Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Anime Favorites

Just some quick thoughts on favorite 2018 anime.

Hinomaru Sumo

I've been dabbling in a modern martial art that might be described as a re-imagined Japanese martial art.  It started out as a re-imagined Aikido, with all Aikido movements distilled into five "great themes", but quickly evolved to incorporate influences from Judo and Sumo, so that the practitioner would, in theory, be comfortable with body-to-body grappling.  Aikido is typically practiced with one's partner kept about arm's length away, but in real situations, an opponent is likely to come into closer range than that.  Anyway, I've enjoyed a few sports anime, but the emphasis on sumo was a new one to me.  As is typical of sports anime - Chihayafuru being an obvious exception - female characters are kind of just decoration, but at least they're not subjected to fanservice.  The characters in general are a fun bunch.  So far, it's one of the better sports anime I've seen, with a better than average pace.

Ms Koizumi Loves Ramen

It's just like the the title says - about a girl so obsessed with ramen and antisocial that I wondered at times if she was autistic.  I'm kind of a sucker for foodie anime, so it was easy to dismiss the lack of character development, and the girl who has a mad crush on Koizumi-san provides comic relief.  My only complaint really is the one bit of fanservice in which Koizumi-san appears in a bikini for no apparent reason. Favorite scene: Koizumi-san tries Muku Zweite Ramen, as Kraftwerk-style music kicks in. The scene appears around 17 min:

Apparently, Muku Ramen might no longer be available at the ramen museum, but this article supposedly has the recipe.

Violet Evergarden

This might be the closest thing I saw this year to a true shoujo/josei anime, although it doesn't have the obvious tells like flowers appearing in the background for humorous effect, though comedy is decidedly not the focus of this show.  The titular character is a former child super-soldier who has been led into a new career as an "Auto Memory Doll".  Her new job is to type letters for clients, but unlike the old-school secretaries, "Dolls" are typically expected to assist in composing the letters, in accordance with the client's requirements, not just type what a client is saying word-for-word.  This sets up some scenes that are intended to move the audience, but the emotional connection isn't consistent.  That said, the episodes involving a child do tug at the heartstrings quite effectively.  The world setting resembles Victorian age Europe, but it's clearly not set in the past of our world.  This might very well be the most beautifully drawn, colored, and animated show this year, except perhaps compared to Iroduku,  which is equally stunning visually, but doesn't quite make my favorites list.

Laid Back Camp (aka "Yuru Camp")

This is what I believe anime fans would call textbook "moe" anime - aka Cute Girls Do Cute Stuff (for a male demographic), for better or worse.  But it's "moe"-ness is not an issue here, because our gals love cold-weather camping, and cooking mouth-watering dishes to enjoy at their campsites.  I had to look up the voice actress for Rin to make sure she wasn't the same one who played Koizumi-san (above).  Rin, however, is not a borderline Asperger's sufferer or anything like that - she's depicted as a mentally healthy girl who just happens to enjoy solo camping, and none of her friends make a big deal about it.  This quickly became my favorite show to watch before going to bed at night, because it's so relaxing and peaceful.  I absolutely love how the show ends too.  The music is quite wonderful as well. 

A Place Further Than The Universe (aka "Yorimoi")

Yorimoi is not only the best anime I saw this year, it's one of the best anime I've seen in my lifetime.  The premise sounds simple:  Four teenage girls go to Antarctica.  But just a look at the four reveals this anime is something different - each girl has a distinct face, unlike a lot of anime where everybody pretty much has the same face and is only differentiated by hairstyle and/or hair color.  A quick Google search will turn up tons of reviews, blog posts, etc. about Yorimoi, and some lively discussion of which of the four protagonists is the "best girl".  Some favorite articles:

Japan: Yorimoi vs. Real Life
Singapore: Yorimoi vs. Real Life
AnimeFeminist Winter 2018 Recommendations (includes Yorimoi) 
NY Times: Best 2018 TV Shows

A moving video love letter - but it does show some spoilers:

So there's not much I can add that hasn't already been said.  The NY Times comment is spot on: it’s an absolutely authentic depiction of how friendship can overcome adolescent anxiety and grief.  The show Violet Evergarden also explored grief, but I haven't seen an anime cover it as effectively as Yorimoi and the equally classic Maison Ikkoku

Why is has Yorimoi left such an indelible impression on me?  For one thing, it caught me at a point in my life where I'm mulling next steps - whether I should move to take on a new job, or stay in town; should I change my career, etc.  The desire to make a change in one's life, maybe even make a bold move is a big thing in Yorimoi.  If I do move to another place, the friendships I have would inevitably be affected, so Yorimoi's depiction of friendship, and the nature of friendship also connected with me.  The scenes of kids being, well, kids, was also quite enjoyable as well, as I was reminded at times of the goofy parts of my own childhood.  Before you can cry with a character or four, you need to be able to laugh with them first and this is a show that has the perfect balance between comedy and drama.  On top of all that are occasional displays of Studio Madhouse's stunning virtuosity as animators.

I wrote about some of the music here, which includes clips from the show that might give some impression of what the characters are like.  While there is some strategically placed monologue and no shortage of dialogue, the characters also say a lot without uttering a single word, through their facial expressions, glances, gestures, etc.  Oh, and Crunchyroll put up Episode 1 in its entirety for free on Youtube:

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Music Discoveries - Anime edition

Some anime series that were released on Crunchyroll in 2018 had music that caught my attention.

The Hinamaru Sumo end theme has high-testosterone feel befitting a show about a high school sumo team, making male listeners want to get up and shiko stomp.

Laid Back Camp, aka "Yuru Camp", has a pleasant, folk-heavy, somewhat Celtic-tinged soundtrack that fits perfectly with the theme of the show, which is, well, about camping and enjoying mouth-watering Japanese cuisine while chilling out next to one's campfire.  The Jackson 5-inspired opening theme is a bit jarring compared to the rest of the soundtrack, but has a feel-good vibe that fits.

A Place Further Than The Universe, aka "Yorimoi", is my favorite anime of 2018, and now sits in my personal Top 5 all-time great list.  I could clarify why it left such an impression on me, but it'll have to be another post.  I admit these insert songs are not typical of the music I listen to, but they fit the scenes in which they are used so effectively.  My Japanese comprehension isn't good, but the lyrics to all these songs have something to do with going on a journey, despite various obstacles and scuh.  So instead of posting the full versions of these songs, I think it's fitting to just post the clips where they're effectively used as part of the soundtrack.

