What is Taiso

A group of not so young people starts to gather at the hall, buzzing from the excitement, happily chatting about new moves that they are going to do today and which moves from last week they remember.

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The hall is quickly filled with a group, with ages varying from 40 to over 80, dropping their shoes in the corner.  Some need chairs to have a rest in between exercises but that is not stopping them!

They talk about Taiso, you know, the art of gentle exercising!

What on earth is Taiso?  At LB Posture Training we are running classes for the not so young.  I call it “Taiso – the art of gentle exercise”.  To create this I have taken and modified kata from our style of Karate and added meditation music.  By doing this I have a set of exercises that can be performed slowly and relaxed in the manner of Tai Chi.  I do not know Tai Chi well enough to use this name but I do know Karate and have experience with kata as meditation,  which is why I have researched and used the name Taiso.  “Taiso = tai (body) + so (hardening) and is a generic Japanese term for conditioning.  It can range from simply stretching to very serious conditioning.” (http://www.jqhome.net)

I associate Taiso with exercises so my students can come along and experience training in a safe manner, learn Karate forms and enjoy them in the right state of the mind.  These classes are structured with a gentle warm up, followed by learning a form and perfecting the movement. The third part of the class is dedicated to meditation, where participants perform a learnt form in a relaxed state trying to lose themselves in fluent motion.  This group is not only about the exercise it is a great social platform where people can meet and share quality time.  After the workout we gather and have a cup of tea and chat.

This group was born from the need for cheap and non-impact exercises in the middle of the day so it is easier for the not so young.

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Taiso Normandy

Taiso has many health and mental benefits, not just working on muscles but on the brain too and helps to calm ones mental state.  Via form training we can improve strength, balance, flexibility and mobility.  Our brain is stimulated by learning new patterns, building new neuron connections and reinforcing them by repetition.  Natural, deep breathing oxygenates blood, relaxes tension and calms the spirit.  The more specific benefits of Taiso include:

  • Movements that strengthen the body which helps to keep strong bones and muscle tone. Gradually students will deepen the stances increasing their flexibility and joint mobility.
  • Regular exercising improves lower back strength helping to reduce any back pain.
  • A frequent change of positions in different directions on one foot improves balance and hand-to-eye coordination, improving spatial awareness and helping to reduce trips and falls.
  • Regular exercise improves memory and increases attention and concentration as well as brain blood flow in the region of memory.
  • Taiso helps to focus on performing one movement at a time. Limiting the intake of information is a key brain function associated with brain health.
  • Meditation reduces stress and improves concentration. Practice increases self-awareness.  It increases happiness and meditation increases acceptance.  Some studies suggest that it slows aging and the practice benefits cardiovascular and immune health.
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Les

All of the above, in conjunction with a friendly atmosphere, creates an increasingly popular alternative to what is on offer for the not so young.

If you would like to know more about Taiso please get in touch with me at LB Posture Training

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Mobility vs Flexibility

In teaching Karate I see a lot of students struggle with kicking, moving and standing in stances.

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Neko Ashi Dachi

Whenever I discuss this with people they say that it is due to a lack of flexibility.  Most of them focus their efforts on improving their flexibility.  So they stretch and stretch, but without the desired progress.  This is often because they have forgotten about mobility.  Only through both increased flexibility and mobility can we improve our range of motion, but we cannot do one without the other.

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Les

This article will focus on exercises for improving mobility in the ankles and hips with detailed descriptions of the movements that I use as a part of my corrective exercises, which I teach as a personal trainer and therapist (www.lbposture.com).

Flexibility and Mobility

Our ability to move within our range of motion is determined by the physical structures of our body.  These structures are the tissues that surround our joints, which allow specific movements.  The muscles have to stretch and relax to some degree to allow movement.  This has to be accompanied with the ability to use and activate appropriate muscles at the right time and in the right order to adopt a correct position.  Different muscles have different jobs to do within the motion of a joint.  Some will drive the movement, others will assist or stabilise and whilst others will stop the movement once the joint has reached its end of range of motion.

We can see that flexibility is a highly dynamic action that will require a series of coordinated and sequenced muscular responses.  It is about being sufficiently mobile, that is “having freedom of movement”(Collins Dictionary), which needs stability to control the movement of that joint.  Increasing the static flexibility of muscles will not see an improvement in these qualities/abilities.

