Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby ilovecheerios » Tue Jul 04, 2017 11:49 pm

Hello,

I have been practicing Tai Chi Chuan for 3 years and I want to now incorporate some exercises other than more internal martial arts and qi gong.
However, I have heard that doing muscle training could make your muscles tenser and therefore you cannot relax as well.
What exercises would you recommend?
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Jul 10, 2017 4:33 pm

Ilovecheerios,

I would recommend working in person with a qualified, experienced TCC instructor on the best way to achieve your fitness goals without interfering with your TCC progress.
This is one of those "I can show you but there's no way to tell you" situations that requires working directly with an instructor.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby fchai » Tue Jul 11, 2017 7:55 am

Hi Ilovecherrios,
It's about balance. There has been some discussion on this matter previously on a thread which I can't recall. A variety of exercise regimes can be quite beneficial. My opinion would be for you to try an exercise regime and just see how it affects your Taiji form, whether positive or negative. Clearly, if you find that your form suffers then stop pursuing that particular exercise regime. Also use the 10 essential principles as a means of ascertaining if the form of exercise you are doing has a detrimental effect on your Taiji form. For instance, if as a consequence of the exercise you are doing, you begin to feel a tightness in your shoulders resulting in difficulties in relaxing and sinking the shoulder and dropping your elbows. Clearly then the exercise is having a negative impact on your Taiji form.
Likewise the practice of other martial forms does not necessarily have a negative effect on your Taiji form, as many on this forum can attest. So, just have a go and see how you go.
Take care,
Frank
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Jul 12, 2017 3:39 pm

Fchai,
The motto of our school is "It's All About Balance", so I like your intro to your post.
And you are absolutely correct, the key to answering the original question really is "It's All About Balance".
However while that's an easy thing to say it's not really an easy thing to understand. I mean... what is the proper balance?
That is something that doesn't seem to be understood by most teachers nowadays.
What I see a lot, OK a REALLY lot, in most TCC circles is a never ending push for people to find Yin.
But hardly anyone ever addresses the other side of the coin; Yang.
And that is what the original poster was asking about, even if they didn't know that was what they were asking: How do I incorporate some Yang into this crazy thing?
Well... that's a darned good question!!!
Because...
Almost every school, teacher, Master, only pushes their students to find Yin.
And that's good.
But... Whatever happened to teaching about Yang?
It's half the art, so... Where'd it go?
Let's go back a bit though before we move into that.
I have only a personal theory as to why Yin is pushed so hard and Yang hardly ever even gets lip service anymore, but I think it's a good one.
Which no one asked me for but here it is anyway:
Most people already have a lot of Yang when they start to train TCC, both mentally and physically, so in order to reach the "balance" of Yin to Yang that is optimal for TCC it is better at first to focus on Yin with most students. This got pushed hard into all the early teaching methods and eventually became cannon because most people have never moved beyond that part of the training.
Which means that most people who practice and teach the art of TCC may not understand the second half of the art very well.
I think it's a good theory, and it seems to have some basis in tradition.
I've read Chen family treatises (OK, translations thereof) that seem to bolster this theory quite a bit. I'll try to keep it short as I do tend to ramble on and on and on and on...
Where was I...? Oh, yeah. Rambling...
No, no. Treatises! That's it.
In my research I learned that the Chen's have a way to measure your TCC level. I know! Right? Who would have thought such a thing was possible?
Apparently it is though.
Most people start out at 90% Yang/10% Yin according to what I've read from them. (I think I started at closer to 99/1, just being honest here).
As they progress and begin to incorporate more Yin into their art they are rated higher and higher on the scale.
The "epitome", according to my understanding, is for students to reach a 50/50 Yang to Yin ratio.
"Functional" as a martial artist though doesn't seem to call for that level, merely a 70 Yang/30 Yin rating will get you there.
Am I at 50/50? NOT ON YOUR LIFE!
I'm not good yet, I need more practice!
At the first TCC Symposium several Chen family members "rated" me on my Yang/Yin level. I was given a 70/30 rating (after everything was added and averaged, opinions varied).
I was some proud, let me tell you, when I was told that meant I was a "functional" TCC martial artist according to them.
By the time the second Symposium hit, I had managed to get up to a 60/40 rating from mostly the same Chen teachers.
Which, I was told, meant that I was actually doing very well because almost no one ever reaches 50/50 who doesn't practice the art for a living.
Which is nice for me and all...
But what does it mean?
Well, with that and three dollars I was able to buy myself a cup of coffee.
And that's saying something! Oh, wait...
Never mind.
Moving on...
What got me these "high" ratings was that my Si Kung had taught me well. He had done something that nearly no one does anymore and taught me to understand how to correctly perform TCC using both Yin AND Yang.
At the same time, together. Almost like they were both supposed to be there and be used!
I know! Right? Who would have thought it was possible?
Not me, I can tell you that.
I had NO idea what he was going for! None at all.
Fortunately he was a sly teacher and he snuck these things in to my training while I wasn't looking.
While I was worrying about which direction my toes should be in, he was worrying about getting me to actually use my body correctly.
He did so by saying one thing over and over and over and over again...
Maybe that's where I got that rambling thing from...? Hmmm...
What he kept saying wasn't anything too terribly unusual for a TCC instructor.
What was different then...?
Well, it seems he actually understood what it means AND was able to teach it to a blithering dunderhead like me.
Here it is...
You ready?
OK...
"Expand".
Simple as that.
Do other teachers say that?
Of course.
Do they then teach you what it actually means so you learn to do it correctly?
Sadly...
Usually not.

