Just one Thing – Dr Michael Mosley on Tai Chi (BBC Radio 4)

The Just One Thing series from Dr Michael Mosley is a radio show on little ideas that might make a big difference to your life. This week he’s looking at Tai Chi, and seeing what difference 15 minutes a day can make.

Dr Mosely looks at the scientific evidence for Tai Chi being as effective as conventional exercise. It’s quite interesting. One study said Tai Chi was better than brisk walking, for example, which is something I’ve always wondered about. He also looks at Tai Chi’s effect on the brain.

Here’s the blurb

“If you’re looking to add more exercise into your lifestyle why not consider Tai Chi. It’s an ancient Chinese martial art – it’s sometimes called “meditation in motion”. It’s a series of different postures that gently flow into each other in slow movements. One of the big benefits to Tai Chi is that it can significantly enhance the activity of our immune system. And although it looks gentle, it can be a surprisingly good workout! Michael Mosley speaks to Dr. Parco Siu from the University of Hong Kong, who has been studying the health benefits of Tai Chi for over a decade. His research has revealed that Tai Chi can lead to faster brain benefits than other exercises. He also found that Tai Chi was as effective as conventional exercise like moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or muscle strengthening activities for reducing body weight and visceral fat!”

Listen here. (15 minutes long).

Martial Arts Management Software: Signs You Should Use It

(Sponsored content)

Have you ever wished that running your martial arts academy was more accessible and more efficient? If so, it may be time to look into the latest Martial Arts Management Software. 

Managing a Martial Arts School can be overwhelming, but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be! 

Martial Arts Management Software is designed to help make sense of the administrative chaos that comes with running a successful business. Whether you need to keep track of student records, manage bills and invoices, or monitor your academy’s finances, there is sure to be a software system out there that can help.

If you’re wondering whether your school needs this software, here are some signs indicating you should consider using it!

Billing and Collection Issues

One of the most prominent challenges schools face is billing and collecting money from their students. Martial Arts Management Software makes it easy to manage your student accounts, allowing you to keep track of payments, overdue balances, and more.

This can help you stay on top of any collection issues, ensuring that you are getting paid for your services promptly.

Class Scheduling Problems

Managing a martial arts academy can be a complex and time-consuming task, especially when it comes to scheduling classes. However, with the help of advanced software systems, scheduling classes have become much more manageable.

With this software, you can easily create, maintain, and update your class schedule, ensuring that all of your classes are offered on the days and times you need them. This can help ensure that your students always have access to the classes they need so they can go anywhere for their training.

Members Tracking Has Become a Problem

Another common issue facing martial arts academies is keeping track of their members. With so many students coming and going, it can be difficult to keep track of all the different people training at your academy.

  • Missed Expiring Memberships

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to member tracking is ensuring that you are never missing expiring memberships. Martial arts management software can help to make this process easier, as the software can send automatic reminders to your members about renewing their memberships in a timely manner.

Additionally, with this software, you can set up automatic renewal reminders, which can further help ensure that all of your members are up-to-date on their memberships.

  • Untracked Achievements, Belts, and Grading

Another issue that can arise when it comes to member tracking is failing to track important milestones, such as belt and grading achievements. Martial arts management software can help with this by providing a convenient platform for recording these milestones.

With the push of a button, you can record your members’ latest achievements, helping you stay on top of their progress. And by automating this process, you can ensure that all of your members’ milestones are tracked and recorded promptly.

Spending Hours On Admin Tasks

If managing financial reports and cash flow takes much more time than teaching Martial Arts, Martial Arts Management Software can help you save time and money. By automating processes such as billing and collecting data and information, you can spend more time on the things that matter most to your business. 

Additionally, using martial arts management software often comes along with other benefits, such as improved cash flow and reduced costs. If you want to streamline your academy and make it more efficient, it’s worth considering investing in this type of software.

Messy, Disorganized Paper Filing Systems

The more your martial arts studio grows, the harder it is to keep up with all the paperwork for student registrations, attendance compiled, payment due and instructor qualifications-not to mention classes and business operations that can become confused without proper record keeping. 

With Martial Arts Management Software, all of your data and information are stored digitally, making it easy to access and update at any time. This not only helps you to stay organized, but it also helps to keep your data secure, as paper files are often lost or damaged.

