Heng Shan Do | Winston Salem Martial Arts School

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“Meditation and Brain Function”

Meditation should be part of everyone’s lives, and certainly the life of the martial arts practitioner.  Depending on one’s focus or intent while performing a set or kata, the form can be done as a moving meditation.  While venturing through the internet, I came across an interesting review on meditation and brain function published through the Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics.  Here’s an example (Lama’s name is as appears in review):

“During the meditative state the brain shows very high levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex region. This was first demonstrated by fMRI in the meditating mind of Lama �ser in his role as test subject whilst in the ‘compassion’ meditative state (Goleman, 2003). In compassion meditation, the meditator focuses on compassionate thoughts for specific individuals, other species or for all of humankind. This Tibetan Buddhist monk’s left prefrontal brain lit up to a level indicating a very high level of ‘happiness’. Even when he was not meditating, the left prefrontal cortex showed unusually high activity. Such investigations provide support for practical neuroplasticity - the ability of the brain to be molded by experience - and force scientists to rethink their understanding of the human brain and it ability to be rewired for health. Importantly, these preliminary tests show that as well as helping people manage destructive emotions like anger, hatred and jealousy, meditation may also have profound effects on promoting happiness. Not long ago the prevailing scientific dogma was that people have a preset capacity for happiness being determined by biology and changing little whether a person wins the lottery or experiences a debilitating accident. The thinking was that if someone was prone to unhappiness and has more activity in their right prefrontal cortex, winning the lottery might temporarily spike activity in the left cortex, but it will not tip them into the company of happier, left-brain people in the long run. It now seems that happiness is not as static as previously believed. The human community at large can benefit from classical mental techniques which produce greater self-control and help cultivate an internal calmness and happiness. This may even be our natural state if only we can shut out layers of emotional turmoil and redundant mind chatter.”

Rather long excerpt, but I found that paragraph quite significant.  Whether you agree with the stance of the review or not, a lot of measurable, verifiable research was done whose results are well worth the read.  You can find the remainder of this review here:  “Meditation and Brain Function”.

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“The Efficacy of Tai Chi Chuan in Older Adults”

A study was posted in Family Practice of the Oxford Journals on Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) practice with regard to older adults.  The focus of this study was fall prevention, balance and cardiorespiratory function in older adults.  One significant statistic to result from the study was as follows:

“One study used falls as outcome measure and reported a beneficial effect of 47% in the TCC group.”

To read the rest of the study, take a look at the article on the Family Practice site here:  “The Efficacy of Tai Chi Chuan in Older Adults”.

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“Can Tai Chi Improve Vestibulopathic Postural Control?”

Vestibulopathy has to do with balance and dizziness.  The good NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) again lists a paper on studies done to evaluate Taiji practice with regard to postural improvements for those suffering with such dizziness and balance symptoms associated with vestibulopathy.

There were mixed results from the study — some favorable and some inconclusive — that suggest postive feedback from Taiji practice with regard to vestibulopathic issues, yet the study indicates further investigation is required from the scientific community.  A few of the conclusive results were as follows:

“Ten RCTs were found, of which 8 provide support that Tai Chi practiced alone, or in combination with other therapies, can reduce risk of falls, and/or impact factors associated with postural control, including improved balance and dynamic stability, increased musculoskeletal strength and flexibility, improved performance of activities of daily living (ADLs), reduced fear of falling, and general improvement in psychologic well-being.”

And, the link to the NCBI listing that points to the full text is available here:  “Can Tai Chi Improve Vestibulopathic Postural Control?”

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The Psychological Impact of Martial Arts Programs for Children

How Families Are Positively Influenced by Martial Arts

By Christine Cadena

(Article Source:  The Psychological Impact of Martial Arts Programs for Children)

When considering extracurricular activities for your children, to boost not only physical health but also mental health, consider activities such as karate and other martial arts. Providing a health benefit, many families are turning to martial arts as not only a recreational activity but one that fosters an improvement in overall health.