Clip #1, Song:  Koko Kara,  Koko Kara ("From here, from here")

Inspired by her new friend Shirase, Kimari finally goes on her first out of town trip - a small step towards an even grander journey

Clip #2, Song: Sora Wo Miagete ("Lift up the sky")

The teenage would-be Antartica explorer group has grown to 3.  They run upon Shirase's command, despite not fully understanding why.  For Kimari, the experience quickly becomes a joyful celebration of youth rather than a fearful one.

Clip #3, Song: Sora Wo Miagete ("Lift up the sky")

Same song as Clip #2, but now used to set the excitement shared by the group, which now numbers 4, as they gaze at the sunrise after spending their first night together in close quarters:

Clip #4, Song:  Haru Ka Tooku ("Far Away")

The 4 girls introduce themselves to the Antarctica expedition team, which is in a somber mood for a reason that is revealed by watching the show.  Shirase overcomes her issues, not the least of which is stage fright, to cheer up and rouse the team:

Clip #5, Song: One Step

The girls have been seasick onboard the icebreaker, and are doubting whether they can really handle the challenges of an Antarctica expedition.  But then they spontaneously decide to do something a little crazy to snap themselves out of their funk - the timing of Kimari opening the door and the beat of the song kicking in as the air blows her hair back is one of the most beautiful sights I've seen in anime:

Song: Mata Ne ("See you again")

No clip here.  You'll have to watch the show to see in what scenes this song is used, though I suppose I can say it first appears in the scene in which one character tries to end her friendship with her best friend; and believe it or not, there's an even more emotionally devastating scene later on in the show that uses this song.  The emotional power of a couple of those scenes relies heavily on the character development and attention span of the viewer.  The emotional impact seems to be intensified by the sparse guitar-and-vocals arrangement.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Funtional Qi - aka "The Suit"

A recent explanation by Mike Sigman:

Generally speaking, the functional "Qi" or "suit" of the human body tends to be all of those things that are under control of the subconscious (or unconscious; it's just vague terms) mind. So your functional qi tends to be things like the involuntary muscles of the vascular system, the involuntary muscles of the skin (think of goose bumps and hair-raising) and subdermal layers, sheets of fascia that are connected to each other, to muscles, to bones, etc., by myriad small involuntary muscles, and so on. When you look at this whole involuntary system as a whole, it is a supplement that can assist your muscular strength, your physical structure, it can affect involuntary control of balance forces within the body, and so on. That's the functional "qi" and the more important qi because all the other things called "qi" tend to be what that functional qi/suit can do.
There is a belief in an etheric or energetic form of qi that travels through the body and that etheric qi is always related to strength and where it goes. The etheric qi was probably (IMO) postulated as a form of fudge-factor, long ago, to make up for incomplete understanding of physical and chemical processes within the body. The existence of an etheric qi is what a lot of people argue about ... but most people are simply unaware of the functional qi as an artifact/process within the body.
The functional qi (or "suit") can be thought of an overlay of the muscle-skeleton-organs-tendons of the body. For a simplified illustration model, let's think of a coherent (connected from end to end) "suit" as being like layers of Saran-Wrap (Polyvinylidene chloride wrap) that go length-wise through the body and which can stretch and also close/contract. So, in other words, imagine a muscle-skeleton-organs body which can Open and Close, but all the muscles, skeleton, organs, etc., are wrapped and connected by a "Saran Wrap" that can also Open and Close, if we take the time to train it and strengthen it.
Training it and strengthening the imaginary Saran Wrap and its association with the Subconscious mind is what qigongs do. Since good and complete 6H CMA's use the qi and 6H movement, such arts are technically just a "moving qigong" (a lot of westerners mistakenly translate that as "moving meditation", but it's really a qigong that involves, yes, the Subconscious mind).
If we go back to our visualization the functional qi as being in some respects like length-wise layers/sheets of Saran Wrap that interpenetrate and cover the body from head to toes, there should be a way to walk and move with the body that optimizes our ability to utilize the imaginary Saran Wrap that can Open and Close. That optimal way of utilizing the length-wise Saran Wrap is mapped in the channels/meridians of the body and the central control point is the main dantian just below the navel.
Secondary dantians and anchor points for the imaginary Saran Wrap are found at other points: the top of the head, behind/between the eyes, the juncture at the lower throat, the meeting of layers at the sternum, and also the nexus/junction inside the perineum between the legs.
If the layers of imaginary Saran Wrap are used most efficiently, the body must be re-trained to use as a unit and the muscles of the body have to be re-coordinated to move in that manner. Yes, you can move the body without so much patterning away from "normal" strength, but you will be leaving money on the table by not maximizing the available power in the head-to-toe imaginary Saran Wrap.
BTW, you should be able to extrapolate why doing the magical appearance and choreography of some form like Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, etc., doesn't really do anything qi-wise. Doing a bunch of powerful and impressive martial techniques, etc., has nothing to do with qi-development, either. The whole of Chinese/Asian martial-arts is built around the existence and utility of qi and the subconscious ...

Friday, November 30, 2018

GMB's 12 Days of Play Promo series

GMB started a promo campaign promoting their exercise programs.  The concept is they introduce a new movement every day for 12 days.  See the individual video descriptions for info about the contest which is part of the promo, the prizes, etc.  The moves are fun to play with if you're reasonably healthy (no serious injuries). 

In case you, dear reader, are wondering, I don't get any money if somebody decides to buy a GMB product because of what they read on my blog.

Here are the movement videos - will try to update as new videos get posted, as they're difficult to find by normal Youtube search:

Day 1 - Bear

I've seen all three variations in the Elements program, but it's nice to see a different person demonstrating the moves.

Day 2 - Jump

2nd variation I think is in Floor One, but I don't own that program.  3rd variation is in Integral Strength.

Day 3 - Monkey

1st variation is the basic version in Elements, but the 2nd and 3rd look new to me.  2nd variation is dragging the toes, almost floating them.  3rd variation adds a pause with toes floating.

