Martial Arts Defend Against Aging/Article Reprint from

Posted on March 26, 2004, 3:51 a.m. in Aging
(HealthDayNews) -- Baby boomers bent on getting back into shape may want to give their love handles a karate chop: A new study finds the martial arts to be safe, effective exercise for 40- and 50-somethings.

"If you want to do something that's fun, different and good for self-defense -- and good for long-term self-defense against disease -- do the martial arts," says study author and physical therapist Dr. Peter Douris, of the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, N.Y.

His findings appear in the March 25 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

For most people, the decision to get fit usually means buying a gym membership or shelling out money for expensive home-exercise equipment. But what about alternative methods, such as practicing the martial arts?

In their study, Douris' team examined the overall fitness of 18 individuals between 40 and 60 years of age. Nine of the study participants had been practicing soo bahk do, a Korean martial art similar to karate or tae kwon do, for about three years. The other nine participants maintained a more or less "couch potato" lifestyle.

Overall, the soo bahk do devotees "were much more flexible, had more leg strength, less body fat, better aerobic conditioning and better balance" compared to the sedentary study subjects, Douris reports.

The martial art practitioners had an average 12 percent less body fat than the non-exercisers, the researchers report. They also seemed much stronger -- while sedentary types could only muster up 37 sit-ups in a row on average, the soo bahk do practitioners averaged 66 sit-ups before exhaustion set in. The martial arts group also displayed more than double the balancing power of non-exercisers and outperformed the sedentary types when it came to flexibility.

The study did not compare the benefits of the martial arts to that of gym workouts, running or other fitness options. However, Douris estimates that the average soo bahk do class raises students' metabolic level -- a measurement of changes in the metabolic rate -- to about a 10, a level equal to that of jogging.

And he believes that older individuals, especially women, needn't be put off by fears they will be injured trying out karate-like sports. "It's not like ju-jitsu or judo, where you're doing a lot of flips and throws," Douris explains. "There isn't that much of that in soo bahk do. You do fall down when you're 'free-sparring,' but there's people in the classes that are 60 years old -- they get right back up. There's plenty of women in these classes, too."

Dr. Douglas McKeag, a sports medicine expert at Indiana University in Indianapolis, believes the martial arts "are a perfectly acceptable way to boost fitness, certainly in middle age it makes a great deal of sense. The sport is capable of delivering the type of stimulus that the body needs to get in shape." But he cautions that, as with any new sport, beginners "have to come at it relatively slowly and intelligently."

Douris, 47, has been practicing soo bahk do and tae kwon do since he was a teenager and says he routinely beats competitors half his age in tournaments. He calls the sport "self-defense against aging."

In a second study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that another one-on-one contact sport, wrestling, boosts the immune system of adolescent boys.

The researchers measured levels of immune system white blood cells in blood samples from wrestlers aged 14 to 18 years old, taken before and after a typical 90-minute wrestling bout.

Wrestling appears to produce "significant and robust" elevations in immune cells, indicative of a healthy rise in immune function, the researchers report.

The finding came as no surprise to McKeag. "The fact is that wrestling, as with any form of exercise, can keep a person healthy." Exercise stimulates all of the body's organs, he says, including the lungs, heart and other vital structures, creating "a much more efficient body."

Mind Body Balance

In many parts of the world, the balance between the mind and body allows a person to live a healthy life despite challenges like chronic pain.

For example, I participated in contact sports like football, basketball, karate and kick boxing, jumped off roofs and fallen off rigs, trucks and trailers when I worked in the farms in Kern County. I was told by my doctor that my arthritic pains were due to the repeated pounding my body took while jogging on pavement streets. Of course when I started this regimen in the mid-1970’s after reading the book The Joy of Running by Jim Fixx, above all things, to maintain good health.  Aside from a bout with gout, which might I add was the most painful moment of my life, my body and limbs held up pretty well. When I approached 50—years-old, the early morning stiffness I tolerated for the past 10 years transitioned: I felt aches, burns and pain in the joints. It wasn't an immediate onset, more like gradual, targeting my right instep, ankles, knees, lower back and right shoulder, worse on cold wet days, non-existent on warm mornings: What a mess, sometimes not able to move an inch because of the swelling and pain.

As a martial artist since 1972, I was fortunate enough to learn qigong and tai chi when I trained in the Bay Area and San Francisco Chinatown. It took me three years to learn and about a month to forget when I decided to resume karate, kickboxing and long distance running. Little did I realize that 30 years later, I’d resume the Chinese ancient exercises due to the pain. Who knew that when I was taking punishment in a football field weighing 126 lbs. that I’d be shuffling like an old man when I turned 50.

A child from the Woodstock Generation, I learned that synthetic substances weren’t good for the body. Even medical Marijuana was better (to some of you all “way better”) than some of the stuff we got at a pharmacy. I took the NSAIDs, aspirin, and acetaminophen only when the pain was too much to bear. As I researched Traditional Chinese Medicine, I learned that illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, arthritis, and heart conditions were caused if not exacerbated by blockages in our meridians. These are cavities in our body where chi or our life’s forces or energy flows throughout our body. By opening up these blockages through energy cultivation exercises like tai chi and qigong, illnesses, at least the symptoms of these illnesses would be relieved (some claim to be cured – and that would be a topic in a future blog).

So fortunate I was to be trained in these techniques; the help of several books and the Internet, I was able to relearn the ancient movements that contributed to my being able to move about nearly pain free.

Due to a Medicare program that will be non-existent in the not so distant future, I resolved to work till I die with absolutely no plans of retiring and have to be healthy and strong enough to live many more years.

My dad as a farm laborer worked till he died; ergo, like father, like son.

As a former Bruce Lee look alike (well, I thought I did) turned cripple struggling to live in pain, I learned that once you’ve reached the PAIN STAGE, aside from taking strong pain medication and/or surgery, alternatives existed that could help. Come on, part of growing old is suffering some pain. We can’t go through life complaining about it. We have the ability and wherewithal to find ways of dealing with it and getting on with our lives, which I’m sure you have some pretty good living to do. So with that said, I learned that the basics like diet, exercise, rest and stress relief were key factors in living healthy if not healthier. Different types of low impact exercises (yoga, Pilates, ball room dancing, diet, life style changes, homeopathic and herbal remedies, acupuncture, massage, mental and spiritual reflection, guided imagery – all are available, relatively inexpensive, and there to help.

My future articles will address some of these subjects.

Now this is from an old Baby Boomer Sensei whose only qualification is his years on this planet. I am not a doctor, spiritual leader, nor any other expert (well, I'm old and I think I’m pretty darn good at it): I am however a karate sensei and martial artist whose picked up some neat mind body balance ideas that could be useful. Just like the following statement by one of my idols:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” - Bruce Lee

Oops Wrong Apartment? Yeah Right.

by Alan Kandel

Imagine breaking into one’s own residence. Doing just that could have consequences to say the least. But breaking into someone else’s residence and believing the residence being broken into is actually theirs to break into, well, if this sounds “unbelievable,” believe it. If this scenario sounds extraordinary, it is that too! And, as for consequences, there is some that too?

What am I talking about?

According to a Fresno Bee account (you can read all about it right here:, under the subheading: “Intruder alert.”

Here’s what went down:

“Jannine Ramirez had just won a Fresno karate competition when she arrived at her east-central Fresno apartment early Sunday and found an intruder inside. She kicked down her bathroom door, then kicked the intruder through a shower door. She continued with an onslaught of kicks and punches until he was outside her apartment on the 2500 block of Maple Avenue.”

