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Tai Chi as Part of Health Care Reform?

Join-Unite3 Okay, so most people who know me understand that I seriously have a problem with people who try to portray tai chi as "moving meditation." I mean, does it look like Rich Coulter and I are meditating in this photo?

Tai Chi is no more moving meditation than bowling is. If you practiced bowling at a slow enough speed, you'd probably get all the health benefits of slow-motion tai chi.

I have a problem because this view of tai chi completely disregards its power and effectiveness as a martial art. To be honest, most people who describe it as "moving meditation" probably couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag (and that would be unfortunate if you're ever attacked by a paper bag).

But I have to admit Bill Douglas -- the guy who created "World Tai Chi Day" -- is pretty good at PR. His new idea to get publicity -- make tai chi part of national health care reform.

I wish I had thought of that. :)  Look at the publicity it's getting him and the art.

Check out the story that appeared in today's paper (syndicated):

Is the Science of Acupuncture Wrong? Evidence Mounts from Clinical Trials

I believe that acupuncture works to a certain degree on some pain. I don't believe the ancient Chinese science on the subject. I don't believe that chi circulates through meridians -- in fact, since chi has never been proven to really exist in an actual clinical trial, I am extremely skeptical about its existence. From an internal arts perspective, I believe that all skills are physical, the result of hard work and practice, not "chi cultivation."

One problem I've always had with articles and books about acupuncture is the sloppy science and anecdotal evidence used to back up theories and results. Most articles in magazines or stories on TV are done either by reporters who don't question the results, or by people who have a financial interest in making acupuncture look effective. What we've needed are double blind clinical trials that eliminate the rigging of the results.

Recent clinical trials -- conducted by people with no financial stake in the outcome of the trials -- suggest that acupuncture has some beneficial impact on pain relief. They also suggest that the science of acupuncture is wrong.

When the clinical trial included both traditional acupuncture plus FAKE acupuncture, there was virtually no difference in the amount of pain relief experienced by different groups of patients. Whether you were given real acupuncture, with needles inserted into acupuncture points, or whether you were given fake acupuncture with needles inserted into random points or toothpicks poking the skin -- both groups experienced a certain amount of relief.

For years, I've read people who fervently believe in acupuncture claim that there is a bias among Western scientists and doctors against acupuncture. Quite the contrary, there is no bias, and several clinical trials have now been conducted to test acupuncture's effectiveness. The results are typically the same -- some pain relief -- but the tests don't show enough improvement among enough patients to attribute it to more than the placebo effect, possibly the result of a patient expecting improvement.

One of the most recent trials was conducted using traditional acupuncture on one group of patients, while another group was poked with a toothpick on acupuncture points. Read a Reuters report:

Here is an important conclusion from this trial:

Conclusions  Although acupuncture was found effective for chronic low back pain, tailoring needling sites to each patient and penetration of the skin appear to be unimportant in eliciting therapeutic benefits. These findings raise questions about acupuncture's purported mechanisms of action. It remains unclear whether acupuncture or our simulated method of acupuncture provide physiologically important stimulation or represent placebo or nonspecific effects.

One of the most interesting clinical trials was done at the University of Liverpool. One group of patients suffering from pain was given traditional acupuncture. Another group had acupuncture needles inserted into random spots on their bodies. Neither group knew whether they were getting real or fake acupuncture. Both groups experienced the same amount of pain relief. Here is the article:  NOTE -- A reader noticed that I had misread this study. In fact, he was right. There had been an earlier clinical trial at the University of Liverpool that showed no difference in results. This trial, however, shows some difference, with acupuncture on the winning side.

I'm trying to find the earlier study. In looking for it, I uncovered another clinical trial that investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture on fibromyalgia with no difference between those that received acupuncture and those that received sham acupuncture:

There is another roundup of acupuncture trials. Researchers examined results from clinical trials to see if they could determine if acupuncture was a valid treatment. They determined that it is not:

These studies are very important because they offer clear proof -- as close to clear proof as you can get -- that the human body responds to the insertion of needles or the prodding of toothpicks in a beneficial way that helps reduce pain to a certain degree. However, the most important point in these studies is this -- acupuncture science is very likely wrong. You obviously don't have to insert a needle in a specific spot to get the desired effect. That's why some scientists have suggested that rather than "chi," acupuncture (or fake acupuncture) triggers the release of endorphins that ease pain. Another very possible interpretation -- people expect positive results from the treatment, so they experience the placebo effect.