Day 4 - Cartwheel

I'd seen a GMB tutorial that introduced the Cartwheel as a variation on Monkey but this is not the approach taken here.  Very clear progression of starting by approaching the "line" (formed by your hands) from an angle, and gradually tightening the approach angle to where your body does the whole movement on the line.

Day 5 - Hollow Body Series

Looks mostly the same as the Hollow Body series taught in Integral Strength, except the face-down variation; presumably to stay with the idea of teaching 3 variations per movement.

Day 6 - Forward Shoulder Roll

This is not the same front roll taught in Aikido and Judo dojo, but then again just about every "system" has its own front roll.  I like how this version of the front roll is broken down here. I don't know of anyone else who teaches the front roll like this - in which one gets into a particular position and just hangs out there, and gradually and slowly works towards the roll.

Day 7 - Bent-Arm Monkey

The first two variations are pretty much the same as taught in Elements.  The 3rd variation is actually the Crow Pose, except just a 1-second hold is ok.  You get the idea that practicing the Bent-Arm Monkey will aid greatly in the quest to achieve a Crow Pose.

Day 8 - Frogger

The variations are a bit different than what is taught in Elements.  First is dragging the toes across the floor.  Second is pulling the feet forward, just above the floor (no toe drag) - basically the "standard" Frogger.  Third is the standard Frogger with a "stall" - doing the movement slowly enough to give the feet more time to float in the air.  Finally a bonus advanced variation is shown, which is to do the third variation, but then pause with the feet still in the air, toes pointed back.

Monday, November 19, 2018

GMB's Crow Pose Tutorial updated!

GMB published a tutorial on the Crow Pose a while back.  I started thinking about the Crow Pose as a way of maintaining or even improving shoulder strength in the forward direction, without impacting my clubbell training too much.  The clubbell training program that I'm currently pursuing does not forward pressing strength very mush.   More about clubbells in another post.

I'd messed with Crow Pose off and on for a while but have never achieved it.  So I guess I've arrived at an "on" time again.  This time I noticed a major GMB's tutorial - they've added a major update to their training progression!  Now it looks like this, with updates in bold:

1. Rock back and forth between toes and hands.
2. Lean forward to place your forehead on the floor and hold position, with feet still on floor.
3. Point toes backward to remove the support of the foot, with head still on floor, working towards pointing the toes of both feet backward.
4. Slowly look up, looking up just a little at first - to remove the support of the head - working on looking up further

I've seen other crow pose/frog stand tutorials, but GMB seems to be the first to have hit on the idea of using the head as an additional support, then gradually removing it as a support as the trainee gains the necessary balance and strength.  Kudos to GMB on this updated Crow Pose Tutorial.

I should note that in my eagerness to test myself today, I rushed to the last step of the progression - with both feet pointing backwards, I lifted my head.  It was fine for 2 seconds or so, then I felt a sudden sharp pain in the left side of my chest.  It might have been gas in my stomach, or it might have been my pectoral muscle suddenly cramping.  I don't think it was a heart attack because the chest pain would have lasted minutes instead of seconds; or the pain would have returned after going away.  In any case, to play it safe, I'll practice Crow Pose under this updated routine on days that I'm not training with clubbells.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Jin Series #3

Jin Series #3 by Mike Sigman
Illustrating Qi and Qi Jin
Just a quick aside to explain how I illustrate sometimes. In the drawing below, there is a yellow band of color that has some little balls in it. The yellow band is meant to represent the actual tissues/muscle-tendon-channels that are support the stresses through the tissues: that is the Qi or the qi-tissues which are making minute directional force adjustments in the body. The little balls with arrows all pointing in the same direction as the jin force are to indicate those minor adjustments that are happening all through the body. So the yellow line is basically the Qi tissues that align to form the jin force.

Here is an illustration of Downward Jin. Remember that a good push outward and a good pull downward with jin require that the body be cohesively connected throughout the qi-tissue path.

Also remember that you can combine different directions of jins
imultaneously. For instance, a good basic punch is going to have jin from the feet to the fist and at the same time there will be a downward-pulling jin. The combination of two forces adds into a stronger force.

The red line is the jin force as it feels to someone receiving the jin force. Of course forces don't happen magically through the air, but since that resulting force *feels* like it is directly from foot to hand, I draw it as such. When I'm actually doing a jin-force like that, I visualize that there is a force up from my feet and straight to my hands. If someone touches my hands, I focus and maintain the visualization of a force from my feet to my hands: the body and subconscious oblige by producing such a force.
As you progress, you learn to picture forces from a point of access to the ground up to some other point on/in your body or into your opponent's body.