Lack Of Financial Reporting Tools

Every martial arts school needs to have efficient financial reporting tools in place, but all too often these can be lacking. This is where martial arts management software can help fill the gap.  

A management software system often comes with a wide range of financial reporting tools, helping you stay on top of your business finances and quickly identify any areas that need to be improved.

Inexperienced or Overwhelmed Staff Members

If your academy is experiencing issues with member tracking, financial reporting, or any other aspect of running your academy, it can be difficult to know where to turn. 

By using martial arts management software, you can streamline your academy and ensure that all of your members are well taken care of.

Managing School Has Never Been This Easy

If any of these issues sound familiar, then it’s time to consider using Martial Arts Management Software! With the right system in place, you can take control of your business and focus on running a successful academy. 

Systema and Tai Chi – similarities and differences

Matt Hill and Vladimir Vasiliev

I had a great visit to The System Academy in Wiltshire last week where I enjoyed a bit of 1-1 Systema coaching from my old friend and owner of the Academy, Matt Hill. I also recorded a podcast episode with him for The Tai Chi Notebook Podcast, which will be coming out in November. Matt trained Aikido in Japan and served as a Captain in the British army, as well as working in crisis management before he became a full time Systema instructor, so he’s got a lot of experience of different types of martial arts and working in pressure scenarios. Because Matt and I live quite close to each other I had the opportunity to get a bit of hands-on work in before we sat down to record the episode. It was great to experience some Systema myself this time, and I particularly enjoyed the striking aspects, which is something I’ve put on the back burner a bit as I’ve got more into grappling over the last few years.

One of those eternal questions that pop up on discussion boards a lot is, ‘how close is Systema to Tai Chi?’, and this was one of the things I’ve been mulling over since I had the lesson. Both these arts stress what Systema calls the Four Pillars – breath, posture, relaxation and movement – but on a basic level I think one of the immediate differences between Tai Chi and Systema is that Systema seems to only exist in relation to something you are doing, whereas Tai Chi has this weighty set of philosophical principles that exist independently to the art, like Taoist philosophy and yin and yang, as well as concepts from the Tai Chi Classics regarding posture, movement and strategy. Tai Chi can certainly be talked about in terms of these abstract concepts and ideas, but in contrast, Systema needs to be shown. When you’re not doing Systema, then where does it go? It’s a bit like your lap – when you sit down you can point to your lap, but when you stand up, it vanishes!

Systema seems intrinsically tied to what you are doing, not what you are thinking. Of course, you can argue that even when you’re doing nothing and not moving, say, just sitting there, you are still doing something, so perhaps Systema is always there: You still have a posture, and you are always breathing, and that means some movement is happening in the body and you can still relax, which is a kind of a movement in itself. But there doesn’t seem to be an underlying theory, comparable to something like Tai Chi’s theory of yin and yang, that underpins it all.

Another interesting difference is that when Systema teachers talk about embodying the 4 pillars – they really mean it! They’re not just paying lip service to the ideas – they are living them. Even outside of the martial art practice, Systema seems to have the potential to pervade everything you do. In Systema you tend to lead movement with your breath, you breathe the tension out of your body as you work and you try not to muscle anything. And that can be applied to anything, not just fighting.

Of course, you could say the same thing is true of Tai Chi, but there’s so much other ‘stuff’ to worry about in Tai Chi – like a form,(and getting the form just right), dantien, and the 6 harmonies or the 8 co-ordinations, etc, etc.. I think inevitably, with so much on your plate, some things slip. But with only 4 principles to keep in mind, you can spend a bit more time really digging into them.

And then there’s the amount of physical discomfort you experience. Tai Chi can be really hard on the legs for sure, but push ups, leg raises, sit ups and squats are the meat and potatoes of Systema, none of which you’ll find in a bog-standard Tai Chi class. Not to mention learning to give and receive strikes. Even more martially inclined Tai Chi classes don’t tend to work on actively standing there and learning how to receive strikes.

Chen Xiaowang, Tai Chi broadsword

Adopting any sort of ‘martial arts pose’ is frowned on in Systema. Again, you can argue that there are no fixed shapes in Tai Chi either, but Tai Chi does put a lot of emphasis on structure – keeping a connection to the ground through a relaxed frame, and there are ‘kung fu’ style postures. Systema seems to prefer you trust in your relaxation and let gravity do its work. For a Tai Chi person, it’s quite freeing and fun not to have any fixed shapes you’re expected to adopt. The emphasis in Systema seems to be on not trapping yourself into patterns of tension that you first have to exit before you can move freely. Fighting somebody else is hard enough already – you don’t want to have to fight seven battles within yourself just to move freely before you even begin!