Martial arts encompass a variety of activities from karate, jujitsu, tae kwon do to judo. Finding the right program for you, or your children, will require some research but, once identified, you will find that your overall health has significantly improved after only a few weeks in the classroom.

So, how do martial arts improve the health of parents and their children? First, there is a notable boost in self-esteem. Because martial arts are commonly taught as a method for self defense, both parents and children often experience a boost in self-esteem and confidence after completing several sessions. This is especially true for children who are generally considered to be unassertive. With lessons in martial arts techniques, your shy and timid child will soon become more assertive in varying aspects of life outside of the classroom.

Since martial arts programs tend to focus on defense programs, many parents find the programs are useful in assisting children who may be victims of bullying at school. Without teaching a child to become aggressive, martial arts can provide your child with the necessary tools to ward off the school bully through a powerful mind and body connection.

In terms of physical and psychological help, martial arts have been shown to make a profound impact on children, and adults, with ADD and ADHD. Because children who suffer from ADD and ADHD commonly lack the ability to focus and concentrate, martial arts, through repetition and structure, provide some structure and focus to the student’s life. Ultimately, this may help the child, or adult, apply those same principles in their activities outside of the classroom thereby alleviating, or controlling, the symptoms of ADD and ADHD.

As with any sport or recreational activity, the key to successful achievement lies, first, in the careful research into what programs are best for you emotional, psychological and physical well being. When considering a program to boost self-esteem, confidence and promote assertiveness, consider one of the martial arts programs in your neighborhood. Whether a family event, or an event that you participate in alone, the martial arts can provide an overall sense of well being.

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Why We Don’t Partake In Tournaments

There are many tournaments out there for martial artists, and some are gaining in popularity.  Heng Shan Do has always been a non-competitive martial arts style, stemming all the way from its roots in Tora Dojo.

Likewise, when we spar, it’s primarily light contact sparring.  The goal while sparring is to bring awareness to those areas of vulnerability in a safe environment.  It’s a call to mindfulness of proper technique and balance in-the-moment.  When attention is delivered to a gap in our defense, we have learned where we need to concentrate our efforts to remedy the situation, thus we say, “Thank you” when someone makes contact. 

Michael talks about this decision to move forward as a non-competitive school in his Tora Dojo newsletter:

“One of the reasons Tora Dojo has never participated in the ‘karate tournament circuit’ was because TaShih, from the earliest days of the system, decided we should practice fighting ‘to learn, not to win’. Of course we should learn to use our skills to fight the best we can! Of course, if we are attacked we should use our best body-mind discipline to defend ourselves! But the lesson is still clear. The purpose of in-class sparring is to learn and not to win. This is the basis for the martial artist saying ‘thank you’ to a partner-opponent when he hits you! You thank him for showing you your weakness that allowed him to score the point. This martial arts tradition should not be done because your teacher told you that’s what you should do. It should be done sincerely because you see this as a real lesson about your weakness and you seek to improve. You are really grateful for being shown that weakness and being hit!

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen someone hit in free-style and then they have gotten angry or fearful… and continued to fight from that state of mind. They would usually lose or hurt someone needlessly… often themselves!

Get into the habit of thanking someone who has taught you where you had a weakness. In time, you will feel neither anger nor fear and really learn some valuable lessons about yourself.”

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“Comprehensive Therapeutic Benefits of Taiji”

As Taiji gains in popularity, more and more research is being done by the scientific community to measure the effects of taiji practice.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) lists a paper presented via the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation entitled “Comprehensive Therapeutic Benefits of Taiji”.  While you’re required to be a member of their journal to read the full text, the summary at the NCBI reads,

“Controlled research evidence was found to confirm therapeutic benefits of Taiji practice with regard to improving quality of life, physical function including activity tolerance and cardiovascular function, pain management, balance and risk of falls reduction, enhancing immune response, and improving flexibility, strength, and kinesthetic sense.”

The article abstract, and a link to the American Journal’s full text, can be found here:  “Comprehensive Therapeutic Benefits of Taiji”.