Jin Series #2

Jin Series #2 (by Mike Sigman)
The Essence of What Jin Is, in Practical Usage.
I'm going to keep this short/truncated so that the meaning gets through more clearly without getting too far into the weeds.
Stand up and either imagine slipping a 30-pound backpack/rucksack onto your shoulders or imagine putting a 10-pound bag of beans on the top of your head like a primitive porter might do. Feel the weight. Now, mentally try and arrange your body so that the weight of whichever you imagined goes down through your bones to the soles of your feet and therefore the weight has "gone through your body" and is now resting on the ground. There is a very different feeling when you have allowed a weight to go straight through your structure to the ground. Learn to relax and let forces go through you to the ground at your feet.
Do the same process two or three times and notice what happens when you "change" your body inside and "let the weight go straight through your structure to the ground".
When you let the weight go through your structure and rest on the ground, rather than holding the weight somewhere in your body, you will be using less muscular effort because you're now letting the ground hold most of the weight. So suddenly you have a bit more spare muscular strength to play with. A quick test that I suggest for people to use when they feel like they've let the load through their body to the ground is to wriggle/gyrate the hips a little bit: the hips should wiggle freely and, most of all, the lower-back should be relaxed. Always keep the lower-back relaxed because that aids in letting the support of the ground up through your body to hold the weight on back or head. Tension in the lower-back reduces the purity of the ground forces coming back up through the body and therefore forces you into a more muscular-strength-demanding mode.
The tissues and micro-muscles that are changing where forces are coming from (whether the sole of the foot or somewhere in the body) are the qi and if you notice, if you were able to shift the weight down to the soles of the feet, you couldn't directly just bring those muscles into play: you had to visualize the effect you wanted and those micro-muscular arrangements were shifted/changed accordingly by the subconscious. So you can think of your "qi", in this case, as being some involuntary-muscle-tissues that are mostly controlled by subconscious, not the conscious, direct mind.
Exercise #1
There is a very good, basic exercise where you hold a small weight/ball in your right hand (or left hand) and arrange yourself inside so that the weight of your body and the weight in your hand are resting directly on the soles of your feet: your foot-sole accepts the full weight from above. Try to keep the weight from your hand and body always resting on the soles of your feet while you make the weight/hand go around in a small circle. At all points in the circle, the weight should be resting as much as possible on the ground at the soles of your feet. You are now doing a basic jin/movement exercise.
If you want to utilize the body most efficiently while making the circle, keep the weight on the ground through your body, but make your middle/waist the pivot point for how the body is moving the hand circularly. If you're more comfortable just using the shoulder, that's fine for the moment. If you're going to start learning to use the dantian/hara, you're going to have to move your pivot to the middle of the body someday.
Exercise #2
This is a variant of Exercise #1, but in this case hold your right arm horizontally out in front of you, right foot forward, with your palm facing forward. Start off with your weight slightly forward onto the front/right foot. Let a partner push into your palm with about 3-5 pounds of force and you sink back and down into your foot. Imagine a straight line from your back/left foot-sole going straight to the point where your partner is pushing into your palm. Even though your body is bent at the shoulder/arm, the actual force should be imagined as going straight from the palm of the hand to the foot. The foot does all the holding work; rest into it completely and let it be the foot that stops/holds the incoming push from partner.
If you're successfully letting the sole of your foot accept the incoming push, you should be able to easily wriggle/gyrate your hips a bit. Keep the lower back relaxed, always!
If you're doing Exercise #2 correctly, you should be able to focus on keeping the incoming force in the back foot while you do a slow, small circle of your arm/hand while keeping the weight/force comfortably in your back foot. Once again you're doing a fairly basic jin exercise if you do this correctly.
Think about what is going on, for a moment. This post is to give you an idea about what Jin actually is: we'll get deeper into how to use it and ways to use it, later. Jin is a way of setting up force paths by imagining them: your subconscious and your involuntary-muscle system do the aiming of the force direction. Most of your jin forces will come from the ground, but some of them can come from the down-pull of weight or some combination of the two mechanisms. Some jin usages can be pretty complex and take some practice to use, but essentially jin comes from the way the qi-tissues and subconscious align forces in the body (a largely autonomic process). So the mind leads the qi and the qi configures itself ahead of the jin being present. Jin is called "the physical manifestation of the qi": what could be more accurate than that?
If you let the ground hold most of the weight/forces, the ground does most of the work. If you let your weight pulling down provide most downward force, gravity is again doing most of the work.

Jin Series #1

Posted by Mike Sigman on 6H - first of a new series of articles about Jin, reflecting his updated understanding.

What is Jin and why is it useful?
Jin is a force and a force can be measured and its direction ascertained ... that puts it in the real, scientific world and it gives us a Rosetta Stone from which we can get a grasp of what the elusive "qi" really is.
Jin is called a "refined force", one that is developed over time, as opposed to the normal muscular, brute force of muscles and bones which is normally referred to as "force", which is called "Li". "Jin" and "Li", both being "forces" are sometimes used to mean the same thing: for instance, it is common to say either "fa jin" or "fa li", in idiomatic conversation.
The qi paradigm is very old and when it first originated, they invented some terms like "qi" to help explain how things worked. The problem is that in light of discoveries in physics, physiology, describing things using the ancient qi-paradigm can get sort of confusing. Just keep it in mind that we often to things within our body that require subtle changes in forces to achieve: western physiology has one way of describing/explaining those subtle changes in forces, but in the old days of China, they decided that those subtle changes were caused by something called "qi".
"Jin" forces are the result of subtle ("refined") changes in the "qi" in the body, and hence without "qi" there is no "jin".
Most jin is ground-based jin and there is an old common saying to the effect that the "the qi/jin starts at the feet, is controlled by the waist, and is expressed in the fingers/hands". Ground-based jin works upward from the solidity of ground, but remember that the solidity of the ground is there because of Gravity ... gravity is the Qi of the Earth.
Jin can also start from the pull-down of weight, but the pull-down forces of weight are also a product of gravity, the Qi of the Earth. So Up or Down, Open or Close, our forces almost always relate in some way to the Qi of the Earth, or Gravity.
Jin forces are "refined" forces because they are the product of the mind's controlling of subtle body components (the ones the ancients referred to as "qi"), and Jin forces are always some form of the forces of gravity, whether Up, Down, or some arbitrary angle that relates to Up or Down via angles and geometry and/or friction.
The advantage to Jin forces is that they can be formed within the body and not be visible to an outsider. For this reason, jin is called "the concealed strength". IN RELATION TO AN OPPONENT, JIN FORCES CAN BE ADDED BACK INTO AN OPPONENT'S FORCES IN SUCH A WAY THAT AN OPPONENT'S FORCES ARE USED AGAINST HIM.
That martial usage above is the principle advantage of jin forces in martial usage, but since jin forces are from either the solidity of the ground or the downpull of weight there is an extra, important advantage that the Up and Down forces from the Earth also give us a lot of additional force that does not require so much muscle. More on that part of Jin, soon.
Most of the impressive tricks seen in Asian martial-arts have to do with jin or with other odd ways of manipulating and training the so-called "qi". There is a discrete development of tissues controlled by the subconscious which is the qi of the body, but we'll talk about that further in the series. I don't want any post to get so long-winded and complex that it defeats the idea of simple, manageable chunks of information.

Friday, October 12, 2018

IOS Generative Apps: Senode, Riffer

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Modified Integral Strength: Week 3 start

Began the week with more modifications to the program:

1. Do at least one session with an easier leg exercise than the Shrimp Squat series
2. Replace Bridge Press-Up series with a variation that won't aggravate last week's neck injury.

I can do pistol squats for a few reps, but my knee gets sore for several days afterwards, because of the spine-pelvis misalignment that the physical therapist found during my PT time for the low back.  The Shrimp Squat series seems kinder to the knee, but I figured I'd try an easier leg exercise for at least a couple of sessions to see if I could condition the legs while giving the knee more of a rest.