Of course, there was going to be reader reaction. Of course!

One commenter wrote: “Bravo to you, young lady!! You have just showed that idiot that it might not be safe to go where you don’t belong. i don’t believe for a minute the story about this guy not knowing he was in the wrong apt. Just know that what you did should be commended, not chastised!”

And, a second commenter wrote: “This woman is classically paranoid and decides the guy is harmful while he states, he lives there. Has he tried to lay a finger on mother or daughter? Has she tried anything but the power monger of many men that are equally domestically violent and abusive in our society?”

Differing reactionary perspectives, to be sure!

The Bee offered some additional explanation: “Detectives determined that Wilberto Zapata, 18, was drunk and really thought he had broken into his own apartment. He was cited for unlawful entry into a home and later released.”

Did the woman over-react or just do what was instinctive and probably what was most logical to her at the time? It was an interesting set of circumstances to say the least. What do you say?

Copyright Alan Kandel. November 4, 2012.

100 Year Old (Plus) Kung Fu Master Lu Zijian

“Knight of the Yangtze” Lu Zijian dies at the legendary age of 118

by Barry van Wyk

 (Article Reprint)

ON OCTOBER 22, 2012

The front page of the Chongqing Economic Times (重庆商报) today features a glowing obituaryto Lu Zijian (吕紫剑): Chinese martial arts expert, “Knight of the Yangtze”, “Swordsman of the North East”, “Three Time Knight”, fighter against Japanese imperialism, witness to three centuries and now dead at the freakishly old age of 118. Sounds like an awesome story of a modern Chinese hero, except that much of it might be pure fantasy.

Chongqing Economic Times does have a ripping yarn of an obituary, however. We are told that Lu was born all the way back in October 1893 in Yichang (宜昌市) in Hubei province, which means that he was two months older than Chairman Mao. After 118 years of fighting foreign bullies, training and teaching martial arts, and dabbling in being a doctor and painter, Lu finally gave up the ghost yesterday morning when he died in his sleep. Shortly after Lu passed away, journalists from the Chongqing Economic Times went to speak to his former disciples and family members to get an idea of the main events in Lu’s long life. The fantastic story that emerged from this goes something like the following:

1893: Born in Hubei province to a family famous for martial arts.

1900: At age seven, Lu “follows his mother” and starts training in martial arts.

190_: Lu becomes a close associate of Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲), the famous Chinese martial arts fighter who defeated foreign fighters in publicized fights.

1911: At 18, Lu arrives in Beijing and takes as his master a former bodyguard of the empress dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) named Ding Shirong (丁世荣). Lu starts studying the martial art form Xingyiquan (形意拳).

1912: Lu moves to E Mei Mountain (峨眉山) in Sichuan province to train in baguazhang (八卦掌).

1920: Lu takes part in martial arts competition in Nanjing and wins first prize.

1924: “Patriotic industrialist” Lu Zuofu (卢作孚) asks Lu to help him take back shipping rights on the Yangtze from imperial powers. Lu proceeds to fight and win a duel with a famous Japanese samurai. Henceforth Lu is known as the “Knight of the Yangtze.”

1945: Lu is appointed as martial arts instructor by KMT generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蒋介石).  A bodyguard of US General Marshall called Tom John challenges any Chinese to a fight. Lu takes up the offer to fight the 1.9 meter American and beats him using baguazhang.

1979: Lu Zijian is elected a member of the Chongqing Municipal People’s Political Consultative Conference. Lu starts to participate in martial arts competitions.

2002: Lu obtains the highest rank in the Chinese martial arts association.

So there you have it, a swashbuckling, ever-unbeaten, patriotic and long-living fighter, teacher, man of peace and member of government. It’s a great series of events but it is filled with inaccuracies and much of it is patently untrue. Firstly, when exactly did Lu die? Chongqing Economic Daily tells us that Lu died ‘yesterday’, which is 21 October 2012. This would have made Lu 119 years old, not 118. While the Chongqing Economic Daily keeps using the word ‘yesterday’, it is unclear when ‘yesterday’ actually was.

Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that Lu was nowhere near 119 when he died. The Chinese Wikipedia entry on Lu points to an entry in a collection of documents entitled Yichang City Literature and History Materials (宜昌市文史资料) from 1986 stating that Lu was in his seventies at the time, meaning that he was actually born sometime after 1907. In fact, this same collection of archival material on the city of Yichang (where Lu was from) has information that contradicts virtually every aspect of Lu’s resume for the first third of his life. For example, another entry from 1992 records that Lu stayed on in Yichang until the 1930s, when he was forced to flee to Sichuan because he beat up a bodyguard at a brothel. Lu then went on to establish a clinic in Chongqing in 1938. He thus never became a close associate of the legendary Huo Yuanjia (who died in 1910 and may not even have fought any foreigners), and never fought General Marshall’s bodyguard.

Yet what a tale. And how ever old he was, he has now passed on. Of that at least we can be sure.

Links and sources

Chongqing Economic Times: 踢过日本武馆跨过三世纪 长江大侠走了

新华山论剑: [转帖] 江湖大骗子==》吕紫剑

Wikipedia: 呂紫劍

图破壁的博客: 《宜昌市文史资料》三篇与吕紫剑有关的文章

Lu Zijian homepage

Boards Don't Hit Back. But...

by Alan Kandel

We all have our moments. Those times when things just don’t go as planned.

Who hasn’t, right?

So what would you have done if the situations described below happened to you? How would you have handled them? These questions may be a bit academic-sounding, but still, they prompt thought.

Visualize being asked to help out in a martial arts demonstration. At this demonstration there is  an audience. In this case, audience members consist of fellow martial artists and non-martial artists alike. Your duty, should you decide to accept that responsibility is to break wooden boards. The problem is you don’t yet have any board-breaking successes to your credit. So, how to proceed?

This is exactly the situation I got myself into once.

I was asked to assist in a karate demonstration helping an experienced practitioner. There came a point during the exhibition where I was called upon to break a two-inch-thick pine board utilizing a yoko geri kikomi or side thrust kick using the outside edge and heel of my foot. It was in the early 1970s when this undertaking transpired, so please forgive if I can’t exactly tell you whether my attempt to break the piece of wood was with my right or left foot. However, in making an educated guess, I would say it was with my right one. At any rate, the board, held by another –and I can’t tell you by whom – was about waist or chest high. Having gotten set in I assume an appropriate stance, I then proceeded to execute the side-kick technique. There was nothing. The board refused to cooperate and thus remained intact. It probably didn’t even flex. Okay, so what to do?

Again, I kicked and, like before, the board stayed whole. I can vividly recall hearing someone – in a whisper –advising me to first step through or side-shuffle and then lift my leg and kick. I was bewildered. It wasn’t registering. It wasn’t sinking in. I was caught up in the moment. Instead, what I was doing from my established stance, was just raising my leg and thrusting it sideways, half-expecting the wood’s splintery fibers would just obliterate due to the force of my kick. Wood fibers aren’t made of steel. I know this, but, still, what gives here? Finally putting two-and-two together and, after thinking things through a bit, the light bulb lit. Literally and figuratively following through just as I had been coached, I assumed my stance, crossed in a sideways motion one foot in front of the other, delivered a kick with what would be the leg that was farthest from the board and … success! If anything, the experience was humbling; not the humiliating one that one might expect.

