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.

Two Different Visions of China

This is sad:

Foreigners Under Fire

The links in the article are praticularly dark.  Like this one.  The new Anti-Semitism is a sign that the Chinese government is headed toward colapse.

This one is upbeat:

The Cosmopolitan Condiment, An exploration of ketchup’s Chinese origins.

It's a fun little article but the author schmootz's it at the end by dissing the addition of sugar as an American thing, so read this page out of Sugar And Society in China to re-balance the flavor.


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.  




I highly recommend Rory Miller's workshop this weekend.  It's at Soja Martial Arts in Oakland.  Here is the phone number: 510.832.7652"

And here are some more details for sighing up:


Rory recently wrote this blog post about teaching and I posted a comment over there that I liked, so I'm posting it here:

Teaching is about putting people in situations which cause/trigger the collapse of illusions.

Training is about doing exercises which reveal aspects of our true nature. (It is often apophatic).

Conditioning is about creating unconditioned spontaneous responses to situations- as they arise.

Jibengong (Basic Work)

Dr. Ken Fish inspired a very interesting thread on Rum Soaked Fist which I’d like to draw readers attention to. (It takes a little while to get going and is up to 7 pages as I'm posting.) Fortunately, I’ve been banned from posting on the site without explanation. Frankly that’s a good thing because it required a lot of effort to monitor comments from people who regularly misunderstood and therefore freaked-out about comments I made.

Fish’s disturbing premiss is that the training secrets of Chinese martial arts masters are usually withheld at the beginning of a person’s training, not later after many years of study as is often assumed. By withholding certain types of intense, precise, and personally coached training at the beginning, a master can insure that a student stays forever at an intermediate level.

In other words, because of extensive sharing and the ease with which students change masters these days, many high level techniques have actually been written about and it has become quite possible to learn these methods, but without that more basic training these higher level techniques rarely if ever come to fruition.

It’s funny you know, from when I first started studying martial arts all the way into the early 90’s, if you wanted to insult a student from another school or someone else’s master, you would say, “You lack basic training, If you just go back and practice the basics you will have a chance of improving.” The standard retort to this insult was made famous by Bruce Lee, “You have offended my family and the Shaolin Temple, you must have grown weary of living.”

What is most striking about the thread is that Fish gives Jackie Chan as the best example of someone who has unequivocally had this basic training. He explains that the training is performative, it can be seen, and it is unmistakable. He then goes on to say repeatedly that anyone who has had professional level traditional Chinese Theater training has it, unequivocally. And that this basic training, ‘though quite rare in modern teachers of the arts, is widespread among all regional styles of Chinese theater and martial arts. (Which, I might add, should be a clue to understanding it’s origins.)

Naturally, I totally agree with him. But I would go further, I would say that a great number of higher level skills, concepts and training methods are directly accessible only through seeing the martial arts within a matrix of ritual-meditation and theater. Without accessing the original context, our only hope is reverse engineering.

In other words, you can’t just be tough, you have to act tough!

Bing Gong Bing Gong

Let me try to give readers a better idea of what this basic work (jibengong) is like by describing my own experience of learning it and trying to teach it. Kuo Lien-Ying was trained around the turn of the 20th Century in Beijing traditional theater arts, also known as Northern Shaolin. As the vicious mass movement to separate theater, religion and martial arts got underway, he moved into the martial arts camp, where he studied with many of the greatest artist of his time. He fled with the Kuomintang to Taiwan in ’49 and then came to America in the 1960’s where my first teacher, Bing Gong, became his top Shaolin student.

Studying with Bing was a profound experience and we became very close.

Ye Xiaolong Ye Xiaolong

The truth is that Bing, although he spoke very little, had a strong desire to pass on the essence of this art. But sadly, hardly anyone was willing to endure the training. He would have me do very simple movements over and over again in slightly different ways until my body permanently changed.

For instance, while I held the basic monk stance, (see image below) he would order me to make small adjustments or movements while he introduced various forms of resistance. There were many eventual ‘benefits’ to this. So for example, after a time I could move my knee high enough and integrate it into my structure well enough that I could use it to block kicks to my ribs.

Take another example from Shaolin. While doing the second line of Tantui (springy legs), which is a very straight forward punch, punch, punch-kick combination, Bing would have me freeze with my

Paulie Zink Paulie Zink

outstretched leg up above hip level. Then he would have me move it higher and he would test it for connection or integration in various ways. And then we’d do the same on the other side--over and over, day after day, week after week. Again, until the ability was permanent.

Bing also kicked me a lot. He wouldn’t tell me how to get into a stance, he would kick me into it. Although I can point to a lot of different learning methods that I have experienced over the years which could account for the gongfu in my legs, nothing else was really as profound as that.

As I’m sure readers can surmise, these things are not complex to teach or to learn, but actually getting the student to do the work is unusual. I guess I liked it when Bing kicked me because I never asked, “Why are you doing that?” nor did I respond emotionally by making a face as most students do. How do you explain to a student that they are not to make a face? Trying to explain it is like making a problem on top of a problem, it just doesn’t work.
I think anyone who has done professional dance training will understand this instinctively. As one of my dance teachers put it, “Some people know how to take corrections and some people don’t.”

I could say things about all of my teachers in regards to jibengong, but I’m just going to mention two more, the first is Ye Xiaolong. Geroge Xu brought Ye over from Shanghai one Spring in the early 90’s because George himself wanted to learn from him and they both taught class together. But then suddenly in late May, George got his long awaited “Green Card” and shortly there after he flew to Europe to teach. He left Ye by himself to teach classes in San Francisco and arranged for us to get him back and forth from his house to the park. But as there was no translation, only two of us came to class for the whole Summer. He taught us for 100 days, everyday for about 3 hours. We concentrated on about five exercises which we did over and over. Ye constantly had his hands on us, making corrections, pushing, resisting, kicking and saying, “Bu hao,” (no good). We actually did a lot of push hands too, but it was never competitive, it was done as a kind of cooperative power stretch. The effects were permanent.

