Saturday, October 16, 2010

Want your belt promotion? Market my school

hmmm, how do get more students through my door?

I was surging martial art websites the other day and stumbled across one that just got under my skin. It was sweet site; professionally developed, custom graphics, flash- everything a large and commercial school needs.

There was a link for the rank requirements and I clicked on it. I am always curious to see what other schools require at different ranks and wanted to see what theirs were. I was looking at the Jr. ranks (kids) since I teach kids as well. They had the basics: know a self defense technique, understand basic dojo etiquette, and a couple fitness requirements. Then there was this:

Support your dojo: Bring in one friend to watch or try karate.

In the words of Hannah Montana: youwantmetomarketyourschool say what? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for making a living teaching martial arts. Who doesn’t want to get paid for doing something they love? If I thought I could pull it off, I would. But martial arts is a very competitive market these days; there is a school on every street corner. So I understand needing to market. I understand needing to be creative. I get all that. But I have a major issue with making it a requirement for rank promotion that your students market for you.

Exactly how does bringing a friend to class demonstrate your skills in the martial arts? Rank promotion should be based on your development as a martial artist, not as a marketing tool for your instructor. After all, you are already PAYING for your instruction. You are paying to learn the art, and your promotion requirements should be based on what you are being taught. In essence, at this school, you have the privilege of paying to do recruitment as well.

Gordon Gekko would be proud.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Christian alternative to Tai Chi?

The blog Martial Development posted a rather funny entry about SloFlo, the Christian alternative to Tai Chi. But MD posted a serious question at the end: Why do Christians NEED an alternative to Tai Chi? What is it that they have an inherent issue with?

It seems to me that the wheel is being repackaged as something else. In fact, Sloflo's website states, "SlowFlo is the Christian Alternative to Tai Chi using movements from the Yang Long Series combined with sentences of praise and worship in American Sign Language"

So Tai Chi is non-Christian, but it's okay to borrow movements from the Yang 108? And I got totally lost with the American Sign Language thing. Are all Christians deaf? But I digress.

I practice Tai Chi and Qi Gong. I am not 100% sold on the whole Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) thing. I believe in Chi, but not necessarily in all the great claims that are attributed to it. But does that mean I can't still do them and benefit from them? Does it mean I need to create something new because it doesn't quite match up to my religious beliefs? Despite my lack of complete acceptance of TCM, I do feel the benefits of my practice. I feel more calm and more energetic. But I didn't need to create a new system that aligned with my beliefs to do it. I just discount that parts that I don't necessarily agree with and move on.

So if anyone can enlighten me as to what it is about Tai Chi that is so scary, please do.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are Buddhists always happy?

I was surfing the other day found this Venn diagram:

It’s based on Google’s search as can be seen to the left. And that got me to thinking, why do people think Buddhists are always happy?

I blame this guy:

His name is Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism (kind of like the Pope to Catholics). A Google image search will turn up ZERO pictures of this guy with anything but a smile on his face.

I think people believe Buddhists are always happy because when thinking about Buddhists, people think about monastics. As in, live in a monastery and protected from the pressures of everyday life. Sure, if we could all just focus on our spiritual practice and not have to worry about anything else, we’d all be smiling too.
People also assume that all Buddhists are somehow magically endowed with calm and peace of mind. What people fail to realize is there are very few of those Buddhists around. Most of us struggle through life like everyone else. We have to deal with job pressure, family life, mortgages, braces, flat tires, traffic, etc. And like everyone else, we deal with those things in varying degrees of calm.

Psst: a secret. Buddhists are human. Buddhists have emotions. Buddhists are not always happy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Show me how you do that!

Teachable moments show up at the most unexpected times.

My eldest daughter is eight and she loves to play “karate”. What that has historically meant is that she attacks me and then we end up wrestling. But this year, my wife and I wanted to enroll our four year old son in martial arts. The problem with that was cost. MA classes in our area are ridiculously expensive. So after a confab with another parent feeling the same way, I volunteered to teach my son and hers. Then my daughter decided she wanted in, and her best friend (the sister of the other boy) also joined. So now I have a class of four. But I digress.

While goofing in the basement today, my daughter tried to hit me. And I responded the way I always do; I parry her attack, grab her arms, and “kick” her in the legs. But instead of just attacking again, today my daughter says, “show me how you do that!” This was new, because she has never asked how I do something. But since I am actually teaching her now, I guess she felt it was appropriate to ask. How could I let such a teachable moment slide past?

We took moment from goofing and jumped into our horse stance. I then had her show me a middle block. I then had her punch at me. I blocked. Then I had her punch again. This time, I used the ‘advanced’ interpretation of the movement and parried her punch and followed it with a strike to her arm. I showed that when are playing, I parry and grab with one hand and then instead of striking her arm with the other hand, I grab it. I SO wanted this to become a lesson in the old adage that “a block is not a block”, but I figured that was too much information at this point. Patience, instructor, patience. It all comes in time (a teachable moment for me as well).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The price of compassion is $328.13

Compassion toward all living things is a central tenant of Buddhism. To give an idea of its importance, Lama Zopa Rinpoche said:

"Live with compassion
Work with compassion
Die with compassion
Meditate with compassion
Enjoy with compassion
When problems come,
Experience them with compassion."

Most of us are aware of the stories of monks that work to avoid swatting flies or stepping on ants. That is how far the notion of compassion can be taken in Buddhism.

