Sunday, December 29, 2013

Getting the Point

Quick update from my previous post.

We made it back from Maui (18 hours door-to-door), but the 9 hour flight back from Honolulu to Narita was absolute agony.  Although I did not break anything and had no internal injuries, I was whiplashed by the wave, and my neck and upper back are still swollen and it hurts just to sit down.  I am not sleeping well (3-4 hours/night max) since every time I toss or turn the pain wakes me up.

I did not go for TCM in Maui since I don't know anyone there (you will understand why by the end of this post), but luckily I was able to get in to see Edward Sensei at his clinic the day after we landed back in Japan.  His clinic was very busy, but he kindly made time for me since I was injured.

Those of you who know me know I am a huge advocate of TCM in general, and of acupuncture and moxibustion in particular.  It is absolute magic for joint/ligament/tendon/muscle pains and injuries, works well for headaches, stress, depression and a wide range of other disorders.  Even if nothing is "wrong" I recommend a monthly "tune-up" to ensure optimal health and balance is maintained.

There are many people who turn their noses up to TCM, calling it "voodoo" or "black magic" and generally of the mind that it doesn't work unless you believe in it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The more research is done, the more we come to understand that the holistic view of TCM and preventative medicine is scientifically valid and in many cases far more effective than traditional Western medical treatments.  In a potential life-or-death situation such as I had on Maui, I defer to a Western trauma center, where the Emergency Room staff are specially trained to keep me from dying.  However, keeping me from dying is not the same as keeping me healthy, and the difference is worth thinking about.

Here is my advice on how to evaluate the quality of TCM treatment:

Good treatment should be painless.  If I feel the needles or get too hot from the moxa, it is a sure sign of an amateur (and that I should find another clinic immediately).  I have had acupuncture treatment in the past and felt the needles hit my spine.  Not good.

Good treatment is relaxing.  Music is soft and instrumental, and care is taken to ensure I am comfortable (not too hot or cold).  Likewise, I should not experience nausea or dizziness from the treatment.  I have received treatment from some clinics (that I will never return to) that made me vomit on the way out.

New/clean needles each time please.  Hepatitis (or the stress of worrying about it) should not be part of the treatment.  Good doctors have a very clean and well organized clinic.

I expect to be treated as a WHOLE PERSON, not simply at/around the area where I have symptoms.  Unlike western medicine, treatments need not be exactly on the spot of the pain or injury.  Sometimes the best way to treat a site is to focus on the opposite side, for example.

Good treatment does not just focus on the current problems, but also seeks to strengthen weak areas so that future issues can be better avoided and mealth can be maintained.  A good doctor will discover areas of concern I didn't mention because they are not bad enough for me to notice them...yet.

A good TCM doctor is like a good detective; not just addressing the symptoms, but always questioning to understand and treat the root causes of disorder and disease.  Every patient is different and every treatment situation is unique.

A good TCM doctor involves me in the process and helps me understand what is going on with my body and how his/her treatment plan will address it.  It is an interactive experience rather than a one-way dialog or lecture.

Good practitioners do not try to mystify patients with pseudo-spiritual or religious overlays. Objectives of the treatment are clear and methodologies are open to be shared and explained.
I have learned a great deal about TCM from being treated.  Questions should be welcomed.

Unlike Western hospitals, TCM clinics are places of HEALING.  Therefore, they and their doctors and staff should radiate a tangible positive energy.  The doctor and staff should exhibit a quiet, relaxed confidence and this is an important and often overlooked part of the treatment.

A good doctor works hard to develop a trust relationship with patients.  I do not trust this important treatment to very many people, and knowing/trusting my TCM doctor is paramount.
Be willing  to pay more or travel as far as needed to visit the doctor who is right for you.  Your health is worth it.  Accept no compromise or substitute.

A treatment generally takes an hour or two and can involve any combination of acupuncture, moxibustion and massage, but that depends on what is being done.  A serious session (when I am injured) might be well over 2 hours.  The best thing to do afterward is immediately go home and rest/sleep as long as possible.  It has been my experience that a good session from a skilled doctor is one of the very best remedies for life's bumps and scrapes, and I strongly suggest a monthly visit whether you are injured or not.  It is useful for your TCM doctor to "benchmark" your baseline health, which can help him/her to identify when things get out of alignment and need to be adjusted/corrected.