Paulie Zink deserves a mention here also because I believe he is an international living treasure specifically because he has the worlds largest collection of jibengong. As he put it to me, “I don’t teach martial arts anymore because I have yet to find anyone who is willing to do the preliminary work.”

Monk Clears His Sleeve - stance Monk Clears His Sleeve - stance

Is Humanity Blind?

Is humanity blind?  In asking the question I'm not referring to the limitations of our eyes, I'm speaking metaphorically.  But since I brought up the limitations of the eyes, here is a quick review.  1) Peripheral vision mis-perceives distance, I first discovered this while doing outside crescent kicks in a row with a person on either side and my eyes cast straight ahead.  If I don't make students look to the sides before kicking, chaos ensues.  2)  Motion and color are learned functions of the imagination.  This is so hard to conceptualize because we learn to see color and motion so early, but when children are born blind and gain sight through a surgical opperation after the age of 3, they don't see color and they don't see motion.  In place of color they see complex patterns of reflected light.  In place of motion they see something akin to stop-motion- objects get larger and closer but aren't 'seen moving.'  Weird huh?  3)  Tunnel vision is in focus, everything else that we think we see in focus is imagined.  You can test this by staring at one word in the middle of the page and attempting to read with your peripheral vision.  4) I'm betting readers can contribute many other examples of human sight inadequacy.

A reason for all the spinning and head turning in Baguazhang is to train the eyes to see without focusing.  Welcoming the blur, as it were.  Thus reducing the effort and time normally wasted convincing ourselves that we are not blind.

And on that note I have a few items from the News for my dear readers.

First off, Why Placebos Work Wonders from the Wall Street Journal.  Before you get your hopes up, the article does not convincingly answer the question and it says noting about Nocebos.  Depending on where you happen to be standing in the 'what is medicine' debate you may be shocked to learn that sham acupuncture out performed real acupuncture in one of those double blind thingamajiggies.  Just hearing about it is enough to give me a hot flash!  Also, a study suggests that the more indulgent we think we are, the less we will eat.  If I were juggling just now I would have drop my balls.  After reading this article you may drift beyond the  question of whether humanity is blind, and might find yourself wondering whether we exist at all.

And off to a good start, why not ask; is humanity deaf? Can anyone actually hear the difference between a modern violin and a Stradivarius?  I got a good laugh when the maestro compared the double blinded musicians to people trying to distinguish a Ford from a Ferrari in a Walmart parking lot.  Umm dude, them Walmart parking lots is pretty big, and I think I could tell a Ferrari from a Ford upside down in a ditch, with earplugs, a blindfold, a shot of whisky, and in my pajamas. (Perhaps the NIH will fund the study?  If not then surely the NEA.)

Meanwhile, Tai Chi folk have known for some time that our stomach is a brain.  This science-blog is choca-block with links pointing to the notion that Your Gut Has a Mind of It's Own.  I should be heartened by this news since it suggests a host of new angles with which to approach the idea that Tai Chi is medicine.  I guess my serotonin levels are flagging.  Perhaps I should be doing Tai Chi before dinner?  As an aside, it occurs to me that the movement of (from?) one person's dantian could sync up with the movement of another person's dantian to create mood and other outlook changes.   There are many studies looking at how we coordinate movement and breathing (sic) unconsciously, it's not so far fetched.

Perhaps you still believe that despite the fact that we are blind, deaf, and emotional robots, we still might have that old saw free will?  Turns out what we have is free won't.  Here is another study showing that violent crime is linked to brain injury.  It's a bit off topic but this summary of the debate about the drop in violent crime is a good starting place to throwing up your hands and declaring with fervent lusty abandon, "I just don't know!"

Magic in the Tendons

I came across this article on Frogs which is saying what I've been saying for years about the role of the tendons in power generation.
Though its muscles still have a vital role - after all, a quarter of the frog's entire mass is in its legs just for this purpose - these jumps would be physically impossible without its springy tendons.

As the frog readies itself to leap, its calf muscle shortens. After about 100 milliseconds, the calf muscle stops moving, and the energy has been fully loaded into the stretched tendon. At the moment the frog jumps, the tendon, which wraps around the ankle bone, releases its energy, much like a catapult or archer's bow, causing a very rapid extension of the ankle joint that propels the frog forward. The entire jump — from preparation to leap — lasts about a fifth of a second, the experiments showed. Other frog species jump much faster.


Conference in Genova, June 2011

Like I needed an excuse to go to Italy in June?

1st IMACSSS International Conference

Game, Drama, Ritual in Martial Arts and Combat Sports

8th-10th June 2012, Genova, Italy

IMACSSS stands for The International Martial Arts and Combat Sports Scientific

Guidelines for topics:

1) Philosophical conceptions, general theories, terminology
and systematics in MA&CS
2) Pedagogy and diactic methodology in MA&CS
3) Kinesiological and physiological aspects of MA&CS
4) Technical and tactical issues in MA&CS
5) Psychological, artistic and spiritual dimensions of MA&CS
6) Historical and socio-cultural aspects about MA&CS.

Does anybody know anything else about this conference?  It seems a bit short. At least for me, I want time for combat and shmoozing.  George Xu has been telling me great things about the way Italians cooperate around learning martial arts.  I might even remember some Italiano from high school (don't laugh, I did attend high school, a little).  This could be really exciting.