Archive for July, 2016

The Eight Brocades: a nifty little exercise

July 26th, 2016 No comments

On a 2007 trip to China, we were introduced to a little exercise called “The Eight Brocades,” “Eight Pieces of Brocade,” or baduanjin. Our instructor was a tall, beautiful dancer and Kung Fu expert whom we nicknamed “Jade.” She was one of those people who could stand on one leg and slowly extend her other leg up until it touched her head. No hands. Geeez.

Baduanjin is a little qigong (Chi Gong, Chi Kung) exercise that can be done whenever you want. It’s meant to be done slowly and with awareness of all your parts’ working together.

Dr. Shin Lin, a clever researcher (and good guy) at University of California Irvine has studied qigong since the sixties. He, and others have said that to be a qigong exercise, a moving exercise requires three elements:

  1. movement (duh)
  2. breathing
  3. intention

I know what you’re saying: “standing practice can’t be qigong, because you don’t move.” Well, zhan zhuang is referred to as standing qigong. Do it for a while, and that will make sense.

Back to the three elements: baduanjin is based on movement, but requires the other two in order to become more than just a gentle calisthenic. We need to synchronize our breathing with our movements, always keeping it deep, but gentle. Check out this little animation to help slow down your breathing.

There’s a standing and sitting baduanjin set, but I, like most people, do a standing set. However, I do it in a slightly different order from that of the set described on Wikipedia. Instead, I do the sections in the order taught to us by Jade:

  1. Hands Hold up the Heavens
    • I keep the arms round, not too close to the chest. I keep them slightly bent at the ends of the motion.
  2. Separate Heaven and Earth
    • I turn palms out relative to the sternum: palms up when above it, palms down when below it.
  3. Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle / Hawk / Vulture
    • Breathe in when the arms come in, out when they go out.
  4. Wise Owl Gazes Backwards or Look Back
    • relax in order to maintain your balance.
    • See if you tend to shift to one side or the other, and gently compensate so you stay balanced.
  5. Sway the Head and Shake the Tail
  6. Two Hands Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist
  7. Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely (or Angrily)
  8. Bouncing on the Toes

But you may ask: “what does this do? What’s the point?” Good question! Qigong practitioners make a lot of specific claims that seem pretty odd to westerners, but because they require some sensitive and complex navigation (well, I think so) I’ll have to tackle them in another post.

Caveat: to me, it’s not a stretching exercise. If you do it as a stretch, you’re doing a stretch, not qigong, in my opinion. By all means, stretch, but do it in addition to a non-stretching qigong version. By “qigong version,” I mean that as we do the exercise, we need to be sensitive to our feeling of physical unity and our physical energy. The energy feeling is pretty subtle, and can be misinterpreted pretty easily. I’ll go into my impressions of it later.

If you look for examples on the web, you’ll find a few different ways of doing the exercise. When I find a video that matches what I do, I’ll link to it. If you do start, pick a method (or order) that seems right to you. However, you should be prepared to change over time as you discover what actions feel best to you. I’ll write about my progress.

Right now, let’s just say that if it’s done slowly, with synched breathing and awareness of the feeling of how the body’s parts integrate, all parts moving and stopping together, the exercise helps me get going and focus in the morning. More to come.


One example of baduanjin. . If the left column were numbered down 1,2,3,4, and the left column were 5,6,7,8, I would follow this diagram in the order 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 7, 5, 8, just because that’s the way I learned it.

Categories: chi (qi), physical health Tags:

Squash: Eye on the ball or eye on the wall?

July 5th, 2016 No comments

Eye on the ball!

I’ve noticed that a lot of squash players at my level, after we hit a shot, we tend to fix our gaze on the front wall, effectively presenting our lovely backside to our opponent.

Why do we do this? Well, I think that we want to see where the ball hits the front wall so we can react to it in time. We know that the ball has to hit the front wall to stay live: if it misses the front wall, it’s dead, we’ve won the point, and it’s no longer our concern. So staring at the front seems to be a percentage play, no?

Speaking for myself, I’ve thought that if I didn’t stare at the front wall after my shot, but instead watched my shot go back to the opponent (now called the “striker”), I’d have to swing my gaze from the striker to the front wall, and there would be some kind of delay as I oriented my gaze to the front wall.

This is not so.

There are at least two advantages to keeping our eye on the ball, and following it all the time:

  • we know where the ball is, and don’t have to “re-acquire” it. If we fix our gaze on the front wall before the ball is actually there, we do not know where the ball is, and we need to re-orient ourselves to the ball as it enters our front-gazing view. This re-orienting delays our response to the ball.
  • we now have some information on how the striker will hit the ball. We can see the angles of the feet, where the striker is looking, what kind of backswing is being used … all of that. Sure, a good striker can still fool us, but if we’re staring at the wall, the striker can do anything and doesn’t have to camouflage their intent.

So. As the books and coaches say: eye on the ball. Watch the striker.

Now, this counts when you’re the striker as well. Sure, you must watch the ball, but if you can, send an eye over to the opponent. Where are they? Are they committing one way or the other? Where are they not? That information can inform your shot, yes?

Just to put a bit of nuance on this … we want to watch the ball and the other player. I wonder if the balance of what to watch is weighed differently, depending on whether you’re the striker or not?  Say, as the striker, you watch the ball more than the opponent, and when you’re the opponent, you watch the striker more than the ball? Discuss.

Image credit: The Racket Shop
(By the way: friggin’ wear safety glasses! Squash balls fit quite well into eye sockets!)

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Wow. Four years!

July 5th, 2016 No comments

A friend said that it’s not a good idea to have so much time between log entries, because it would cause me to lose readers.


Yes, I meant to write (heard that before?) but after, oh, a year, I thought that I’d need to come back with a newly-designed theme, new categories, new ideas, new point of view … but all that at once. RnR reboot!

Well, that didn’t really work out, with work, university and all. So, probably in line with the theme of the blog, I’m not going to hold off any longer and wait until I can make a perfect, big-deal reentry into the blogging world. Instead, I’m just going to start writing again, make the changes as I go, and hopefully give you some brand-new insights into psychology, music and obsecure martial arts.

Off we go.


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