In 2009, the first boomers turned 65 and every 8 seconds a boomer turns 50, making it the fastest growing demographic group in America currently numbering around 78 million strong. The Boomer Generation has come to age.
During the month of May and June, 2011, I will be offering weekend workshops in an ancient system of Qi Gong known as Wild Goose Chi Kung (Qi Gong). For more details and to register go to WildGooseChiKung.com
The lessons to be learned in life are often taught through avenues never traveled. As a physician of acupuncture, I often treat pain experienced by my patients from their work environment. Most often, these patients sit on a desk for hours at a time in conditions less than suitable for their body type. Also, the ergonomics of their station can revive old injuries or aggravate current ones.
In this post, I would like to share a little drill I created for cleaning and racking the kettlebell through the use of unilateral hip extension and the use of a tai chi bow stance. The drill becomes more complex when we consider that the kettlebell is being cleaned on the contralateral arm of the extending hip. In essence, then, we are creating a crossover effect to achieve the technique.
This technique is not meant for the new tai chi student or for those just learning the kettlebell. The practitioner then, should be already adept on both disciplines prior to trying this drill.
When working with this drill, it should be kept in mind that the movement involved takes place on the transverse and sagittal plane. Perhaps a better description would be that the drill covers a horizontal and vertical direction.
As in all Tai Chi practice, this drill emphasizes the movement to emerge from the center toward the periphery. In the case of hip extension, the primary focus should be on the gluteus maximus. From there, the force follows to the hamstrings and finally to the heel. Thus, one should not think about extending the leg at the knee as in kicking.
It should also be understood that the raising of the kettlebell on the opposite hand, is not done by the bicep as when curling a dumbbell. It may be easy to do so when using light kettlebells. But with the heavier ones, this would not be possible and could lead to tendonitis. The kettlebell is raise or cleaned to a rack position by the force and momentum from the quick hip extension.
I advise anyone trying this drill to first warm up the joints. This is a total body action and all joints should be warmed up prior to practicing. Do not do too many reps in the beginning.
In this video I’m using 26 lbs kettlebells. For me, this is the right weight. It gives me enough resistance to avoid curling the bell with the bicep, and light enough to allow focusing on technique.
They look like cannonballs with handles. They come in different “poods”; one pood being 16 kilograms or around 35+ pounds. The “Beast” weighs around 3 poods or 48kg = 106lbs; a real monster. They come from the Highlands of Scotland and a Russian dictionary dating back to 1704 calls them “girya”. We call them “Kettlebells”.
The first time I heard of a Kettlebell, was through a fellow Tai Chi practitioner in Long Island, Mike Pekor. He spoke of them as a powerful tool to develop the much sought-after explosive hip power.
What I have found so far in my studies and practice of Kettlebell training, is that while it does indeed develop powerful hips, so crucial in martial skill, it is also a tool for complete body conditioning and an excellent piece of equipment for rehab in the hands of an experienced therapist.
Most important for me, is that Kettlebells, unlike most equipment found in a gym, are fun to work with. And as long as proper form and technique is employed (kettlebells are not very forgiving when used improperly), the drills that can be created are only limited by the imagination of the athlete.
Kettlebells have gained a great deal of popularity amongst fitness professionals because the tool produces much more than a well sculptured and toned body in their clients; benefits include fat loss, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and core strength.
Equally important for the trainer, is that kettlebell training skills are transferable. In other words, through the use of kettlebells, a trainer can design a program to improve a boxer’s punch, a golf swing, a backhand in tennis, or a swimmers back stroke. It is no wonder that professional sports teams are now including kettlebells in their training program designs, and sports greats such as Lance Armstrong have crossed trained with kettlebells.
As in Russia’s army, where kettlebells have been a staple of their gyms for years, the United States Armed forces has included kettlebell training and the practice is now popular amongst law enforcement agencies ranging from the CIA to local police gyms.
Hollywood has also taken notice of the bowling balls with a handle. Stallone used them on his last Rocky Balboa film as well as the late Bruce Lee; Jennifer Lopez keeps her assets in good form swinging kettlebells. These are just but a few among the many celebrities who have discovered the cast-iron body shaper.
Working out with kettlebells is not without risk. Unlike dumbells, the kettlebell’s center of gravity is displaced while in use, and although this feature is what makes it an ideal tool for functional strength development, it is also what demands from the user proper body alignments. The reader should also be aware that there are several exercises such as the box squat, that should be learned and practiced prior to swinging kettlebells. This is crucial if benefit from practice is to be realized.
Pavel Tsatsouline, the man who has brought international attention to his homeland’s treasure, the kettlebell, admonishes anyone wishing to incorporate kettlebell training into their regime to first “practice” using the kettlebells. And after a period of practice, then think about “working out” with kettlebells.
Kettlebells are not toys.
