Cooling Gloves

There is some new technology coming our way from Stanford.  They claim it is better than steroids.  The article is excellent, please read the whole thing.  Temperature is the primary limitation on muscle performance and now they think they understand why and how to work around it.  Strength training is about to enter a new era.

In a previous post I outlined my new theory which posits that there are two categories of movement, energy efficient and power efficient.  

Power efficient movement doesn't make us sweat, it doesn't make us over heat, it doesn't give us sore muscles and it doesn't wear down the soft tissues of our bodies.  It can make us very tired, but we'll just want to find a place to lay down and sleep.  Like a cat.

Energy efficient movement allows us to walk or run for long periods of time.  It also allows us to work with our hands, carry things, and multi-task.  All these activities induce fatigue, pain, and stress.  At the risk of over simplifying I will venture that when we build muscle we are almost always doing it within an energy efficient framework.  Personal trainers have identified a long list of different types of muscle training and "conditioning" each requiring different regimes.  But repetition is the key.  We seem to be "made" for fatigue, pain, and stress because we adapt to it very easily.  Not only that, but in concentrated bursts it seems to improve our mood, and plays a significant social role in mate acquisition and status displays.  

The key to power efficient training, is to not trigger this adaptive response!  We still use repetition, but our key purpose is to refine a specific feeling and then take that feeling into more lively dynamic movement.  That "feeling" is a process of refining signals of awareness which allow us to glimpse or encircle that which has no feeling, true effortlessness.  

So we march off into this brave new world with "no limits" on adaptive capacity and with "no limits" imposed by fatigue or heat.  Where will this leave us?  How soon will we bash up against the new limits?  Because they are coming.  I'm not an expert or anything but one of the rules of systems theory is that if you speed up or improve the efficiency of just one part of a complex system, you slow the whole system down.  

I'm excited by the new possibilities, but I'm concerned that the kind of training I've been doing is drifting further away from the mainstream, not closer.  So much for the meeting of East and West.  Non-aggression, returning to stillness, and spontaneous naturalness won't disappear because we are the valley floor, but effort and aggression keep finding ways to climb higher.


(hat tip to Geoff)

Arguing Against Ice

This blog has a great challenge to the whole idea of icing: Motilitywod.

Here is the video, it's long and the sound is a little low but it's good.

I did a bunch of thinking about this issue.  Most of my readers know that Chinese medicine has been against icing but there has been some concession to the idea that inflammation is a problem and improved circulation is part of the solution.  That is now in serious doubt.  

For the last 15 or so years Physical Therapy schools have been teaching that the purpose of icing is to reduce secondary injury from inflammation.  However, there isn't much proof that secondary injury exists in muscular skeletal injuries. It may be a fantasy justification.

The injury is supposed to be caused by hypoxia, lack of oxygen in the cells.  The logic developed such that icing caused blood vessels to constrict but that the warming right after icing caused them to get much fatter via the "hunter" effect, and thus circulation increased.  More circulation, more oxygen available to the cells, less hypoxia.

But things turn out to be a lot more complex.  For one, we don't have a definition of inflammation, this article explains that at the moment we know of 9 different mechanisms that fall under the general heading, inflammation.  I suspect that as this debate continues we will discover there are things ice is great for, burns perhaps, but at the moment it is being way over used.  

The video suggests using compression bands (like Voodoo Bands) or electrical stimulation for muscle skeletal trauma.  I'm a fan of both but I have a different explanation.  When you use electrical stimulation or compression bands with external manipulation, you are making your external body empty (xu) of intent (yi), yet active (ling)!  This frees the mind to go outside the body and also frees the internal body from the external body so that it can move around and make spontaneous adjustments to the whole system.  Qigong and Standing Meditation (Zhanzhuang) can also do the trick.  Lymphatic vessels, which clear out inflammation, do not require impulsive muscle tension to drain, they just require movement.  With practice a student can learn to open and move fluid through the lymphatic vessels very easily.  

Podiatry vs. Astrology

Now before anyone gets offended, let me say that I have gotten some really good advice from astrologers who didn't even know me.