A lot of our disease and discomfort is caused by stress and tension, and a visit for TCM can help relieve these.  I prefer TCM to chiropractic, since TCM looks carefully at the underlying factors which affect posture and balance.  Chiropractic tends to do an adjustment/alignment, but underlying tension and stress will quickly pull the spine back into the wrong shape if not addressed, resulting in the need for another chiropractic adjustment and so on in an endless loop.

After my experience on Maui, I couldn't get back to Japan fast enough, and I booked an appointment with him as soon as possible.   I have had a lot of treatments from a lot of TCM doctors in my time, and far and away the best I have met so far is Edward Obaidey at Edward Obaidey Acupuncture Clinic in Sangenjaya.  It is with himself, his staff and his clinic in mind that I wrote the above checklist.

If you have not had TCM treatment before, I hope this post will help you take the first steps with an open mind.  If you are a veteran like me, make sure your body is in the right hands by referring to the above and considering your current TCM practitioner.  Better still, go see Edward Sensei.  You (and your body) will be very glad you did.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Yesterday started off as a usual perfect day in paradise.  We had breakfast at the condo, and made our way to Kamaole III beach nearby.  After setting up the parasol and chairs, it was down into the surf for some boogie boarding.  George got dragged under by a wave and gave up, and I remember telling him to keep at it. "Sometimes life knocks you down, but you have to keep on getting back up".  Life is not without a sense of irony.

In the next set a big wave came and I crested it...and then was driven headfirst into the sand below.  I saw stars and felt lightning down my arms.  I staggered to my feet as the wave washed back, worried that I might drown if I lost conciousness in the surf.  I also wanted to get away from the next wave before it might drag me under.  I crawled onto the beach and discovered my face was filled with blood.

The lifeguards were waiting and got me a few steps further, lying me down while they brought a backboard and neck brace.  In a few minutes they were carrying me up the beach to wait for an ambulance to take me to the ER.  My fingers were burning; my head and neck numb.  My family stood by watching me, shock and horror across their faces.  I am sure I looked pretty bad.

In the ambulance, the paramedics kept asking me to touch my toes together, move my fingers, repeat my name and address - I knew they wanted to keep me out of shock and assess how much potential damage I had to my neck or spine.  They got an IV started and took my vitals.

At the hospital, they kept asking me the same things - move my fingers and toes, repeat my name and address.  Everyone was concerned that I could have serious damage to my C5 cervical spine and/or a possible concussion.  I was X-Rayed and ultimately given CT and MRI as well to ensure there was no bleeding inside my brain.  They took blood and gave me a tetanus shot as well.

After a long day (over an hour lying immobile just in the MRI), the net result was better than expected:  apart from a few stitches in my lip where my face hit the sand, just some minor abrasions and stiffness/soreness.  I am not dead (it happens).  I am not paralyzed (it also happens) or permanently injured.  I did not break my neck or my back, and did not even break my nose.  I did not get a concussion and did not chip any teeth. I have no internal injuries, broken bones or dislocations.  I do not have a long hospital stay or months of agonizing physical therapy ahead.  I have been incredibly lucky.

I believe that martial arts had a big hand in saving my life and health yesterday.
At first, I was able to keep myself concious and stay focused on getting out of the water and out of danger. My survival instinct is honed a bit better than the average person it seems.  Martial arts training has also made me acutely aware of my own body, and this helped me to understand my condition and be able to communicate exactly what I felt.  It also helped me stay calm and focused as I dealt with all the changing situation and the possible outcomes I might have been facing.  I used my training to remain still during over an hour in MRI so they could get good quality images to assess possible spinal/cervical swelling or brain damage.

I had several hours to think about my life and how lucky I am.  Lucky for my training.  Lucky for my family. Lucky for every breath I take and every step I travel.  Lucky to have come to such a beautiful place. Luckier still to have come so close to losing so much, and to be able to get up and walk away.

Accidents happen.  The best we can do is to try to be prepared and be willing to accept whatever comes our way.  I am well aware of the fact that I will die someday, but until this morning I hadn't really thought about the fact that it could have been yesterday - in the surf off Kamaole III public beach near Kihei, HI.

Much mahalo to everyone who helped me yesterday, from lifeguards to paramedics to ER staff to doctors and neuro specialists.  Thank you for making sure I am not broken.