The term “Gong Fu” aka “Kung Fu”, can be roughly translated to: “skill acquired through practice”, and its general use in the West, which departs from the etymological meaning of the Chinese characters, is in reference to the martial arts. In the following, I will attempt to share with you some of my current views and understanding of Gong Fu and the role it plays in my overall fitness endeavors.
My current focus in the martial arts is on those of Chinese origin in particular the internal arts of Hsing-I Chuan and Tai Chi Chuan. These are two of the so called “soft arts”. Of these two arts, Tai Chi in particular has become associated with health promotion and with meditative disciplines. While Tai Chi indeed has improved the health of many practitioners and the practice has meditative qualities, it is lamentable that its influence in martial skill has been, by and large, neglected here in the West and in modern China. Hsing-I, on the other hand, continues to be regarded as an effective combat system.
While my approach to Tai Chi Chuan is from a pugilistic angle, it is not the martial techniques hidden within the art’s postures that I seek to explore. Instead, it is the “body” that Tai Chi Chuan practice develops in the practitioner that I long to experience; and it is *this* “Tai chi body” that facilitates martial skill application.
The Tai Chi Body
At a quick glance and to the untrained eye, the body and movement of a Tai Chi practitioner may not necessarily look any different than the body of any other man or woman. However, closer observation reveals fluidity, grace, strength, confidence, coordination and pliability amongst a host of other qualities. The sum of these qualities is what a Tai Chi body projects.
The projected qualities described above are as a consequence of the change in the connective tissue from long time Tai Chi practice. Not only is the sinew, fascia, tendons, ligaments, muscles, bones and joints affected, but the organs and general metabolic chemistry in the body is altered as well; a corporal alchemical transformation.
7 Built-in Components
The development of the Tai Chi body comes about through the interplay of 7 components: Relaxation, Yang’s 10 points, Standing Meditation, Silk Reeling practice, Form work, Push Hands and Cultural settings. These components are not employed in isolation from each other. Instead, like the inner workings of a watch’s gears, a careful and well calibrated engagement between these seven components, propel a physical transformation into a state referred to, by the sages, as “iron wrapped in cotton” and the “whole body is a fist”.
Each of the above mentioned components should be expounded upon. And in time I will write on each. However, for the sake of clarifying the pedagogical approach to my classes, I will briefly address the cultural settings component.
While none of us were in China during the 1700’s and witnessed the formation of Tai Chi Chuan, there are some scenarios we can state with certainty. I’ll enumerate in the following table:
|America Today||China 1700’s|
|Most physical activity is recreational||Work was physical and still is in most Asian countries|
|Domestic life is not very physically demanding||Domestic life was and still is demanding|
|We drive to class||They walked or ride bicycles (today)|
|We train in air conditioned rooms||They trained in heat or in cold outdoors|
|We use fine footwear||What do you think they wore? Not New Balance, that’s for sure|
|We train after work||They trained before the cock crowed|
|We join beginners’ classes||They just joined the class|
|We pay a fee and expect a service||They paid a fee and ate bitter without complaining.|
|We use tai chi for self-cultivation||Their survival depended on it|
I could go through hundreds of examples of the cultural settings within which Tai Chi Chuan evolved juxtaposed with the modern day stage most tai chi is learned today. But I think you get the gist of my position which is: if we wish to develop a “Tai Chi Body” then we need to include into our training an environment that has some resemblance to that of Tai Chi’s early days. Also, please note that I’m not making any reference to political, socioeconomic, or religious influences which most certainly had a measure of impact upon the art as we know it today.. I’m simply keeping it within the realm of practicality.
In an effort to create an environment which would, at least in a physical level, place demands on our bodies that provide enough stimulus for growth through adaptation, I like incorporating training props such as the BOSU ball, physioball, kettlebells, sandbags, and a substantial amount of bodyweight exercises. By no means is this additional training model meant to substitute the already time-proven methods of old such as Standing Meditation, two-men patterns and form work. But as explained above, today, these are not enough.
There are a few tools we currently use to help accelerate martial development. A short description of each tool as it relates to martial skill follows:
Today, in Mixed Martial Arts (MMAs) the Kettlebell has become a staple of the training floor and with good reason. Kettlebell practice helps to develop and deliver power. A martial artist may have great form, technique, speed, and timing. But without power, he/she is just playacting. Power delivery at the right time can make the difference between survival or defeat. Plenty of good technicians without power are found within dojos across the country. Kettlebell training is the right anitdote to this dilemma. Along with power, a well designed Kettlebell training program can improve overall flexibility, muscular endurance and strength and solidify the core from which all martial skill emanates.
With proper focus, Kettlebell training develops martial spiral energy; improves techniques in joint locks application and reversals; palm strikes are much more dynamic; throws and take-downs are also enhanced through Kettlebell practice.
