Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Positive effects of Tai Chi for Obese and Diabetic persons.

Moderate aerobic exercises have positive effects on the heart, lungs and blood of patients with diabetes. Most Chinese martial arts including Tai Chi have been acknowledged in the management of blood glucose levels.

A study was conducted in Taiwan to analyze the effects of Tai Chi on patients obese with type 2 diabetes. 155 patients were selected . One group of 62 was instructed in Tai Chi while the other was instructed to perform conventional exercises. The patients exercised three times a week for three months. 

At the end of the study, it was observed that : 
  • The body mass index reduced from 33.5 to 31.3 and the blood cholesterol from 194 to 189 mg/dL. A few other relevant parameters showed significant changes post-Tai Chi exercise.
  • The blood triglycerides had dropped by 28.3 in the Tai Chi exercise group but there was a mere 17.4 mg/dL drop in those involved with the conventional exercise.
  • The high-density lipids were also reduced in the Tai Chi exercise group.

Tai chi exercises were proved to be beneficial on patients with diabetes and obesity, and were safe when supervised by professional trainers. Intricate monitoring of blood sugar, lipid profiles, blood pressure and general fitness showed that the Tai Chi exercises could in fact lower these parameters after three months. Patients with diabetes and obesity usually have high blood levels of oxidative stress proteins and oxidative stress could initiate vascular complications. These were also reduced after the Tai Chi exercise regime. 

Thus, “Tai Chi can be an alternative exercise intervention for increasing glucose control, diabetic self-care activities, and quality of life.” 

Simple Tai Chi exercises could be enforced as regular daily exercises for patients with diabetes and obesity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tai Chi and Balance - Proprioception of the Knee and Ankle

study published by the British Journal of Sport Medicine shows that elderly people who regularly practice Tai Chi not only show better proprioception of the ankle and knee joints than sedentary people. Which would explain why Tai Chi improves balance in its practitioners.

Not only long term Tai Chi practitioners have better ankle and knee joint kinesthesis than sedentary controls but also their ankle joint kinesthesis is better than regular swimmers/runners. Furthermore, the latter did not perform any better in ankle and knee joint kinesthesis tests than their sedentary counterparts. 


The postural control system is the control circuit between the sensory sources, the central nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system. Proprioceptors and visual and vestibular (internal ear) centres contribute information to the central nervous system on body position and balance.

Other studies also showed that :
  • All age groups are more dependent on proprioception than on vision for the maintenance of balance.
  • Disruption of proprioceptive input was the most important determinant of quantitative balance performance in subjects older than 80 years.
  • Different kinds of exercise have different effects on balance. Comparison of the effects of proprioceptive exercise, bioenergetic physical activities (swimming, cycling, or jogging), and no exercise on postural control in elderly people shows that muscular strength was significantly increased in the bioenergetic exercise group, but proprioceptive exercise appeared to have the greatest effect on balance control.
Swimming and running are two of the most common exercises practiced by elderly people; they are excellent forms of aerobic exercise, and provide good training stimuli for cardiopulmonary function and muscle strength. Compared with Tai Chi, swimming and running involve cyclic repetitive actions. But awareness of joint position and movement is not emphasized during these exercise forms but highly in Tai Chi. This probably explains why the swimmers/runners did not have better scores for knee and ankle kinesthesis in this study.

It is interesting that the effects of Tai Chi on proprioception were different in the knee and ankle joints. An old Tai Chi proverb states, “In Tai Chi, the feet act as roots”. Also most Tai Chi forms are performed in a low position, which puts load on the muscles which stabilize hip, knee and ankle. The continuous changes of stances and steps cause more variations in ankle joint position, (toes or heels outward or inward, up or down). 

Moreover, while making a stride, feet moves are slow and deliberate. "Control your weight, don't let your weight control you".

These movements greatly improve and help to retain the sensitivity of proprioceptors located in the joint capsules, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

Ankle proprioception is very important for the elderly to maintain proper postural control. When it comes to control of postural stability, the elderly rely more on hip movements, while young people rely on ankle movements. Therefore the impact of Tai Chi on ankle proprioception is of great benefit in improving and maintaining balance in old people.

The decline in proprioception with age is an important contributing factor to falls in the elderly. This study shows that, compared with other common activities, long term Tai Chi exercise is more valuable for maintaining balance control in the elderly. 