With the revelations of barefoot running, it is hard to take the study and practice of Podiatry seriously.  Of course, every field of medicine starts out butchering people or selling magic potions and slowly, over time, through trial, error, and good intentions--and eventually, hopefully, some science--they get around to simple straight forward solutions.  That is why I am happy to report that the solution to foot problems in the summer is to wear 4 inch high heels around the house.

Plantar fasciitis is really common these days.  Here is the definition from PubMed.  When I look at the list of causes and the list of treatments I can't help thinking, "Do these people think babies are delivered by storks?"  According to the site:

You are more likely to get plantar fasciitis if you have:

  • Foot arch problems (both flat feet and high arches)

  • Long-distance running, especially running downhill or on uneven surfaces

  • Sudden weight gain or obesity

  • Tight Achilles tendon (the tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel)

  • Shoes with poor arch support or soft soles

So both flat feet and high arches?  Poor support or soft soles?  Oh, so perfect arches or very good arch support will save you?  Clearly running up hill is the way to go because it will give you a long Achilles tendon, right?  Unfortunately that just isn't true.  

The "treatments" are just as all over the place.  And it is sad, because it is painful and it can take a really long time to heal.  

But if I were to go out on a limb and assign cause, first up would be the erroneous, yet widely held, notion that the feet play a role in stability.  It just ain't so, it just ain't physically possible.  I could nail your foot to the ground and still push you over with one finger.  All of our mass has to be continuously balanced from the center of mass or by compensatory movements at the periphery.  Unless your foot is in the air wiggling around, it is not a factor in balance.  You can learn balance on any shape at all from marbles to stilts to skis.

Second on the list would be cushioned heels.  It was never a good idea to encourage people to walk or run by slamming their heel into the ground. A large part of the field of podiatry has developed to deal with the problems created by the shoes earlier podiatrists thought were a good idea.  And since the list above has running on "uneven" surfaces as a cause, allow me to point out that all this heel slamming ain't too good for the lower back.  One of the best things a person can do for lower back pain is spend 20 minutes a day walking on truly uneven surfaces like tree roots and piles of rocks.  

Third on the list is really a religious issue.  People don't trust their legs.  Perhaps because our legs take us places where we do bad things and engage in naughtiness.  I don't know.  But because people don't trust their legs they convince themselves that strength and effort serve some function.  Penance, perhaps.  Pain as a mechanism for moral self-correction.  I can see that.  But the actual functioning of the legs is completely effortless.  Effortlessness should be the mantra of any training method.  As George Xu put it:  No power, no effort, and no bones.

Here is a good article on the barefoot vs. shoes running issue.

I was about to publish this blog post when I had to run out and teach a lesson.  While I was out, I just happened to meet a podiatrist!  He was open minded, generous, reflective and he really loves feet.  Feet are so beautiful.  Strangely, a big part of my job is reading peoples fate by looking at their feet.  I guess we share that.

Health and Fate

Some big news is about to break and if I tell you what it is now, you will think I'm crazy, but if I talk about it after it breaks everyone will be like: dude, of course, that's old news.  Being a Cassandra is a lose/lose situation.  But perhaps some historian a hundred years hence will notice this blog post and make it all worth while.

The news is that exercise isn't good for your health.  

I always feared this would happen.  Talk to anyone with a degree in marketing and they will tell you ad nauseam, "Emphasize the benefits!" They are like, "Don't talk about what you do, avoid telling us what it is like, and never explain the process...tell them exactly what they are going to get--in glorious abstract platitudes!"  

Forced against my better judgement to conform to this convention I end up with things like: Practice Internal Martial Arts and:

  • You'll be more honest with yourself about how weak, clumsy, and stressed out you are.
  • When you look at random other people you'll think, "Wow, I bet that hurts!" 
  • You'll be able to cut off a person's head, effortlessly.
  • You won't like the elastic in bras and underwear anymore.
  • You'll discover the unlimited freedom of matching your appetites to your fate.
  • You'll be more mature and responsible...or is it.... spontaneous and childlike.
  • You'll become unconditioned, like an uncarved block of wood.
  • Empty, like a carton of Ice cream that we just bought yesterday (can you believe it's all gone?).
  • Like water, always seeking the lowly and the dark.