One interesting theory is that many centuries ago, the Chinese realized that the insertion of needles produced a beneficial response by the body. As a result, they developed complex theories of points and meridians, and rules of where the needles needed to be placed, how many needles, and even the best time of day to do it.

None of that seems to matter.

There have been several clinical trials of acupuncture. Some of the results can be found here:

I've studied martial arts for nearly 36 years and the internal arts and chi kung since 1987. I studied acupuncture for two years. For a while I embraced the reality of chi, until I began to see that a lot of things didn't add up, and a lot of fakery was going on. Once you begin to question and explore, it unravels and you see the man pretending to be the wizard behind the curtain.

During this time, I've also noticed that belief in chi is very similar to religious belief -- those who believe won't change their opinion no matter what type of evidence is presented to them to the contrary. But for people who prefer a more independent and objective approach, these studies provide a gold mine of research.

August Issue of Internal Fighting Arts E-Zine Ready to Download

The newest issue of Internal Fighting Arts e-zine (issue #6) is available. There wasn't an issue in July due to "summer break" (yeah, that's the ticket).

You can read it from your computer after you download it, or you can print it out. When you read it on your computer, some of the links in the e-zine will be live and they'll take you to specific web pages if you click on them.


Download InternalFightingArts-Issue6

Online Internal Arts Training Can Be Effective

I received a video from a member of the online school last week. He's a captain in the army and has spent some time in the Middle East. He joined the online school a few weeks ago and has been studying the Internal Strength section (I recommend everyone start there no matter how long they've studied in the past).

He sent me a video last week so that I could coach him. His wife was on the camcorder and his daughter stood on a chair and pushed him in different ways so he could demonstrate the ground path.

I was impressed. His ground path was solid. He had never seen this concept before, although he has studied other martial arts and has army training. It was clear that he had learned it well.

In his next coaching session, he'll send me a video of silk-reeling so I can coach him on his whole-body movement, dan t'ien rotation, use of the kua, and spiraling movement.

Some people believe you can't learn the internal arts online. I'll be the first to admit that hands-on correction is the ideal situation, but let's face it -- most tai chi students around the world are being taught the wrong things. They aren't being taught the actual physical skills they need. So all the in-person teaching that they're getting is leading them down the wrong path anyway. Hsing-I and Bagua students aren't doing much better. They need someone to tell them the things their teachers aren't sharing.

One kung-fu black belt who owns a school joined the online school recently to supplement his own knowledge. He joined after signing up for the free 10-part course that I offer on body mechanics. He called me on the phone and told me that while looking at the videos in that free 10-part course, he wondered, "Why hasn't anyone ever shown me this before now?" His teacher is a well-known grandmaster and yet he hadn't been shown some basic body mechanics.

When I moved to Tampa, Chris Miller was a student here in the Quad Cities, and he posted occasional videos on YouTube for me to watch privately so I could coach him. I shot a video reply after seeing him do the Chen 38 on video, and I demonstrated some of the things he needed to work on. He worked on it, and before long, he sent me a video showing that his body mechanics had improved. It was a wonderful thing to see.

Across the world, students are earning college degrees through online learning. You can also learn the internal arts online. It requires some personal coaching, either in person or through video, but if you have a half-way decent body awareness you can do it. I encourage you to sign up for two free weeks in the online school and if you don't think it's going to work for you, just send me an email to cancel before the end of two weeks so you won't be billed the low monthly fee (to be honest, if someone forgets to cancel but lets me know, I refund the money anyway although this has only happened once in the past 13 months). You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

Key Internal Arts Skills -- the Dan T'ien and the Kua

FreeLesson6Big1 Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang says tai chi is made up of "One principle and three techniques."

The first principle is "when one part moves all parts move, and dan t'ien guides all movement."

The first technique is the dan t'ien rotating over the top and backward in the same direction.

The second technique is the dan t'ien rotating sideways.

The third technique is the dan t'ien rotating in a combination of the two directions.

