusty so I am very happy to be back on the mat and working on them. I am not sure how long I will stay with the school, but for now things are going very well.

After the introduction class is over in mid-November I will join the general class and I am eager to see how these classes are structured differently than the beginning classes. More time is spent on weapons, which I enjoy immensely, and I am very happy to be fine tuning some skills I have not worked on in a while. 

I can still see a few concepts inherent to Aikido that bother me. Things like footwork that can sometimes be overly complicated for example. However, understanding timing and how to control the balance of an opponent. Those skills are very good and something that I appreciate this opportunity to practice. I will try to post some of my observations from class in the coming weeks. 

New Opportunity

Second, I am going to be meeting with some of the members of a gym my wife and I have worked with for a couple of years now. I will have the opportunity to work with someone that I understand has some great experience in the martial arts. I sincerely hope he is open to the opportunity and I also hope I can allow myself to be open to it as well. If the two of us can come to an agreement, and the gym agrees to our proposal, there is a good chance I will be teaching classes again by the end of the year. I do enjoy teaching so I am very hopeful that we can make this work out.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clifton Strengthsfinder

So, years ago I took some classes on leadership and part of the program included taking a variety of tests geared toward self-discovery. The goal was to help us determine how to use our skills, personality, and ultimately our strengths to be the best leader possible.

One of the tests we took was the Clifton StrengthsFinder. The themes I got back made a lot of sense to me and I have since then investigated if they work for me. I can definitely see where each of them resonates with me. My wife and a good friend of mine have also taken the test and they too got results that match what I believe their strengths are too.

Here are mine:

  1. Input - People with strong Input talents are inquisitive. They always want to know more. They crave information. They like to collect certain things, such as ideas, books, memorabilia, quotations, or facts.
  2. Activator - People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
  3. Focus - People who are especially talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.
  4. Learner - People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  5. Communication - People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
Despite the fact that these are my strengths and therefore things I do well naturally. I can also tell that these things are also themes I should focus on to make me happy and to feel productive. I seem to be the most satisfied with my day when I engage a few of these themes and work on their associated skills. For example, looking up a word of the day helps me with Input, Learner, and Communication all at once. Which is why I also think I am enjoying learning languages such as Korean while I am here on business. 

I feel more productive as a Activator by not being forced to wait for things. Some things I must be patient to achieve but I have loads of other projects I can be working on in the mean time. That helps me greatly with the impatience that seems to be inherent to people with this theme. 

Like any test, it is not perfect. I am sure there are things that are not black and white or do not fit perfectly. No more than the Myers-Briggs or Jung tests do. But all these things form pieces to a puzzle that I feel rarely gets examined.

So, the test is not free. It costs $10 to take but it does come with a report that tells you how to engage your themes and learn to use them. So, if you have ever taken this test, what are your themes? If not, it is well worth the investment in yourself.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Intentions and Results

By Nick and Tiffani Guinn

"One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than by their results." - Milton Friedman.

How many times do we begin working on a project or program where the results differ from what we expect? Or a set of policies are designed for our company to help us understand how to handle our hiring practices. However, these outdated and ineffective policies do not work and are only around because they were DESIGNED to do A and consequences B, C, and D are totally ignored as they were not the intention. Could be the person that designed the policy is too far removed from the results to fully understand the results and doesn't think changes need to be made.

This sort of thing happens in our personal and professional lives all too often. But we hold on to our intentions like they are gold and discard the results as unrelated. After all, they do not support the conclusion we wanted or expected. Never mind that those results might tell us a great deal about where we went wrong or how we might aide in improving on our process.

Having a clear goal or intention is critical for success to be possible. Paying close attention to the results and adjusting policy based on those results is equally important.

The quote from Mr. Friedman is an excellent re-focusing tool. Something that should be used to drive the changes needed to improve the outcomes we want. In our personal lives an individual working toward improving their fitness will be much more successful adjusting his plan to fit the results. The same exercise plan based on intentions might work well for someone that is 100 pounds overweight but that food and exercise plan are not likely to get the desired results when the person gets down to only 10 or 20 pounds to lose.

For business or government policy, the intention is important but if they policy does not achieve the desired results, we cannot bury our head in the sand. Examine the results of your efforts with a blank slate. Trying not to seek the expected results only but also how to analyze the unexpected results for their applicability to your future work.

Any intention or goal should drive the work forward and help to maintain focus. In the end, the results should be used to help us understand the effectiveness of our efforts.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The one-sided nature of martial arts training...What?

So I saw this line in a recent well-known magazine article suggesting a type of cross-training.
"it will remove the internal imbalances brought on by the one-sided nature of martial arts training"
This quote is referring to the physical part of martial arts training. So to avoid conflict or point fingers I am not going to tell you where the line comes from because that is not the point of this post. The point of the post is, however, to point out that if you are training in the martial arts and your training regime leads to this type of result, things being anatomically one-sided. You are doing it wrong!

Several of my instructors have taught me repeatedly about the need for balanced training across the Sagittal plane of the body. (This is the plane that divides us in half right down the middle.)

If we practice a punch from the left side, we in turn practice the same punch from the right side as well. If there is an imbalance on one side or the other we would also increase the number of repetitions on the weak side to get it "caught up". For a weak left side Gyaku Zuki or Reverse Punch for example, we perform 10 punches on the right during training and then 20 on the left side till we feel the imbalance is reduced.  internal feedback from the the coordination or power generation issues we were experiencing.

