Thursday, May 31, 2018

Compressor Pedal videos

I just got a Boss Katana 100 guitar amp, which includes a bunch of built-in effects, including compressor.  I've never really understood how to use a compressor, or even what benefit I may get from using one. Some videos I found that may be useful:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Elements Week 6, Day 3

Focus:  Intermediate Monkey variations

Bent-Arm Frogger seems ok - no shoulder discomfort.  High Monkey is what it is - one always wants to get closer and closer to a full cartwheel, but at least I feel stable.  180 Monkey is the one where I've struggled the most.  I think I've solved it though.  I figured out that placing my palm heel slightly behind my ankle, instead of in line with the ankle,  makes the move a lot easier to execute slowly.  I don't feel as much of a need to cheat by using momentum and timing.

For the Push Circuit, I started to slow down and just try to move beautifully instead of rushing.  I did not feel less of a workout at all by doing this; I was still getting pretty gassed, but at least the slop was cut down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Elements Week 6, Day 1

I actually practiced Day 1 yesterday, so this is actually a makeup blog entry...

Focus:  Bear, Bent-Arm Bear, and Spiderman

This session emphasized the intermediate variations of the Bear.  I'm still getting the hang of the Spiderman - still not as smooth as I'd like to be, but I seem to be betting better at it.  Bent-Arm Bear is as challenging as always because I haven't worked on it that much.

The Push Circuit was pretty tough.  I could feel my form getting away by the 3rd round.  The Spiderman portion of the circuit served as a break of sorts, as I was unable to execute it with the "push speed".   Another difficulty with the Push Circuit is not being able to remember the sequence of movements to practice, and thus having to lose some training time to look up what movement I'm supposed to be on.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Elements Week 5, Day 5 and a bit of 6H update

Falling behind again in logging my training sessions.  I believe Day 3's focus was the 180 Monkey + Frogger combo move, so that one moves in a square.  I just remember struggling once again with the 180 Monkey.

Today's focus:  Banzai Frogger and Frogger-Frogger Transition

As expected, 10 min. of Banzai Frogger is a bit more demanding on the lower body than the regular version.  There's something about being in a deep squat that prevents me from holding my arms vertically above my head; instead the highest I can raise my arms is about 45 degrees.

At least my Frogger-Frogger with backstep transition is getting a little smoother.

As for other training, I've been working Squatting Monkey and "skin breathing standing" into my 6H training routine.  Squatting Monkey is a training method found in the rare martial art Dai Family Xinyi.  One of the basic concepts of 6H movement is the use of the "dantian" as the engine of all movement.  The "lower dantian" encompasses the abdominal and lower back muscles.  One of the ways we begin learning how to use the dantian is in the practice of "opening" and "closing".  In opening, the back of the dantian pulls on the whole body, to extend the arms, move the knees outward, etc.  In closing, the front of the dantian pulls on the whole body to contract the arms, pull the knees inward, etc.  Ideally, this pulling happens along the muscle-tendon channels, as an alternative to "normal" muscle usage.

Squatting Monkey can be an effective method for training the closing movement.  I guess that's why the Dai family came up with this exercise for their martial art.  On the 6H discussion group, some folks who train in that martial art posted a very helpful video.  The tip to "pull the ground up through the feet" really helps establish a good ground-to-dantian connection during the inhale, while the dantian pulls the elbows together, rotates the thumbs outward, etc.  Similarly, the tip to push the ground down through the feet upon the exhale helps maintain the ground-to-dantian connection while the back pulls the elbows apart, rotates the little fingers outward, etc.

There is some disagreement within the 6H/"internal" martial arts community whether Squatting Monkey should be practiced without first learning it in person from a qualified teacher.  It is indeed an exercise that can pose an injury risk to the back without some care and preparation.  Those who had had previous or concurrent low back issues may want to consult a doctor.  Another risk is that this exercise includes reverse breathing, and thus poses the same risk as reverse breathing in general - done incorrectly it could induce excessive pressure on the head and/or strain the lower back.

I'm hardly a qualified teacher, but based on my limited experience, these exercises should probably be practiced first, probably in this order:

Basic reverse breathing - take it easy at first so you don't strain your back, and don't add pressure to  your head:

Intro to reverse breathing with functional Qi - learning how to use the dantian to pull along the muscle tendon channels during the inhale.  You'll want to be pretty comfortable with basic reverse breathing before trying this one:

Functional Qi reverse breathing for bypassing the shoulder muscles - this may be more optional, because unless I missed it, Mr. Sigman does not really explain how the exhalation drives the movement.  The inhalation phase of these movements though are useful to practice by themselves, to further develop the functional Qi breathing introduced in the previous video.