I wish you all a joyful holiday season.  Keep your loved ones close.  Count your blessings.  Cherish each day.  See you soon.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I saw the picture at left on Facebook, and it really got me thinking.
So much of what we encounter in our life is based on our perception - rather than the actual thing itself.  We think we see reality, but in fact we only see what we think is real at the time.  It is at best a "temporary reality", at worst having no resemblance whatsoever to reality.

This applies to objects, but also to events, people, situations...relationships.

Guro Fred taught me about the Law Of Attraction --- look it up.  Study it well.  It's true.

All the time, our attitude is what determines what we see, and how we see.  The more I think about the passage in the picture the more I come to understand that the true keys to happiness are never found anywhere but in ourselves.  We already have them.  We choose to be happy or sad because we decide how to see the world around us.  In many cases we deliberately put a negative filter on things, which causes us to see things in a negative way.  We could also choose to see things in a  positive way.

Regular meditation is the best way to reset our sense of perspective and come as close as we can to seeing things as they really are - limitless and boundless, neither good nor bad, connected at the deepest level --- and ONE WITH US.

To make your life better, the only choice is CHANGE.  Until we are willing to change, we can have no hope whatsoever of seeing the world differently.

Please think carefully about this.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Art of Unbalancing

This topic has been on my mind all week - from my private session to the Friday open class.  In fact, I guess I have been thinking about it more and more since my seminar in Singapore with Guro Maul Mornie of Silat Suffian Bela Diri.  He called it out specifically, and it ties back to older discussions with Sifu Frank on Wing Chun and Guro Fred on Kali and even my days in Yoshinkan Aikido with Sensei Mike.  From different perspectives, all of these masters were saying essentially the same thing.

Unbalancing is at the heart of all good martial arts technique.

We often think of unbalancing as a specific technique we use - sweeps or foot traps, or as a result of something else, for example our opponent falling down from our strong punch to the jaw.

The reality is very different.  Our goal should ALWAYS be to attack the structure; the balance of the opponent, rather than to cause specific injury. Aside from the valid moral philosophy that we martial artists should be wise enough to cherish all life and that "do no harm" should be a daily mantra for us, seeking to cause injury is inefficient technique.  Even if I can cause injury, I will always be close enough that my opponent can injure me at the same time (uchiai 打ち合い to all you kenjutsu practitioners out there).  Injuring my opponent may not always cause them to stop their aggression.  In fact, it may even increase their aggression.  Beyond the Buddhist principle of causing no harm, a healthy dose of self-preservation makes me want to not get hurt much more than my wanting to hurt someone else.

Thus, efficient technique always seeks to disrupt the structure and balance of the opponent from the first initial contact - turning their head/neck/spine or removing their base, which compromises the opponent's ability to generate strength and power and weakens their ability to resist.  Subconsciously, we always seek to recover our balance as a priority - spiritually/mentally as well, more on this topic another time - and this takes concentration away from counterattack.

This can be achieved by almost any technique, but several principles help understand what to do:
1) pulling - the simplest method, and the easiest to resist.  Pulling is much better when used a split-second before pushing
2) pushing - more effective than pulling, and stronger still when not done in a straight line.  Pushing into circles (rowing) can be extremely effective since it is harder for the opponent to find a line of resistance
3) absorbing - this can cause the opponent's momentum to carry them off balance and yield great opportunities
4) misdirecting - changing the line of the opponent's motion can lead to powerful unbalancing

In practice, we often apply our entries and techniques without remembering to unbalance our partner.  We think because we are training, there is no need or that it is rude/disrespectful/unfriendly to do so.  Sadly, this habit will prevent us from developing the correct muscle memory and instinctive reaction to take balance, which is precisely the skill we should value over all else.  Mastering this concept can help us to diffuse aggressive intent without having to injure an aggressor.  This is the pinnacle of martial arts achievement.

I suggest looking back through the various techniques you know and reconsidering how they work.
Reverse engineer them to understand where the contact points are, especially the entries, and consider carefully how to use them in the principles above to unbalance the opponent as quickly as possible.

In training, use your techniques to cause unbalance every time.  Note:  this does not mean slamming your partners to the mats.  Instead, it means using the techniques for their intended purpose - to understand human structure and how to influence it.  Subtle movements will show you when your partner's balance is being broken.  In training it is fine to allow your partner to recover.  In reality once the balance is taken away, never give it back until the situation is resolved.  It is up to you how much more than that you need for each specific encounter or set of circumstances.

Study this well.