Obviously you can all see where I'm going here.  When my Mom wants to sound authoritative she tells me, "It's true!  I read it on the Mayo Clinic website!"  Heaven forbid she discovers the CDC website...also known as "Side-effects-R-Us"  Never mind.  Okay, mind.  But what is this obsession with benefits?

Here are the reasons the Mayo Clinc gives for Exercising


  1. Exercise controls weight
  2. Exercise combats health conditions and diseases
  3. Exercise improves mood
  4. Exercise boosts energy
  5. Exercise promotes better sleep
  6. Exercise puts a spark back in your sex life
  7. Exercise can be fun


Now before you fall out of your chairs, remember this is supposed to be the premier center of the world for medical expertise totally fact checked and backed up by the latest science!

So I told my advanced Tai Chi class the other day that I don't believe in exercise anymore and one of my students just about lost it, "Have you even seen the people walking around out side today! The obesity! The lethargy! The video game addictions!"  We have a lot of fun in my classes, I showed him pictures of baby goats to calm him down.

Let's debunk the 7 Reasons For Exercising.

#1. It controls weight.  Nope, it doesn't. A clearly false statement.  Here is the counter argument to the counter argument: Yes, It Does. That argument is so pathetically weak it relies on a study that showed after 30 weeks of continuous aerobic exercise "over-weight" men lost 3 kilos.  3 kilos is 6.6 pounds.  I gain and loose 3 pounds everyday, 6 pounds is nothing.  30 weeks is 8 months! Case closed.

#2.  It combats health conditions and diseases.  This statement is so general it doesn't even deserve a response, what conditions? what diseases? what type of exercise? for whom does the exercise bell toll?  Oh, if you read the explanation they are talking about heart disease.  Fail again, the heart association changed it's definition of good cholesterol 6 times this year alone! Coffee good, coffee bad...ignore, information does not compute.  Exercise is good for arthritis.  Eyes pop out.  Moving on.

#3.  It improves mood.  And doing the dishes is likely to send me into a spiral of darkness?  My guess is they wanted to say exercise helps you poo more regularly but worried about upsetting the delicate balance of authoritative elan.

#4.  It boosts energy.  Bored now.  I thought sciency people didn't talk about "energy."  Anyway, I think it does give people a "boost" if they haven't been exercising regularly.  But this is circular logic. Doing exercise is itself a boost of energy.  And if you do it regularly then you don't get a boost any more.  Poor us.

#5.  It promotes better sleep.  Okay, I'll stop joking for a minute.  Yes, that is a real possibility. But it can also make it worse.  And for many people it simply doesn't help at all.  The truth is, sleep is a huge mystery.  I highly recommend the book Insomniac.

#6.  It puts a spark back in your sex life.  Folks, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that entirely depends on why you're not "sparking." As John, Paul, George, and Ringo put it:  "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone any how."  Take it away boys...

#7.  And last but not least:  Exercise can be fun!  So can farting.  I rest my case.


Don't click here unless you want to feel pitty for me.


 Here is a quick rant on the health subject which I scribbled in my notebook the last time I was stuck on public transportation.  Wait, before my quick rant, I have another quick rant.  The arguments for public transportation are well known and very convincing--it is efficient, cheap, and saves time.  Spock would love public transportation.  In the USA, however, in practice it has completely and consistently failed to live up to its claims.  Can we just stop doing it now?  We should just focus on improving individual transportation systems.  It's like we keep smaking into the same glass door because it's so clean we think it isn't there.  Ouch.

Okay rant time:   I freaking give up.  Is sleep good for health?  Does sleep cure cancer?  Tai Chi properly understood is like sleep.  It is a flexible routine part of life that nourishes and balances essential primary human appetites.  There is a word for nourishing and balancing in Chinese: Zheng 正 (often translated correct, upright or rectification).  So don't ask, "Is it good for this? is it good for that? The answer is YES!  And if it isn't, well, then YOU are practicing wrong, or your teacher is TEACHING you wrong.  And for those of you who find this to be a circular argument and unverifiable; I have this to say:  YES, it is a circular argument! It circles down to the same issue every time:  You are responsible for managing your own appetites.  "Oh, really?"  You say, "But we can test sleeping, and we can see health deteriorate daily when people go without sleep.  Most people don't do any tai chi and some of them even have good health."  Well if you say that, you obviously don't have any experience with circular argument!  If they are healthy, then they are practicing tai chi already!  They just don't know it.  Even a man sitting on a sagging couch watching TV may be effortlessly and unconsciously using tai chi skills to place popcorn in his mouth.  


