Saturday, December 11, 2010

Proprioception is Sexy - RKC Snatch Test Preparation & other Sports Performance applications

It never fails. Regardless of the field of endeavor, there's always someone with a serious disconnect between reality and actuality. Like the word proprioception. Would you think that something so nerdy could be sexy?

Let's look at how that works with movement, for example. If you've ever lifted a weight overhead as an adult, the odds are pretty good that when you thought you achieved the lockout position, you probably were a bit shy of straight at the elbow. Nonetheless, you were probably dead sure that you'd locked out that elbow and pressed or snatched that heavy weight to a perfect apex.

Sorry to break this to you, but you might've missed the lockout.

If you've ever done the RKC Snatch Test and heard the words "No count!", that could've very well happened because of an incomplete lockout. Yeah, I know you're sure. I know you've never had a no-count doing the snatch test at home. I know your form is perfect.... when YOU'RE THE JUDGE!

Subjectivity is the primary means of enabling the self towards failure. And as the legendary Functional Movement Screen founder Gray Cook says, "We all need systems to protect us from our own subjectivity." So the system that we need to refine is that which gives us feedback as to whether or not we're really moving the way we think we're moving and takes away our ability to argue defensively like bratty little children.

Proprioception is the ability to distinguish where one part of the body is in relation to another. We develop that ability somewhat as children during the growth process. In the years from newborn to childhood, you developed the ability to go from randomly poking yourself in the eye to picking that booger out with surgical precision. But with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles (and even in grade school since physical education programs got the ax years ago), proprioceptive deficits are building up faster than fat on the waistlines of American youth.

And as a result, you get to hear about proprioception from me. But here's the good part... Proprioception IS sexy!

Good proprioception affords you two very big advantages.
1. Accuracy in movement - which means that you very likely execute very precise, very controlled, very graceful, and very efficient movements. If you have great awareness of your own movement, then when your nervous system tells you that you locked out, then you REALLY did lock out. If your body is telling you that you locked out your back leg on that stance, then your Sifu likely agrees with you too. If your nervous system is masterfully in control of your body's movement, then that fadeaway jumpshot that you launched from 3-point land has a much higher likelihood of creating that sweet sound of nothing-but-net. That makes you not only a better athlete, but a more attractive specimen as well. Not to rip on bodybuilders, but you could be the most buff dude on the beach & unable to tuck your own shirt in.

2. Reduced injury rates - make everybody happier, except your competition. Someone with great proprioception can push harder on the field or in battle and get more out of his or her body. Someone with terrible proprioception will push hard and either waste move clumsily & get hurt or lurch like a car with the parking brakes on and create repetitive motion injury.

So for those of you who want to come to the RKC, I encourage you to find the strictest feedback mechanism that you can find (like a combination of Flip video & a solidly qualified instructor) and apply it mercilessly towards yourself. Why? Because if you're allowed to lie to yourself, you probably will. And your reliance on faulty proprioception may cost you a rather pricey certification, airfare, & lodging (as well as a few days off from work and wickedly sore muscles).

On the other hand, if you use this blogpost as a call to really invest the effort into re-calibrating your proprioception, you'll find that you not only perform better under pressure, but do so with less effort, more grace, and a decreased likelihood of injury.

If you're not interested in the RKC, no problem. But you STILL have to deal with the reality of your own movement patterns and develop a REAL awareness of them. As I often tell my students in martial arts, kettlebells, or any other form of movement, if I tell you to do something such as straightening your leg, and you think you're already straightening your leg, try to straighten it a little more anyways. If your leg moves, then you didn't have it as straight as you could have. And then that little bit of movement should humble you enough to self-check more & more and develop sharper & sharper awareness of your body and your control over it.

Don't wait until life takes away all your compensations before you take the time to self-check your perceptions against unflinching reality.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's been long overdue

Ladies & Gentlemen, I'm the first person to admit it...

I've fallen way short of my own expectations for this blog and for my own websites, especially

So to remedy that, like any responsible person should do with a problem that's beyond their management capabilities, I'm seeking out professional help.

I have a whole slew of domain names that I've reserved, and I want to spend the next few months populating the vast majority of them so that I can start using them to get more information out and to increase my productivity.

Soon, I'll be launching my new portal website, which will hold a whole slew of links to my other websites. Those other websites will include everything from compendiums of my articles for different martial arts magazines, to information on the different Chinese medicine modalities that I practice, to my particular insights on Russian kettlebell training, to the different styles of martial arts that I practice and/or teach.

You've been incredibly patient as I've been traveling all over creation and not blogging or posting anywhere near as much as I'd like to. And if all goes well, I won't have to give the FMS company line of "2 more weeks" as a nebulous deadline of when this portal will be ready to open.

While it may not always seem like it, I hear you very clearly when you ask me for insights, for help, for solutions. And I am going to make sure that starting in 2011, you get the best I have to offer through the best of the world wide web's technologies.

Keep on me, keep pushing me, keep supporting me, and keep growing with me! And if you have some thoughts on how I can get my online presence sorted out sooner and smoother, please shoot me an e-mail at!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The LA Times & Yahoo News Jillian Michaels Kettlebell Controversy

Just in case you've been lucky enough to be off the grid for a while, let me fill you in.

Not too long ago, I was contacted by James Fell, a fitness writer for the Los Angeles Times, to speak on a new kettlebell DVD featuring The Biggest Loser star, Jillian Michaels.

To say that I had a few issues with the quality of her instruction was to put it rather lightly. Then again, my situation is a little unique. My very first exposure to kettlebell training was directly from the man who essentially revived the use of the ancient Slavic strength training device, Pavel Tsatsouline himself. The VAST majority of what I've learned about the use of kettlebells and strength training comes directly from time spent directly under Tsatsouline's tutelage.

And as someone who makes his living as a health care professional dealing primarily with musculoskeletal pain, I see plenty of people who come into my clinic with injuries sustained while "exercising" or "training" or "working out". That's why I think so highly of the Functional Movement Systems information that's taught by another of my mentors, Gray Cook.