Since one good demo deserves another, having achieved success, even if limited, it is understandable that more demonstrations would follow. Of course, more experience was gained along the way. But that goes without saying.

Then, about 15 years later I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate degree program at California State University, Fresno, majoring in education. At that level, academic requirements for many of my classes involved writing essays as opposed to taking tests. As it turns out, in one class in particular, I had to give a speech on motivation which was my topic. Of course I had to make my speech on motivation motivating. So what did I do? As part of the presentation, I decided I was going to break a board, but instead of using my foot, I was going to use my fist. Anyway, this was the plan, at least. Since I felt there might possibly be repercussions if I had asked the class instructor or a fellow classmate to hold the board for me to punch. So, I decided it was best that I hold the piece of wood in my left hand and hit it with my right. I also knew it would be inappropriate to kiai (a concentrated or focused yell) in the academic setting I was in, so I refrained from doing so.

Taking a few deliberate breaths, I executed the fist-blow and history repeats itself; the board refused to give. So, here I am trying to give a presentation on board-breaking as it relates to motivation and instead of doing a number on the board, the piece of wood in my presence, was getting the best of me. The knuckle of my middle finger swelled up like an inflated balloon.

Here again, what to do?

Call me crazy, but standing before my audience, and refusing to give in to defeat, not only did I focus on the board, but with intense thought processes I was intent on my fist going through the board, and not just hitting it. With the concentration of a laser beam now directed at the object in my left hand, after a couple of deep breaths, my right arm traveled forward from my side, fist closed and, lo and behold, a broken board. The saying: “you can do it if you put your mind to it,” definitely rings true.
Like in the account describing the earlier demonstration, the board of choice for the latter one was also two inches in thickness. But, unlike in the first account, instead of it taking me many tries to get the job done, it only took two attempts. Even so, I can’t be for certain, but I am almost positive there was a split-second’s doubt that I would break the board in question especially after the initial attempt at doing so failed to produce the hoped-for results. But, as it stood, in the face of defeat, there obviously was something there driving or compelling me to not relent, to not give up, in other words.
These two board-breaking experiences being what they are, with good reason, are ones I’ll never forget. Somewhat bewildering though these may have been, it is with fond recall that I remember these. It will always be this way. Interestingly, it is the other more routine or mundane of experiences, martial-arts related or otherwise, not only have vanished from thought, but are long forgotten as well.

So, in considering whether the experiences detailed above are UFO or unforgettable flummoxing occurrences as it were, I’ll say! After all, what would the human experience be without such? I’m sure many can relate.

Copyright Alan Kandel. October 28, 2012.

Playing for Change - United

The Sweet Smell of Success? Or Just Fumes

 by Alan Kandel
It has been said, without the bad, the good cannot be appreciated.
Life’s journey for nearly all, I would say, is anything but straight. How we proceed in such is all predicated upon the choices we make or those others have made for us. We make good decisions, we make bad. When good decisions are made, we derive a sense of satisfaction from such. When bad decisions are made, watch out! We cringe, bristle at the thought, protest, sometimes vehemently. Once getting beyond any one of these or a combination thereof, we either dwell on the regrettable or we get over it, maybe some of both, vow not to do such again, and move on, forward, hopefully.
Soon after I graduated from college in 1976, as I mentioned in my first post, I was in search of a career. This was a trying time; a period of much trial and error, a period in which the waters were thoroughly tested. In one interview, I was instructed to take a qualifying test. Since it was in the field of electronics the test involved analyzing circuit diagrams and determining such things as voltage, current, resistance and so on and so forth. Well, I have absolutely no qualms in admitting I scored a 40 percent. The gentleman interviewing me seemed so disappointed that I scored so poorly that before I had even made my way out of the building, I was practically being scolded. You see, he knew one of my college instructors, and apparently the interviewer had high expectations. By scoring what I did, I can only guess for the man doing the hiring it was a big let-down.
The good – and bad – news is that I eventually did find a job, but it only lasted a year. I was appropriately placed in the test and troubleshooting department, and with a total of six technicians, one of which was the supervisor, all but two of us smoked. For the record, I am one of the ones who didn’t.
At first, work was tolerable. Then as smoking became more frequent with more smoke filling the indoor air and therefore for me more unbearable, I asked one of the head honchos if I could have my workbench relocated to an area where the smoke was far less noticeable. The place I suggested that my workbench be relocated to, there was plenty of room, but, not surprisingly, my request was curtly denied.
Meanwhile, it just so happens that during this time I practiced martial arts and, believe it or not, but there would be more fumes to deal with, although they were from an entirely different source. Like at work, it wasn’t a case of smoke just getting in my eyes. It went way past even that. An irritant if not an outright nuisance would be more like it.
Practice was held in a steel-framed building with exterior edifices consisting of corrugated, galvanized-but-painted-steel panels and for interior walls, drywall. At any rate, the building housed two businesses – a dojo and a shop for repairing automobiles. It is not too difficult to imagine the implications here, so I’ll leave it at that.
And speaking of cars and as if to be adding injury to insult, the car I was driving had much to be desired. It was a used car I bought in place of the one I’d been driving, for that one was in an accident, not my fault but that makes little difference. It turns out the replacement set of wheels I purchased had a small break or hole somewhere in the filler neck that led straight into the gas tank and when driving up hill especially, with a full tank of gas, well, in any case, if you haven’t guessed by now, even if I never glanced at the fuel gauge, I was fast reminded of such. In fact, gas fumes could be detected in the car’s cab even with windows closed. When it rains, it pours, I guess.
At any rate, that vehicle became a good candidate on a new one as a trade-in, something I should have done the first time around. Live and learn.
The dojo eventually relocated to another building, one that was more conducive to training and as for the job, well, with much intestinal fortitude and who knows what else I had managed to summon, I approached the department super and exclaimed, “I’m done,” to which came his reply, “In that case, go get another [waveform analyzer to start work on].” Apparently not getting my drift (pun intended, of course), I reiterated, “You don’t understand, I’m done.” End of story.
Copyright Alan Kandel. October 15, 2012.

Martial Arts and the Restraint Factor

by Alan Kandel

I witnessed an episode of road rage once. It wasn’t pretty. I was traveling on a main city thoroughfare, and seemingly out of nowhere, two vehicles appeared, and caught up in what looked like a “cat and mouse” chase. Meanwhile, the vehicles’ occupants were slinging, let me guess, expletives at each another. By this stage, the rage had obviously intensified and by the time the dueling factions made it to the intersection ahead, the drivers of both vehicles executed right turns, one still in hot pursuit of the other. And that was the last I saw of them. I couldn’t help but think that soon a suitable place to park the cars would be found and the warring parties were then going have it out, try to settle the score and, for what, because somewhere back down the road one driver maybe unintentionally or inadvertently cut the other driver off?

I look at this example and think the whole situation could have been avoided had individual and collective restraint been exercised.

That situation reminds me of another and it involved me.

Having nothing at all to do with martial arts training, nevertheless, I happened one day to be riding a bicycle and on a portion of a road on which I was riding, there was a steep downgrade. It was a two-lane country road and off on the side was a narrow shoulder with loose gravel. In the interest of safety – my own, during descent, I decided to occupy the center of the lane. The road speed limit was 40 or 45 and I estimate my speed to be about 35. In the corner of my left eye, I just happened to catch sight of the corner of the front bumper and headlight of a trailing car just off my bike’s rear wheel. We’re talking mere inches here. It was then that I noticed the vehicle’s two occupants laughing it up and right at that moment the car began to pass me. Once having done so and pulling back into the lane ahead of me, the driver maneuvered the car in such a way that I was literally being run off the road.

