martial arts

Movement, mindfulness through meditation taught to kids in martial arts program

Lori Corbin, KABC: At Ekata Training Center in Valencia, a massive mural of martial artist Bruce Lee reinforces the power of marital arts.

Ironically, the main theme taught here is peace.

“If you look at the warrior perspective of the Samurai, it was to maintain the sense of peacefulness in the eye of the storm,” said owner Ed Monaghan.

Multi-black belt instructor Monaghan doesn’t allow TV or magazines while at the gym, and adds meditation as a requirement in his classes, especially for kids.

“The idea is no TVs, it’s meant to be …

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Day 13 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 013Brendan Lawlor is participating in the 100 Day Challenge, and in fact he was one of the catalysts for it. Brendan’s part of Wildmind’s Google+ Community, which is a place for people to discuss their practice, and he mentioned that, according to the meditation app on his smartphone, he had meditated for 100 days straight. Another group member suggested that we could turn that into a challenge for the new year. And so here we are.

Brendan wrote something about beginner’s mind and the 100 Day Challenge:

I speak fluent but deeply compromised Italian. When I was in the earliest learning phase, I acquired new words and structures very quickly but I had to work very hard indeed. Most of my processing went into the parsing and production of grammar rather than the actual content and meaning of the conversations I was having. This meant that I was working furiously but neither expressing myself very well, nor understanding deeply what was being said to me. This was frustrating for me, as in my mother tongue I am a good communicator and (it has been said) good company. I felt like a fool in Italian. Worse – a boring fool.

In my hurry to express myself, and impress others, I started to care less about the form and more about the content of my spoken Italian. And with some amount of success. I could crack a joke occasionally, and certainly understand one. But I was riding roughshod over the grammar. I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of pronunciation, to the intricate elegance of the subjunctive voice (very important and very widely used in Italian) and I constantly forgot whether nouns were masculine or feminine. Many many years later, matters are still very much the same. I have a greater vocabulary, I’m comfortable and confidant when I speak, but I make constant errors that, while they don’t impede understanding, they must certainly jar the listener’s ear. I will never be mistaken for a native speaker (though my pasty white face would have seen to that in any case). And I regret that I didn’t take a more steady approach to learning. I regret I didn’t stay longer in Beginner’s Mind.

According to a Japanese martial art concept, learning happens in three phases called, in order of appearance, Shu, Ha and Ri. (I’m not a martial art student – I learned these terms when they were applied to software programming languages, of all things). To summarize:

  • The Shu phase entails obedience to the teachings. We follow the instructions – what could be simpler?
  • The Ha phase represents the beginning of digression – we start to find our own meaning in the teachings and tailor them to ourselves.
  • Ri is separation or transcendence – we have achieved such mastery of the subject that rules are irrelevant.

When we begin to learn a new skill, we dream of Ri, but feel imprisoned by Shu. Those of us whose personality types tend towards arrogance or excessive individualism ‘escape’ Shu almost as soon as we start. We tell ourselves we’re being creative, but if we’re really honest we just haven’t developed the discipline or courage to rein ourselves in.

The 100 day challenge offers a chance to Dhamma Pirates like us to put the uniform back on, to return to the ranks of Beginner (which in reality we never really left) and put in our time, under the watchful eye, if possible, of our sangha. The continuity of daily practice allows us to chart a steady course through the basic techniques, over and over until we really do get the basics under our skin. The sangha provided by Wildmind obliges us to stay that course.

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Ultimate Fighting Championship Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones meditates before big fight

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Before facing and defeating Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida in the mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones spent some time meditating at a scenic waterfall on the Ball’s Falls conservation area on the Niagara Peninsula.

“It was really beautiful but it was so cold out there I could only meditate for about maybe 15 minutes because I didn’t want to get sick,” Jones said Saturday night after defeating Machida.

“I got a good 12 minutes in but the job was done,” he added. “We felt really refreshed and our spirits were lifted on the ride back to the hotel. So mission complete.”

Both fighters on Saturday night are into meditation. “The fact that [Machida’s] into meditation like I am, the fact that he’s a student like I am — he has my utmost respect,” Jones said.

This isn’t the first time that Jones has been spotted meditating at a scenic spot before a big fight. In March, Jones was en route to Great Falls Historic Park in Paterson, New Jersey, to meditate ahead of his fight against Maurício “Shogun” Rua, along with his coaches Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson. As their driver prepared to drop them off, Jones observed an elderly couple screaming for help. The woman informed Winkeljohn that a man had smashed her car window and run off with her GPS. The 205 lb Jones, along with his two coaches, chased after the robber, caught and tripped him, and held him down until the police arrived.

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Exercise expert says seniors can win back strength

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Judy Magid, The Times-Herald, PA:W hen it comes to aging, “use it or lose it” appears to be a no-brainer.