Cook's teachings echoed the same emphasis on disciplined movement that I'd grown up with in traditional martial arts. Moving in a sloppy fashion for the sake of exercise is just a precursor to "repetitive motion injury", a.k.a. "non-contact injury", a.k.a. "weekend warrior syndrome". The names are many, but the outcome is simple = PAIN.

With that in mind, it's not hard to see why I'm a stickler for details in movement, especially in teaching movement for the sake of exercise. If you try and muscle someone around in a combat situation instead of relying on well-developed finesse, you'd better be damn strong, or else you're going to be injured rather often. If you try and muscle around a weight, especially without the guidance of a qualified instructor, your likelihood of injury just went through the roof.

So as much as I'd prefer to be diplomatic and not ruffle any feathers, there's the small issue of integrity that I had to deal with. As much as it might benefit my bottom line, I don't like seeing my patients over and over again for the same or similar pains or injuries. If I do, that means that there's something I'm not doing right or addressing completely. It's a horrible business model, I know, but I'm the one who has to be able to sleep peacefully at night. Thus, I felt compelled to speak honestly about what I saw Ms. Michaels teaching as far as her movements and the safety of her kettlebell technique.

Mr. Fell quoted me accurately, even if he didn't name me or Kettlebells Los Angeles accurately (...Who the heck is "Dave" from "Kettle Bells Los Angeles"?). The words I spoke voicing my concerns about Ms. Michaels's teaching methods & technique were reproduced word for word.

So shortly after the article hit the net, the buzz started happening surprisingly fast. Here's the link to the original LA Times piece... fortunately with the correction to my name printed as a sidebar...,0,5152686.story

And just today, the Yahoo! TV Blog posted a story about this as well, thankfully with my correct name.

Some folks are interpreting what I've said as a personal attack on Jillian Michaels. The truth is that as much as I appreciate what she's doing as a motivator, I think she needs to learn more about what's at stake with biomechanical errors like the ones she's propagating. As well-intentioned as she may be, that's no excuse for taking the persuasive power she wields and treating it carelessly.

Whether she gets her RKC, her HKC, or whatever other internationally recognized kettlebell instructor certification that's solidly recognized by kettlebell experts the world over, I'd hope that she'd be conscientious enough to invest the time & sincere effort to learn the safest & most effective means of training with kettlebells that she can find.... not the easiest, not the most streamlined, not a few lessons.... before putting out an instructional DVD that will be used by thousands of people in the hopes of getting in shape.

The bottom line to me is this, as I posted on my Facebook page under the link:

"Folks, let's call it the way it is. I'm not out to get Jillian, and I'm glad that so many people see her as a motivator to get healthier. Rather, I'm out to make sure that we're not "adding fitness to dysfunction". We all need to go back to... what my mentor, Gray Cook, outlines as priorities: "Move well, then move often." Tons of reps that don't observe strict form are enabling movement patterns that are counterproductive and potentially injurious in the long run. Exercise professionals need to hold themselves to a higher standard, even if the industry or the public doesn't."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Functional Movement Systems & Hard Style Kettlebells Workshop in San Clemente

If you ever wanted to see, feel, and learn Gray Cook's FMS screen and Pavel Tsatsouline's Hard Style kettlebell training method and you live between Orange County and San Diego, here's your best, easiest, and cheapest opportunity!

*Has pain been pissing you off?
*Has your training plateaued?
*Do you want more out of your life, your training, your movement, and your quality of life?

I'll PERSONALLY be teaching down in San Clemente next weekend at the elite studio of Valerie Waldron, RKC. We've extended an early bird discount (just $50) until Monday, August 2, just before midnight. After then, the price goes up to $75... still a steal for 4 hours of some of the most mindblowing training you're sure to get.

To register, please click here! -

For the USMC stationed at Camp Pendleton, it'll stay at $50 regardless of when you register. Please use THIS link -

If you're with USMC 1st ANGLICO, e-mail me directly at for an even better registration special.

Some of the concepts we will cover are:

- Foot mechanics: Is your foot killing the rest of your body?

- Hip mobility: The hip is a bad neighbor!

- The Hard Style Lock: The importance of tactile cueing in effective instruction

- Breath & the Neck: The gateway to internal work and external structure

- Primitive Patterns: I've fallen & I can't get up!

- Lats: Reflexive Shoulder Stability

- Half-Kneeling & Back Pain: Are your Quads punishing your back?

- Goblet Squat: Reversing the damage of desk jockey life!

It's open to the public, and it'll be on Saturday, August 7th from 12-4pm.

154 Avenida Victoria
San Clemente, CA 92672



Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Lower Back Pain Tying a Knot in Your Movement - Joint Mobility vs Stability vs Power

It's been a while since I've had a chance to blog about little more than letting you know that I'm in or out of town or announcing some other random developments in the RKC or FMS worlds.

While those two things are always happening (and as I head out of town tomorrow for Danville, VA to see my mentor - Gray Cook), ideal training ISN'T always happening.

For some reason, there's a whole slew of people that think that as long as they buy the next cool tool or shiny, new toy, they'll get better performance out of their if simply having the new kettlebell or TRX technology under your roof will osmotically make you a better athlete or decrease your pain or help you lose the stubborn fat around your midsection... as if simply buying the highest quality nutritional supplements like Shakeology without regularly using them will dramatically transform your state of health.


Higher reps with heavier weight DOES NOT necessarily mean that you're moving better.

And now for the smasher...

Moving without pain DOES NOT necesssarily mean that you're moving better either!

Moving WELL, with biomechanically advantageous patterns REFLEXIVELY and without pain, means that you're moving better. Once you've established that as your BASELINE, then adding sets & reps makes for a better, stronger, more sound body.

That said, what's one of the easiest ways for you to trash your body (aside from picking a fight with an angry Beast)?

Let's make it an even easier question. Suppose the human body's like a car (not that I know jack$h!t about cars). Let's think of what we might do to destroy a car without actually crashing it into something deliberately. There are 2 main ways of destroying a car in a non-contact fashion:

1. operating the car when the fluid levels are far too low, or
2. driving the car too rough when there is some mechanical impediment.