So yes, Systema is different to Tai Chi. But I think the two work really well together. The Tai Chi practitioner can take from Systema the idea of not being trapped in ‘postures’ – fixed shapes (Ward off, Diagonal Flying, etc) and the value of removing as much tension from your body as you can while still working on moving with an opponent. Also, breathing tends to get only a cursory mention in Tai Chi, but focusing more and more on keeping your breathing smooth and continuous, and noting how that relates to tension in the body, is a great addition to any Tai Chi form, and I think that has to help make your Tai Chi better, by any objective measurement.

For more on Systema have a listen to my chat with Rob Poyton again, and look out for my interview with Matt Hill in the next episode of The Tai Chi Notebook Podcast, coming in November.

Qigong enters the lockdown matrix

Let me just pop up in your feed to recommend you give this video by Paul Bowman a watch – it’s about 20 minutes long, then questions after, but the main part of it is a nice little summary of what happened with things like Tai Chi, Qigong and Yoga over the lockdown period in the pandemic and how the marketing of these things subtly changed. I keep getting adverts for the same sort of Qigong classes in my social media feeds too, so it’s interesting to speculate on why this is happening. Worth a watch!

The Balance Tai Chi Brings To Your Weight

Have you ever been in a situation where you suddenly felt a subtle change in your body? Maybe your body is feeling a bit weaker, sluggish, or even a tad stiffer than usual? Maybe you’ve put on a bit of weight, and your body decided to send you a little message. It is interesting how you always have the sense that you need to move, as if your body is trying to tell you something.

Your mind is a powerful instrument. It knows exactly when you need a push and how much push you should be giving your body. One great way to harness your mind’s capability is to channel it through Tai Chi. Tai Chi requires a type of resilience that no other exercise can provide – it requires you to develop the resilience to work slowly and methodically even when your mind is telling you that it would rather do something much more intense. During high-intensity workouts, you can easily tune out and smash your way through them as you blast out tunes to keep you going. Tai Chi requires that you stop and reconnect with your breath before you go through your routine. You are then expected to keep your mind present and engaged throughout. The mental fortitude you develop while doing Tai Chi – which even the British Heart Foundation points out is required for a healthy lifestyle – will better serve you as you face more daunting tasks, like losing weight.

Here are a few beginner-friendly routines to get you started in Tai Chi, if you haven’t started already:

Exercise #1: Tai Chi Walking

As you go through this routine, concentrate on shifting your weight smoothly and without wobbling. Pay particular attention whilst you’re shifting forward onto the turned-out foot as you are twisting your torso. Complete beginners will often find this challenging, so don’t feel frustrated if you have a hard time. Your body will get used to this movement the more often you practice. To make sure you are getting the most out of the workout, try to keep your centre of gravity levelled. Be aware of how much you bend your legs and keep your body from moving up and down as you shift weight.

Exercise #2: Wild Horse Parting Mane

The key to this Tai Chi exercise is to try to combine the weight transfer, torso twisting, and arm separation and perform them in a flowing motion. Be mindful that your legs should be driving the pelvis forward. Feel your spine being in charge of rotating your shoulders as your shoulders propel your arms.

Exercise #3: Cloud Hands

As much as you are able to, draw circles with your arms in a smooth, continuous motion and keep your speed uniform all throughout the routine. With constant practice, you will begin to notice the overhand arm pulling while the underhand arm pushes/stabs. This movement activates the posterior chain on one side of the body while simultaneously engaging the anterior chain on the other.

Committing to a regular exercise routine, like Tai Chi, helps bring you closer to your ideal weight. Moreso, small lifestyle changes like being aware of what you put in your body will also help you tremendously. WeightWatchers notes that the best weight loss programmes work optimally when their main goal is to help you find movement you enjoy. This way, your decision to move becomes a healthy habit that sticks.

If you are still not convinced of the weight loss potential you can get from Tai Chi, you might be surprised to find out that the calm, rhythmic flow of Tai Chi works equally as well as cardiovascular exercise and strength training. The results from Tai Chi are comparable to the mentioned exercises in terms of reducing waist size and cholesterol improvement. A trial published by the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that three 1-hour weekly sessions of this low-impact practice helped the participants lower their level of triglyceride (a type of fat found in the blood). This eventually led to greater drops in body weight.