Practice, Slow... 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Japanese fencing has no ‘blocking’ or ‘defending’ techniques

A very interesting idea...

"Japanese fencing has no ‘blocking’ or ‘defending’ techniques... It is useless simply to just stop or block the enemies attack. In deflecting or receiving a blade you must instantly turn it into an attack." (see the whole text below)

I never was very strong, and it is not going to get better with age. Whether in Karate or Kendo, I am reluctant to blocking a strong technique from my opponent, for I know that if that technique is very strong, it might well go through my block (I have a few of my Yoshukai friends in mind here : Travis Page, Paul Turner, James Ronnie...)
So I like the idea: no block, but deflect and counter in a same move.

The practice of Eishin Ryu Iai jutsu and Itto Ryu Kenjutsu, have helped me use that concept in Kendo shiai. The result is: less fatigue, I can last longer. Lasting longer is good, it helps you outlast your opponent until he is tired, then win. 
So, how do I apply this to Karate? I am not sure.  I am looking into this, and I'm not too successful so far. I have to find new techniques, and forget about the old ones, too strong, too straight. Little by little...

Takano Sasaburo (1863 - 1950) of the Ono Ha Itto Ryu, was an instructor at the Tokyo Shihan Gakko (Tokyo Teacher's College). The pPesident of the college was Kano Jigoro (1860 - 1938), founder of Modern Judo. (We are in good company...) The College housed the first department of Physical Education in Japan and was the first school to train martial art instructors for public schools.

Takano Sasaburo took the 68 shinai techniques of Chiba Shusaku Narimasa and reduced their number down to 50 techniques. He then revised  them so they could be practiced by school children using relatively short (but still longer than most steel swords) shinai.

Takano Sasaburo explained this teaching curriculum in a series of books still studied today.

Japanese fencing has no ‘blocking’ or ‘defending’ techniques. Against an enemy's attack, we evade, cut through their blade (kiriotoshi), or deflect and strike (ukenagashi). These cannot be categorized as blocking as these actions are done with the objective of cutting or thrusting the enemy. All these techniques are used to place yourself in an advantageous position. For example, when you are doing kiriotoshi the goal should be to cut the enemies body, and the instant you perform ukenagashi you must turn your blade and strike him. While doing this you must not even allow the tiniest opportunity for the enemy to attack you.

Its useless simply to just stop or block the enemies attack. In deflecting or receiving a blade you must instantly turn it into an attack. Simply blocking/stopping the enemies attack is not beneficial (in defeating your enemy).

Therefore, the merit of kendo is using “sen sen no sen” to take the lead and attack with strong resolution and overwhelming power, all the time without leaving any opening for the enemy to attack you. This will lead to a superb victory.

If you stop to think for a while, this method is not simply about flying blindly into an attack; rather it's about spending a long time working out when the right time is to attack, learning about what works when and what doesn’t (the principles)… only after you do this can you gain (true) victory.

(This is an excerpt from the excellent blog KENSHI247)

We can practice our arts in this way. Karate may be a little trickier, I will keep trying and let you know how I'm doing with it... There are a good supply of strong young stallions at the Dojo, always eager to see what they can do against the old man... There are even a few fighters I would rather have on my side than against me in a bar fight. I am thankful for them.  

"A vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire"

There is no glory in winning if you take no risk.

And then, how about applying this to Zen ?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In Bushido you don't hit the balls !

Hilarious comedy sketch by Katocha and Kenchan (from the band/comedy group Dorifu).

A disciple asks his master to teach him Kenjutsu, but the master does not consent.

Any resemblance to person or persons living or dead, facts or events is purely coincidental.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Weight of Swords

I was once asked how today's practice of Martial Arts differed from Samurai's practice of years ago. In essence, my answer was :  "It's very simple : when I get on the ring to compete today, my life is not at stake. If I make a mistake, the consequences won't be catastrophic for myself, for my family, for my clan, my country..."

Here is a high speed camera compilation of the 8th All Japan Kendo Hachi-Dan (8th dan) Championship of 2010.

This is truly amazing, very high level and beautiful Kendo. 

But then, as you can see, in most cases, the strikes are almost simultaneous. The winner hits before his opponent hits him and so, in a real confrontation, both opponents would be cut.
They would both survive, or die, or only one would survive (probably crippled for a while or ever) and the other die.