Operating the car when the fluid levels are too low is an obvious one. Start driving in a car without brake fluid, with a leaking radiator, or without sufficient motor oil. Breakdown is imminent. It's not a question of if, but when the car will seize up either in rush hour traffic, or while you're speeding down the interstate.

No, that ain't my car!

Driving the car with a mechanical impediment goes back to what Pavel calls "driving with the parking brake on". I think we've all done it at some point or another, but the hard part is to realize BEFORE we put the car into drive that the brake is still on. For some of us, that takes a long time. We fumble about with recurrent injuries that seem to get better and then get reaggravated.

The lower back is a common site of pain, injury, reinjury, and eventually debility for some. Now while it's easy to focus on alleviating the pain at its most painful location, the "brakes" might still be locked down elsewhere in the vehicle.

Studies have shown a high correlation between hip movement dysfunction and lower back pain. So let's think about this by defining 3 terms and seeing how they might apply in lower back rehab:
- Mobility is the unfettered ability to move a joint through an optimal range of motion without pain.
- Stability is the ability to hold a joint in a given position or shortened range of motion.
- Power is the ability to recruit muscular contraction for the purpose of bearing or moving a load through a given range of motion.

There are many ways of approaching the hip dysfunction, which is paining the lower back.
1. You can stretch or treat the living hell out of the lower back in an attempt to "decompress" and restore range of motion. This is focusing on mobility at the site of pain.
2. You can do crunches and ab exercises until the cows come home in order to create more stability for the lumbar spine.
3. Or you can try to power your way through to hip extension by clenching your glutes so hard that even Jean-Claude Van Damme would be jealous.

Looks like pretty mobile hips to me, but what are we missing?

Gray Cook's mantra has always been to focus on mobility FIRST. But sometimes, trying to pry movement out of a stuck joint without taking the brakes off first is easier said than done.

The trick is sometimes to encourage the reflexive action of the weakened "accelerator" muscles while simultaneously training the hyperactive "parking brake" muscles to turn off. In this case, that would mean strengthening hip extensors, such as the glutes, while stretching hip flexors, such as the psoas, iliacus, and rectus femoris.

Pavel's long been too kind in complementing me publicly on my form with the Front Squat, and it's something I never really paid attention to until after he had me demonstrating some sort of horse stance drill at the Feb 2010 RKC II. I couldn't appreciate the drill at the time, and I'm still investigating its worth from a movement quality standpoint, but the Boss's comments still made me question what I'd been missing.

While teaching the RKC Squat back here in Los Angeles, I felt like my own form wasn't the same as what it was when I first started training with kettlebells. Keeping in mind the most common mistakes in the Front Squat (i.e., lumbar flexion, valgus collapse, etc.), I started looking at ways of optimizing necessary attributes for this particular movement pattern.

What I came up with revolved around this...

Yup... old-school Shaolin & Tai-Chi stance training. Just as with any field of endeavor, there are tons of ways to execute/perform anything. Sure, there are plenty of different versions of the horse stance floating around, and in my own martial arts studies, I've seen, learned, and taught more than one variation myself. But this isn't the time or place to get dogmatic, especially if you're not clear on context.

The earliest version of the horse stance that my father taught me revolved around achieving vertical alignment from the midfoot, the hip, the shoulder, and the center of the head when viewed from the side. When viewed from the front, this stance was referred to in Cantonese as "sei ping ma bo", meaning "four levels horse stance". The four levels referred to 4 perpendicular lines, as formed by the two lines from the knees to feet, and the lines from knee-to-knee & foot-to-foot.

To perform this stance correctly, the aforementioned alignments of leg and of spine must be achieved and maintained. But to achieve these alignments requires simultaneous mobility of the anterior portion of the hip joint with stability coming from the drive of the glutes in the posterior chain. Instead of doing the movement in strict Shaolin format, I took a modified version of it and drilled my students on it one Sunday morning.

Without exception, each one of them was shaking, sweating, and swearing while I had them perform very subtle movements, adjusting them slowly, yet thoroughly into the essential points of the stance. But at the finish of the exercise, everyone reported not only better hip mobility, but also a marked decrease in lower back stiffness.

Just as a knot is only as useful as it is secure under pressure and moveable enough to untie when offloading, the lumbar spine and hips must also be able to reflexively stabilize under load while able to move under load to create powerful movement. With the hip flexors and quads unbound enough to take the parking brakes off while the posterior chain keeps driving the pelvis forward, the entire spine can remain in neutral under a relaxed neck and a tall chest.

Wanna see & experience more of this and other correctives in high-detail? Get to Hard Style Ventura in November! In the meantime, read & re-read this post for the little details that can make or break your hips & back!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I know... I know... Updates are coming soon

And they'll be well worth the wait, folks.

I know I've been more than a bit lax with blog updates. While I can join the rest of the crowd and blame it all on my new microblogging habits on Facebook & Twitter, the reality is that I've been hauling a$$ all over creation like a Chinaman with a burning rickshaw.

What have I been working on?

Aside from a plethora of changes in my personal life, my current area of deep investigation is centered around the FMS mobility correctives. One of Gray Cook's constant exhortations is "mobility FIRST". Yet many of us are far too quick to assume that we're moving just fine and fast forward ourselves to strenuous exercise, such as strength training.

I used to think that exercises like high kicks would cause the body to reactivate lost mobility. Unfortunately, the reality is often otherwise. If joints necessary for achieving the high kick (such as the hip joint) are compromised in their mobility, your body's going to borrow mobility from somewhere else that isn't supposed to move in the manner that it's being forced to.

Say for example your hip is a little locked up, guess what's going to have to do double duty to get your foot up that high. Most likely, your lower back will be paying the price the day afterwards, and your hamstrings will be so full of microtrauma that you'll be walking around like mummy instead of martial artist.

What other areas, aside from the hip, are crucial for performance?

While Functional Movement Systems talks about the lumbar spine being stable, the thoracic spine being mobile, and the cervical spine being stable, ALL joints need to START with MOBILITY. Stability has to be reflexive, not immutable. So if you heard the joint-by-joint approach and confused "rigidity" for reflexive stability, you probably either ran into limits with performance or just got hurt.