The mantra propels countless motions on treadmills, leg presses and stationary bikes, helping prevent heart disease, reducing stress, jump-starting reflexes, increasing bone density and energizing the brain. And inspiring a little guilt.

The downside is that those who might describe themselves as “extreme middle-agers” have not used “it” for a while and figure “it” is gone.

“Not true,” says Colin Milner, chief executive of the International Council on Active Aging, a Canada-based group that focuses on exercise for folks 50 and older. He acknowledges that most people begin to lose strength at about 35, and more than half of their strength is gone by 70.

“But you can regain strength and become stronger at any age,” he says. “All you have to do is keep moving.”

From personal trainers to Feldenkrais movement classes to tai chi to walking in a straight line at home, there are plenty of ways to practice “active aging,” what Milner defines as being “engaged in life.”

Although diet modification and genetics figure in the mix, exercise has the best potential for keeping people healthy as they grow older, he says.

“There is no magic pill,” Milner says. “But if there is a magic formula, it would be exercise.”

As an exercise therapist, Milner was impressed by a Tufts University study on the benefits of intensive strength training for seniors. “In the Tufts study, people up into their late 90s trained at the same level of intensity as younger people. No one got hurt. They got stronger,” he says.

Milner defines “level of intensity” as doing repetitive lifts at 70 percent to 80 percent of the maximum amount of weight you can lift.

“If you can lift 100 pounds, you train by lifting 70 to 80 pounds in two or three sets of eight to 10 lifts. It does not matter how old you are.”

That goes for balance, too. The National Institutes of Health reports that 1.6 million older American adults wind up in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, and names falls as the No. 1 cause of debilitating fractures, loss of independence and injury death, seniors can relearn good balance and strengthen bones with exercise.

Getting started is the problem for most.

“Find something you enjoy doing and stick with it,” says Milner. “If you get bored by lifting weights or running, you won’t stay with it long.”

Milner says soccer provides his motivation to move. “I play every week. Like any other (baby) boomer, I take bumps and bruises and go back for more,” he says.

At 50, that may be easier for him to say than it will be at 65.

But, he adds, consider this: “When I was a youngster, there were no 50-year-old soccer players.”

Do-it-yourself fitness

For folks who shun gyms and workout classes, experts suggest four types of exercises that can be practiced at home: strength-training (weight lifting); balance exercises (walking a straight line placing heel to toe); flexibility (slow stretching); and endurance training (walking, swimming, jogging).

Some tips:

— Before starting an exercise program at any age, have a word with your physician.

— Exercise can be in 10-minute shifts.

— Walk up and down stairs for one minute. Rest for one minute, then repeat. Work up to climbing for two minutes, resting for one minute. Repeat.

— No stairs? Walk briskly for seven minutes.

— For strength training, try biceps curls with a 2-pound soup can in each hand. Arms by your sides, palms facing forward, bend each arm at the elbow and bring the weight toward the front of your shoulders. Lower and repeat. Do two sets of eight or 10 repetitions.

— Breathe out as you lift or push a weight and breathe in as you relax.

— Use smooth, steady movements to bring weights into position; avoid jerking or thrusting movements; avoid locking the joints of arms and legs into a strained position.

— Muscle soreness lasting a few days and slight fatigue are normal after exercise. Exhaustion, sore joints and painful muscle pulls are not normal.

— You should do strength exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

— If you can lift a weight more than 15 times in a row, it is too light for you.

— Drink water even if you are not thirsty.

Sources: AARP The Magazine (November & December 2006, May & June 2007); Newsweek (March 26); Wall Street Journal (Feb. 1);

Journal of the American Medical Association (July 12, 2006); NIH Senior Health (www.nihseniorhealth.gov)

Personal training: Workouts as unique as you are

Walker and Sue Wallace are committed to strength training, but a regular gym doesn’t cut it for them.

“The twentysomethings and the wild music are not the problem. Being forced to watch Fox News while using the treadmill or bike is too much to ask,” Walker Wallace says, joking.

That is why they followed personal trainer Paul Holbrook to AgeWell Center in Salt Lake City, which is geared to people 50 and older. They get an hour’s workout with Holbrook’s full attention and empathy, if not sympathy.

“Paul knows exactly what we need to work on and what we are capable of doing,” Sue Wallace says, doing leg lifts after a knee replacement. Meanwhile, Walker is busy on the “Skiers Edge” machine, looking like a man who has been on a downhill run a time or two.

Holbrook loves it. He became interested in senior exercise when he watched an uncle deteriorate in a nursing home.

“There were no activities to help him maintain strength, let alone build it. I decided to concentrate on helping older adults keep fit,” he says.

