Horse Stance

HorsebackI was chatting with a co-worker and she told me about her experience in equestrian sports and how, as a rider, her goal was to connect with the horse in a symbiotic way, allowing her to direct it.

The connection with the horse required that she would be sitting with spine straight, head and neck in neutral position, abdomen and legs taut and engaged but hips flexible enough to roll with the movement of the horse. If that sounds familiar to people in kendo, it should.

My sensei said that good and correct kendo is done using the body as if one is riding a horse. Spine is straight, chin tucked in, lower back and abdominal muscles tensed and in use, allowing for smooth movement of the upper body.

It is interesting to me how all of the traditional war skills of the past require similar body movements and concepts. For those not involved in martial arts or riding, the rules still apply, though. I recommend that anyone interested in knowing more about this should visit Kelly Starrett’s YouTube channel. Kelly is a medical professional and a CrossFit owner and he has a valuable series of videos on body movement and health. This video is a good introduction.

With that, I will now ride off into the sunset…


Respiratory SystemSuch a fundamental act and yet something that many people never consider.  Functionally, the body’s demand for air causes inhalation followed by exhalation. The air allows for the release of energy via respiration. More here.

In some forms of meditation one is taught to site erect and breathe in through the nose and then out through the mouth, with the belly and diaphragm doing the work instead of the lungs.

In kendo this is taken a step further where one’s breathing is connected to physical movements; air being pushed out in time with footwork and strikes. Eventually, a form of “disassociated” breathing is attained with the needs of the body syncing the act of breathing with movement; thereby releasing a person to focus more intently and efficiently on their actions.

The simple act of mindful breathing, of just being aware of the sound and feel of breathing, provides one with a sense of comfort and awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Mindful breathing or meditation have been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase mental acuity.

Breathing is a gift that should be appreciated!


Light Weights

NYT ArticleThe New York Times health section ran this article about “middle aged spread” in men by Gina Kolata (who looks middle-aged and looks great, by the way). The first paragraph caught my attention:

It is the scourge of many a middle-aged man: he starts getting a pot belly, using lighter weights at the gym and somehow just doesn’t have the sexual desire of his younger years.


What stood out to me IMMEDIATELY was this sentence: “…using lighter weights at the gym…”

And therein lies the problem. Yes, the facts of aging are that one’s body changes (hair color changes, hair is lost, reflexes slower, etc.). However, that decline can be mitigated and there are, in fact, advantages to aging. Whether it comes from the confidence borne of experience or the ability to see and know more due to that experience (which is not the same as one stopping active learning in life…there is NO wisdom in that).

On the physical side, it does take more work to stay fit and competitive.

And that is why I was struck by the the phrase “using lighter weights.” Anyone who is engaged in any athletics or gym activity does not reduce their challenges. Rather, they increase them. They ADD weight, they add distance, they add better competitors.

Without challenge, for sure one begins to decay. The natural buoyancy of youth eventual does give way and, sadly, many people seem to think that equates to be a “natural progression” and a signal to stop all activity. However, the transitions in aging are opportunities to expand one’s game, upping the challenges, and making a commitment to something. Anything.

Without that, for sure one can expect everything from a sagging belly to lower energy and a platonic relationship. Part of that comes from the “light weights” but most of it comes from giving up. Losing focus and the will to dictate the terms of one’s life.

There are too many examples of people who counter this myth: octogenarian marathoners, middle-aged fighters, and people of all ages who do CrossFit and other hard-core training.

So if you are suffering from “middle-aged spread,” get off that couch and pick up some weights. Go outside and find a challenge.

Just don’t give up or Nature will indeed punish you for that.

Heat Got Me Down

Dead in the DesertI felt like this last night at kendo. The heat in the gym was stifling with the outside temperature outside still around 85 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:00 PM. As soon as I donned my helmet I started sweating buckets.

We had two visitors, both very strong and athletic players who participated in our workout of high-intensity kakari-geiko and shinsa training. This type of practice has been a new initiative for us as we looked at what other successful clubs had been doing in terms of training and preparing for competition as well as improving standards.

The entire session was very intense and I could not keep up, even though I was receiving as motodachi for most of the time.  The heat was too much for me.

I felt bad, as if I let myself and my club down and, in a sense, I had as I was not able to participate in the later part of class. It was a chastening experience as I had been very excited about upping my game and being a contender.

Taking this as a defeat, I went home and showered up and cleaned my gear before going to sleep soon after.  The next morning, as I prepared for work, I went through what I needed to make sure that I don’t fall short:

1. Not just running but running with equipment or some weight on and in assorted weather patterns. I still feel that sprints are necessary for kendo and, frankly, I hate running. It bores me even if I have good music.