For me, inadequate mobility in certain ranges of motion in my hips, lumbar spine, and neck have caused me to compensate in countless ways over the years. Even as a child, I was ridiculously stiff. By 9 years old, I was unable to touch my toes. So martial arts training helped me to regain some of the lost mobility.

However, without regular practice of some of the fundamental exercises that were much less appealing than the combat skills development, my body merely learned to compensate its way through the movements and training. So as you heard me say in a previous blogpost, I've been going back to the basics, relearning how to move well in ranges that I've not moved through in decades and investing the time & resources to get therapy & treatment to deal with adhesions & locked up joints.

OK... back to work now. More later, and rest assured that it'll be worth the wait! :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Knee Pain - Part II: Are your Quadriceps punishing your Knees?

It never ceases to amaze me how many times our bodies can hurt in one place with the cause being somewhere else. Physical therapy & human performance guru Gray Cook is constantly admonishing us to use the Selective Functional Movement Assessment not to seek out what hurts as much as to look for the DN - dysfunctional non-painful link in the kinetic chain.

In an earlier blogpost on the Three Prys, I mentioned how some knee pains & injuries can be caused by faulty knee tracking. It's possible that even with fairly decent knee tracking, you might still be suffering knee pain that's due to other imbalances or asymmetries.

To review the concept of asymmetries in the Functional Movement Systems paradigm, please remember that we're looking primarily at Left-Right asymmetry as a predictive biomarker for injury. But we're also looking at asymmetries in:
- Medial - Lateral
- Anterior - Posterior
- Top - Bottom

So with the knee, let's quickly review the anatomy (since I'm dying to get this blogpost done before I sprint off to see patients and before I need to hop on the plane to St. Paul, MN again for the CK-FMS workshop).

According to a rather insightful entry in Wikipedia, the quadriceps are the most powerful knee extensors.

All 4 heads attach to the patella via the quadriceps tendon, so it's not exactly a stretch (really, no pun intended) to see how this muscle group might play into stubborn knee pain. So if you've been either overtraining your quads or overstretching your hamstrings, that sort of anterior-posterior asymmetry might be leading to dysfunction manifesting at the knee joint itself.

The rectus femoris, since it originates on the ilium, can be considered a hip flexor as well. So knee, hip, or even lower back pain that isn't resolving might warrant a careful look for trigger points in the quads. As soon as you visit your orthopedics or sports med physician to rule out more serious issues, such as meniscal/ligamentous tears, you might want to some deep tissue done on the quad on the troublesome side.

If that gives you a noticeable improvement, pattern some good movement on top of your newly found range of motion with a corrective exercise like the one we're demonstrating here:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Optimization - the Ancient Chinese Secret?

Tell me what this sounds like to you....

A system of training that progresses from very thoroughly developing systemic mobility, to spinal alignment, to breathing, to foot/leg/hip power, to leg-waist-spine-arm coordination, to foot-leg-waist-spine-arm sensitivity & responsiveness.

It is a system that both prehabilitates and rehabilitates. There are no shortage of populations (from the feeble to the fighters) worldwide that have benefitted from its practice, its study, its total application.

Sound like Hardstyle with the FMS fusion? It is.

Know what else it is? Yang style Tai-Chi.

Just like Fast & Loose, there's a heavy emphasis on not just creating muscle relaxation, but maximizing it! Just like Super Joints and Relax Into Stretch, there's a fundamental emphasis on maximizing powerful, effortless range of motion. Just like the RKC principles, there's a solid dedication to developing a strong, powerful base from the waist down in order to be able to most efficiently utilize the upper body to issue power.

My father first introduced me to Tai-Chi when I was 10 years old. He studied a Yang style Tai-Chi derivative from one of Prof. Cheng Man-Ching's students, named Master Chao. [For those of you who are unfamiliar with Prof. Cheng Man-Ching, his writings on Tai-Chi, Chinese culture, martial arts, and human development are extraordinary. I've included a link to a compilation of his writings below.]

I remember watching the slow-motion movements one morning and trying in vain to stifle my laughter. As a youth, I was more visually familiar with the hard-fast, bone crunching power that karate or "external" kung-fu systems demonstrated. So seeing him move in what seemed like ridiculously slow motion was utter hilarity to me at the time.

Knowing the mind of his son, my father stopped training and confidently asked me to punch him in the face as hard as I could. With a challenge like that, almost no boy will back down, and I shot a fist out with all I had. What happened next blew my mind.

Without using rigid force, he deflected my fist without blocking, keeping the muscles of his arm and shoulder very relaxed. When I thought I was sure to make contact with his face, I instead fell forward off balance into an upward armbar and then was launched across the room.

That was almost 30 years ago.
After that, I was hooked. I learned all that my father had to teach me about Tai-Chi until I headed out to LA for college. Shortly after arriving in Pasadena, I was fortunate enough to meet and train under Prof. Daniel K. Lee, a former Bruce Lee student who was also one of North America's preeminent Yang style instructors. I've had a few other influences since then, but my father & Prof. Lee were my two main teachers in that system of martial arts.

Fast forward to the present....

Working on rehabilitative issues & strength challenges that I've been trying to overcome, I keep coming back to the ideas of "best training methods" and optimization. My mentor, Gray Cook, speaks volumes about "authentic movement", and the more I research his teachings, the more I keep getting drawn back to my original martial arts training with my father and my earliest Sifus (masters).

The countless hours of Shaolin & Tai-Chi training that I'd received in my teens and twenties set the stage for my body to be able to achieve what it did in more recent years. However, I'd lost sight of that. I'd lost sight of the deep relaxation practices that had kept me healthier, the incredible joint mobility routines that had kept me agile & flexible, and the incredible movement patterning drills that had made me function, flow, fight, and feel like an animal.

Don't get me wrong.

RKC style training did a LOT to improve my functionality, but I've been beating my head against a brick wall lately. The FMS principles kept pointing me towards something different than what I was doing (which was trying to improve my Press by just working my Press MORE), but I wasn't completely sure about what I was looking for or how to achieve a change in my state of being & performance. I did know that emotionally & spiritually, I sorely missed martial arts training.