 “Joint Integrity must never be compromised for range of motion. The goal of flexibility training is to functionally lengthen and strengthen.” (Vern Gambetta)

For a joint to have a high level of mobility it must have a high level of stability to control the movement within its limits.  If the joint has weakness within its range of motion then the body will limit that range of motion with other structures in order to protect itself.

The ability to functionally take advantage of just the right amount of motion at just the right joint in just the right plane in just the right direction at just right time.”(Gary Gray)

The optimum ability of a joint occurs with the right amount of movement and an appropriate amount of stability provided by the joint and muscle tissue.

To improve the range of motion within a joint it is necessary to conduct repetitive and appropriate exercises using the right methodology.  It is extremely important to work on strength to control the newly developed range of motion within that joint.

 “Repeated movements can be used therapeutically to produce desired increases in joint flexibility, muscle length, and muscle strength, as well as to train specific movement patterns”. (Shirley Sahrmann)

Mobility is the key to performing efficient movements in Karate.  Freedom of movement allows you to execute the correct technique with the least amount of effort.  In my teaching I use sets of exercises developed by therapists and personal trainers to increase mobility and reduce the probability of injury.  Please find below a small selection of exercises.  Note that detailed workouts are designed on an individual basis following a postural assessment of movement patterns.

Exercises

Tightness in a joint is caused by our body trying to protect it.  Only once our body feels stable and strong throughout a joint movement will the new range of motion be possible as the body’s protective mechanism switches off and neural over-activation of the surrounding tissues subsides.

Muscle tissue has to be able to control a wide range and type of movements and conditions.  Therefore exercises should mimic these factors:

 

  • Light
  • Heavy
  • Slow
  • Fast
  • Simple
  • Complex
  • Isolation
  • Compound

 
In martial arts we increase the range of motion by working on:

  • Static or partially loaded movement – isometric, stable and controlled exercises through full range of movement
  • Bodyweight – gravity load from slow to fast movements
  • Complexity – combining movements from other parts of the body or changes in planes of motion
  • Progression – adding resistance, repetition and reducing rest

 

Ankle and Foot Mobilisation

  • Leg Swings

Stand leaning with your hands against a wall.  The back leg is straight (no bend in the knee) and the ankle is nearly at the end of its range of motion, with the heel firmly on the floor.  In this position raise the front leg off the ground and swing the leg from side to side in the same fashion as a pendulum (yoko keage).  The front leg should be nearly straight with the foot passing through the centre line of the body as far as possible on either side.  Continue to swing the leg in a controlled manner, enabling the supporting foot to pronate and supinate, without lifting the heel.

  • Driver

Kneeling on one knee, place the elbow on your front knee and shift your bodyweight forward so as to flex the front ankle.  Use the elbow to drive the front knee forward and the calf muscles to return.  Try to cover all of the directions of the front ankle’s range of motion (to the left, right, forward and so on), all without lifting the front heel.

Hip Mobilisation

  • Shifts

Stand with one foot on a raised surface with that leg straight.  Lift your hands up over your head and gently drive the arms towards the straight leg whilst at the same time driving the hips towards the supporting leg, which is slightly bent at the knee.  Return the hands to centre and repeat again with control.

  • Squat

Stand with one foot on a raised surface.  Squat down whilst reaching your arms forward at hip level.  Make sure to keep the back straight.  Return up and repeat.

Pelvic function

  • Kneeling Overhead

Kneel on one knee; this will be the side that will be worked.  Lift your arms up and gently drive the hip (on the working side) forward and then back.  When driving the hip back lower your arms in front of your body to shoulder height.  Repeat the forward and backward motion with the arms moving up and down.

  • Step to Overdrive

Place one foot on a raised surface with the instep of the foot on the surface.  Lower the supporting leg into a squat position whilst raising your arms overhead.  Return to the starting position and repeat.

Joint mobility is starting to become more recognised as an integral part of improving body movement and posture.  As a result more and more martial artists are becoming aware of its importance.  I will be teaching aspects of improving mobility at the Isshindo Kan International seminar that I will be attending in Mrozy, Poland next month.

 

References:  Postural Analysis and Corrective Exercise Manual, Premier Training

The Welcome Project

Two months have now passed since I started working in cooperation with The Welcome Project to provide Karate classes as a form of activity for people that suffer with mental health issues.  It is widely recognised that physical activity has a very positive impact on mental wellbeing and Karate offers a wide range of benefits for all students.