The long and short of all this rambling?
In my personal and not so humble opinion there is a short coming in the training most people receive.
That is...
Almost no one teaches the other side of the coin.
Yang is half of this art.
To truly understand this art you must understand Yang.
What it is.
How it works.
And...
How to physically manifest that in your body so that you do not induce tension where it is unnecessary to do so.

Is it easy?
Yes.
Can most people do it?
That would again be... No.

Can I tell you how to do it?
Obviously not.
I've tried but no one seems to understand.
In fact...
Most people get angry and immediately tell me I'm wrong.
When I am able to demonstrate though...
I never get that.
Everyone "gets it" first time, every time when they actually feel it.
Because it works.
Simple as that.
But...
It sure sounds "wrong".
So just hearing it from someone doesn't do any good.
You have to feel it.
So...
"I can show you but there's no way to tell you".
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby DPasek » Thu Jul 13, 2017 5:09 pm

I like how the previous responders approach this topic.

Remember that many early practitioners had physiques from being laborers; they were not just scholars. Therefore it seems to me that Taijiquan should be compatible with physical/muscle training or development.

I do not have specific exercises to recommend, but I would suggest things that resemble a farm laborer. I wrote an article that mentions exercising or strengthening the “stabilizer muscles” by doing numerous reps slowly. The article can be found here:
http://slantedflying.com/taijiquan-moving-through-molasses/

Bob Ashmore wrote:I have only a personal theory as to why Yin is pushed so hard and Yang hardly ever even gets lip service anymore, but I think it's a good one.
Which no one asked me for but here it is anyway:
Most people already have a lot of Yang when they start to train TCC, both mentally and physically, so in order to reach the "balance" of Yin to Yang that is optimal for TCC it is better at first to focus on Yin with most students. This got pushed hard into all the early teaching methods and eventually became cannon because most people have never moved beyond that part of the training.
Which means that most people who practice and teach the art of TCC may not understand the second half of the art very well.
I think it's a good theory, and it seems to have some basis in tradition.
... ...
Can I tell you how to do it?
Obviously not.
I've tried but no one seems to understand.
In fact...
Most people get angry and immediately tell me I'm wrong.
When I am able to demonstrate though...

I actually agree with Bob concerning balancing yin and yang aspects of the art rather than focusing excessively on yin. There are many sayings in Taijiquan that could be interpreted as supporting this. Addressing this issue was one of the reasons that I wrote the following article:
http://slantedflying.com/fangsong-%e6%94%be%e6%9d%be-and-peng-%e6%8e%a4-in-taijiquan/

While I agree with Bob’s “personal theory”, I think that there may be even more to it. Something seems to happen when martial arts practices move from chaotic times to times of extended peace. This has been noted in Japanese sword arts where the practice increasingly gets tied to Zen and other cultural practices, including traditions and rituals, legends and myths, etc during times of extended peace. I think that it also happened with Chinese arts like Taijiquan.