So a few weeks back into more focused martial arts training, I went back to revisit the kettlebells. For the first time in months, the right shoulder didn't hurt with a 24kg kettlebell strict military press. I didn't do many reps or push the load past the 24kg mark, but simply being able to move that weight without having to wince or grit my teeth was a major improvement.

Additionally, I'd been spending more time on getting treatment (soft tissue & joint mobilization) as well as working on corrective exercise patterns. The areas that seemed to need the greatest focus and yielded the greatest improvements were those that seemed to point me straight back to traditional martial arts stance & flexibility training.

One of the biggest insights I've had lately revolved around the Yang style "front stance". The proper hip positioning for this fundamental stance, in conjunction with the proper weight distribution & spinal alignment, is essentially the same as the FMS half-kneeling corrective position.

The Tai-Chi & Chi Kung breathing progressions I learned from my father almost 30 years ago are essentially the same as those that I'm learning from Gray Cook, Brett Jones, & Dr. Lee Burton as far as crocodile breath patterns for neurological resets.

What does this all mean? Is the old-school Chinese martial arts training better than the FMS or the RKC methods?

To quote one of my most beloved mentors, Prof. Roy Harris, the real answer is "It depends"...... depends on your goals, depends on what you're coming to the table with, and depends on the timeline and means you favor to achieve your goals.

For me, the traditional martial arts of ancient times & the modern RKC-FMS marriage that is the CK-FMS system fit together like a hand in a glove. It's not a question of which one is better than the other. It's knowing how to use approaches from both that will give me (or my clients) the best possible results at any given moment, depending on the pre-existing conditions. At this juncture in time, restoring my combat skills abilities while simultaneously improving my functional/fundamental movement patterns is at the top of my list. And traditional martial arts training is what's helping me get there fastest.

Would it be easy to go back to focusing my training on strength with kettlebells?  Absolutely. But the better question would be, "Would it be intelligent for me to focus on weight training of ANY sort at this time with my movement screens looking the way they are now?"

Remember that ANY tool is good or bad only in the sense that it's either appropriate or inappropriate for use in a particular context. And sometimes, we already have the tools we need right in front of us. We just need the occasional reminder from something "new" to teach us how to appreciate something "familiar" in a new light!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Step back to leap forward - Is it Strength you're building or just more Compensation?

You know it's time to update the blog when someone who doesn't read blogs very often asks you what's up with your lack of blog updates. I've been called out & guilty as charged, so here it is... The latest of what's been brewing on my mind & consuming my efforts in the field of human performance lately.

As many of you know, I've had YEARS of problems with my shoulders in some form or another. It started being obvious to me in high school while playing tennis. Practicing hours & hours of serves in the attempt to have a Boris Becker-like cannon and hours of groundstrokes led to a right arm that would essentially go dead after a set of matchplay just before tennis season started during my senior year. Being a right hander, that made serving, volleying, & my beloved forehand harder & harder. So I'd play matches just gutting through the pain, willing my right arm to whip through the strokes, clutching the racquet grip as hard as I could since I often couldn't feel it. The rotater cuff muscles had essentially gotten so swollen that they were cutting off nerve signal and blood flow to the arm. But I didn't know that at the time. I just wanted to play.... desperately.

With that kind of debility, it's little wonder that after high school, I decided to go deeper into another love of mine - martial arts. The full body training I'd found in martial arts such as Northern Shaolin kung-fu put me through different ranges of motion that I'd not trained before, developed stability through stances I'd not really practiced before, and forced me to use both my left and right sides like other prior physical pursuits had not.

Tai-Chi gave me yet another training factor to benefit my body by ratcheting down the speed to super slow-mo and forcing me to pay extra attention to efficiency and softness in my movement, as well as the correctness of my trajectories. I'd done Tai-Chi with my father as a boy, but focusing on it in a more formal manner during my college years made me realize how difficult it can be to let go of muscle tension that we don't need. It forced me to examine what the difference was between being "powerful" and being "rigid" - a lesson that I'm going back to re-examining now thanks to conversations about Z-Health that I've had with Kenneth Jay, Master RKC.

POWER is generated by a change in force (or muscular tension) over time. So the less tension you start with and the more tension you can consciously generate over the smallest possible time frame is your key to being powerful. The maximum change in tension over the shortest amount of time equals your power output.

But pain messes with your nervous system's ability to both relax and to tense. It leaves you in neuromuscular limbo with "guarding" tension that's not so useful when you want to move, want to perform, want to lift, want to fight, or want to really live. That guarding tension starts to create immobility in an area or system that's been injured or threatened, forcing the neighboring joints to try to create more range of motion in order to preserve general task ability.

Such neurological flip-flopping is a damn slippery slope to be on. It's one thing to be able to flip-flop the functionality of any given joint based on your position in relation to the ground or based on intention. Good athletes NEED to have that skill. Just look at any gymnast, grappler, tactical operator, dancer, or martial artist! But when a joint gets locked into one function - hypermobile or mobility-compromised - it's ugly... and usually painful.

Can we compensate around such injuries? SURE!

We do it all the time. And just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean that you SHOULD do it. FMS founder, Gray Cook says, "You might be able to fake and lie your way through the entire Functional Movement Screen by doing every movement with maximal feed-forward tension and denying that you're in pain on every step, but what's your goal? Is your goal to cheat the screen, or is your goal to perform better in your chosen sport and move better in your daily life?"

Honesty's sometimes a hard pill to swallow. For me, I've been so thrilled with some of the improvements in strength that I've made over the years with my strength thanks to the RKC Hardstyle training method that I've allowed myself to, as Master RKC Mark Reifkind puts it, "live in my sport". Having had countless neck & shoulder traumas thanks to martial arts training, especially from the one system I love most - Combat Shuai-Chiao, I've been building my house of strength on a foundation of sand.

I won't lie. Sometimes we fall in love with what (or who) might not be best for us.