Barbara and Norm Tanner also work out at AgeWell Center. At 90, Barbara plays tennis, has myriad volunteer and philanthropic interests and is patiently waiting for her grandchildren to have children. Norm, 92, doesn’t play tennis anymore, but he and his wife train with Holbrook twice a week.

Workouts at AgeWell include treadmills, leg presses and pneumatic machines, which are easier on the joints than weight-stacked machines. Holbrook is at a client’s elbow to avoid falls during freestyle balance exercises. An hour long session runs about $85.

Like the Wallaces, the Tanners appreciate working one-on-one with a personal trainer. “We have been with Paul since he opened,” Barbara Tanner says. “He makes us work, and I know very well I wouldn’t do it on my own.”

And while she knows people can gain strength after losing it, she also is aware how quickly it can be lost.

“I have always worked at it. I used to swim a lot when I was young. I took dancing lessons for years. But if you stop doing all that, it takes longer to get strong. And you can lose it faster.”

(Tai chi: Awakening a mind-body connection

Tai chi is described as moving meditation by Ellie Ienatsch, who teaches classes for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Utah.

Her classroom for the Osher class is the dance room of the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City. With soothing music in the background, students follow Ienatsch’s lead with slow, graceful, deliberate movements combining balance, flexibility, aerobic and toning exercises.

Health and exercise mavens tout the non-impact tai chi as an especially good fit for people over 50, helping them improve balance, enhance blood circulation and ease pain caused by arthritis.

Based on an ancient Chinese martial art, today’s tai chi, or tai chi ch’uan, is practiced by some enthusiasts for its spiritual nature, while others engage in tai chi solely for health benefits. Many practice tai chi as a “soft fist” martial art, translated as “shadow boxing.”

Ienatsch practices tai chi on more than one level.

“I was not successful at transcendental meditation,” she says, speaking of the technique defined as seeking serenity through regular meditation centered on repetition of a mantra.

“I wanted to move, to hike in the mountains,” she continues. “The beauty is relaxing. When you are moving, you breathe deeply because you have to. The slow circular moves needed to go up a trail become a rhythm.”

Her classes often consist of beginners mainly interested in the physical rewards of tai chi. She begins with awakening exercises such as joint rotations and neck turns.

Class members stand, gathering the chi or qi, fundamental life energy, from the earth and sky, then “stretch wings toward the sky with the crane” before Ienatsch guides them through a series of tai chi movements that make up a form. A form can take up to 20 minutes to complete.

“Tai chi is more than a choreographed set of movements,” Ienatsch says. “It is about moving. For hundreds of years, Chinese doctors prescribed physical exercises to cure physical ailments.

“You cannot get young again, but you must keep moving, no matter how infirm you are. Just imagining a movement can be almost as beneficial as doing it.”

Original article no longer available

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Shaolin Temple’s real kick is inner peace

Closely aligned with the temple in China, the shrine in Sherman Oaks focuses on philosophy and meditation.

China’s world-famous Shaolin Temple gained prominence among many Americans with the release of the 1980s martial arts movie of the same name. An updated version of the film, loved by fans for the riveting kung fu stunts of the temple’s legendary fighting monks, is in the works. And in recent weeks, Hollywood’s remake of “The Karate Kid” has topped the box office, wowing audiences with its seemingly magical martial arts techniques.

But while kung fu continues to make a splash on the big screen, members of the Shaolin Buddhist Temple in Sherman Oaks are keen to spread a different message about the Shaolin culture and what their sanctuary has to offer.

“When people come here, it’s not just about martial arts,” said the temple’s master, Italian-born Franco Testini, 43, whose Buddhist name, Shifu Shi Yan Fan, was given to him by the abbot of the Shaolin Temple in China.

“Hollywood has completely exaggerated the martial arts scene,” added Cindy Truong, 32, a temple volunteer and event coordinator. “It’s not all about Chinese people being thrown over chairs. The martial arts you see in the movies, that’s Americanized. It’s a very small part of Shaolin culture.”

Situated on a busy stretch of Ventura Boulevard, the temple opened in 2008 and offers a tranquil escape from the world outside. Instruction focuses on Buddhist philosophy and meditation, the art of ancient Chinese tea ceremonies, a combination of stretching and breathing exercises known as chi gong, tai chi — and, of course, martial arts.

“But we don’t train people to punch and kick,” said Truong. “We train people to become strong internally, and that emanates externally. We try to educate people, that it’s more than just fighting and fancy moves.”

Testini stressed the link between breathing, listening and learning as a key to developing harmony between the mind and body.

Although there are several Shaolin schools in Los Angeles, only the Sherman Oaks shrine is listed on the official website of China’s Shaolin Temple, where it is described as “the first official branch organization in North America.”

What makes the Sherman Oaks temple even more unusual is Testini, its master.

In 2007, Testini became the first Westerner to be accepted into the elite of the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple in eastern central China, his supporters said. In an ancient ritual, he received the Buddhist brand marks that symbolize his high status in Shaolin culture, they added.