If at the end of a fight both opponents die, or are left crippled, did anybody win ? 

If I want to win above all, I will do whatever it takes for this, including putting my own life at risk. Whereas if my goal is to NOT LOSE, then I will let my opponent take the risks. This makes the big difference between today's practice of Martial Arts as sports and their practice on the battle fields. 

Also, because of the emphasis on winning at all cost, weapons have been modified to allow for a much faster game. I do not think there is any way one could ever use a regular katana as fast as these shinai are used.

A 39" Kendo Shinai weighs between 1/3 and 1/2 the weight of a regular katana... If you wish to practice more in the spirit of samurai swordsmanship, you should try to use something heavier, it would slow down your practice, (unless you're a Jigen Ryu  student) and bring more realism and intensity to it.

This table summarizes the weights of various contemporary  swords, shinai, boken, iaito, katana...:


SWORD Weight (lb) Weight (g) Seller
Regular Kendo Bamboo Shinai (39”) 1 lb 1oz 500 g

PAUL CHEN TSURU IAITO (29” blade) 2 lb 907 g

PAUL Chen Practical Pro Katana (29 ½" Blade) 3 lb 1360 g

Paul Chen Practical Pro Elite Katana (29” Blade) 2lb 13 oz 1276 g

Itto Ryu Bokuto (E Bogu) total length 39” 1 lb 5.6 oz 613 g e-bogu
SHINAI SHAPE Bokken for Suburi total length 39” 1.85 lb 840 g e-bogu
Suburi Bokken With Groove (Red) 2 lb 2.1 oz 968g e-bogu
Suburi Shinai for Training Pieces 4 2.02 lb 915 g e-bogu
Suburi Shinai for Training Pieces 6 2 lb 5.4 oz 1060 g e-bogu

From different sources, it seems that an average katana blade of a 27 or 28" length would have weighted between 900 and 1100 g (2 to 2.2 lb). This is the weight of a bare blade without any koshirae (mountings : Tsuba, tsuka, etc...). A mounted blade (without the saya) would probably weight between between 1200 and 1400 g.

So if you want to practice in a more realistic way, you should : 
  • get yourself a heavy 6 blades shinai, I know, at $ 75.00 it's a little pricey... 

  • make sure when you cut your opponent, that you do it without putting yourself at any risk of being cut. (No Aiuchi)


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jigen-ryu Kenjutsu

Jigen-ryu Hyoho Kenjutsu (示現流兵法剣術) was founded at the end of the 16th century  in Satsuma Province (now Kagoshima prefecture in Southern Kyushu) by a man named Togo Chui.

Jigen-ryu Kenjutsu is known for its emphasis on the first strike (during practice, a long wooden stick is used to hit a vertical pole or tree). During a hard practice, the wood is said to give off the smell of smoke. During the Edo period, at the height of its popularity, adepts of Jigen-ryū were said to practice striking the pole 3,000 times in the morning, and another 8,000 times in the afternoon... Can you imagine how your hands would be after just 100 full power hits with a big wooden stick against a much bigger pole...

To illustrate the power of the Satsuma warriors, it is said that after the Battle of Toba-Fushimi which opposed forces loyal to the Shogunate to forces loyal to the Emperor in 1863, the heads of many dead samurai of the shogunate forces were found with the back of their own swords driven into their foreheads. It seems they had a hard time defending against the attack of a Jigen-ryu samurai.

But Jigen ryu also had some influence on Okinawan Karate. 

In 1609, Shimazu Tadatsune, Lord of Satsuma, together with his 2500 well-trained samurai had invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom and forced King Sho Nei to surrender.

During the 19th century, Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura (1797-1889), a renowned Martial Artist and Dignitary of the Ryukyu government, traveled and sojourned several times in Satsuma.

According to Soshin Nagamine's Tales of Okinawa's great Masters, he was one of the few if not the only one among the inhabitants of Okinawa to be allowed to study and become skilled in Jigen-ryu kenjutsu. 

Bushi Matsumura taught shuri-te to Itosu Anko (1831-1915). He also was the maternal grandfather of Tsuyoshi Chitose, founder of Chito Ryu Karate, himself Teacher of Katsuoh Yamamoto, founder of Yoshukai Karate.