You can read thoughts about this phenomenon in P. Haskel’s introduction in “Sword of Zen” which translates Takuan’s writings on Zen and swordsmanship:
http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/books/haskelswordintro.pdf

Anyway, I think that the dogma about Taijiquan and physical development, while having some legitimate concerns, is likely a product of modern, peaceful society. I do not think that prohibition is completely correct, and balance IS a necessary concern.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby mls_72 » Tue Jul 18, 2017 3:15 pm

you can improve cardiovascular system by walking 10,000 steps daily or run 5k.

This is my warm-up for Taijiquan practice. Legs feel 1000x stronger than just standing practice. I have the apple sport watch which remind me to stand, meditate/breathe, and walking if sitting in the office too long.
www.taichifighter.com
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jul 18, 2017 7:37 pm

Dpasek,
I really like your article. I'm going to share it with my students. This is good stuff, thanks for sharing.
You are spot on with the "space between the joints", not too many people seem to understand this even if they've read about it before.
All that is missing is an explanation of how to correctly create that space between the joints.
Which is what seems to be missing from all articles relating to the subject.
I have to postulate that happens for the same reason I've stopped trying to "explain" the method rather than show it.
That is...
No one ever believes it.
Most people refuse to even consider trying to do it simply from reading about how to do it too because "it will never work".
Actually, they may be correct if all they've ever seen is a written explanation.
When it's possible and I can physically show someone that it does work, then how, they are really shocked both that it works at all then at just how simple it seems to be to do.

MLS,
Yes, you could do those things to improve your cardiovascular system, as well as muscle tone to an extent.
However just as with creating space between the joints there is a correct method to use to do these things and then there are incorrect methods. Incorrect methods abound, unfortunately.
Once you learn how to correctly manifest Yang by TCC standards, you can pretty much do ANY kind of exercise and it become Tai Chi Chuan.
Incorrect methods will do the opposite and will cause you to lose ground in your TCC training.
Which is why I always, always recommend to learn the correct method from a qualified instructor of TCC before you attempt to incorporate them into your training.
I ride my bike five miles, walk for half an hour, and do calisthenics five days a week.
I have fairly good muscle tone and am in what would considered to be excellent cardiovascular health for a 20 year old.
I'm 55.
I do these things using correct TCC methodology and have no negative influence on TCC because of that.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby DPasek » Wed Jul 19, 2017 7:11 pm

Bob Ashmore wrote:No one ever believes it.

Thanks Bob,

I think that many people are aware of the benefit of space between bones on some level, but it is insufficient for them to KNOW it. It becomes a conscious factor concerning the spine, where some people suffer from compressed discs. They may even purchase products that aid in hanging with the head down to elongate the spine and help relieve the compression.

If they know that space between the vertebrae is important for the proper functioning of the spine (without pain), then perhaps they can understand that space that allows freedom of movement at other joints may be similarly beneficial.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:56 pm

DPasek,
That space is beneficial to all the joints and is entirely necessary for the correct usage of both Yin and Yang.
Without it, none of the rest of the art works.
So, yeah, kind of important.
I like to demonstrate this with a simple exercise:
Ask your student to grab your wrists as tightly as they possibly can, make sure they're gripping with all they've got to grip with.
This is a clear incorrect TCC method to grab someone as it uses contractive Yang, so it's extremely easy to manipulate your student when they do it. I usually use "Opening" and they immediately fall backwards every time.
Next ask the same student to grab your wrists but to do so without all the force, just loosely grab them and hang on.
Now, do Opening again.
You will see, and they will feel, a dramatically different experience.
Both for them and for you the entire sequence of events will be entirely different.
In this way I introduce the concept of "Sung" with relaxed and open joints.
It's fun at parties too!
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby ChiDragon » Sun Aug 06, 2017 10:56 pm

ilovecheerios wrote:Hello,

I have been practicing Tai Chi Chuan for 3 years and I want to now incorporate some exercises other than more internal martial arts and qi gong.
However, I have heard that doing muscle training could make your muscles tenser and therefore you cannot relax as well.
What exercises would you recommend?