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China hits Broadway

The People’s Republic of China is producing a Broadway number to open January of 2009.  It’s entitled “Soul of Shaolin” and is about a boy that is raised by monks to become a kung fu master.  I’m a bit curious as to how China will portray Shaolin, as they’ve had mixed emotions about the monks over the years. 

Even so, if you’re a fan of live theatre and large-scale productions, this certainly looks to be an interesting performance involving dance, acrobatics and martial arts (likely of the modern wushu or Beijing Opera variety) and well worth seeing if you’re in the New York area. 

Playbill.com has the details here:  Martial Arts-Fueled Soul of Shaolin Will Play Broadway’s Marquis in January 2009

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Cheng Man-Ch’ing Demonstrating Yang Short Form

In some schools, a “move” in taiji is referred to as a form, and the full routine is referred to as a set.  So when you see 8, 16, 24, 48, 64, etc. form taiji routines, form here is not the same as form in the hard styles.  What I do like about this representation, however, relates back to something Michael recalled in his Tora Dojo newsletter, Tora-Torah:

“TaShih, after he finished teaching us a long Kata, once asked us, “How many moves are there in the Kata?” We each stood there and tried to count the moves quickly to get the right answer. The answer, he told us, is: ONE. The ONE move that you are doing. Master the one move, he taught us, and (to paraphrase Lao Tze) as wonder turns to wonder, you will come to master the WHOLE. (or the HOLE, that is the great void… alright, sorry, I don’t want to get too esoteric!)”

There are certainly other reasons for referring to each “move” in taiji as a form, and this is one more:  referring to each move as a form reminds us that each movement is the entire form.  Without that movement, the routine does not exist.  When you’re doing a routine, treat each movement with enough commitment and dedication as though it were a form unto itself, because in reality, it is.

That said, Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s famous 37 set is also more informally referred to in its entirety as the “Yang Short Form”.  Enjoy this video I found while roaming the depths of YouTube — some great archive footage of Cheng Man-Ch’ing demonstrating his famous routine:

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Tests and Grading

From the newsletter by Michael to Tora Dojo students:

“In Tora Dojo, we are familiar with tests. After all, for every belt we earn, we go through a test or grading. TaShih, doing more than using semantics, always pointed out that a test is a pass/fail kind of situation. He preferred the word “grading“. A grading is a way for the teacher to hold up a mirror to the student to face him/herself. The student has the opportunity to see his/her own technique, attitude and progress. The hardest things to face are our own weaknesses. Fear of failure (or success) is part of human nature.

I imagine that when we test for a belt, the “test” is about the technique. The “grading” is about our viewing our deeper potential and the veils we create in life that keep it from actualizing our full potential.

My hope is that each student pass the test and grow from the grading.

Work hard. Good luck on your next test. Learn well from your next grading.”

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“The Effect of Tai Chi on Health Outcomes in Patients with Chronic Conditions”

The National Center for Biotechnology Information lists an article on the health benefits of Taiji practice on patients with chronic conditions, archived at the Archives of Internal Medicine.  A few of the results they discovered were as follows:

“Seven clinical trials (2 RCTs and 5 NRSs) reported that 8 to 16 weeks of Tai Chi training significantly improved balance, flexibility, and strength of knee extension and reduced the occurrence of falling in community-dwelling elders.”

“One RCT24 of 33 patients with osteoarthritis reported that 12 weeks of Tai Chi practice significantly improved arthritis symptoms, self-efficacy, level of tension, and satisfaction with general health status.”

“Results from 2 RCTs indicated that 283 low-activity older adults participating in either a 16-week or a 6-month Tai Chi exercise program showed improvement compared with the control groups in several indices of psychological well-being that evaluated depression, psychological distress, positive well-being, life satisfaction, and perceptions of health.”

The article goes on to describe research into immune disorders and hypertension, as well as other chronic conditions.  The full text of the paper can be found here: “The Effect of Tai Chi on Health Outcomes in Patients with Chronic Conditions”.

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