2. Focus on quality kendo and not degrading my efforts just in order to keep up a fast pace. Going full speed doing kirikaeshi but doing so without full big swings and good footwork is just a waste of time. It is better to start slower but correct and then build up from there.

3. Drink water more consistently throughout the day, not just an hour or so before working out. Water and performance are linked together.

4. Don’t eat a large meal, even earlier in the day. When you eat, especially in hot weather, eat smaller meals.

5. Stretch and get acclimated to the heat before class starts. You know there’ll be a “hump” so get over it before class starts.

So now I look forward to the next high-temperature class!

Low-Fat Guacamole: Trader Joe’s

GuacamoleThis is such bullshit. A low-fat guacamole marketed with the word “guilt” is both anachronistic (are we living in the 90’s when eating celery was in?) and insulting (the implication is that to enjoy something tasty is to somehow insult the heavens and society).

I’m surprised that it came from Trader Joe’s which usually is ahead of trends. Not in this case.

I think the word “guilt” is addressed to female shoppers, playing upon well-established tropes in which dietary health is reduced to shaming by using vaguely religious wording to spur a purchase decision.

It is wrong and inaccurate. Low-fat diets are actually unhealthy (assuming that the fats come from real food and not sugar). And if something does taste good, there should be no shame for anyone (male or female) to enjoy it.

So whoever approved this message is out-of-date and doing a disservice to consumers.

To erase this blasphemy, I enjoyed a 5-egg omelette with cheese and salsa. I feel glorious, like a god.

Just Relax Your Shoulders…

I was chatting with a friend about kendo, specifically about the need to swing smoothly without tension slowing one down.

You can’t relax because people tell you but instructors are always saying, “Relax your shoulders, swing smoothly. As if just saying it will make it so.

To loosen your shoulders you need to accept the fact that tension exists. Just “relaxing” doesn’t happen. To relax certain body parts in order to fulfill a function requires that the tension is soaked away. It just doesn’t magically disappear by force of will.

In terms of sports, specifically the sport of kendo, the goal is to allow for smooth movement of the arms and legs in a single phase. To do that, the “distraction” of tension needs to be removed.

LumbarIn kendo we’re told that the ‘koshi” (back muscles in the small of the back, also commonly know as the lumbar region) and the ‘tanden’ (the area below the belly button) need to be in play. Meaning that they are tensed when executing any movement.

Along with good posture and breath control (breathing out slowly but continuously), these action taken as a whole, dissipates the tension from the upper body, allowing for smoother and more efficient strikes. Less energy is required which is then better utilized for speed, stamina, and power.

Deep Survival

Who lives, who dies, and why. This is part of the title of Deep Survival, a book about why some people  survive while others die in accidents and other human tragedies.

The author, himself an adventurer, begins with the story of his father’s last mission over Germany during World War II. The lone survivor of a B-17 bomber shot down by the Germans, he survived the crash, the severe injuries, and the prisoner camp to come back home, start a family, and live a full life.

As his father’s son, he felt compelled to understand what contributed to his father’s amazing story; basically the Right Stuff that enabled his father, his comrades, and succeeding military people and civilians from then to now to be able to survive horrific events.

Using stories of ship wrecks and mountain climbing and hiking accidents, the author finds and examines the commonalities of the survivors mindsets and actions.

What makes a survivor is also what makes winner at life. The keys, according to author Laurence Gonzales, are:

1.  Humility. Accepting where you are and what got you there. Being open to the world around you.

2. Laughter. Being able to make light of situation so as to better manage it.

3. Spirituality. Seeing the intertwined beauty of the world and one’s place in it. Feeling the higher purpose that we all need to serve in order to serve ourselves.

4. Rationality. Controlling one’s emotions and using them to drive one to survival. Creating a workable plan and apply consistent actions. Being able to make, at times, the necessary cold and hard decisions required for survival.

5. Courtesy. To oneself and fellow survivors. Treating them with respect as a way to ensure that one retains a sense of self.

As a kendo practitioner, this resonated with me. The philosophy of kendo is one that emphasizes courtesy and humility as well as a cold and calculating rationality with an emphasis on a clean victory, empty of the hubris that the ancients gods of Homer’s time punished.

In practice and on the floor in competition and exams, the practitioner uses all of these characteristics to strengthen himself, to honor the judges, and to unsettle the opponent. The fight is often won before it is started because the battle plan, like the survival plan, consists of the spiritual and physical attributes and learnings that lead to success; deployed rationally but with a full commitment.

Whether in sports, business, or in daily life, one must have a plan built from one’s life experiences, philosophy, and education (from schools that include the “school of hard knocks”). Every day is an addition to the lesson plan that will one day be called upon for victory or survival.