For Monday, the replacement leg exercise was the classic bodyweight deep squat.  Part of the PCC Century Test to earn a PCC Instructor certification is 40 deep squats.  I am not even close to qualifying to be a PCC Instructor, but I wanted to see if I could do 40 squats.  By rep #30, my quads had a good burn going, but I did make 40 reps, with more left in the tank.  I stopped after rep #40, though, because I didn't see the point of continuing. 

For this morning's session, the replacement leg exercise was the the split squat, which is just a stationary lunge.  I did about 20 per side easily, so for the next circuit, I moved up to the walking lunge, which was also easily done.  I did 15 reps per side then decided to move on.

The replacement for the Bridge Press-Up was the Candlestick Bridge, which is a Shoulder Bridge with one leg extended upwards.  It proved to be safe for my neck because it never leaves the floor.  With one leg working against the floor and the other in the air, it's just challenging enough to continue strengthening the lower back, glute, and hamstring until ny neck is healthy enough for the Bridge Press-Up again.

As for the other exercises, I'm closing in on double digits in the Knee Pushup.  The 2 weeks working on Inverted Leg Raise resulted in improved performance in the Inverted Press (A-Frame variation) - where before lowering the head to the floor and pushing back up was hard, now I'm working in the 5-7 rep range.  In the L-Sit series, the basic straight-leg hold (legs straight but not high enough to qualify for true L-Sit), is getting more stable.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Modified Integral Strength: End of Week 2

The neck was starting to feel pretty good this morning, after regular practice of the GMB Neck Mobility exercises.

Then I started dong Bridge Press-Ups and the soreness in the back of the neck returned again with a vengeance.  I should have stopped as soon as I felt the pain intensify in the neck.  I guess I didn't stop immediately because I thought I was just coordinating something wrong.  I should have recalled the section of the Convict Conditioning 2 book which stated that the neck gets a good workout from working on the normal Bridge, without any work on the "Wrestler's Bridge" - the variation of the Bridge which is done with the top of the head on the ground instead of the hands.  So I'll have to lay off with my Bridge training for the time being, in addition to giving up pursuit of the Inverted Leg Press.

On the bright side, I gained enough strength from this brief pursuit of the Inverted Leg Raise to lower by head all the way to the floor, and do a Inverted Press back up into the A-Frame position.  So having to switch out the Inverted Leg Raise series in favor of the Inverted Press series isn't all bad.  I'll wait until I've worked towards the legs-elevated step of the Inverted Press progression before I try the Inverted Leg Raise series again.  By the time I reach that step, the neck should have healed, barring some other accident.

Losing the Bridge piece of the Trifecta for cooldown is a bummer - I don't really have a replacement "active stretch" - by Convict Conditioning standards - but for stretching out the front of the body, I have some options.  There's the Kneeling Lunge for the hip flexors and quads.  There's also the Cobra pose which should stretch out the same areas stretched by the Bridge, except without any contraction on the back side, as the standard instruction is to relax everything on the backside, especially the glutes.  The Muay Thai mobility routine may also be more than adequate.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin

Week 2 under Modified Integral Strength Pt 2. Sore neck

Woke up this morning with the back of my neck more sore than it was yesterday.  Worked through the supine and quadrapedal exercises from the GMB Neck Mobility routine, as well as reviewing the seated exercises.  There was one exercise that I was unable to do because of the neck pain - the Retraction with Rotation and Sidebend from the quadrapedal series.  Because of the sheer number of neck exercises from the GMB Neck Mobility routine, as well as prescribed reps and set, the neck mobility practice took up most of my morning exercise time.  The rest of the session was spent on a bit of Cando Bar silk reeling practice and some stretches from the Muay Thai mobility routine. 

Speaking of the Cando Bar stuff, I realized that I should keep the arm more extended - not necessarily lock out the elbow, but at least remove the "slack" from the "suit" we are trying to develop.  This is helping me feel the suit working a bit more in the bottom half of the "positive" movement - I'm feeling more of a pull from my abs/core to the hand, through the arm; instead of just the arm, or at best a conventional "rowing" action (the arm and upper back working together).  I'm also getting more comfortable with the "negative" movement, in which the counterclockwise rotation of the dantien pulls the right arm out, causing it to unfold, which is quite a different sensation from the normal pushing action of the triceps, shoulder, and chest working to extend the arm.  This is why all of the punches I've seen in Chen Taijiquan are accompanied by the opposite arm being pulled back.  The pull of the opposite arm is sometimes said to be for an elbow strike to the back, but I think it's mainly a reminder to the practitioner of what direction the dantien should be rotating.  The rotation causes one arm to pull back because the front of the dantien is pulling; while at the same time the back of the dantien is pulling through the other arm, causing it to unfurl like a party favor and extend outwards.

As of this post, my neck is feeling better.  I'll do another round of the seated exercises when I get home, then the supine and quadrapedal ones before I go to bed.

Unless my neck is completely pain free tomorrow, I'll switch from the Inverted Leg Raise series to the Inverted Press series, so I can continue improving my overhead pressing strength while waiting for the neck to recover.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Week 2 under Modified Integral Strength

I'm going to call the program "modified Integral Strength" because most of the exercises are from the Integral Strength program, and are mostly practiced in the same order in a circuit.  The modifications I've made are to simply do as many reps as can be done "pretty" instead of within a specific time frame (20s or 30s), temporarily subbing the Inverted Leg Raise progression for the Inverted Press progression, replacing the lower steps of the Chinup progression with inverted rows from under the dining table, and eliminating the 3-min. cardio session (sprinting in place or jump rope) that's introduced after the first couple of weeks.  The main cause of the change was to make the routine more flexible for days that I commute to work by bicycle.  The warmup routine is also being tweaked here and there - the latest thing is adding some moves from the GMB Muay Thai routine to help improve my mobility for the kicks in Taijiquan and Japanese kata that we practice, as well as moves where I have to balance on one leg while extending the other.  Integral Strength does not prescribe a specific cooldown, so I'm continuing to use the Trifecta from Convict Conditioning, plus the stretches from the Muay Thai routine and the brachial hang.