There is no other method that is comparable to Tai Chi Chuan or Qi Gong for muscle training. Why should anyone wants to look for something in digression?
A deep discussion requires explicit details for a good comprehension of a complex subject.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby fchai » Mon Aug 07, 2017 2:58 am

Hi CD,
Sorry CD but I totally disagree with that view. I am quite certain that the adepts and masters of the past undertook other supplementary and conditioning training to enhance their prowess. Taiji is not hidebound and frequently adopts new and different ways to achieve further improvements and advancements in technique and prowess. Many teachers of Taiji encourage their students to learn other styles, which helps in increasing their understanding of Taiji and martial arts in general.
Likewise, I see no conflict with cross-training to improve strength, speed, cardio-vascular fitness, stamina, etc. In fact, I would strongly advise and encourage it. Why? Because in our modern world we live very sedentary lives, without the physicality of the past. The Chen family masters hundreds of years ago were not just sitting on couches using their smartphones or tablets, driving around in cars, using all sorts of technological marvels to make living easy and comfortable. Yes they practiced their Taiji, etc. but they also worked the fields, walked or ran miles to other villages, lifted and carried heavy loads physically (rather than getting them delivered by FedEx to door), carried buckets of water to fill water cisterns, etc. They also did not have a diet high in sugars that they needed to burn off, so as to prevent it converting to fats.
So, in my humble opinion, one needs to be undertaking other training to even get close to the physicality of the past masters, whose physical lifestyles gave them that additional conditioning. So, I do additional training for building muscle strength, building core strength, building cardio-vascular capacity, speed work, etc. Has it affected my form? You bet! My rooting is stronger, fajin more explosive, form more precise and controlled, breathing is deep and slow, transitions are smoother and balanced, etc. The list goes on.
Folks can disagree, but that is my tuppence worth. My advice to anyone is to keep an open mind and with knowledge comes greater understanding.
Take care,
Frank
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby ChiDragon » Mon Aug 07, 2017 4:48 pm

The principle of yin-yang governs the universe. The Tai Ji Chuan was derived from this principle, regardless of what style. It is first to learn about the principle. Then, practice Tai Ji Chuan to get a better understanding of the principle. The more one practices the more one will understand. The knowledge of the principle cannot be acquired by running, weight lifting nor from other exercises. For example, a sword cannot be handled by a beginner unless one has practice Tai Ji diligently for more than three years or longer. In other words, by doing other exercise will not help to understand Tai Chi nor to handle the sword any better. However, if one can handle the sword with finesse will appreciate the time had spent in the practice of Tai Ji Chuan.

In addition, a Tai Ji practitioner makes a better runner or boxer. It is not the other way around. Tai Ji is a diversity other than it was converged from other methods. Some may not agree with this. Indeed, I would recommend to go into the study the principle of yin-yang more intensively.


Wuwei,
Let nature take its course.
A deep discussion requires explicit details for a good comprehension of a complex subject.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby DPasek » Tue Aug 08, 2017 7:26 pm

CD stated “if one can handle the sword with finesse...” but failed to address those who do not have sufficient strength to properly handle a sword of historically accurate weight. If someone is sedentary and does not have the strength of someone who does physical labor, then knowing about yin and yang and the universe will not enable them to handle the weight of a realistic sword, and certainly not with finesse.

This thread may address weight training to counter insufficiency in ones muscular build, but moderation is, in my opinion, correctly advised in order to avoid the opposite extreme. We do not want to be too yang, but also not too yin.

To me, sword practice is a form of weight training (as are working with other weapons).

Moderation is good, excesses and deficiencies are bad. To me this follows the yin/yang principle quite well. If one is addressing insufficiencies (weaknesses) through weight training, then it can be fine as long as care and moderation are applied.

An Introduction to Takuan’s Writings on Zen and Swordsmanship (p21; p22 of the PDF) by Haskel states:
http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/books/haskelswordintro.pdf

In the largely peaceful conditions that accompanied consolidation of Tokugawa authority, the warrior class had little opportunity to employ its skills in actual warfare. With pitched battles between contending armies a thing of the past, swordsmanship became an end in itself, transformed, so the oft-heard argument goes, from a practical technique (jutsu orgei) for the battlefield to a “Way” (dō or michi), a path to perfection that was at once an art, a spiritual discipline, and even a form of moral cultivation.