I was furious!

At the bottom of the hill there was a traffic signal and for vehicles traveling in my direction the displayed light was red. When I caught up to the offending car, the occupants of which had given the term “out-for-a-Sunday-joy-ride” new meaning, this is when I approached (and reproached) the person sitting behind the wheel: “How would you feel had you killed me?!” It was probably not the smartest move on my part. In response, the driver assailed an expletive in my general direction and then took off.

Honestly, I could have been killed. But all that happened was I got hot under the collar and was the target of an expletive. In hindsight, probably what I should have done was get the car license plate number report it to police but, being I let my emotions get the best of me I did not think in a rational manner.  (For all I know when I approached the driver, he might have put a gun to my face, one just never knows). That I walked away from this incident, I was then in a position where I could put it all behind me, and that’s what I did, until now.

One never knows when they’ll find themselves in a situation where there is the potential for a disastrous outcome.

There are times where people’s differences of opinions cause flared tempers that escalate to the point of no return. But in thinking, why let things reach this stage? In some situations maybe there is some macho thing going on where one side has to prove dominance. I suspect, in many cases, that’s probably part of it.

When I regularly practiced martial arts I learned self-control. And by having and practicing restraint, one can benefit greatly.

The takeaway here is in trying situations try to keep cool-headed. In doing so, chances are good that good judgment will prevail. But also be mindful that no two situations are exactly alike and different situations dictate different responses.

While I’m no expert on matters such as the above, my sense is people diligently engaged in quality martial arts training acquire tools (e.g., self-control) and skills to better prepare them for and handle what life can throw our way.

Restraint is one of those tools and it’s golden!

Copyright Alan Kandel. October 4, 2012.

Armchair Spectating: An Interested Observer’s View

by Alan Kandel

In case you haven’t already noticed, martial arts have appeal. Ever wonder why that is? I don’t think people give this a whole lot of thought primarily because it probably isn’t all that important as far as what people tend to think about. Even so, there is no denying martial-arts appeal is real.

The appeal is two-pronged. What I mean by this is there is participant (or practitioner) appeal and there is also spectator (or fan) appeal. Some invariably relish participating in addition to watching the action from the sidelines.

Unlike in most other sports, in competitive martial arts, participants are allowed to bash each other’s faces in – to a certain extent, that is. I mean where else is this even permitted? Of course, rules must be strictly adhered to otherwise things can get pretty ugly rather quickly without such. From some fans’ perspective, the more pounding taking place inside the ring or, in other words, the more of a beating one contestant takes, the better.

So, I must ask a question right here and right now: Would competitors still compete if:

1) there were no prize money attached (professional), and/or
2) there was no fan draw (be it on an amateur or professional level)? For that matter, I wonder if competitive sports would exist at all if not for the fans.

Did I answer my own question?

I believe I did.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe as humans we have an innate need to be entertained. So, building on that, as far as sports competitions go, what makes martial arts so appealing to so many is due to the entertainment value that martial arts possesses.  In fact, as far as competitive sports appeal goes, it ranks high on the interest scale. Is there is really anything else like it anywhere? Some diehard baseball, football, boxing, basketball, professional wrestling, etc. fans might disagree. No consensus? No problem. Having a favorite, having an opinion – it is part of what fandom is and that there is the name of the game.

So, as long as there is an audience to observe, competitive martial arts will go the distance. If there is ever a doubt, regardless of reason, always remember: Hand-in-hand go sports and fans.

Copyright Alan Kandel. September 18, 2012.


Tai chi helps Parkinson’s patients with balance and fall prevention (Article Reprint)

For release: Thursday, May 10, 2012

Exercise is important for a healthy lifestyle but it is also a key part of therapy, rehabilitation and disease management. For Parkinson’s disease, exercise routines are often recommended to help maintain stability and the coordinated movements necessary for everyday living. An NIH-funded study, reported in the February 9, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine,* evaluated three different forms of exercise – resistance training, stretching, and tai chi – and found that tai chi led to the greatest overall improvements in balance and stability for patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that is caused by the loss of brain cells which control coordinated and purposeful motions. This cell loss results in tremor, rigidity, slowed movement (known as bradykinesia) and impaired balance (postural instability). While some symptoms, such as tremor, at least benefit from drug therapy initially, the medications currently available to treat Parkinson’s are not as effective in restoring balance. This is a special concern for Parkinson’s patients because postural instability frequently leads to falls.

Several studies have demonstrated that resistance training, for instance with ankle weights or using weight-and-pulley machines, has positive effects on balance and gait. As a result, doctors often suggest exercise or prescribe physical therapy to address problems with instability.

Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, was part of a team of researchers who, in 2007, published a pilot study showing that tai chi was a safe exercise for individuals with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease. “We had been using tai chi for balance training in healthy older adults, “ Dr. Li commented, “and older adults and patients with Parkinson’s disease share some difficulties with falls.”

Tai chi is a balance-based exercise that originated in China as a martial art. While there are many different styles, all are characterized by slow, relaxed and flowing movements. In both the pilot study and the recent New England Journal of Medicine study, patients performed a tai chi routine designed to challenge patients’ stability and address the balance and stability-related symptoms of Parkinson’s. The routine included slow, intentional, controlled movements that maximized the swing time of arm and leg motions, and repeatedly incorporated gradual shifts of body weight from one side to another, varying the width of their base of support by standing with feet together or further apart.

With support from the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Dr. Li and colleagues conducted a larger clinical trial to compare tai chi to resistance training and stretching. The study assigned a total of 195 patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease to one of three exercise groups: tai chi, resistance training, or stretching. Patients attended class twice a week for 24 weeks. The investigators assessed balance and movement control by testing how far patients could lean and shift their center of gravity without losing balance, and how directly the patients could reach out to a target, with a minimum of extraneous movement.

After six months, the patients in the tai chi group showed the greatest amount of improvement in balance and stability. Furthermore, patients in the tai chi and resistance training groups had a significantly fewer falls over the six month period compared to participants in the stretching group.

 “There is a learning curve involved,” Dr. Li noted, adding that improvement is seen after four to five months of continued practice twice a week, and this trend is similar to what he had noted in his studies of older people.

Dr. Li described tai chi as similar to resistance training, the more commonly recommended physical therapy, in that it requires repetitive movement. Tai chi, however, not only involves shifting a person’s weight and center of gravity, but it is also practiced at a dramatically slow speed and greatly emphasizes intentional control of movement.

“In tai chi we emphasize very slow and intentional movement,” Dr. Li commented. “That imposed a lot of challenge, especially to those in the tai chi group who were used to fast movement.”

Dr. Li also noted that tai chi is very safe and can be performed without equipment and in limited space.

Beth-Anne Sieber, Ph.D., a program officer at NINDS, said that falls are a dangerous side effect of Parkinson’s disease and commented on the significance of Dr. Li’s work. “The key observation in Dr. Li’s study is that a specifically designed sequence of tai chi movements improves postural stability and prevents falls for an extended period of time in persons with Parkinson’s disease. In addition, tai chi sequences can be tailored to improve balance in a spectrum of patients with mild to moderate symptoms.” Dr. Sieber also noted that this study is indicative of a growing interest in examining how physical activity may improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Further research will provide additional information on ways in which physical activity can improve disease symptoms and quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease.