Now back to the original point, exercise isn't good for your health.  I'm not sure we will ever get to the bottom of it.  I look around at what people are calling exercise and I see a lot of pain and injuries.  I also see people having a lot of fun and feeling good.  I don't know, I guess it just bothers me when I hear people talk about exercising because they have too.  Please don't misunderstand me.  I'm happy to work with people who are motivated to improve their health, however they define it.  I just don't see a link between exercise and health.  I do see a link between health and hanging out with friends, belonging to supportive, inspiring, or stimulating groups, playing around, improvising, visiting parks and wild spaces, milking goats, chasing chickens, driving a $100,000 car, having sex with movie stars, wiggling your toes in the sand, grass, snow, mud, grapes, peanut butter, fairy dust, and swimming away from sharks.  Unfortunately all these things don't help me because I'm left handed and we are fated to die ten years earlier than everyone else.  



Daoism and the Martial Arts

On April 22, 2012, I gave this talk at East Bay Yoga Shala:

Daoism and the Martial Arts, is there a missing link?

This is my first attempt at podcasting, and this talk is completely improvised, but I think it came out pretty good.  Free free to hit the donate button in the side bar and send me $5 so I can buy a beer...

Feel free to ask for references in the comments below if there is anything particularly shocking in there.  And also to carry on the discussion, challenge me to a duel, or suggest a topic/direction for the next talk.

Coregasm Armageddon

Are you okay with this people?  My first thought was, "Well, that's the end of tai chi then."

(also see here, here can watch a coregasm video here, and here, and oh what the heck.)

If women are doing core strengthening and boot camps because they are having orgasms during training, it's going to be pretty hard to convince them that weakness is better.  I frequently get questions about core strengthening and I simply had no idea what was really behind them.  Duh!  Farewell innocence.  I will never think of boot camps the same way again.   As I'm doing my 6 am standing meditation (Yiquan) in the park and over the sounds of chirping birds I hear the characteristic boot camp sounds of panting and grunting ("Push it ladies!") -- I will long for the days of simple vanity.

Of course tai chi-gasms™ happen in every cell of your body, and your mind!  Meaning that they happen from your fingers all the way to your toes and even outside your body.  Coregasms are merely abdominal. Yawn.

That's why it is so important to find a qualified master.  North Star Martial Arts is the first organization in the world to offer a full certification in tai chi-gasms™.  There is no substitute for the real thing.  We deliver.

Oh, and when you least expect it, expect it!

Camp Mountain

July 30th - August 6th

This mountain retreat is an informal backpacking experience in the Stanislaus Mountains just north of Yosemite.  We will practice Zhan zhuang and internal martial arts every morning. Nothing else will be planned!  Eat when you want to eat, swim when you want to swim, fight when you want to fight, wander off at will.  If there are too many mosquitos we will move our practice to after 10 PM in the moonlight.

Meet at the Crab-tree Trailhead on Monday, July 30th at 12 Noon and we will head-out!  Each person is responsible for their own food and gear.  Before we leave you will receive a list of basic gear to bring and ideas about how to pack food for 7 days. I will supply topographical maps and experience of the area.  Beginning backpackers are welcome!  Also, there are many ways to borrow or buy cheap gear - if you need something, talk too me.  I will help coordinate car pooling as well.

Cost: 7 days of training - $200

To reserve your spot, send a check to:

Scott P. Phillips

953 Dewing Ave., Lafayette, CA 94549

Feel free to email or call 415.200.8201 to discuss details.


Camp Jing!

Basic Chinese Internal Martial Arts 5-Day Training

Lafayette, CA

Session 1 - JUNE 11th-15th
Session 2 - JUNE 18th-22th

The internal martial arts are famous for the cultivation of qi and effortless power; however, the qi levels
and spirit levels can only develop from a physical base.  Without a solid base of practice the higher
levels are in accessible.  This class will focus on physical prowess and high-level body mechanics.  We
will use spiraling, lengthening, shrinking, and expanding to connect the whole body into a powerful
platform for spontaneous freedom.

