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November 2008
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January 2009

The Road Back -- Getting in Shape

Gym1a Ten days ago I underwent heart surgery. The following day, I came down with pneumonia. The day after that, I was admitted to the hospital for 3 days.

Enough of that. It's time to get back in shape for 2009.

Fortunately, the heart surgery seems to have worked. The old ticker has been rock steady most of the time this past week. A little wackiness is expected after having 80 spots burned in it, due to the healing and inflammation that results. But most of the time it's been ticking like a metronome.

I'm still breathing a little rough from the pneumonia -- especially coughing spells -- but you can't sit on the couch forever. My first tournament of the season is in 2 months. I turn 56 years old in late January. It won't be easy to get back in fighting shape but you have to start somewhere.

Gym3a My baseline was on Christmas Day, when we opened our new Nintendo Wii and I challenged Nancy to a boxing match. After 15 punches I collapsed on the couch, unable to breathe. My conditioning can't go anywhere but up from that point.

Fitness has always been important to me. And I believe in cross-training. During the next two months, I plan to ease into my workouts and gradually step them up. Tonight, we went to the gym and I did some light weights and core exercises just to get back in the swing of things. Nancy took these pictures as I document my physical comeback.

In the photos presented here, I'm doing a great exercise that combines a chin-up with core strengthening, putting your legs out and working the abs.

Weight-training is crucial for anyone, and as we get older, we tend to lose muscle unless we really work at it. When you lose muscle, you tend to gain weight. How many people over 40 do you know who regularly train with weights? Not many. How many people over 40 do you know who are overweight? Bingo.

Gym5a The reason is simple. Muscle makes your metabolism work at a higher rate, causing you to burn more calories. Fat has the opposite effect. The more fat you have in your body, the slower your metabolism. As we pass the age of 40, our tendency is to lose muscle, gain fat, and it becomes a never-ending cycle as the metabolism slows, the muscle continues to decline, your belt size grows every larger and your weight creeps higher and higher.

Running and other aerobic exercises do very little to add muscle. Weight-training, using your body weight, free weights or weight machines, offer your best chance at keeping toned and your weight down as you age.

In the coming days, I'll do standing stake daily, at least a dozen forms each day (some of them more than once), and I'll do more weight-training and cardio in the form of a Precor machine and treadmill.

By late January, I'll be into the heavybag. To get in the best fighting shape, two exercises are king -- actual sparring with a partner and heavybag work. With the bag, I'll put on music -- uptempo numbers -- and I'll spend a 3-minute round just punching as fast and as many times as I can. The next round, I'll kick as many times and as fast as I can. I'll start with a couple of rounds and then work my way up to 12 rounds, with about 90-seconds of rest in between rounds. Now THAT is a workout.

2008 wasn't my best physical year. Three heart surgeries slowed me down, and even though I started the year in top shape, working with my personal trainer, I entered the hospital last week weighing 208 pounds and needing to get this heart problem behind me and put the pedal to the metal.

Now is the time.

Chi Blasters Versus Reality

Here's another video that shows what happens when "chi" is put to the reality test. Apparently, the Yellow Bamboo folks believe that when an attacker comes near, they can use their chi to stop them.

Hard to believe that anyone still buys this fraud, but people being people, they still do. Check it out, and at one point you can hear someone connected to Yellow Bamboo (I assume) sounding amazed that the attacker could touch the chi guy.


Home for Christmas

Ken-Nancy-MinnieXmas2008 I made it home today. Alternated between forgetting I was sick and then being reminded when I would suddenly gasp for breath or have a violent coughing spell and have to sit down.

Nancy and I are very happy to be together tonight and we hope all of our friends and family are having happy holidays!

Tomorrow morning we unwrap our Wii.  :)

God bless us, every one. I think we deserve it.


A Little Less Yin Please. More Yang

HospitalRoomweb I really am keeping a good sense of humor about all this. I have the people at the hospital laughing all the time. I'm looking forward to a return to more normal health after another minor bump on the road to recovery.

On Friday, I had the heart surgery -- laser ablation. I went home and thought everything was fine. But on Saturday as I was lying in my recliner watching TV, breathing became more and more difficult. I called the cardiologist who did the procedure, talked with the on call doctor and he told me to see what happened overnight. What happened was a night of difficult breathing and coughing.