It's that way with me & Combat Shuai-Chiao. In all the years I've done martial arts, nothing gives me a greater thrill than having a format to be able to kick, punch, throw, and lock like I do in Shuai-Chiao training. Throwing someone through the air at high speed with amplitude & spin is a rush. And being able to be thrown that way and to hit the ground with a successful breakfall is a rush too. Knowing that the untrained recipient would likely either die, be incapacitated, or seriously injured by a throw that you just stood up from is a rush like no other. Yes, that's me hitting the sand in the pic below.

The only experience I've ever felt like it is going at high speed with live blade double swords with my Krabi-Krabong teacher in Thailand on my last day of training and emerging without a single cut or scrape.

Pressing a 32kg kettlebell is a similar rush. When you've gone from barely being able to hold your tennis racquet after the first set to being able to strictly military press a 70lb kettlebell overhead, it's a rush. No lie. When I walked into Tait Fletcher's Undisputed Fitness in Santa Fe, NM, this past winter, the first thing I did when I saw the kettlebells was walk up to the biggest one I saw (a 32kg) and strict pressed it without even taking my jacket off. Strength is a calling card that lends instant credibility to whatever you're going to say.

But when I tried to up that press strength to tackle the 36kg kettlebell, I ran into problems. The right shoulder that had benefitted so much from the strength training of the RKC method and FMS corrective exercises started hurting more & more. The left arm started experiencing weird strength losses at the RKC II in February after doing VO2Max Viking push-pressing. Luckily Master RKC & CK-FMS creator Brett Jones was there to have a look at me and gave me the most sensible explanation yet. The brachial plexus was getting impinged by my scarred-up deep neck muscles that were irritated by the repeated stretch that was happening at the bottom of the re-rack, and that was severely dampening the motor signal to my left arm. Not a good sign.

You know you own something when you can step away for it for a long while and still do it. It's that way with riding a bike, right? And it's that way with any skill set that your nervous system completely owns in an uninhibited fashion. Injured, sick, sleep-deprived, or inebriated, I can do this one Shaolin hand set and not miss a single movement. There have been entire years (or a few years) that have gone by when I haven't done even 1 rep of this set, yet it's still mine. It's still part of me. And that same thing should be the case with my press. If I can press a 32kg kettlebell one week, and then can't press a 16kg without pain the next in the absence of a traumatic incident occurring in the meantime, I don't own that 32kg press. Do I?

I could be stubborn and just build more on top of more, but then I'd be building more guarding and compensation on top of pre-existing guarding and compensation. So what would happen? As soon as I stop practicing it, my body will reject the load movements that I placed on it. In other words, the pressing strength will shut itself down... as it has in my case.

So I'm having to backtrack a little. It's frustrating to have to put yourself in the remedial education room when you wanna go out & play with the other kids, but I've learned that I'm not a kid any more and I've got an international spotlight shining on me. My time for gross irresponsibility is long over, whether with myself or others. And my first and primary responsibility is to be the best father I can be for my son. If I can't play with him or protect him because my shoulders are in too much pain, what kind of father would I be?

What's on the agenda for my rehab? Go back to what Gray Cook always talks about with ANY discussion about human function.

What's the FIRST prerequisite?..... MOBILITY. So I'm working on restoring maximal range of healthy, unfettered, pain-free, smooth movement to my arms, my shoulders, and my neck - the fusebox of the human body.

What's involved?.... MOBILITY WORK - BOTH PASSIVE & ACTIVE. That means that I'm receiving treatments to seek out the trigger points that are binding up my movement, to mobilize the joints that have been locked down, and to to restore elasticity of the soft tissues. 

That also means that I'm re-focusing my exercise time to temporarily steer away from weighted strength work and towards bodyweight mobility.

How do I do that?.... With my old UCLA Kung-Fu Warmup routine and its variants that include movements, exercises, & concepts from systems as diverse as Northern Shaolin, Capoeira Angola, Shuai-Chiao, & soon incorporating Z-Health drills that've been prescribed by Kenneth Jay.

Through the years of combative arts training, I've damaged my body and made it bear a heavy load by taking punishment without balancing it with equal amounts of restorative practice. As a result, I hit the wall and bounced off it when I tried to up my strength past a certain point. Now it's time for me to backtrack a bit and work on the resilience of my body, maximizing effortless, pain-free mobility again, and then rebuilding my strength to new heights of Hardstyle.

Monday, March 1, 2010

NYPD, NYFD, and the rest of the first responders & military around the Big Apple...

We're showin' you love.

That's right. The Chinaman & the Viking are showing you mad love for all you do for the Big Apple. All your hard work & sacrifices are earning you a big pat on the back from the 2 of us in the form of today's decision to offer you a 50% off discount from our already low "early bird" workshop price.

So if you're POLICE, FIRE, EMT, or any other first responder or active duty military, drop Antonio Cordova, RKC II, a line at with the Subject line reading "Doc & Dane First Responder Registrant", and we'll get you squared away.

You'll still have to register via Paypal or your department will have to issue a check (contact Antonio for instructions), but we want you to know how much we appreciate you, and how much we know that you CONSTANTLY put your bodies on the line for us.

We want to make you more efficient at:
- taking down the bad guys,
- yanking a kid out of a rain swollen flood channel,
- hoisting an old lady out of a burning building,
- controlling an inmate who's trying to test you for weakness,
- getting out of bed without pain,
- having the strength, energy, & endurance to play with your kids after work, and
- living life with the vitality of a warrior, even if your job is not combat-based.

So let us show you how to take care of that precious body of yours so that you've got stronger, faster, leaner, better, happier, and healthier years ahead of you with it!

This time, we've got your back!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Shakeology (R) - Meal Replacement Shake that's too good to be true?

Lately, I've made mention about my use of the nutritional product, Shakeology, and some folks have been questioning if I've abandoned the RKC ranks and gone P90X on them. So let me set the record straight... definitively... once and for all.