When it all boils down to it, the best way for you to lose weight is to find an activity that you enjoy, and that makes you feel good. If you are looking for a workout that would help you strengthen your mind as you strengthen your body (and lose weight in the process), give Tai Chi a try.

Episode 16: Tim Cartmell on keeping it real in martial arts

My guest in this episode will need no introduction to anybody who trains in the Chinese styles of Xing Yi and Baguazhang, especially in the United States. Tim Cartmell is a lifelong martial artist who spent many years living in Asia learning the internal arts, before heading back to the US where he took up BJJ, becoming a black belt. Tim is now the head jiujitsu coach at Ace Jiujitsu Academy in Fountain Valley, California where he teaches classes and trains professional MMA fighters. https://www.acejiujitsu.com/


In this podcast I ask Tim about his training tips, especially for older martial artists, where he thinks martial arts is going in the future and his approach to combining all the arts he knows into a single principle-based, reality-driven approach.

You can find out more about Tim at his website www.shenwu.com and don’t forget to check out the Shen Wu Martial Arts group on Facebook.

I hadn’t talked to Tim before this interview, but many of the people I’ve had as guests on my podcast have rated him highly, and now I know why – for somebody with so much experience of martial arts Tim is a very humble and genuine guy, as I hope you’ll discover over the next hour or so.

You can support The Tai Chi Notebook Podcast by becoming a patron. Head over to www.patreon.com/taichinotebook and become a patron today! You’ll get a version of the podcast you can download, exclusive video clips and articles.

How I popped my SI joint back in, using baduanjin

A couple of months ago I put my Sacroiliac joint out doing Jiujitsu. Typical symptoms are pain walking, standing in one spot and generally everything involving being alive. I didn’t know it was out initially so carried on training for a couple of days, but the pain steadily increased until I sought help from a sports therapist who diagnosed me, followed by a painful massage which felt good afterwards, not during!

This video shows where the Sacroiliac joint (SI joint) is located (it’s the meeting of the sacrum and the iliac.) The pelvis is not one bone, it’s three bones and the SI joints are what connects them together. The presenters are a bit crazy, but I kind of like them:

As you can see, there’s not much movement in the joint at all, and when it gets jolted it can move out of alignment and that’s when you get all the problems I had. Naturally, your other muscles and tendons have to compensate for the joint being out, and they object, strongly! In my case my piriformis was particularly unhappy about the situation and wanted to let me know by inflaming. Ouch!

I want to post a picture of the piriformis showing its location, but at lot of these medical pictures are copyrighted, so I’ll link to a page that has one instead here. The picture of the posterior of the pelvis is here.

Now the video above shows various ways to pop your SI joint back in the right place, but I did it using the baduanjin exercise I was taught as part of Chinese Qigong, so I thought it was worth talking about here.

After a sports massage to relax the tendons I did the usual Baduajin routine I do regularly as part of my morning routine, and during one particular exercise I felt the SI joint pop back in place straight away.

Baduanjin 八段錦 (translates as ‘8 silk force’ or ‘8 pieces of brocade’) are a set of Chinese exercises that could be up to a thousand years old. Simon Cox has a great history of the baduanjin (including a video of them being done) on his website here.

The version of baduanjin I do is way simpler than Simon’s version from Wudang mountain. Here’s a video of my version done by Sifu Kerr of the Spinning Dragon Tao Youtube channel (whose videos are worth checking out as well):

At 6.48 he does “Stretch and Glare to the Horizon” which is the exercise that immediately popped my SI joint back in. I prefer to do that one with my hands in fists rather than the “sword fingers” Sifu Kerr is using, I don’t think it would make any difference to what’s happening to your SI joint either way.

In the Okanagan Valley Wading video that exercises is called “7. 攒拳怒目增力气 Make a fist and with glaring eyes increase your power and qi,”:

But they do it with the fist vertical and very much as a hard punch. The variation I prefer myself is doing it as a slower stretch and I keep my fists horizontal, and a bit bent downwards, so effectively out of alignment for a punch, but with an increased stretch across the yang channels on the outside of the forearm. With the slower stretch version you can really feel the counter rotation on the spine as one arm is stretching forward, the other is simultaneously stretching backwards and you are doing your best to not let your pelvis move – just keep it facing 100% forward and level in a horse stance… And that’s what did it – pop! I felt my SI pain immediately go and the joint felt normal again. Relief!

Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely, circled in red, was the exercise that did it for me.

As you can see, there are many variations on the baduanjin, (just look at how many you can find on YouTube!). So, I’d suggest sticking with whatever version your teacher gives you. The important thing is these exercises put my SI joint back in place, and for that I’m very thankful, as is my piriformis, which took a couple of weeks to quieten down, but hasn’t bothered me since.

If you ever put your SI joint out, it’s good to know how to put it back, so try the above. I’d recommend a sports massage as well, to deal with the inflamed tendons caused by it being out of place.

Just as an aside, Ellis Amdur wrote a brilliant article that I’d recommend about Baduanjin Used as a Therapeutic Activity Within a Youth Detention Facility. Check it out.

Slowness training, or more accurately, ‘not rushing’, in Tai Chi

Rushing is probably the cause of most of our problems. That time you didn’t notice the uneven paving stone and tripped? You were probably rushing. That time you shouted at the kids because they couldn’t get their shoes on fast enough while leaving the house? You were rushing. That time you accidentally emailed a picture of yourself drunk to everybody in the company? You were definitely rushing then.

In nature, wild animals can move a lot faster than we do, but do they ever look like they’re rushing? A rabbit sprinting for its life to avoid a fox still moves with poise, dignity and grace. Compare that to the embarrassment of the average human running for a bus, an act in which the stakes are considerably lower! Even a cat, an animal known for incredible bursts of speeds pauses for a second before it makes that leap onto a table, so it can be aware of the entirety of the situation.

But how can we learn to stop rushing all the time and regain this poise which animals seem to naturally have? One answer is Tai Chi.

If you’ve been doing Tai Chi for a while, a good number of years, then you’ll know the form inside out. It’s no longer a fresh, new and exciting thing. In fact, your mind is probably bored with it. Here we go again, this same old moves. Sigh. Stand for a moment before you do the form and you’ll notice feelings of impatience start to creep in. Part of you will want to start rushing, to get it over with as quickly as possible

This is where your slowness training is useful. Do the form slowly, at an even pace and just keep doing it. Resist the call the start speeding up and rushing sections. Treat all parts with equal importance. Even the linking moves between the classic postures. Notice your breathing. Keep your awareness on what you’re doing. Don’t let the mind wander off – keep it in the body and keep bringing it back. If you do notice that it’s wandered off completely then stop and start the form again, no matter how far you’ve got. Slowly, day after day you build a kind of mental strength, and if you’re lucky you’ll find it seeps over into the rest of your life, and you’ll be less prone to rushing than you were before.

Stop rushing and you no longer slip up,

Stay in the moment and strains are no longer felt,

When strains and no longer felt, stresses start to disappear,

Once stresses disappear, you can walk lightly.

Walking lightly, smiling brightly.

Photo by S Migaj on Pexels.com

Arlene Faulk on Tai Chi for Multiple Sclerosis

My new podcast episode is out! This episode is all about Tai Chi and the health benefits.

Arlene Faulk is the author of Walking on Pins and Needles, her memoir of living with multiple sclerosis without a diagnosis for many years, spending two years not getting up from the couch and how she eventually found Tai Chi and how it helped her combat the disease and regain her health, eventually becoming a Tai Chi teacher herself. Make sure you listen right to the end as we have some tips from Arlene on how you can use Tai Chi principles discussed in the Tai Chi Classics to feel better right now as you listen to the podcast.

Faulk Tai Chi can be found online:http://www.faulktaichi.com

Walking on Pins and Needles by Arlene Faulk, book cover:

RIP Dan Docherty, Tai Chi Gladiator

Sadly, yesterday the Tai Chi community lost Dan Docherty, who for a time was without a doubt the biggest name in Tai Chi in the UK. He represented a dynamic, full-contact style of Tai Chi that he learned during his time as a police man in Hong Kong from Grandmaster Chen Tin Hung and his 24 Nei Kung exercises, which he taught alongside his Tai Chi Chuan.

Dan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 56. He recently celebrated 50 years in martial arts this September and you can hear the story of his life, and diagnosis, told by the man himself here.

My condolences to family, friends and students. May he rest in peace