- By Nicole J. Garbarini, Ph.D.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease, visit:

Manage Diabetes with Tai Chi (Article Reprint)

From Mark Stibich, Ph.D., former Guide Updated May 08, 2008 Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board

If you ever travel to China and go out early in the morning, you will find the parks filled with older Chinese men and women practicing tai chi, which looks like a combination between a slow motion dance and martial arts sequence. For generations, Chinese people have been turning to tai chi for its longevity and other benefits. Think of it as if it were meditation in motion.

Of course, you have to wonder if tai chi really works. More specifically, you have to wonder how it works. How does this slow motion practice slow the aging process? Does it reduce stress? Does it increase physical activity? Does it, as the practitioners believe, help balance energy and promote health? Researchers looked into this and found a surprising result: tai chi helps with diabetes.

Two small studies in Taiwan looked at diabetes and tai chi practice. The first study followed 30 people with Type 2 diabetes and matched them to 30 people with the same age and gender (but who did not have diabetes). All participants took a one-hour tai chi class three times a week for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12-week period, the people with diabetes showed a decrease in their HbA1c level -- HbA1c is used to measure how well the body can control blood sugar, an important sign of diabetes.

The other study, done in Australia, looked at 11 adults with elevated blood sugar (pre-diabetic). The researchers designed a special program that combined tai chi with another practice known as Qigong (a practice of creating and moving “chi” in the body through deep breathing and other exercises). Some of the 11 participants also had high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol (altogether making up metabolic syndrome). Like the first study, the participants underwent a 12-week program. Overall, blood pressure was improved and waist size in some of the participants even shrunk.

Both these studies are very small, but it is promising that such a simple practice can improve the overall health of the body. Combining tai chi with a healthful diet, other daily exercises and solid medical care could help diabetics and pre-diabetics increase their health, manage their condition and prevent further symptoms.

Tai chi can also help with the aging process by improving balance, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and improving flexibility. Tai chi is often done in a group, so there are social benefits as well. In addition, the benefits that tai chi masters report are that tai chi balances the body’s inner energy (chi), which promotes health and longevity. Tai chi is low impact, and its motions can be adapted for people who have trouble standing. This is a great exercise for anyone, but especially for older adults.

Shu-Hui Yeh, Hau Chuang, Li-Wei Lin, Chiu-Yueh Hsiao, Pei-Wen Wang, Rue-Tsuan Liu, and Kuender D Yang. Regular Tai Chi Chuan exercise improves T cell helper function of type 2 DM patients with an increase in T-bet transcription factor and IL-12 production. Br. J. Sports Med., Apr 2008.

Tai Chi Benefits People With COPD (Article re-print)

WebMD Health News
Reviewed byLouise Chang, MD
practicing tai chi

Graceful Exercise Increases Endurance, Balance, and Quality of Life

Aug. 9, 2012 -- The gentle movements of Sun-style tai chi (SSTC) can improve the lives and boost the exercise endurance of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to a new study by Australian researchers.

After 12 weeks, practitioners of this form of tai chi could walk longer distances and reported better quality of life compared to those whose treatment did not include any exercise training.
This is good news for people with COPD because it gives them more fitness choices, according to researcher Regina Wai Man Leung of Concord Repatriation General Hospital and the University of Sydney.

"With increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with COPD, it is important to provide different options for exercise that can be tailored to suit each individual," Leung, a cardiorespiratory physiotherapist, said in a news release that accompanied the study.

Testing Tai Chi

Forty-two people with COPD participated in the study. Their average age was 73. Half of them received standard rehab. The others, meanwhile, attended twice-weekly, hour-long sessions of a modified version of SSTC, which was comprised of 21 exercises, or forms, as well as controlled breathing. They practiced tai chi at home for 30 minutes on days when they did not have a class.

This type of tai chi, the researchers write, is an excellent choice for their COPD patients.

"Each form can be broken down into several movements which are easy to teach and learn. Compared to some other styles of tai chi, SSTC involves less difficult movements, such as less deep-knee bending and single-leg standing, which may make it more suitable for older people," the researchers write.

Each of the participants underwent several tests before and after the 12-week study period. The primary test evaluated how far and for how long they were able to walk at progressively faster speeds before becoming breathless.

The researchers also measured their balance, the strength of their quadriceps, and overall physical performance. Finally, the participants completed questionnaires to determine if they had symptoms of depression and/or anxiety and to gauge how highly they rated their quality of life.

Practice Leads to Improvements

The tai chi group showed significant improvements across the board. By the end of the 12 weeks, they were, on average, able to walk about 60 yards farther and for 348 seconds longer than the group that did not practice tai chi. They were also steadier on their feet and showed greater quad strength, both of which are important for COPD patients.

"Impairment in balance and lower limb muscle strength are common in people with COPD and are some of the major risk factors for falls," the researchers write. "Interestingly, conventional pulmonary rehabilitation has not been shown to improve balance in people with COPD."

The researchers also found that, in addition to getting the benefits of a good workout, the tai chi group was significantly less anxious and that they felt better in general than the other study participants.

"This study," they conclude, "provides compelling evidence that tai chi training achieved an appropriate training intensity and that it may be an effective alternative training modality in people with COPD."

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. As many as 90% of cases are caused by smoking. In 2008, more than 13 million American adults had COPD, a blanket term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both make breathing progressively more difficult. In 2007, nearly 125,000 U.S. adults died of COPD.

The study is published in the online edition of the European Respiratory Journal.

In With Learning, Out With Grade Worry Part II: Grade-less Learning

by Alan Kandel

On May 24, 2012, I penned the Baby Boomer Sensei blog post, “In With Learning, Out With Grade Worry.” Today, I introduce another aspect of learning: learning absent performance measures and assigned grades.

So, I try to imagine what training in the martial arts would be like without rank being attached to it. In my way of thinking, this would be analogous to getting an education without grades being assigned. To get a better grasp of what I’m referring to here, I liken this to instruction being conducted by schoolmasters in early 19th century America. Think one-room schoolhouses and groupings of students comprising a wide range of ages.

I make it no secret that I have entertained the thought for some time regarding what education would be like if students simply were to learn in an atmosphere where grades were non-existent. Students might feel less pressured to “pass,” anxiety or worry that can at times be manifested from such “pressure,” would likely be lessened if not completely eliminated, and cheating would be unheard of.

So, the first question you may be asking yourself is how performance and progress would be measured. My question in response to this is: Is it necessary that performance and progress be gauged? Would instruction and learning this way, that is, without quizzes, tests and other progress and performance measuring instruments, be any less effective? Radical though this may sound, I, nevertheless, think it’s a good question and an idea worth contemplating and exploring further.

Perhaps a person can think of this idea in these terms:

Ever see the movie “Castaway” starring Tom Hanks? The character he played in the movie in the jet he was flying in slammed into an ocean somewhere. Seemingly marooned on a remote and uninhabited island, Hanks’ character wound up fighting for his very survival. That Hanks’ character (in the movie) had been in the employ of a well-known package courier company, perhaps had given him somewhat of an edge in that he was successful regarding his survival. For Hanks’ character, the overarching message here is really quite simple: “Adapt or die!” As a castaway Hanks’ character survived, based upon using, quite innovatively and resourcefully I might add, the tools that were available to him, that and no doubt his reliance on knowledge he had acquired in the past, gained prior to this unfortunate soul getting into the seemingly dire predicament he found himself in. In fact, Hanks’ character had become so adept and resourceful, he taught himself how to create fire, secure food and even perform dental work on his own teeth! I realize “Castaway” is a fictional story. Nevertheless, Hanks’ character was quite motivated and determined to not only live but, as well, get off the island and back to civilization.