Learning to rotate the dan t'ien is one of the crucial skills of the internal arts. No movement can be done without dan t'ien rotation. Often, when you're told "turn the waist" the real meaning is to turn the dan t'ien.

FreeLesson6Big2 In the first photo, I'm demonstrating the incorrect position most martial artists I've met (even internal artists who are unfamiliar with Chen style) do when they "turn their waist." As you can see, the hips are turning.

Rotating the dan t'ien also makes use of the kua -- the creases at the top of the legs at the groin. In the second photo, I've closed into the right kua. In the third photo I've placed my hand into the kua and I'm showing some students how to feel their dan t'ien closing into the hand -- thus, closing into the kua. This is something you don't want to overdo -- I closed into the kua once in front of Chen Xiaowang and he scolded me, "Too much." I was practicing the punch in Laojia Yilu, and moved into the kua before the punch. After he said, "too much," I eased off of it a little. "Too much," he said again. So I eased off a little more -- I still went into the kua but not as deeply. "Ahh," he said. "Just right."

FreeLesson6Big3 In the free 10-part video series that I offer to visitors of my online school, I explore some of the key body mechanics needed for the internal arts -- Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua. I the lessons on the school, we go into a lot more detail, but if your teacher hasn't explored with you some of these concepts, it's about time you saw them in action. I encourage you to check out the 10-part course if you haven't already. You can sign up for it below.

The internal arts are complex but they aren't mystical. They're based on physical skills. Even though it can take a lifetime to master these skills, you aren't even doing the internal arts if you haven't at least been taught the basics. Once you learn the concepts, you take it one baby step at a time and try to get better. Even if you believe you know the score, I urge you to check out the free course.

Police Officers Need More Self-Defense Training

A violent man was shot to death by a police officer here in the Quad Cities last week, and the video of the incident reveals a couple of things -- the police officer did not anticipate a sudden attack and obviously wasn't trained to handle it, and the attacker knew what he was doing. He had been down this road before.

Just a few minutes before, the attacker had punched out a man at a food shelter. He then started walking across the Centennial Bridge that spans the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. The officer approached him and even shot him with a taser but it had little impact.

The man charged the cop with only his side exposed. He ran over the cop and beat him pretty well before the officer managed to shoot him.

This is a wake-up call to all of us who practice martial arts and to police departments everywhere. All officers should have consistent and regular training in martial arts and in anticipating attacks. And as the video shows, a real attack on the street is often sudden and sometimes, the attacker knows how to protect himself while coming in.

There are ways to defend against this type of charging attack, but in a real situation, it requires quick thinking and outstanding anticipation -- connecting with your opponent so you know he's going to charge almost before he knows. I'll be working with my students on dealing with this type of attack in the next week.

A taser doesn't always work. Pepper spray doesn't always work. Any police officer puts himself in harm's way on a daily basis. Officers should train constantly in a good martial art, and should work hard to keep themselves in good physical condition.

The 8 Pieces of Brocade - Qigong and Conditioning All in One

8PiecesBrocadeBigI just put a new video onto the online school-- the 8 Pieces of Brocade. This is a qigong exercise -- 8 movements -- that also serves to help in strengthening and conditioning the body, particularly the legs.

The 8 Pieces of Brocade are said to have been created about 1,000 years ago in the Sung Dynasty by Marshal Yeuh Fei for the exercise of his soldiers. It's pretty clear to see when you perform them that these are very effective for stretching and "warming up" before hard exercise or a good workout. In fact, it's possible this series of movements wasn't created as qigong at all, but that qigong was injected into the movements as the centuries went by.

I'm a firm believer in the positive impact of qigong, although I don't necessarily subscribe to the ancient science. When you calm the mind and body, put part of your mind on your dan t'ien, detach from daily concerns and use mental visualization techniques (involving the visualization of chi) it has a tremendous impact on your ability to manage stress.

When you manage stress, and reduce it, your body becomes the efficient healing machine that it actually is, and your health improves.

It isn't rocket surgery, my friends.

The photo above shows one of the Brocade exercises that not only strengthens the legs, but stretches the arms and chest, and works the back.

If you haven't checked out the online school yet, visit it and try two free weeks. There's no risk. If you don't like it, just cancel before the two weeks are up. Most of the people who try it, however, are amazed at the amount of material and remain members.