Zhanzhuang - The practice of standing meditation also called yiquan or wuji.  No one ever got good by skipping this step.

Neigong - Internal power stretch and whole-body shrinking and expanding. This is all the soft stuff!  It develops the four corners of martial fitness -  Unliftable, Unsqueezable, Unmoveable, and Unstoppable.

Jibengong - Basic training for internal martial arts, which includes individual exercises to develop irreversible body art (shenfa), exquisite structure (xing), and refined power (jin). Taiji, xinyi, or bagua focus, depending on your experience.

Lecture-encounters will include a Daoist text studies introduction and history, along with group exploration of the experimental links between theater and meditation. All instruction will be given in the classical one-to-one naturally disheveled style in order to meet and match each person?s unique experience and insights.

Two Person Practices develop spacial awareness and technical spontaneity while systematically testing every part of our physical and emotional bodies. This includes everything to do with resistance, light contact, throws, rough footwork, tui shou, and roshou. How can we discard our social need to dominate or submit, and embody nonaggression without giving up marital prowess?

Begin in the parks around Lafayette, CA
6 AM  Zhan Zhuang
7 AM  Neigong
8 AM  Jibengong
*9 AM  Breakfast  (Optional: rice porridge made from bone stock with pickled foods)
10 AM Two Person Practices Training
12 PM Lunch - bring your own or eat locally.  Take a nap, drink tea...
2 PM Lecture/Encounter
4 PM End

*Breakfast will be based on Traditional Chinese Nutritional Theory.

There is camping in the area, hotels, youth hostels, and many other options. We will be walking distance from a BART train stop which means you can stay pretty much anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cost per session - $350

To reserve your spot send a check made out to:
Scott P. Phillips
953 Dewing Ave., Lafayette, CA 94549

Feel free to email or call 415.200.8201 to discuss details.




Grizzly_Giant_Mariposa_GroveI love trees. Trees are part of what make us humans human. We have evolved with them.  Trees to climb, trees to shelter us, trees to hide us, trees to help us stand up and look around, trees as lookout posts, trees to build with, trees for fire to keep warm and sing and dance and party, trees for sticks to cook, hunt, and fight with, trees to cross rivers, trees to make boats, trees to make tools. And on and on.

I've looked over a few scientific studies showing that people breath better around trees. (Which if you've been reading this blog you know, supports my view that we don’t really have control over our breathing--the environment itself trumps our intentions.)

I've recently started doing tree practices. Before I describe those, I’ll describe the internal martial arts practices related to trees that many people already know about.

First off is from Yiquan. While standing still hold your arms out in front of you and wrap them around an imaginary tree. Imagine the tree growing, first up, then fatter, then imagine it sinking while you hold it up, then shrinking, then swaying while you hold on to it, then imagine yourself moving it. This is all done invisibly from the hugging-the-tree posture (zhanzhuang).

Next you can practice gathering qi from a real tree. This exercise can be found in many qigong books and was first taught to me as part of Chen style taijiquan. Stand facing the tree with one foot back and do a circular gathering exercise (there are many) as if pulling in a fishing net, or pulling sheets off of a line. (Follow the peng-ji-lu-an sequence if you know it, as in ‘grasping the birds tail.’) While doing this, feel qi coming down the tree into the roots and then rising up behind you into the canopy and then down the tree again in a large circular vertical orbit.

I learned those exercises over 20 years ago, and long ago they became second nature.  But they are important.

The new exercises come from George Xu and involve getting right up to a tree and touching it:

Put your hands on the tree and while keeping your spine vertical and your pelvis level rise up, sink down, move in and move out (kua squats if you know them). Next do the same thing but with absolutely no pressure from the hands on the tree nor any lifting off. Then use your feet to do the same thing you are doing with your hands, allow no force or pressure from the feet. This is a method for ridding ones body of jin, structural power. Once your structural power is turned off, and it’s absence is well established, practice melting all tension and internal body sensation down the front of your body to the ground. If you do this correctly a sensation of steam will begin to rise up from the ground. Practice this until it is a continuous sensation, like rain hitting warm ground and creating steam. Next use only this (neidan) feeling to try and pull the tree down, up, in, out, to the side and...twist.