I realize that which is depicted in “Castaway” is extreme. But, what better example is there to drive home the message I’m trying to get across?

Okay, so I have to now ask how you would feel if you went through a training program, be it a martial arts or any other type of training regimen, and never received a grade, rank or score? Would this make you any less inclined to want to learn?

To help you perhaps better decide, consider this: People learn to cross streets safely. This is done absent grades. There is a saying: “Give a person a fish and that person eats for a day. Teach a person to fish and that person eats for a lifetime.” Bottom line is it is not important that a grade be assigned to the learning involved in feeding oneself for a lifetime, only that a person be able to fend for him or herself to keep him or herself alive.

So, keeping this notion in mind, what I have come to understand or learn is: Everyone learns, whether assigned grades for the learning that takes place or not. We learn how to hold and write with a pencil and/or pen. We learn how to hold a cup and to drink and/or sip through a straw. We learn how to walk, run, hop, skip and jump. These skills do not require assigned grades in order for these activities, skills, processes, what-have-you, to be learned and to occur.

Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the concept of gauging learning by assigning grades; learning that took place in a structured setting no doubt. I’m not saying learning in this manner is a bad thing. But, at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if learning would be any less effective and if people would be any less inclined to want to learn if the grading process were to be completely removed. That’s all.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. August 10, 2012.

Intangibles: So Important In Martial Arts and Life

by Alan Kandel

Intangibles – non-physical properties that cannot be heard, held, seen, smelled, tasted or touched – are very much real. And they are every bit as important in life as their tangible counterparts.

One intangible is pride.

As an intangible, and unlike tangible matter, pride is something that cannot be taken from someone no matter how much another may try. Think about that for a moment: Something having no physical form whatsoever, cannot be affected by another in any way, shape or form. That is a profound and powerful notion.

So let’s talk about pride for a moment.

Pride comes from the heart, as in the pride a teacher has learning that a student or former student has done well in some aspect of life, for example. Another would be a completed, do-it-yourself project that one can take pride in.

In my first Baby Boomer Sensei blog post: “Putting Karate Practice Into Words,” posted May 14, 2012, I discussed what I encountered in becoming a professional writer. So, imagine the feeling that came over me when my first article was published. I felt tremendous pride. The unmistakable satisfaction, the result of the hard work put forth in order to get that first article published and the fact the article was published at all, was all too real.

It’s no different in martial arts.

Students studying the arts are awarded in the physical sense when they receive a promotion or advancement in level or rank. And that a tangible award such as this can evoke a non-tangible one such as pride is indeed a powerful construct. Having said that, I firmly believe it is completely acceptable to feel pride from having accomplished such a goal.

Another topic I wish to bring front-and-center is winning and losing, which are also intangibles. This is extremely relevant, particularly with the Summer Olympic Games being held in London, England right now.

Master Teruyuki Okazaki – Chief Instructor and Chairman of the International Shotokan Karate Federation – in his book: “Perfection of Character: Guiding Principles For The Martial Arts & Everyday Life” (a book given me by Najib Amin, a good friend and instructor I formerly practiced karate under), notes: “When you truly understand that you are training solely to better yourself, you will abandon your concerns about winning, losing, advancing in rank, and being attached to results, and you will become a better, more balanced karate-ka and human being.”

Master Okazaki goes on to write: “Think about it: What will happen if you meditate intently before a match saying to yourself, ‘I don’t have to lose. I am not attached to the result. If I do my best, I will be proud.’ You will have unburdened yourself of any expectation, and you’ll be allowing life to flow naturally.”

When all is said and done, intangibles really do matter and on some level, I wholeheartedly believe, are more substantive than their physical counterparts – the tangible properties.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. August 8, 2012.

Be Faithful and Endeavor As A Martial Artist and in Life

by Alan Kandel

In Shotokan karate-do there are five dojo precepts and these are: 1) Seek perfection of character; 2) Respect others; 3) Be faithful; 4) Endeavor; and 5) Refrain from violent behavior. They are referred to as the Dojo Kun.

In the spirit of karate training, when entering the dojo, the world outside of karate training is to remain there, the one outside the dojo, that is, and the reason for this is so the mind can be free of extraneous, inhibiting thought. In other words, as one prepares to practice, one should clear the mind. This is important in the sense that an empty mind then becomes a medium that can facilitate learning in the most efficient and effective way possible, and this idea doesn’t just limit itself to the dojo. It is something that can have relevance in terms of learning in general, whether it’s with regard to martial arts or not.

Contrarily, upon exiting the dojo, the presumption is the martial artist has acquired new information that can now be taken and carried with them into the outside world. (As you read on, it should become clearer and clearer why this is both relevant and important). As long as the training is continued that very process is perpetuated. But what if a person suddenly stops practicing, what happens then? This in no way means that what has been learned in the dojo should be forgotten. This would be tantamount to saying that even if it no longer were to apply, everything we have ever learned over time should be forgotten too. 

Strike that last notion as it is utterly preposterous.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I carry the spirit of my karate training with me in life, or something to that effect, and this is as it should be. Meanwhile, in another prior Baby Boomer Sensei blog post I discussed three of the five dojo kun, even if only briefly, and these were: 1) Seek perfection of character; 2) Respect others; and 3) Refrain from violent behavior. 

Today I want to talk about the remaining two: 1) Be faithful and 2) Endeavor.

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t exactly fit that bill – being faithful and endeavoring – in every one of my academic pursuits, but as far as my vocational endeavors went, I poured my heart and soul into practically every job I ever worked. What this exemplifies is the endeavor part. Okay, let’s see how being “faithful” applies here.

One might endeavor or try to do something by giving it his or her all but if in carrying out required duties becomes futile or is done with less-than-scrupulous ideals in mind, then it makes little if any sense to continue in this vein. So, a person can endeavor to perform, say, a task at the best of his or her abilities, but if in carrying the task out satisfactorily and completing the task according to established criteria becomes an impossibility or the tactics employed in doing so are less than wholesome ones, then being faithful to that particular cause or endeavor too makes little if any sense.

Which brings me back to karate practice and martial arts. Practice what martial art you will. Practice (endeavor) with verve (with passion and enthusiasm) and perseverance (with persistence and a purpose) and be true (faithful) to your study. And, in the final analysis, if we carry with us in everyday life not only these guiding precepts (dojo kun) but the three others mentioned previously, not only do I wholeheartedly believe we will become much better people for having done this, but I believe likewise as well that the world will be far, far improved for us having done so. A win-win most assuredly!

Copyright © Alan Kandel. August 5, 2012.

Patience Grasshopper

by Alan Kandel

There are two relevant sayings here: “Good things come to those who wait” and “patience is man’s greatest virtue.” The first couldn’t be truer. As for the second, so I’ve heard, but, is it really I wonder? The word “wait,” incidentally, as used in this instance, is a relative term, meaning it means different things to different people as in “wait” for how long.