Nancy took me to the ER on Sunday morning. The diagnosis -- pneumonia. I was admitted and I've been there ever since. Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve and Nancy's birthday, I'll be released. I'm responding well to treatment. It'll be a few days before I can attempt a practice session, but by the end of the year I should be back in action.

The doctors believe that during Friday's 6-hour operation, I must have aspirated something into my lungs, causing the pneumonia.

The good news is--my heart has been doing very well. They have me hooked to a monitor and a nurse said today the data on the heartbeat was beautiful.

I had pneumonia 12 years ago and was flat on my back for 9 days. I lost 14 pounds. This time I'm not as sick. I don't have a fever and my appetite is fairly normal. But breathing is difficult and any deep breath results in a flurry of violent coughing.

I'm catching up on a little light reading--the picture shows me with a Tai Chi magazine from nearly 10 years ago, when Master Chen Zhenglei talked about silk-reeling. I've spent a lot of time doing chi kung, relaxing, balancing, calming. And you can still study the forms even when lying in bed. I have a lot of video on my iPod.

I want to step up my workouts and do more video instruction for the online school. It isn't easy for me to be basically flat on my back for 5 days, like I have been through today.

For a few months, I was quiet about the heart issue. I decided recently to write about it on this blog because I believe that as we get older, stuff happens that we can't really control. What we CAN control is what we do about it and how we move forward. Do we give up what we love to do? Do we stop physical activity? Or do we do what we can to get over it, fix the problem, and try to get even better at our martial arts?

That's what I'm trying to do. Too many guys my age stop doing sports more physically active than golf (don't get me wrong I love golf) because I think they get it in their minds that they're too old for some things. I sort of reject that thought.

My father started talking about dying when he was 50, after his first heart attack. My mom, on the other hand, was still going to college when she was 60, trying to push forward. I always thought that was pretty cool, and I'm glad I got that part of her personality.

I want my students and friends to watch what I do in the coming year. I think you'll be surprised.

Onward and upward, and home tomorrow.

The Road to Recovery - A Yin-Yang Year

PreSurgerywebYou know the old Chinese curse -- may you live in interesting times? It has been an interesting year--some great things have happened and some setbacks, too. It has been a classic Yin-Yang Year.

Yesterday, I spent 6 hours knocked out while a cardiologist burned 80 spots inside my heart. It was the third procedure of the year--trying to fix a problem that cropped up a year ago when I began feeling my heart running like a rough carburetor.

I went through two of these surgeries in Tampa, and had no idea a top cardiologist was also here in the Quad Cities -- Dr. Michael Giudici.

He spent hours searching the inside of my heart for rogue electrical activity, and he found a lot that survived the first two procedures in Tampa. He burns the spots with high-frequency radio waves, severing the connection along the electrical pathways that cause the heart to beat so erratically. I've only been in a-fib 20% of the time since the 2nd surgery, and I could live with that and take aspirin or another blood thinner for the rest of my life, but I went ahead with the third surgery in an attempt to return to normal activity and no medication.

PostSurgerywebThe first photo shows me talking with a nurse before the surgery, with wires hooked up to an EKG -- and in the 2nd photo, I'm trying to wake up post-op. That anesthesia really kicks your butt.

It's hard to believe that you could have 80 spots burned in your heart and survive. It's even harder to believe that I was back home by 7:30 last night--feeling like I'd been hit with a large hammer but determined to recover.

My kua are very sore and tender--that's where the instruments are inserted, then threaded through veins into the heart. It'll take a week or two for them to heal, but I should be practicing tai chi, hsing-i and bagua by Monday--very carefully.

This past year has seen the birth of my online kung-fu school and the production of some new DVDs. It has included a new career direction after losing a job in Tampa, and a return to the Quad Cities. But I've never been happier working at something I love so much, and Nancy and I love being back with friends and family. It looks like I'll begin the year with this little heart problem behind me, with another new DVD out, and some independent contractor work doing some "new media" projects for a large local company.

There are so many burned spots in my heart, it will take a few weeks for the inflammation to die down and the scar tissue to form. I'll know for sure if it worked in about a month, but the doctor is very optimistic and as I sit in my recliner today, taking it easy and watching TV, my heart is beating normally and it looks like 2009 will be a great year for kung-fu.