Resistance Cords/Rubber Bands
We currently use resistance bands to enhance skill in Tai Chi’s Push-hands and to increase striking power. Unlike wristbands or hand held weights (often used by boxers and kickboxers for power development), which compromise proper form during punching due to the weight’s downward pull exerted on it by gravity, resistance cord and rubber bands place the resistance on the front and back rotational muscles of the legs, hips chest and triceps for strikes. The pulling muscles such as the biceps, lats, rhomboids and to some extend leg extensions, are equally influenced depending on where the resistance cord is placed. Therefore, when proper body alignments are kept, the center of gravity is lowered and the stance is stable, resistance cords/bands are an exceptional training tool to enhance power from the pulling and pushing muscles of the entire body.
Coming up in future articles we’ll discuss our use of the Physioball, BOSU Ball, Medicine Ball and more.
There are many drills with kettlebells that not only are demanding, but also are very revealing or diagnostic in nature. The Windmill (WM) along with the Turkish Get Up (TGU), are two of such drills and on this short article I would like to highlight the Windmill. I will also share a little video showing my latest progress in this fabulous drill..
It has now been over two decades since I first started my study and practice of tai chi.. Many of those years were under the guidance of my teachers. But a large portion of this time span has been self-study along with self-correction. This path of self-study, is challenging. The enthusiasm to continue daily practice at the absence of peer support from classmates and guidance from a teacher can decline over time.
But what is one to do should a teacher not longer be available? Stop practicing? Of course not. I suggest to you that a deeper understanding of tai chi can be attained by anyone who cannot longer be guided by their teacher.
By way of analogy, think of tai chi as a free software application downloaded from the internet. However, the free version of this software has only a few features that are available. If the user wishes to have access to the full version, a “key” or “code” is provided once the program has been purchased and full access is granted.
So how does one “buy” the Tai Chi Code? Practice! Uninterrupted, concentrated practice with undivided attention. In the absence of a teacher, many stop practicing to avoid practicing wrong. The only wrong one can do is not to practice. It is within the programming of the tai chi software to self-correct with time, prolonged practice and introspection. All the needed data is already stored within the form and our body’s database is gradually populated through usage and practice.
But, as with any software application, its usability is dependent on the user’s needs and the interaction between the program and the operator’s input. First, we should define what is the purpose or what needs are to be met through the tai chi program. A few come to mind:
- better health
- improved sleep
- emotional balance
- martial applications
Once a need is identified, the application is customized to meet the user’s needs. Let’s take item #6. strength, as the current application for the tai chi software. A well written program would inquire from the user what interaction is to take place. For example, the software may ask the user what part of the body needs strength. The user responds by indicating the legs need strength. The software may respond by instructing the user to practice the form with the knees bent deeper and to slow down the practice. It may also suggest that more standing meditation be included in daily practice..
Let’s take item #3. digestion. The software may suggest to practice after 30 past dinner or lunch thus improving peristalsis and stomach emptying. If improved sleep, item #2 is the current need, the software may suggest to practice early in the morning and 30 minutes before retiring for the night.
And we can go on with numerous examples on how tai chi practice parallels software applications.
An Update: June 21, 2011
I like to think of the chuan in tai chi, meaning the postures, forms, shapes, etc., as apps that work with a given software application and operating system. These apps are specific to the language with which the software was developed. Attempts to use the apps with other vendor’s software is bound to fail. The language is Tai Chi… The Chuan shapes are the functions or applications.
Thus, when we see tcc players in the ring, wearing gloves, abiding by tourney rules, displaying kick boxing posturing, the tcc player gets his ass kicked. The software application and system are not congruent with the platform. A crash is inevitable..
Belly fat, a gentler term for abdominal fat, is perhaps the number one telltale sign of fitness decline and the subsequent deterioration of one’s general health. At some stage in life, abdominal fat becomes synonymous with Metabolic syndrome and is often associated with a decline in testosterone or the so called male menopause. Kettlebell training, when used within a complete fitness regime can help blast the fat away, improve cardiovascular fitness and improve overall hormonal levels.
Swimming Dragon is perhaps one of my favorite sets I teach to my Baby Boomer Clients to help keep the spine in a healthy condition. Not only is the vertebral column exercised, but the joints of the knees, ankles, hips, elbows, wrists and shoulders, along with the neck, receive a mild and invigorating workout.
Joint mobility and strength training should always be practiced along side each other. This is particularly true for the older athletes whose joints are not as supple as they were in days gone by.
In this video, I share with you my current level of practice in this beautiful exercise.
Practiced for at least 20 minutes a day, Swimming Dragon can help in weight management. It has a profound effect on the main glands of the body including the gonads, thyroid, adrenals and it is an effective method for lymphatic flow.
The style of Swimming Dragon I practice, places emphasis on the Kidney meridian and the lower Dan Tien. The lowering of the body to a nearly squatting position pressurizes the lower abdomen stimulating the gonads. The stimulation to these glands nourishes the Kidney energy, promotes sexual vitality, strengthen the knees and revives the sacrum and pelvic floor…