I'm closer to finding the optimal positioning for the hands in the headstand.  I did have a bit of an accident today when I made the triangle between my hands and head too flat.  The GMB Inverted Leg Raise video says that you don't want the triangle to be so flat that it's a straight line, as you're more likely to tip over.  Well, my triangle didn't disappear into a straight line, but it was flat enough that I felt my body start to tip over.  I was close to the wall to be prevented from completely falling over, but the body tipped over enough to put pressure on the back of the neck.  Thus, the back of my neck is sore.  I'm trying to address the soreness, and hopefully facilitate healing, by gently practicing the seated exercises from GMB's Neck Mobility routine. I'll try the supine and quadrepedal exercises tomorrow morning as part of my active recovery routine.

Despite the sore neck, I've progressed in the Inverted Leg Raise enough to try Step 2, which is pulling a knee to my armpit.  When I straighten my legs and rock my body in and out of the headstand, my feet leave the floor when my butt is pulled over my head - probably because my tight hamstrings pull up the feet.  Just for fun, I tried pulling in both knees at the same time.  I was able to do that, just as I did the first time I tried, but I still need to improve the strength and stability of the tripod created by the head and arms.

Friday, August 10, 2018

End of Week 1 under new program

I suppose I should think of a name for the new program, instead of just "the new program".  Can't think of anything at the moment, so "new program" it is.

For today's session, I tried the headstand with the hands closer to the head than in the previous session.  As a result, I was able to push hard enough through the hands, when "rocking in", that  not only was the pressure on my head reduced more, but my feet started to float off the floor.  My balance felt pretty stable.  The only negative was there was some pain in my suspect shoulder when my weight was most concentrated on the upper body. 

So the next thing to work on in the Inverted Leg Raise progression is hand and arm positioning that does not add shoulder pain.  I need to make sure that I'm not allowing the elbows to flare out.  I am also hoping that the bodyweight rowing, knee pushups, and brachial hanging will soon make that shoulder less susceptible to pinching or other irritating sensations.

I added two sets of Bridge Pressups, essentially not doing Bridge Pressups on the last circuit.

I've gone back to doing the exercises in a circuit, which is a base feature of Integral Strength, but not necessarily Convict Conditioning.  It's just more time efficient to work through each exercise in a circuit.  However, because my interest is in strength training rather than conditioning/weight loss, I'm not making myself go from exercise to exercise with as little rest time as possible.  I'm giving myself time to catch my breath and reset myself between exercises.  I'm currently taking a 2.5 min. rest between circuits but I may bump that up to 3 min.  The 2-3 min. rest period between circuits is another carryover from Integral Strength.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Session 2 under new program

I stood in front of a mirror and put my hands and arms about where they should be when I'm in a headstand, with the elbows at 90 degrees, hands just outside shoulder width, upper arms about 90 degrees from the torso.  The imaginary triangle between hands and head didn't look equilateral at all; quite a bit more flattened than that.

I then tried practicing the Inverted Leg Raise progression with this new hand positioning.  I did feel like I had much better leverage for pressing harder through my hands, and thus noticeably reducing the pressure on the top of the head.  I then realized that "rocking forward", per the Step One instructions from the tutorial, wasn't just pushing down towards my toes to push the legs towards my head - it's actually pulling my butt forward so that it stacks over my torso and head.

Performance in the other exercises were pretty much the same as the first session.

The day after, I didn't feel the same neck soreness as I felt Tuesday (day after first session).  I did go through the sitting neck exercises from this routine, however.

I also tried GMB's Muay Thai Mobility Routine, which I'd previously put off because I'm not a Muay Thai player.  However, the article promises benefits for those who practice any movements that require balancing on one leg while extending the other - and Taijiquan definitely qualifies.

Monday, August 06, 2018

First session under new routine

Today was my first session under the new program.  I'm confident I'm now training at the appropriate level for each of the exercises, despite being able to perform a more "advanced" version of each exercise, except the dynamic L-Sit.

I'm going to stay at the lowest level of the Inverted Leg Raise progression for at least two weeks.   I need the time to figure out the optimal position for my hands.  The instruction to draw a triangle between the head and hands seems clear at first, but I doubt it's a perfect triangle - that is, it can't be an equilateral triangle based on the geometry of my body.  It makes sense that the head should not be in line with the hands.  On the other hand, my hands feel like the palm heels are going to come off the floor if I try to make an equilateral triangle - I just don't have the strength/mobility to keep them pressed down.   So the hands have to be positioned somewhere in the middle, thus forming a "squashed" triangle; in order for me to get the leverage to generate a decent push through the arms.

I also need the time to practice pushing against the floor through my hands, to relieve some of the pressure from my head and neck, and to practice balancing the upper body.  Coach Ryan says at the beginning of the video lesson that this move will subject the head and neck to a lot of pressure, implying that even for strong people, the pressure on the head/neck won't be eliminated, so this two-week period would also give the neck time to adapt.

So if things go well, the technique and body conditioning/strength will come together enough after two weeks to advance to the next level, which is pulling in a knee - one at a time.  Level 2 and up will definitely require a stable upper-body base.  If it doesn't come together, then I don't mind staying at Level 1 for another week or even longer, because this is not a progression to be rushed, if one is to avoid injury.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Bodyweight Training Program (Convict Conditioning meets GMB)

It seems like I get shoulder problems every time I get into doing pullups, and it could be that I never really worked on horizontal pulls, which the PCC (Progressive Calisthenics Certification) folks call "Australian pullups" - basically just rowing your bodyweight. Before I achieved my first pullup, I did lat pulldowns, cable rows, and other stuff on machines in modern-style gyms. My university opened a shiny new modern style gym, which had a pullup-assist machine which I used to build up to my first pullup. I started with like 50lbs assistance and worked down to 0 lbs. I didn't know at the time the old-school way would have been to do rows from under a sturdy table, then progress to jump-to-negatives, half-pullups, etc. Anyway, the Convict Conditioning book argues in favor of working through a progression of an exercise (Aussie pullups, negative pullups, jump to half-pullups, full pullups, etc.) instead of skipping ahead too soon; otherwise the muscles may strengthen faster than the softer tissues and so on, and technique suffers as well. This could be what's going on with why my shoulder pain returns after I start doing pullups on a bar.  Pullups on rings does not seem to aggravate the shoulder as much because of the movement they allow in the arms.