Fun with Tai Chi Fighting Applications - Closing the Form

Tai-Chi-Application1 I'm almost finished editing the final DVD in the series on fighting applications of Laojia Yilu. There should be about 400 applications in the 3-DVD set -- a pretty amazing number for one form. There are supposed to be more than 600 but I didn't repeat any movements.

Taking the time to study the movements for this DVD series was a great learning experience for me. I've always felt that you learn a lot in class but you learn the most by quiet, thoughtful practice and study on your own. That's certainly true in this instance.

I've included three photos in this post showing an application from the final movement in the form -- Closing the Form -- TCApps75ClosingBig3 movement number 75.  You are being choked. You snake your arm under the opponent's armpit, turn the body and "close." The energy in your hands is downward energy, the same as in the very first movement of the form.

In an actual self-defense situation, you would naturally put fajin into the movement and do some damage. If you look at the third photo in the series, you can see that your opponent is in a delicate situation. Hard fajin at this point would do some serious damage, and the fight would be over.

Studying the fighting applications can give you major insights into the "intent" of the movements. A lot of people talk about intent, but unless you know what the fighting application for a movement is, you may not understand the intent. And no, the TCApps75ClosingBig intent is NOT "moving mediation." Sorry. I know that's disappointing to some, but the purpose of a tai chi form is not to become one with the universe. The purpose is to break an opponent quickly.

I'm hoping to have this DVD for sale by the end of the weekend and turn my attention to some long-awaited bagua DVDs, starting with basic skills. After doing fighting application DVDs for both Hsing-I and Tai Chi, I'm looking forward to doing the same for baguazhang. My biggest goal for 2009 is to put every fighting application of Laojia Yilu into a book. It's interesting that even in editing the DVD, I see new applications that I didn't record on video. I'll have to include those in the book. :)



The Tao of Heart Surgery

Well you could have knocked me over with some iron wrapped in cotton back in April when I asked the doctor to listen to my heart. It had been running rough for months and I thought it was the stress of my job. He took one listen and immediately sent me across the hall to get an EKG. The result--atrial fibrillation and a weakened heart.

What the....???  Kung-fu guys who have kept in shape, done chi kung and worked out all their lives don't have heart problems. I sat there thinking of my dad, who had his first heart attack when he was 5 years younger than I am and died just 11 years later from congestive heart failure. He was 61 when he died. I'm 55. I want to be practicing and studying the internal arts when I'm 80 so this diagnosis was quite a shock.

Turns out the atrial fibrillation is common. The heart develops competing electrical signals that cause the heart to beat wildly--sometimes very rapidly--and it can not only cause a stroke, it can weaken the heart because it doesn't get enough rest between beats. No one knows what causes it, and it can happen to anyone at any age.

I've been through two surgeries this year. They snake instruments and "lasers" (you have to use quotation marks like Austin Powers) up through your kua (groin) -- one through the left side and two through the right--and maneuver them up into the heart, where they can actually fire up all the electrical signals, map out the pathways, and burn the crap out of the inside of your heart. As the scar tissue heals, it's supposed to stop the rogue electrical signals.

The problem is this--after two surgeries, I still have a-fib about 20% of the time. It was worse before the 2nd procedure. It got better after that but still isn't gone.

I could live with this. I could go on aspirin and just deal with it. I can still work out for hours each day. But eventually, by the time I'm in my 80's, it could have an impact on longevity. That isn't acceptable to me.

So this Friday, Dr. Michael Giudici here in the Quad Cities (tops in his field) is going to try again.

My previous two surgeries were in Tampa. After the last one, a cardiologist who was assisting in the procedure said, "Ken, we basically gave you a heart attack on the table."


For some reason, I've been able to rise above this emotionally (except for one "feel sorry for myself" moment after the first surgery) and not even worry about it. I've been able to remain centered, and hardly think about it before the surgery. There's not a lot of pain involved. There's a lot of tenderness in the kua for a week or two after the surgery, but I was practicing my forms again within 3 days of the first surgery and 2 days after the 2nd. And after the second, my heart recovered most of its strength. I was relieved, since the term "weakened heart" was not something I wanted to hear.