So, say a person is learning a martial art. I would say most students, either when they embark on a program of study or have been involved in such for some time already, either realize, or come to realize, respectively, that only through consistent study can proficiency through such practice be attained. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, proficiency is guaranteed, but there is a reasonable expectation that it will happen provided enough time is devoted to such. Then there is the matter of what level of proficiency. That depends on the individual and how much work and the amount of practice put into training. Just as no two people are exactly alike, this too is different for different people.

For anyone who gets involved in martial arts training and their expectation is that a black belt will be awarded in half-a-year’s time, this is probably not being very realistic. If, on the other hand, the student has the expectation that a black belt might be awarded them after five years, this expectation is indeed reasonable and, moreover, it is certainly within the realm of possibility depending, of course, upon the student’s effort and the type of martial art being studied.

So, as you can tell, there are quite a few variables here. Take my own training, for example. There are even more variables, such as my study being kind of convoluted. What I mean by this is, I changed styles twice before finding the Shotokan style and sticking with it. I also had different instructors and studied in different states – California and Maryland. This, no doubt, added to the amount of time it took me to meet the criteria required for shodan (or first degree black belt) ranking. What’s important to remember here is, it’s not the time it took (to acquire shodan or any rank for that matter), but rather, that the testing would take place when I was ready.

From my own experience, it can be readily seen that, for me, the journey has been long and deliberate. Is there more to be learned? Count on it: learning is a life-long process.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 29, 2012.

College Instructor Turned Ninja?

by Alan Kandel

I consider myself to be a relatively decent writer. I stick to composing non-fiction-type material because it’s what I believe I do best when it comes to the type of writing I do. Fictional writing, … well, it just isn’t who I am.

Being that’s the case, the story presented below will no doubt astonish and seemingly bordering on incredulity, yet the events I’m about to reveal are true.

Okay. I’ve kept you in suspense long enough. Here’s what happened.

There was a time when I was teaching college in Long Beach (California). I taught in Cal State’s Engineering and Industrial Technology Department. It was a part-time gig and being that I was in the southern Calif. community for three or four days every week during my stint depending on semester worked, this, in fact, necessitated that I rent an apartment. It was either this or live out of a motel room. I opted for the apartment.

The place I rented was a former garage detached from the main house that was situated in front. The garage had both an upstairs and down. My apartment was on the ground-floor level. At any rate, it had a kitchen, bathroom and main living space, which, seconded as a bedroom. Nothing unusual there - that’s typical for studio apartment-style living. The apartment was small, yes, but it had all the comforts of home.

It was during the fall of 1987 to almost summer 1988, so, we’re talking quite some time ago.

At the time, I also happened to be practicing karate-do at not only the college, but also in Santa Monica at the International Shotokan Karate Federation dojo (training facility) located in that extremely well known seaside town.

Meanwhile, the drive to and from my home in Fresno each week got rather tiresome, rather quickly, in fact. The redeeming part of the commute, on the other hand, was that gas was affordable – none of this $4-plus per gallon stuff.

Sometime between the beginning and middle of the spring semester, I got out of my apartment contract because on more than a few weekends, someone (or someones) had helped themselves to one garage-turned-studio-apartment – mine!, presumably courtesy of whomever had an extra key and presumably free of charge, I might add. My guess is the landlord left entry keys with the occupants of the house in front. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the place one calls home (even if it’s their home away from home as in this case), had been frequented by one or more uninvited guests multiple times, in fact. Upon my return, I would find my personal effects not exactly as I left them. So, what I did was I alerted the landlord and to remedy the situation I requested that the locks be changed.
Backtracking a bit, when I first moved in, I was issued two keys: one for the deadbolt lock and the other for the lock placed on the door below that.

I thought this was going to take care of the problem. Was I ever wrong! Instead of the locks being changed, here’s what was done. The key I was already issued that originally unlocked the bottom lock could now not only open the bottom one but could also open the top, deadbolt lock too. Like that’s really going to help! Imagine what my reaction must have been when I learned this. Pure disbelief!

To add insult to injury, it was suggested to me (and I won’t say by whom) that I pretend like I’m leaving for Fresno for the weekend but instead of doing this, I should park my car far enough away from my apartment, walk back to the apartment without being spotted, ninja- and stealth-like, if you get my drift, make sure all the apartment’s interior lights remain off, and when the unwelcome intruder or intruders showed up, surprise! Hit ‘em in the head with a baseball bat! Of all the hair-brained ideas I’ve heard, this has to take the cake!

So, with that said, and having had just about enough, I moved out. The nerve of some people!

In hindsight, if nothing else, this makes for a good story. Trust me when I tell you I couldn’t make this stuff up. Fictional writing just isn’t my forte.

And as for the landlord and the one offering the less-than-sagely advice, well if you really must know, I’ll clue you in; I am now shaking my head from side to side.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 25, 2012.

Studying Martial Arts To Learn How Not To Fight

by Alan Kandel

I have heard it said once that the greatest karateka (student) is the one that never has to use the karate skills learned in a real-life application. Maybe not these words exactly, but something to that effect.
This is a profound – and sound – thought. Think about it. One spends time – the better part of a lifetime for some – in study, learning one or more martial arts and then never, ever getting to apply any one or a number of techniques learned in martial arts training in real life? If this sounds counterintuitive, it’s not really.

Learning martial arts shouldn’t be for the purpose of testing out learned techniques on the street. To the contrary. Studying martial arts to learn how to avoid physical confrontation – that’s where it’s at! It is this ideal that martial artists should pursue.

Okay, but a person might be thinking: “What if there is just no other option – and that option being – to call upon and use what has been learned in the dojo (training hall or facility), expressly to render null and void what would otherwise be an unavoidable physical altercation?” All right, let’s expound for a moment.

I have heard and read about instances where people who have learned such martial arts skills have applied them in life. Some were with malicious intent, unfortunately. On the other hand, there are those times when the combative-art skills were resorted to only as a last resort and in doing so the actions were completely justified as in an act of self-defense, in other words.

Two such accounts were from students I once instructed.

According to what was shared, the techniques applied were summoned because no other method of conflict resolution proved effective and thus were used as a last resort. And that, from my perspective, is how it should be.

Still, I can’t help but wonder in the situations that my former students found themselves in, if working out whatever differences or disagreements there were could have been achieved with words alone. I really can’t say because I wasn’t there when the conflicts transpired. What I can say is that I will make the assumption based on what I was told that the two former students used good and sound judgment and the actions taken were the correct ones.

Aside from all this, there is good news and that is the situations were diffused and no one was seriously hurt. Yet, I am fully aware that working through differences using discussion rather than force is far better and the more preferable way to resolve conflict in my opinion.

Simply put, my whole message here is summed up thusly: Seek perfection of character, respect others and refrain from violent behavior. If others are respected and character perfection is sought, violence doesn’t happen.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 22, 2012.

The Art of Kata Competition and Communication

by Alan Kandel

How we say things can make a positive or negative impact. We see this all the time. Sometimes there is no impact, that is, the reaction (or lack thereof) may be indifference regarding what was said, that is to say, the person on the receiving end might not care one way or another. Sometimes what we say can elicit an emotional response or reaction. Sometimes nothing needs to be uttered at all - body language speaks volumes.

In case you haven’t already guessed, all this has to do with communication and how we communicate. The way in which we communicate can make all the difference in the world in terms of whether what it is we wish to get across is understood or misunderstood.

I present two hypothetical situations below. The purpose of doing such is to show how two different methods of communication are effective in getting given messages across.

Hypothetical situation #1:

Say a contestant in a karate match is competing in the kata (or form) event. Now say a mistake in the kata is made. The contestant is unaware that a mistake was made.