I heard about Shakeology before there WAS a Shakeology directly from the mouth of its inventor - Isabelle Brousseau. The wife of Beachbody CEO, Carl Daikeler, Ms. Brousseau is a singularly talented coach and highly educated researcher. She's spent years studying the advanced principles of elite human performance from authorities around the world, and I was honored to have the chance to share Pavel Tsatsouline's Hardstyle RKC kettlebell training method privately with her. As adept student, she was on the fast-track to preparing for her RKC instructor certification when she decided to take time off upon learning she was expecting her first child.

During the times I spent training her, Isabelle and I spoke about Chinese herbal medicine, and she mentioned she was researching ways of combining all-natural foods with the highest possible nutrient values into a meal-replacement shake designed for athletes and people on-the-go. When she mentioned wanting to put in high quality Ayurvedic herbs, Chinese herbs, antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, prebiotics, and a host of other vitamins and minerals, my initial reaction was.... "Yeah, right!"

My doubts were not unfounded.

Having spent years studying (and consuming) Chinese herbal medicines, I had a familiarity with a good deal of what Brousseau was talking about. The ingredients she'd mentioned sounded like a wishlist that only insiders would know of and only the filthy rich and well-connected could afford. On top of that, the taste of such a mixture, I surmised, would probably make even the least sensitive tasters wretch with disgust. To make a mixture that would contain the type of ingredients she mentioned, be stable enough to ship & store, and not taste like the bottom skim of a Los Angeles sewer was a pipe dream as far as I was concerned. So I filed the conversation away in my mental round file.

A couple of years later, when I met with Carl to discuss a project idea, I saw the finished product on his shelf. Eager to see how far from the initial ideal the finished product had to compromise, I was in for a shock.

Not only did Shakeology have EXACTLY the type of ingredients that Isabelle had mentioned during our training sessions, but it had MORE!

Some notables...

- Astragalus: widely used in Chinese medicine as an immune system regulator

- MSM: one of the most popular supplements for joint health

- Chia: the Mayan super-seed with more calcium than whole milk, more Omega 3 & 6 than salmon, and more protein than kidney beans

- THREE different proprietary blends and some vitamins & minerals that actually exceeded the US RDA.

This stuff looked like it was fit for a king for sure. So I was damn curious to put it to the final 2 tests - taste & performance. I wanted to know if it smelled or tasted anything like what I thought it would and was damn curious if it'd make a difference for my high-velocity, high-output, high-mileage lifestyle.

A little background... I'm a caffeine junky by virtue of workaholism. Ever since discovering the "joy" of all-nighter homework sessions in high-school, I became keenly aware of the value of being able to work harder and sacrifice sleep. So when the No-Doz, Vivarin, & Mountain Dew lifestyle needed an adult turn after I'd graduated & started writing, teaching, treating patients, travelling, training, and trying to spend time with my family, I dove hip deep into energy drinks like Red Bull & Monster and caffeinated energy bars like Pit Bull. When I speak well about a nutritional product, it's for one reason - it helps me get my work done while keeping me healthy.

Another bit of background... I'm a glutton. I love food, especially food that tastes good. I never met a filet mignon that I didn't like, and never met one that I didn't like better wrapped in bacon, with a side of bacon-wrapped scallops, and mashed potatoes... topped with bacon. If it doesn't taste good, I don't care how good it is for me. I'll STILL probably not like it well enough to be disciplined about taking it.

The Shakeology greenberry bag that Carl gave me turned my ball of preconceived notions and stood it on its ear. From the moment I opened the bag, the scent was wonderful, like a dessert that you're eager to tear into. So I dumped some ice & water into the blender and dropped a scoop of the bright green powder in with it. I didn't add juice or other fruits because I wanted to know exactly how this taste by itself, unadulterated. The next sound I heard after taking my first sip was, "Yum!" It passed the taste test.

Next was the travel test. I wanted to see how it kept me going while travelling, so instead of my usual chain-drinking habit of Monster or Red Bull, I tried a shake or two during the day, usually with one in the morning. I brought Shakeology with me to New York, New Mexico, & most recently to Australia to see how I'd do with it, and the results were remarkable. I had sustained, stable energy, but without the jitters, aggression, and hard drops aftewards. When I travel, I travel to teach, and I have to be up, energetic, strong, and focused. My days here in LA revolve around teaching, training, treating patients, and trying to steal moments with my family. So if something doesn't give me the energy to do what I need, I can't waste my precious time or hard earned money with it. Shakeology has proven itself to be able to give me all of that on multiple occasions, both while travelling and here in Los Angeles.

You can draw your own conclusions about any product you want, but I'm sharing my experiences with Shakeology here openly. And if you think I'm endorsing it only for financial gain, you couldn't be more wrong. I signed up as a "coach" so I could buy the product for myself! If you want to try it, you know where to find it, and get ready to be surprised how little such high quality nutrition costs!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Breath, Chi, Prana, Ki, Core, STRENGTH

One of the first things I ever learned in martial arts training was how to breathe. One of the most advanced, yet crucial concepts of core strength is breath.
One of the first things that I struggled painfully with in my youth was breathing.

During my Australian 2-Day workshop in Adelaide, one of the first strength concepts I covered was breath - specifically diaphragmatic breathing. We didn't talk about RKC-style power breathing or anything specifically related to martial arts. We talked about health & functionality.

Babies & little kids, when you watch them breathe, especially during sleep, breathe from their abdomens. This is called abdomenal or diaphragmatic breathing, as it uses the uppermost muscle of the core, the diaphragm, for powering the respiratory process.

Adults, by contrast, have learned to breathe from their necks, using their scalenes and intercostal muscles to power their breath. This is called apical breathing, as the center of the movement is no longer in the lower abdomen, but rather in the apex of the torso. Apical breathing patterns DO present in children, but usually in those who are asthmatic.

How do I know about this?

As I mentioned above, one of the things that I struggled painfully with as a child was asthma. My lungs were horrible. Between repeated bouts of pneumonia, allergies, sinus infections, and asthma attacks, it's a wonder I made it to high school. As I told one of my Twitter followers, I had asthma attacks so severe once that I had to kick the wall to wake my parents up because I couldn't draw the breath to cry or scream.