Imbalances in the body are normally not brought on by a good training program. There are many texts that discuss the positive effects of a good program on the body. When recruiting soldiers in Japan around the time of World War II the Japanese government noted the impressive symmetry of the Karateka they recruited from Okinawa. A symmetry that is not entirely natural in most people since we have a dominate side and favor it in daily life.

To fix this in training, a beginner should be able to rely on their instructor to point out imbalanced in the body during training. A good instructor will help their student balance those issues throughout training. Later on a more advanced student should be able to feel the difference during training. That may sound like hocus-pocus but if you have ever been involved in athletics of any kind you know what I am referring to here. It is a kind of internal feedback loop. You just know when something feels wrong. Even for an advanced student it is a good idea to occasionally seek feedback from an instructor or fellow student.

In the end, if this statement is even remotely true and you are training in a program that does have you training to imbalance, change it up. It is time to reorganize. I am a firm believer in cross-training  but it should be used to strength a good program. The difference put simply is this:

Good program is 1. Lets say that cross training is also a 1. That means that 1+1=2 and both programs are moving us forward toward being stronger overall.

Bad martial arts program is a -1 and then cross training is a 1 still. -1+1=0. We do not make much progress in a program that requires we add training to fix problems in other parts of our training.

For anyone who reads this, I don't want to know who does this so do not post names please but how common is this problem? Please feel free to add a comment if you have seen this or if this is a marketing gimmick to sell cross training programs.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Body Alignment

Controlling body alignment is a key tactic used in Aiki based arts. Proper body alignment includes a straight spine from tail bone to the crown of your head. It also includes keep both feet beneath you and in the case of the arts I study it means keeping your feet a bit wider than your shoulders. What this looks like and how to make this work effectively in motion is a constantly changing dynamic that takes time and practice. Suffice it to say, body alignment is very important.

Why is it important?

Ever try to walk or run with your head to one side? How about lift weights with your legs on an uneven surface? The problem with these things is that they may still be possible but they take a feat of extraordinary strength when having proper alignment makes the task much easier. The same is true of fighting. Punching, kicking, and grappling with an opponent is much simpler with alignment and rather difficult to make effective when not aligned.

The reason this information is important in a fight is because whether you use Aiki or another art. Maintaining your alignment and balance is as important as making sure your opposition cannot maintain their alignment.

We can affect improper alignment in someone by things as simple as adding a bit more weight than normal to one part of their body or by striking them in such a way as to mis-align there spine.

Manipulating a person's spinal alignment at either end is the ideal. Meaning controlling the head or and legs. In addition to being a good mental reboot. A punch to the head is a good way to put someone's head out of alignment. At the other end of the body, pressing a knee into someone's leg can force their leg straight or force them to move. Movement is by its very nature, less stable than an object that is static.

The next time you get some lab time in class or get to spar with an opponent. Especially you Karateka out there. See what techniques you can use to get someone out of alignment and therefore out of balance. The tools you have now work for this tactic. You need not learn any new special move. Find someone that will work with you and offer you reasonable and realistic resistance. See what you can come up with...

If you come up with any observations during training as a result of this post, comment them below. I would like to hear what you find.

Keep Training!


Monday, January 5, 2015

Wasted Energy

While studying the martial arts, one of the lessons I have learned and continue to work on improving revolves around the efficient use of energy. This lesson and my ultimate need to continue my work on this concept was impressed upon me many times over the years. Most recently working with Kris Wilder (a couple of years ago) and with a Wing Chun Sifu in Shanghai last year.

Not that I am necessarily performing poorly, only that I still have some fine tuning to do. Fine tuning my art is, after all, a lifelong pursuit. Anyway, this lesson has a lot involved in it so I want to sum it up and let you investigate on your own.

If you execute a punch. Any punch: front hand, back hand, straight, circular, etc... any motion that does not contribute to the energy delivered by the punch at the moment of contact with the target could be wasted. Or at least wasted in terms of not being applied to that punch.

Understand that there are techniques and tactics specifically designed to move in a manner that does not contribute directly to the force of a punch. If this is a conscious decision on the part of the artist that is fine. It may still deserve some investigation but at least it is not an unaccounted movement.

I know many practitioners of the arts that when they execute a punch will move their legs one direction or another where the resulting energy is not in line with the attack. Some do not even realize it is an issue. This is not criticism in the sense that I am placing myself above them. I find myself doing it too from time to time.

Note: Things get more complicated when we account for energy delivery in terms of linear (structural) versus rotational (torque) based. But that is information for another post..

Anyway, here is the test strikers. Execute a punch or a kick. Have someone help you or film yourself performing the techniques you have chosen. Watch to see if you body moves at a different angle to the attack. If so, you have some of your potential energy becoming kinetic in a way that might not be contributing to the total power you can generate.

Do your technique again. This time watch your hip level. Does it rise or fall when you execute? If so, again that is energy going up or down and not necessarily into the technique.

Without going into it too much. There are times where this "wasted" energy is not wrong. All I am asking is that you be aware of movement that is not helping you. If it does not add to the result you desire in your exchange then research needs to be done to determine its value. Might be something you need to train-out. Might also be a technique of which you were not yet aware.

I will try to include pictures in the future. When I am not in Korea and have more people around to help me demonstrate and take pictures. Train diligently!