I think that a similar change happened with Chinese arts, especially with the emphasis on revitalizing the people (the sick/weak of Asia...) and society (bullied by Western powers as well as the Japanese...) that is often found in the TJQ manuals of the Republic Period.

The emphasis for TJQ changed from the martial, especially after the Boxer rebellion where it was shown that martial arts practice did not confer immunity to bullets, and that someone with much less training could use a gun to kill an experienced martial artist. The Republic period TJQ manuals began to emphasize health benefits rather than fighting.

The progression to an emphasis on spirituality, cultivation, and other “non-practical” aspects of the art should not be unexpected for martial arts during extended periods in relatively peaceful societies. I suspect that this is the focus of CD’s training – an emphasis on Daoism, qi, more art than martial, etc. Those that value the “practical” aspects of TJQ may not like those who change the emphasis to a “Way”.

Taijiquan began as a practical martial art, and in my opinion, CD’s approach produces an art with a different set of criteria than practical usage. That may be fine for him, but I would personally tend to ignore his approach as it produces dogmas that fail the practical aspects of TJQ. He may believe that one obtains a qi body that confers superhuman abilities on practitioners, but I think in more practical terms. I think that normal abilities are trained to be used in ways that most humans do not normally do in daily life.

While I personally prefer the concept of solo practice as if moving through molasses, or interactive work against resistance, which I think develops the type of muscle development that I am looking for, I am not against weight training in moderation.

Modern TJQ practitioners are unlikely to quit their jobs in order to become laborers, so weight training seems like a reasonable way to develop/maintain what is lacking due to our easier way of life. Especially since so much more is known such that weight training programs can likely be tailored to the specific needs of the practitioner to be consistent with the needs of TJQ.

I think that it is a mistake to make a broad prohibition against weight training, and such a position seems to indicate a lack of understanding. I think that there is a real danger of going off track when one becomes too ritualistic and dogmatic in their approach to TJQ.

On the other hand, someone who emphasizes the “Way” for TJQ would probably think that getting physical was going off track???
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby ChiDragon » Wed Aug 09, 2017 8:35 am

DPasek wrote:CD stated “if one can handle the sword with finesse...” but failed to address those who do not have sufficient strength to properly handle a sword of historically accurate weight. If someone is sedentary and does not have the strength of someone who does physical labor, then knowing about yin and yang and the universe will not enable them to handle the weight of a realistic sword, and certainly not with finesse.



Chidragon wrote: For example, a sword cannot be handled by a beginner unless one has practice Tai Ji diligently for more than three years or longer. In other words, by doing other exercise will not help to understand Tai Chi nor to handle the sword any better. However, if one can handle the sword with finesse will appreciate the time had spent in the practice of Tai Ji Chuan.


DPasek:
I guess you didn't understand the second phrase(highlighted in brown). Why did you ignore it and change the whole meaning of the sentence? The strength build up was came from the diligent practice of Tai Chi Chuan. The finesse came from the coordination with the Tai Chi movements. However, one may swing a sword with the strength acquired from hard labor but without the Tai Chi form and coordination.
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Re: Improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone

Postby DPasek » Wed Aug 09, 2017 1:18 pm

I would agree that TJQ would refine how one uses their strength.

It seems that you do not acknowledge that modern lifestyles tend to produce TJQ practitioners who are physically weaker than their ancestors. To me this indicates a potential deficiency in yang (being too weak, too yin). I think that just practicing solo forms will probably not be sufficient for rebalancing this deficiency. Therefore I think that weight training, while not ideal, could be used in moderation to help correct a deficiency in strength.

Do you not agree that modern practitioners tend to be weaker than previous generations?
Do you think that solo forms alone would correct reduced strength from easier modern lifestyles?
How would you propose increasing deficient strength in modern practitioners?
Do you think that the reduced strength of modern practitioners is still sufficient for TJQ practical usage?
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