Now if you've ever been under water a bit too long, you know what it's like to not be able to inhale and slightly suffocated. Unless you're into the uber-kinky, that sort of thing is no fun at all and leads to a panic reaction. Over time, the simple experience of being short of breath often trains asthmatics to lunge for their inhalers to provide a bit of relief for those bronchial spasms and allow a deep inhalation.

However, using diaphragmatic breath training gleaned from my father's Tai-Chi lessons, my lungs were able to reverse the process of asthmatic inhaler dependence. Those same lessons would reappear in different forms throughout the years. In college, while training with Fukienese Shaolin master, Andy Hong, he spoke of the the way college kids breathe so shallowly and how unhealthy he thought it was. During that same period, Shotokan karate's first master to set up shop on American soil, Tsutomu Ohshima, said that the hara or tanden is the true center of ki and that breathing is less of a lung/chest thing as it is a belly-centered process.

Over a decade later, I heard a former Soviet Special Operations PT instructor named Pavel Tsatsouline say a very similar thing in the context of strength training and kettlebell lifting. And within a few years of meeting, training with, and certifying under Tsatsouline as one of his RKC instructors, a self-described "Redneck" of peculiar genius in the fields of human performance & physical theraphy named Gray Cook would also speak in great detail about how diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most crucial keys to understanding how the core fires and how movement becomes both powerful and natural.

In an asthmatic attack, all of that becomes halted. As Gray Cook is renowned for saying, "The neck becomes your core", and the muscles around your neck become far more tonic than they should be in comparison to the muscles of your midsection.

So do all asthma attacks require the immediate intervention of an inhaler to block the pathological cascade effect of bronchospasm, panic, sympathetic nervous system dominance, and greater bronchospasm?


How can you tell?

Easy... If you're asthmatic, try this. You have to teach yourself to breathe through the following process and eventually apply it successfully under duress (meaning, during an asthma attack).

Learn to breathe from your lower abdomen, and yes, there are steps for this process too. One of the simplest, I've found, is to start from lying down in the supine (face-up) position.
a. Place your fingertips a couple of inches below your belly button.
b. Make sure you drop your head, neck, shoulders, back, hips, and legs down into the floor as if they were melted onto it. Try to keep your body as loose and unwound as possible, short of having an accident. This gives the spine a position of passive axial extension (or as some would refer to it, neutral).
c. Re-focus your attention onto your fingertips.
d. Let your breathing become slow, even, and deep.
e. As your breathing deepens, try to initiate your inhalation by pushing out against your fingertips. What normally happens is that people breathe with their chests heaving, and then the abdomen inflates only secondarily, if at all. We're trying to get the abdomen to inflate FIRST, leaving the chest relaxed and heavy throughout the inhalation process.
f. To exhale, just let the breath fall out of you naturally.

Now if you can do this while lying down, then repeat the process from prone (face-down, a.k.a., Crocodile Breath, as taught in Secrets of the Shoulder), then seated, then standing, then walking.

Once you can do it while walking, you might be surprised how consciously applying the diaphragmatic "belly-oriented" breathing can actually arrest an asthma attack, decreasing reliance on inhalers and improving posture, sports performance, and quality of life. This method has proven its worth more than once, and I encourage you to try it (with your doctor's approval) if you or someone you love is asthmatic.

Make sure to go SLOWLY through each step outlined above, and keep the inhaler nearby if you can't control the sense of suffocation. Keep the neck muscles nice & relaxed, keep the spine long and tall, and keep the breath sinking down into your lower abdomen. I did this with an asthmatic friend in Australia, and he was able to finish a martial arts class without having to take a puff.

While it's easy to take breathing for granted and blow it off (no pun intended) as a natural & vital body process that "everyone knows", it's still a process that our neuromuscular system can have bugs in. Once in a while, we need to scan/test the software for those bugs, and upload newer, cleaner software to the system. That keeps our bodies running optimally and us breathing easy.

As always, let me know how this goes for you!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Australian Trip Diary

I'd have posted this much earlier, as this was written on Friday early
AM Australian time, which was Thursday 1/22 American time.

More is coming.... Much more!

Australian Trip Diary

En route
I have to say that the Aussies I've interacted with so far have been
warm hearted, generous, & civil folk. From the flight attendants on
Virgin Australia who have perhaps the best customer service attitude
I've ever seen, to the young lady who saw me waiting for the restroom
and walked across the plane to let me know that another one was open,
to the bloke sitting to my left who took every bit of food, water, or
whatever was distributed while I was sleeping and put it into the
seatback pocket in front of me, to the French expat who was heading
back home to Melbourne and offered me some suggestions on how to kill
time in SYD airport, this travel experience has so-far brilliantly
exceeded expectations.

As I'm recovering from the last bits of a sinus cold, I didn't know
how I'd fare even getting to Sydney. But the trip has been restful...
far different from what I was expecting. LJ, the Aussie gentleman to
my left with the window seat, was quick to point out the harbor as we
approached for landing. And Carlos, the Mexican exchange student who
was spending a semester abroad in Melbourne, sat in the aisle seat to
my right, giving me a new perspective on America's southern neighbor,
its challenges, its hopes, and its must-visits.

Between bits of sleep and listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and
podcasts from Michael Josephson's Institute of Ethics, I could feel
the very slow trickle of energy back into my batteries. Speaking of
batteries, it's thanks to the USB charger ports in EACH of the economy
seats that I'm typing this to you at all. Richard Branson has it
figured out. I'm making sure my next trip to NYC is on Virgin America,
and I might try to do 1 leg of my Copenhagen trip on Virgin Atlantic.
When I saw that the prices for Virgin Australia's flights were so much
cheaper than others while searching on Yahoo Travel, I was rather
suspicious of the service. I couldn't have been more wrong!

Times like this, as I kick back in a Wi-Fi less terminal and type
these notes out on my iPhone, I realize how blessed I am to have the
chance to experience the goodness of other people around the world.

Time for a bit of drink, some reading of John Maxwell's Winning with
People, and off to board the 9:40 Virgin Blue flight to Adelaide. More
later, folks!

Dr. Mark Cheng, L.Ac., Ph.D., FMS, RKC Team Leader

Sent via mobile phone