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The Welcome Project is a part of the Catalyst charity.  Catalyst is an independent charity which has been in operation for over 30 years.  It is a non-profit organisation that works with people who are dealing with issues stemming from drug and alcohol misuse and mental health across the Surrey area.
The Welcome Project team work in partnership with other charities and volunteers to provide a variety of activities, support,  guidance and opportunities for people who feel isolated, have lost their focus, suffer from anxiety or need a change of direction and live in the areas of Guildford, Waverley or Surrey Heath between the age of 18 and 65.

For further information about Catalyst and the The Welcome Project, please visit their websites at the links below:

http://www.welcomeprojectsurrey.co.uk/about-us/
http://www.catalystsupport.org.uk/

logoAt the beginning of the year I contacted Catalyst to ask if my skills could be used in any way to help them.  Catalyst diverted me to the Godalming branch of The Welcome Project where I met Debbie, a very friendly, no nonsense character, who offered me an opportunity to teach Karate to their clients.

After clearing all of the required checks for becoming a volunteer within the organisation I began to teach Shin Ai Do Karate at the Wilfrid Noyce Centre on the 10th of March.

I have to say that I was initially very stressed as I do suffer with mild anxiety.  My main thought was “what should I expect?”  Would I be able to find a common language with the new group?  How will I design a suitable programme to meet the students’ needs/expectations?  Will anyone be interested?

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Having suffered with anxiety throughout my life I taken the approach that I will challenge whatever is causing me to be stressed.  If a task worries me I will just get on with it and in most cases this results in me realising that there really was nothing to worry about.  So with this challenge I decided to stop worrying and just went for it.

I cannot remember where this quote came from, but I think it is a good reminder to me about my anxiety.  “Fear knocked on my door, but when I opened it there was no one there.”

The first class was a stress bomb for me, but when four students turned up I thought “it’s not that bad, some people have come to learn Karate, now I have an opportunity to do something useful.”

P1030833Normally when I have a new group of students I introduce myself and then we start training.  This time I was so stressed and it appeared to me that the students were experiencing a similar level of stress so I thought that the best option would be to sit down and have a 20min chat about who we are, why we are here etc.  I have to say that it was a great relief to me and hopefully for everyone else when we established that we all had similar worries about this first class.  As in most cases it turned out that there was no point in me being worried about not finding a connection.  I think my only problem was my Polish accent, but so what if I had to repeat some things a few times or rephrase them.  I am always looking for opportunities to improve my English!

Now after two months we have a group of 10 students that attend classes on an irregular basis as not everyone can attend all the time, but the classes have become an established part of my week and I think this is true for others as well as they are returning.  Hopefully we will grow in numbers in the future and can provide Karate classes to people who want to have a workout, gain discipline and build their self-confidence and self-esteem.

It is great to be part of a project that is supporting people with mental health issues.  I hope that through these actions we will bring more awareness to this often unseen condition.

Life purpose – what would you do if…

A few days ago I was visiting one of my friends. I love to talk to Marek as he always has something interesting to say. This man has always his own opinion on any subject and I don’t know many so knowledgeable people this bloke is run by an urge to know everything!

New Microsoft PowerPoint PresentationWhen we meet we like to talk for hours about philosophy, different views on life and current events. I respect Marek for other reasons too. He is painfully honest. He will say what he thinks no matter how upsetting this might be for you. Maybe because I am the same that is why we love to talk to each other.

This time Marek asked me a question. It was a very intriguing question. He mentioned that when speaking to other friends not many people can definitely answer it. He was sure I can as he described me with “You are different” I don’t know if I should be happy or worried and the question is:

If there was no limit to money what would you do in life?”

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pic from psycho.univ

Damn this is a good question and he was right. Without thinking I answered that Karate is what I want to do, to be precise to help people through Karate.

Marek exploded with “I knew it! You are one of the most focused people I know and you are realising your goal”. Again he is right as I do teach Karate to help people of all ages.

This conversation made me think about it and as time goes by I can see that there are so many people traveling through life without clear purpose, they do not know what do they want to do.

Another thing that I have discovered since I had developed my clear vision of who I want to be, and I realising bit by bit my dreams I stopped to expect outcomes, I enjoy doing things just for the experience of doing it.  I have to say that my life become less stressful and more enjoyable now I can really say that I’m happy.

I hope that more people will find their purpose in life and can achieve their dream.

Sometimes what we need to see things clearly is other person’s question with their point of view. Love to chat to Marek such a nice guy.