Now comes the scoring part of the event and the contestant learns the results. The presented scores provide an implicit clue as to how the kata was performed. Nothing further needs to be communicated unless the competitor feels compelled to ask others what prompted the score or others feel obligated to share what constructive criticism they can.

Hypothetical situation #2:

Now say a contestant in a karate tournament is competing in the kata event and proceeds to announce the name of the kata but does so incorrectly. Once again, hypothetically, the head judge repeats the kata name back to the contestant only does so using proper pronunciation. The response from the judge was an explicit one. (I don’t know that this has ever happened but it is entirely possible that it may have on occasion).

In both hypothetical situations, it was noted by judges that mistakes were made and for each occurrence judges used different approaches to convey that mistakes were made. In the first scenario the mistake was addressed using scorecards and in the second scenario the mistake was corrected through use of the spoken word.

One final word; Sometimes there is nothing more frustrating than tying to explain something only to have the person on the receiving end not understand what was being explained.

Don’t think effective communication matters? Think again!

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 13, 2012.

Pearls of Wisdom: The Nature/Value of Experience

by Alan Kandel
Why is experience important?

As active participants in life, we are schooled, period – no ifs, ands or buts. It’s one of life’s so-called “facts.” Moreover, we encounter many people as we navigate our ways through life. That navigated or charted path is also referred to as the journey. Along that journey, we arrive at many a fork in the road where decisions, some critical (most not, thankfully) must be made. Armed with proper information the decisions made can be informed ones or lacking proper information, decisions made can be, well, for lack of finding a better way to put it, a shot in the dark. All of this can be summed up in one word – experience.

As humans, since we are experience-driven beings, the experiences we have act as lessons or teachers. They help guide us. But, more than that: They can help shape us into and help make us who we are.

Furthermore, as for the experience itself, the experiences experienced in life are the result of either happenstance or deliberateness. But, what exactly does this mean?

Situations involving happenstance as a life event – or life-changing event – and one that occurred by chance, is where the situation just happened. Hence the term “happenstance.” The long and short of it, though, is that the situation happened and, by virtue of that, it’s an experience.

On the other hand, experiences based on deliberateness are trial-and-error experiences. To give an example, a person decides they want to enroll in a martial arts training program. Before taking the plunge, so to speak, a meeting with a potential instructor and/or instructor designate could take place. The purpose of this is really quite simple: It’s so the perspective student can assess whether or not a particular program and/or instructor is right for them. Sometimes a perspective student may just want to observe the training going on before them before actually meeting with the perspective instructor and/or committing to that particular training program. Or, a perspective student, at the instructor ‘s invitation (it really depends on the situation) can join the class on a complementary basis (the duration of which is decided between the student and instructor), the purpose of which enables the perspective student to gauge the whole experience and decide whether it’s right for them or not.

Regardless of initial approach taken, if the student senses that the martial art is the correct one, the setting is appropriate and the instruction is satisfactory or superior, all this can be influential in the student joining. Not just this, but the way in which this new student is received by others in the class can also influence the new student’s decision to sign on or not sign on. This process is also referred to as “testing he waters.”

What this has all led up to is that experience is one of the best teachers and being that this is the case, there is definitely value in that.

Above and beyond this, if we are able to share such experience and help others in the process, better still.

Experience: Don’t pass on it; pass it on!

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 4, 2012.

Old School and Proud of It!

Call me “old school.”

In high school, about the closest connection I had to any martial art was a classmate studying Tae Kwon Do, I think. Martial arts then was about as foreign a concept to me as the word “karate,” often mispronounced “car-rot-tea.”  Sure I was familiar with “The Green Hornet” T.V. show with trusty sidekick (pun intended) Kato played by Bruce Lee. I mean, after all, who wasn’t, just as I was if not more so with Orioles legend, Brooks Robinson and Colts standouts Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry? Not only were they local Baltimore heroes, they were household names!

During that time, the early ‘70s, sports stars being all the rage, notwithstanding, I was mostly preoccupied with just getting through school and graduating (never mind that my grade point average neared negative numbers), when I was going to get my first car and, believe it or not, college. College? That’s right, college!

After high-school graduation and entering junior college and, yes, getting my first automobile, I also landed my first bona fide job (none of this “helping-my-dad-out-for-the-summers” kind of stuff or helping a school chum help his father out). What I was, was an audio salesman in a local record store (that’s what they were called back then). Having that job was so I could earn an income to help pay for college. J.c., if I remember correctly, cost about $150 per semester, books included. Perhaps there are people reading this who can relate.

The tide had definitely turned for me then. I had embarked on a new journey and entered a new phase in my life. Not only for the first time was I understanding what I was studying (electronics technology), I was actually enjoying myself in so doing, taking electives such as bowling, music appreciation and, of course, karate. Imagine earning college credit for taking a class in martial arts.

Okay, time for the $64 million question: What prompted me to take karate being my familiarity with it was virtually nil? One of my fellow students had taken or was enrolled in such at the time and he expressed how his reflexes had quickened. I was intrigued, so much so, that I had to find out for myself just what this guy was boasting about.

This was during an era when gas was 34 cents per gallon (that’s right), the Vietnam War was drawing to a close and cell phones, ipads, the internet and mixed martial arts were still to be discovered, and here I was learning how to properly don a karate gi (uniform), secure such with an obi (belt), breathe correctly and, yes, meditate. All history now, at the time for me it was, uncharted territory. The style, incidentally, I was initially introduced to was Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karate-do. For what it’s worth, I believe I even earned an A grade in the class, a real rarity for me in those days.

Karate having satisfied a college physical education requirement, I nevertheless gained much from the training. In fact, I was motivated enough to continue after-the-fact.

Graduating j.c., with a cumulative grade point average of 2.95, this was good enough to allow myself entry into a four-year program of study at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and where I met Sensei Domi. It was through an extra curricular karate class, in fact, held on campus two evenings per week that my practice was furthered. The style I was now learning was Shotokan.

When I first joined, before training sessions got underway, I would practice techniques and kata (form) I had learned back east. The thing I remember most about the on-campus club was not so much the instruction as it was the camaraderie. Fellow karateka came from all walks of life, many, who, like myself, had prior martial arts experience, some more than others. That really mattered little because everyone, regardless of rank, trained together, like one big happy family.

Sadly, the instruction lasted but three quarters (Cal Poly is on the quarter, not semester, system). The instructor graduated. Even so, I continued to practice unfailingly with fellow students, who incidentally, furthered their own training too. In fact, in a place known as Poly Canyon, where some of the school’s architecture students created several architecturally interesting building designs, of particular note there was one house of sorts propped on a hillside whose main distinguishing feature was its rectangular shape, that and it was outfitted with glass all around. The structure, among its other uses if there were any, in one case it was used as a makeshift dojo (training facility). As such, it provided myself (a white belt) and another Cal Poly student (also versed in Shotokan and a black belt) a quite suitable place for he and I to sometimes train. Although the floor was concrete this in no way detracted from practice. What this just goes to show is that practically any place any one can visualize in one’s mind can serve as a dojo, everything from a garage and a school gymnasium to a traditional storefront building space.

Well, to make a long story shorter, my college preparation and extra curricular endeavors had taken me far, the karate training part of and parallel to my post-high school academic experience. The side-by-side journey of karate and academic study, together, whether considered “old school” or not, I would not trade for the world.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 29, 2012.