Articles in Chinese news media and American martial arts magazines publicized the honor bestowed on Testini, whose journey to monkhood began when he was a youngster in his hometown of Brindisi, an Italian port city.

Testini was 7 when he started taking martial arts lessons, he said. At 9, he began to compete. By his teens, he had won numerous competitions. And at age 21, he entered the monastery and eventually took vows to become a monk. His study at home was complemented by numerous trips to China’s Shaolin Temple, to solidify his discipline and faith.

In 1994, Testini arrived in the United States. He didn’t speak English and he was homeless for the first several months, sleeping on the beach or in abandoned cars. He traded martial arts instruction for food and soon developed a following of students and friends, who eventually found him permanent shelter. And in 2008, his students helped him lease a former furniture store that became the Sherman Oaks temple.

For Testini, his good fortune wasn’t the result of luck but of his unwavering conviction that “everything is within reach.”

It’s a message he preaches daily, over tea, to the more than 50 people who have become members of the temple.

“You have to learn to believe in yourself,” said the monk, who still struggles to tackle some English words and grammar.

On a recent morning, about a dozen students gathered in the shrine’s small hall, decorated with Chinese murals and ornate golden figurines, to practice chi gong. Testini drifted among the participants, gently adjusting their positions.

“He can feel your aura and energy, your intensity and anxiety level,” said Truong, as she observed what has become a familiar ritual. “Just by looking at a person’s facial expression, he can see what kind of stress they have inside.”

The breathing exercises and positive thinking Testini teaches help to relieve that stress, said Gene Cantamessa, who attends the temple five days a week.

Cantamessa, who said he is “pushing 70,” is among the temple’s longtime members, whose ages range from 2 to 80. Some are novices to the exercises and meditation; others have years of experience. Several work in the film industry and use the Sherman Oaks shrine to escape from the Hollywood hustle.

“I find the meditation very good,” said Cantamessa, a retired production sound mixer. “I like the experience of concentrating … the peace of mind. I feel like a different person when I’m in here.”

“You find a sense of inner calm,” actor Adrian Paul, 50, said of his frequent attendance at the temple. “It allows you to enter another world, which centers you. Shaolin is what ballet is to dance. It’s the foundation that gives you the ability to do what you want to do, better.”

Rosie DiPrima said she got interested in the temple after observing her children, aged 7 and 10, participate in a martial arts class.

“After a week of watching, I started participating,” said DiPrima, 37, a movie industry chef. “It’s completely changed my life.”

[Ann Simmons, LA Times]
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“In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets,” Strozzi-Heckler

In Search of the Warrior Spirit

Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Note to Hollywood: this book would make a great movie. Take a bunch of aggressively skeptical and highly macho Green Berets, the U.S. Army’s elite special forces unit, and throw them into intensive training in meditation, aikido, and biofeedback — led by a bunch of guys heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and wearing, believe it or not, lilac uniforms — stand back, and wait for all hell to break loose. Which promptly happens.

Some of the instructors are virtually eaten alive by the troops, who are on high alert for any sign of insincerity or lack of integrity, and who have a talent for finding buttons to press. At one point the Green Berets, on an intensive meditation retreat, are in open revolt, crowding round and yelling at the instructors in the middle of a “silent” meditation period. One of the soldiers steps forward menacingly and gives each of the three retreat leaders the finger, yelling, “F___ you and f___ you and f___ you!”

Fast-forward to a quieter moment on retreat, and Strozzi-Heckler opens his eyes to see a Green Beret sitting in blissful meditation. Below the still, relaxed, and concentrated face of the warrior is a T-shirt that reads, “82nd AIRBORNE DIVISION: DEATH FROM ABOVE”. And so on… Not your average meditation retreat.

Lest you think that the program was all confrontation and culture clash, the program, stormy as it was, produced stunning results, with massive increases for example in the soldiers’ abilities to control their body temperature in extreme conditions and to recuperate quickly after exercise. And on a more personal level, it’s fascinating to witness these warriors contact their softer sides. One of the soldiers, who was a Christian, is thrown into turmoil because he’s unsure whether he could kill someone now that he’s learned to meditate and come to a deeper appreciation of the compassion taught in his own faith.

This kind of quandary represents the central question that Strozzi-Heckler returns to over and over in his writings, which are based on a daily journal he kept over the six months of the project. Can he teach these men to be warriors rather than soldiers — fully feeling human beings rather than alienated killing machines — and have them still function as soldiers? It’s not a question that is ever likely to be resolved, but nonetheless this is a fascinating account of a bold experiment in bringing awareness disciplines to the U.S. Special Forces.

Oh, and Hollywood, Kevin Costner is a natural to play Strozzi-Heckler.

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