The only real pain came from the urinary catheter that they ram in because the surgery is 6 to 8 hours long and, since you're unconscious, they don't want you to wet the operating table. But in the first procedure I had this year, the person who did the catheter caused "trauma" as it was going in. I'm really glad I was already out cold. I think they had to send an orderly down to Home Depot for more PVC pipe for the catheter (Nancy rolls her eyes at that joke and pats me on the head like a dog). The pain of pulling it out, and the horrible pain of peeing razor blades for 24 hours is something I'll never forget. Whoever put that catheter in--I want to hunt that person down and dim mak their whole damn family.

Sorry about that. I guess I wasn't centered there for a moment. I'm not a musician but when you start messing with my organ I get a bit testy.

Dr. Giudici says in his operating room, they pull it out before I even wake up. That's worth the price of admission all by itself.

So, after a very interesting year, I'm looking forward to starting a new year with this little heart hiccup behind me. My first tournament of the year is the first weekend in March, and that only gives me a little over two months to get Cannon Fist in good shape.

Friday can't get here fast enough.

The Damage of Martial Arts Fantasy

Last night, some of my students and I were practicing the "Circle of Death." One person is surrounded by students and they must defend against punches and kicks using either tai chi or bagua techniques. The attackers rush in, one at a time, one after another, and the defender has to respond to the attack.

You learn a lot about body mechanics by doing this, and also you learn about thinking quickly on your feet.

In one exercise, we used only fighting applications from Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar. Later, the defender could only use applications from Walking Obliquely or Lazy About Tying the Coat.

Later, we practiced bagua by moving in quickly and setting up position against a kicker. The object was to be in position to do a quick takedown by kicking the kicker's supporting leg out from under him (or her).

The video of Ma Yu Liang was on my mind all evening (the one in the post right below this one). The sheer fantasy of the "power" that it shows is so dangerous that it can truly lead someone into disaster if they believe that--against a real attacker--some sort of strange power is going to erupt from their body by barely moving their hands or arms.

It's no wonder that other martial artists look at tai chi people and laugh--inwardly if not outwardly. It's no wonder they continue to call these the "soft arts," and not in a good way. Anyone who has ever tried to defend themselves against a real human being knows that you don't bounce someone away by shifting the position of your hand. Anyone who has had a good-sized man trying to exert force over you knows that it takes great body mechanics and a bit of force to knock an adult several feet. Anything else is fantasy, play-acting, and dangerous.

At some point, there have to be more and more internal artists to stand up and say "enough of this fantasy--let's get real" -- and not be afraid of the flakes who flame you for saying so. There are always those who claim "but I've seen people do these miraculous things," or they say "but I felt it when he touched me."

Yeah, right. And you're part of the problem.

And this is another reason not to believe the stories you hear about dead tai chi masters. Stories of their "powers" and their abilities only grow more fantastic with time. They're all human, governed by the laws of physics, and they may have been highly skilled compared to other martial artists or the students who played along, but the wise martial artist reads every one of those stories with skeptism, through the reading glasses of reality.

Ma Yu Liang Video on YouTube

Well, color me disappointed. Perhaps a shade of disillusionment, too. I've always enjoyed reading about the famous tai chi master Ma Yu Liang. He passed away back in the 1990s at more than 90 years of age. He still practiced push hands even past the age of 90.

So I always had the impression of someone with great skill. I'm sure he had great skill. It's unfortunate and sad that some video clips on YouTube show him doing push hands with partners who either have no skill whatsoever or who are playing along to pretend the master is using great power.

I'm actually sorry that I saw this. Why does this type of demo have to happen?

Tai Chi Fighting Applications - When is a Punch Not a Punch?

TCApps33Big I'm editing the third DVD in the series on Laojia Yilu fighting applications. This important Chen tai chi form has 75 movements--many of them repeated more than once--and the DVD series takes a look at each movement (without repeating them) and uncovers around 400 fighting applications.

As I edit this third DVD--the final one in the series on Laojia Yilu--I'm putting each movement and its applications on the online school for members to see first.

The DVD starts with movement 33 in Laojia Yilu -- Punch the Ground. Within the first three movements--Punch the Ground, Turn Body Round and Double Kick, and Protect the Heart Fist--there are 30 fighting applications demonstrated. The photo here shows my favorite application of Punch the Ground--a throw. When is a punch not a punch? When you snake your arm under your opponent's armpit, turn, and punch the ground.

I'm having a lot of fun with this series. I shot the video before moving from Tampa (I really miss that weather since we have snow on the ground here in the Quad Cities). When I get this done, I'll begin work on a new DVD on bagua fighting applications.