So I'm going to work on bodyweight pulls until 2 sets of 20 are easy, then go up the progression. The Convict Conditioning progression standard is 30 reps, but that seems a bit much.   GMB would say 30 seconds easy, snappy movement is the progression standard.  I'm not sure that's enough work, as there are still GMB programs that advise 12-15 reps here and there.  Anyway, I'll arbitrarily set 20 to be the progression standard before moving on to the next exercise in the pullup progression, which is either jacknife pullups or jump-to-negative pullups.

The same shoulder also bothers me when I do full pushups, so I'm similarly going to switch to kneeling pushups. Brachial hanging has made a difference for my shoulder - much reduced pain when I lower myself into a dead hang from the pullup bar. I have a similar situation with my knee whenever I practice pistol squats. There's no pain during the exercise itself, but hours afterward or the next day, my knee gets sore. During my low back physical therapy, one of the doctors noticed something odd about my gait and found a misalignment between the hip and back, causing the foot to want to turn out more than the other when I stand. She put me through a "reset" but I was later told that a longer term fix would be to strengthen the core and consciously turn the foot back inwards to match the other foot. The misaligned side is where my knee can hurt. So I'm going to switch back to the shrimp squat progression, since that doesn't seem to bother the knee as much.

So this is the modified bodyweight program, influenced by both Integral Strength and Convict Conditioning - the biggest step away from Integral Strength being to drop the circuit training and just do 2-3 sets of each exercise.

Warmup:  Integral Strength warmup

Inverted Leg Raise
Shrimp Squats - Step-back Lunge
Pushups - Kneeling
Bridge Pressups
Aussie Pullups (love the name)
L-Sit (Dynamic)

Cooldown: Convict Conditioning Trifecta, Hip Flexor stretches (if time allows), Brachial Hang

The Inverted Leg Raise tutorial by GMB includes the best instruction I've seen yet on how to get into a headstand.  Everybody else teaches the headstand this way:  "Go near a wall, make a triangle between your hands and head, and kick up!"... without any help for people who can't do the kick-up because they lack the strength, flexibility, or motor control.  The Inverted Leg Raise temporarily supplants the Inverted Press as the exercise for overhead pressing strength, because I feel like I have a  more immediate need for the benefits that it promises:  Balance while being upside down, core strength, and upper body strength from isometric contraction (constantly pushing against the floor with the hands to reduce the load on the head and neck).  Given where I'm at with the other exercise progressions, the Inverted Leg Raise is the most challenging exercise and thus is the first in the routine.
The Shrimp Squat progression will be followed pretty much as taught in Integral Strength.

The Pushup progression will be as taught in Integral Strength, until I've worked up to multiple sets of 15 full pushups, at which point I'll decide if I want to work on the Hollow Body Pushup or the One-Arm Pushup

The Bridge Pressup progression will be mostly from Integral Strength.  At some point I will have to decide if I want to keep working on a Bridge that looks anywhere as good as the GMB coaches demonstrate the course, or if I should progress to one-leg variations as taught by the Kavadlo brothers, who have pretty much taken over propagating the Convict Conditioning system around the world.  The book says to work towards a stand-to-stand Bridge, while the Kavadlos instead progress to one-leg, then one-leg, one-arm (I think) bridges.

Aussie Pullups will be trained until I can do 2 sets of 20 easily.  I'll probably try Al Kavadlo's idea afterwards of working on regular pullups, supersetted with Aussie Pullups.  He says this is great for increasing reps in the pullup, but I'm just looking to make sure the critical shoulder girdle muscles (lower trapezius and rear deltoids) get the work needed to maintain shoulder health.

The L-Sit in most GMB programs is practiced as a static hold  This L-Hold tutorial introduced a dynamic version, in which one moves between two positions in the L-Sit/L-Hold progression.   I have to add that I don't agree with the prerequisites in the tutorial - one does not need to have performed a one-arm pushup, leg raise, or handstand before beginning.  I started working on the L-Sit without having practiced any of those moves.  GMB's L-Sit Tutorial gives a more realistic perspective on what needs to be done to work on the L-Sit - lots of great info, but it doesn't have the dynamic movement idea.   Anyway, the idea is to practice the dynamic version here.  The static version is part of the Convict Conditioning Trifecta.  I'm not fully sold yet on the L-Hold being a suitable active stretch for the posterior chain, but I've started trying it as part of the Trifecta. 

Friday, August 03, 2018

Convict Conditioning Pre=Planning

So far, working a bit under the Integral Strength program has been fine, but I'd been pondering ways to make my exercise program more flexible when it comes to scheduling, so that when the weather and schedule allow it, I can bike to work again.  Integral Strength is about doing rounds of a circuit routine, which doesn't fit well with riding one's bicycle to/from work, and stopping at pullup bars, dip stations, that may be along the commute.

I recently got my copies of the Convict Conditioning and Convict Conditioning 2 books.  The first book focuses on strength training around the "Big 6" exercises and the 2nd covers "Bulletproof Joints" and other supplementary exercise info.

Switching to from Integral Strength  to Convict Conditioning should be seamless as the exercises are similar or even the same:

Shrimp Squat -> Squat

I've actually never done a full Shrimp Squat, because of the requirement to hold the back foot with one hand while squatting down with the other hand.  I've gotten as far as touching the knee to the floor with both hands extended forward.  Convict Conditioning has a 10-step progression for the Squat, working up to a full double-legged squat, then progressing to a full pistol squat.  I've done full pistol squats before, but I usually get soreness along my MCL sometime afterwards.  One possible cause of the soreness is a previous knee injury.  Another is a tendency for the hip on that side to turn out and forward a bit.  Thus, the plan is to rachet back in the difficulty level focus on the lower Steps of the squat progression for a while.  Interestingly, Convict Conditioning has for the first Step, a "squat" which is done while in a posture that Yoga folks would recognize as a shoulder stand.  I will probably do this move as part of my daily warmup, as it seems to warm up some muscle groups while loosening others.


Integral Strength's "master" variation if the Hollow Body Pushup.  Convict Conditioning's is the One-Arm Pushup.  I'll work up to 20 regular pushups first, then consider where to go from there.  As with the Squat, I'm going to rachet down the difficulty level to give my shoulder tendons more time to build up.