                                                 Dumbledore (not really, it's a stock photo)

Dumbledore (named by my daughter after the Harry Potter character) was a stray. He adopted our house over the summer. Don’t know why, but one day he just turned up, hiding in our bushes. It was a week or so before he allowed anyone to get close, but once he did, he moved from being a ‘bushes cat’ to a ‘porch cat’. He loved the kids and the kids loved him. This led to the discussion of what to do. Was he eating? Was he getting fresh water? What would happen when winter came? Let me clear at this point: the adults in the house do NOT want a cat. We are done with cats.

My first mistake was feeding him. Yes, I am guilty. He was skinny and we had discovered he was declawed, which meant he was a housecat. So we were concerned he couldn’t fend for himself. This was disproven by the mouse he caught, but still…

My wife called a local shelter, but they weren’t taking. So much for plan A. Then the weather changed this week so it was decided to let Dumbledore in the house. A trip to Lowes for a cat door to the basement and to Target for a litter box and other supplies, and I had the happiest cat (and kids) on the planet. I have never heard a cat purr so loudly in my life.

Right now you are asking yourself, “I get the compassion part, he adopted a stray cat, but I don’t get the money thing."

Today, my wife notices Dumbledore has a swollen ear. Yep, that’s a vet trip. Apparently our new house mate has a hematoma. It requires a shunt so it can drain for the next three weeks. That, plus shots was $328.13, and demonstrates that no good deed goes unpunished.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That's going to leave a mark

So I was doing what I do best (wasting time on the internet) when I stumbled across this blog entry from World of Technology. Although first reported last year, this has been making the news aggregate rounds again.

It’s about a Buddhist monk that has prayed in the same exact spot for the last twenty years. If that isn’t enough, he has done up to 3,000 prayers a day. He has done this so many times in the same spot that his footprints are now worn into the wood floor. The Venerable Hua Chi has definitely left his mark, literally.

When you look at your footprint, what mark will be left?

The source story courtesy The Buddhist Channel

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Breathe, breathe in the air

Don’t be afraid to share (lyrics courtesy Pink Floyd). I have been thinking about breathing lately. Why? Because this year I decided I needed to reconnect with parts of me that I let go dormant. I am involved in martial arts again and I am starting to get involved in my spiritual practices again. That means engaging in qi gong and meditation. And there is nothing more central in those practices than breathing.

But why on Earth would one need to focus on such a natural process? Well, for starters, most of us do it wrong. Yep, we do not breathe correctly. We were born doing it correctly, but somewhere along the way, most of us start to screw it up. We are born as abdominal breathers, meaning our breath is from our abdomen. But over time, most of us become chest breathers, meaning our breath comes from expanding our chest. This is bad. Chest breathing is shallower and increases respiration rate. The average adult resting respiration rate is 16 beats per minute (mine is 10.5 bpm). When completely calm and relaxed (liked meditating, not reading, watching tv, etc), it is not uncommon to drop to 5bpm. And for really accomplished meditators, yogis, and David Blaine, even lower than that. This is accomplished through abdominal breathing, which helps slows respiration rate. When completely relaxed, I have brought my respiration rate of 5.5bpm. I could probably go a bit lower but haven’t tried.

Research has shown that abdominal breathing is healthier than chest breathing. A paper in 1992 by the US Public Health Service lists abdominal breathing as a non-medication pain management technique and a 1997 paper by Meyer and Nelson on breast cancer treatment also notes abdominal breathing as a coping strategy. In a 2010 study on Depression and Anxiety, the Group Health Research Institute concluded that abdominal breathing was as successful at helping manage depression and anxiety as other “bodywork” therapies.

According to Dr. Robert Fried, professor of biopsychology at Hunter College, chest breathing leads to what he calls hyperventilation syndrome. Chest breathing causes you to breathe shallower, thus forcing your respiration up. Shallow breathing can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain. That reduced blood flow can leave you feeling groggy, dizzy, and shaky. And according to Dr. Migdow, it can contribute to stress-related disorders. Who thinks that’s a good idea? If you are like me, life itself provides enough stress. I don’t need bad breathing to contribute to the problem.

So it’s not just Eastern mystics that think this a good idea. Western science thinks it’s pretty nifty as well.

How do you know what type of breather you are? Simple, lie on your back and breathe. What moves, your abdomen or your chest? There ya go.

The trick now is to retrain yourself to breathe correctly. This is a challenge, trust me. I’ve been at it for a couple of days now and it’s still tough. According to the Pulmonary Education and Research Foundation, it can take weeks to accomplish this. That, of course, will vary based on how hard you work at it.

I think that doing this sitting or lying down is easiest to start with. For some reason, I find doing this standing to be more challenging.  I have a harder time feeling the abdomen move when standing. Start by relaxing your body. If lying down, let your arms rest gently at your side. If sitting, use a kitchen or other non-reclining chair. Sit with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. If standing, shoulders are relaxed, back is straight, and legs should be bent slightly (don’t lock the knees). Now breathe in and allow your abdomen to expand. Feel your belly move. Keep in mind you don’t want to constrict the chest. The chest still needs to expand as well, but in harmony with the abdomen. Don’t try to force it; allow it to happen naturally. That’s basically it. You can practice abdominal breathing anywhere, and with time, hopefully it becomes habit.