Bridge Pressup

Integral Strength stops at making the arms and legs straight as possible.  Convict Conditioning continues to the Stand to Stand bridge.  Looking at the Convict Conditioning progression, the straight bridge step is practically effortless to do 20 reps, so I'll try the next level before getting back to the full Bridge pressup.


Convict Conditioning's master version is the one-arm pullup.  The other program stops at the regular pullup.  For now though I'll just work up to 20 reps of the horizontal row variation.

Handstand Pushup

Integral Strength focuses more on the Inverted Press, with the idea that raising the feet higher and higher will increase the difficulty so that when the feet are on the chair or higher, the trainee will have gotten strong enough to work on Handstand Pushups.  Convict Conditioning advises achieving the handstand first.  GMB (authors of Integral Strength) advise working on the handstand as a separate practice.  I'll stick with Inverted Presses, but try to get to 20 reps on an easier variation (feet further away from the hands) first.

L-Sit -> Split of L-Hold and Leg Raise progression

GMB loves the L-Sit, and thus it's featured in Integral Strength and other GMB strength programs.  The Convict Conditioning way though, prefers the Leg Raise for strengthening the hip flexors and abs and the L-Hold (same as L-Sit) as an active stretch, with an emphasis on flexibility and "joint bulletproofing" (active stretch of the posterior chain).  GMB actually recommends the Hanging Leg Raise, among other exercises, for those struggling to achieve their first L-Sit.  Sticking with the theme on focusing more on tendon strengthening, I'll work on the easier Steps for the Leg Raise series first - the ones done from the prone position.

Hollow Body

There's no direct mapping of the Integral Strength Hollow Body series to Convict Conditoning.
The Front Hollow Body is a GMB staple for developing a nice vertical line in the free standing (no wall support) Handstand position.  The closes thing in Convict Conditioning would be  the Leg Raise series.  The Back Hollow Body is not a consideration in Convict Conditioning, though the back sould get plenty of work in the Bridge series.  For lateral strength of the spine, the Flag series is favored over the Side Hollow Body.

In summary, Integral Strength is a great bodyweight strength and conditioning program, with the Broad Jump thrown in for some power training; but doesn't integrate well with bike commuting, schedule-wise.  Also it's intended to siet between Elements and the specialized bodyweight training porgrams in the GMB hierarchy.  Convict Conditioning is a more open-ended program, scheduling wise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Self-assessment of Equinox (Minor Blues) solo

I recently recorded this solo as my contribution to a forum thread in which participants were invited to post clips of themselves soloing over a minor blues, preferably using the Dorian scale.  I'm only going to leave this track online at Soundcloud for a limited time, as I have the free account, which only allows so much space to be used for tracks.  The backing track was downloaded from the "Soulstice" section of Sheryl Bailey's Essentials: Bebop Etudes course.

I still sound like a player who relies a bit too much on scalar runs in my improvisations.  I didn't mean to throw in the two-handed tapping bit in there, but the 3rd up from where my left hand pinky was just begging to be played, and my right hand finger just happened to be available.  The etudes I've been working on from the Hip Licks For Guitar book and the 30 Sax Licks You Must Know course; as well as bebop licks stolen from recordings and "in the style of" bebop licks that I've made up... I'd hoped more of that stuff would show in my playing.  But I understand this is a process that can take some time.  Still, I feel like progress has been made.

I'd like more usage of arpeggios and intervallic jumps.  The etudes I've been studying and practicing has these in spades so I'll keep practicing them.  I think though it would be a good idea to start practicing scales in broken 6tha and 7ths.  Sheryl Bailey's etude for "Soulstice" (her version of Equinox) relies on lots of 4ths, as  a nod to the quartal harmonies and melodic ideas pioneered by John Coltrane and his quartet at the time.  I might work those in too.

The Advancing Guitarist: Notes on how to use

The book The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick has an iconic reputation as the ultimate self-help book for guitarists who want to keep taking their game to the next level and beyond.  However, it can be a bit of a confusing read, leaving would-be advancing guitarists scratching their heads and maybe sticking the book back on the shelf for another couple of years or tossing it into the donation bin.

From "KRosser", an longtime instructor at Musicians Institute:

Here's what I did:

First, I worked through exactly what he presents in the book - each of the modes based on C major. I taped myself playing the vamps into a portable tape recorder (what I would do now with the Voice Memo thing on the iPhone). I played each vamp for about three minutes and then rolled it back, doing once through for each string. In other words, going through the first C major vamp took 18 minutes of playing, plus the time it took to rewind the tape in between.

Then I worked on other stuff for the rest of my practice time that day.

I did one of these for each mode, as he presented, which means after one week I was done with all seven modes based on the key of C.

I really liked the initial feeling from the results of that, so I kept going. The following week, I did the same thing but based on all the modes in the 'G major' group. Goodrick didn't write out vamps for that key set, so I just made up my own, kept them very simple, just like the originals Goodrick presented.

Each week I progressed around the Circle of 5ths, so after 12 weeks of doing this I had done all seven 'major scale' modes up and down each single string in all 12 keys. I had a ball doing it too, I really learned a lot about the guitar neck, phrasing the various modes, etc. Several of my impromptu 'modal vamps' that I came up with actually lead to original compositions after the fact, which was a nice unexpected, tangential result.

I enjoyed this so much I then did the whole process over with the seven Melodic Minor Modes in all 12 keys, and then the Harmonic Minor modes.

So all said and done, that was a little less than a year's worth of half-hour a day work. Which was fine - I was going to practice at least a half hour a day all year anyway.

Honestly, I think I learned a lot from coming up with vamps (especially some of the Harmonic Minor modes got really interesting) and then playing those rhythm vamps for three minutes straight with a solid sense of groove and make it comfortable to solo over. I tried to give them as much variety as possible - tempos, styles, dynamics, time signatures, you name it.

I tell my students this all the time - recording yourself playing an accompaniment for 3-5 minutes and then solo over it, rather than using loopers or pre-prepared tracks, will teach you a lot about what it feels like for someone else to solo over your own comping. Sorta like forcing a cook to eat his own cooking ;)

I was already a gigging player back then, and had a degree in classical guitar with a heavy emphasis on jazz on the side - in other words, modal theory was not new to me in any way. And still, I'll tell you - I felt like a whole new guitar player on the other side of all that work.