Concurrently with the reverse breathing stuff,  zhan zhuang/standing post should also be practiced, with a focus on Jin development - well technically, the potential for Jin manifestation, which is what functional Qi is about.  Without another person to provide some kind of pressure, Jin is not actually manifested, but we need to develop the ability to manifest Jin instantly, upon contact.  I've found that zhan zhuang really helps relax the shoulders, especially as I progressed to zhan zhuang for 10 minutes or longer.  When I first tried zhan zhuang, I really struggled with my shoulders getting fatigued early.  After I learned to use Jin, I soon realized that visualizing Jin could be used to reduce or even eliminate the fatigue - specifically Jin to the head by imagining a light weight on top of the head, and Jin to the top of the hands by imagining a light weight there as well; in both cases using ground Jin instead of shoulder muscle to support the imaginary weight.  So far my personal record is about 22 minutes, because I forgot to activate the timer - my shoulders weren't perfectly relaxed, but fatigue was coming and going due to my Jin practice and I was feeling a lot more sore in my calves and quads than my shoulders.

An exercise taught by that Dai Xinyi group to complement Squatting Monkey is "skin breathing".  This is a variation on zhan zhuang, in which the reverse-breath inhale causes the front of the dantian to pull the shoulders and hips inward, then the knees and elbows, then the hands; while also pulling the ground up the feet as in Squatting Monkey.  The exhale is timed with the back of the dantian pulling the limbs outward and pulling the shoulders away from the hips, making the body appear to straighten.  Skin breathing is thus a much more "softer" way to train the dantian to close and open the body than Squatting Monkey.  The idea is by training these two exercises - the harder pull of the dantian in Squatting Monkey with the really pronounced close; and the far gentler pull in skin breathing - one can eventually develop the ability to open/close at any point between the two extremes.

6H movement has many more variations than just inhale to close the front of the body, and exhale to open the body (by "closing" the back); for example there's forceful exhalation to close and inhalation to open; and there's also opening one side (right or left) of the body while closing the other - the "hidden hand punch" in Taijiquan being a classic example. 

It seems like the Dai family was onto something by having students work intensely on dantian closing/opening at the very beginning.  The very basic closing movement has been hard for me to learn, because I haven't felt the pull from the dantien, through the muscle-tendon connections (Qi) all the way out to the thumbs during the reverse-breath inhale, except in Mike Sigman's very basic exercise in which one leans back with the arms straight out to the sides.  Squatting Monkey has been really good for developing those connections during the closing movement.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Elements Week 5, Day 1

Focus: Spiderman and Bear To Bear

For the most basic level of Spiderman, I need to work on straightening the back leg.  To be able to do that may require a combination of reaching forward far enough with the lead hand, and bringing the lead foot far enough forward.  For the next level, which adds the quasi-pushup, the difficulty level was about the same as the basic Spiderman.  Clearly, good form in the basic Spiderman reduces the difficulty level of the pushing version quite a bit.

Had to skip the cooldown section to leave for my day job.  Need to do better with my time management.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Elements helped this guy's shoulder heal

One of the reasons I started training under the Elements program again is the persistent soreness in my shoulder, as well as a feeling that it's just about ready to fall out of the socket.  Parallettes One wasn't working for the shoulder - in fact it's known to be hard on the shoulders if they're not healthy.  Rings One was ok, except for chinup/pullup motions.  Thus, I decided to switch to Elements to keep up my strength training without aggravating the shoulder issue.

It turns out this man had an even worse shoulder problem than myself, and used Elements to help fix the problem .

Oh, and I finished Week 4 of Elements.  Bear-Monkey-Frogger transition was ok for me, but in the free play portion, I struggled when I wanted to do a 180 Monkey

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Elements Week 4 Day 3

Focus: Frogger to Monkey Transition #2

One advice in this program is to try to move as quietly as possible.  Landing with a bang and stuff like that indicates a lack of motor control, strength, etc. For some reason, I was a bit noisier when twisting to my right for this transition.  However, I did manage to reduce the noise by the end of the session.

High Monkey Push session was ok, although I almost fell over once, just as warned in the High Monkey instructional video.

Last week, I repeated Elements Week 3, as I had been on vacation for several weeks.  Not much change in the BAPs/self assessments.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Xequence Master Class video series

Xequence is an app I've been looking at to capture MIDI data generated by other apps, especially generative MIDI apps such as Gestrument and Rozetta.  However, I've had some trouble learning to use it, and was thus directed towards this instructional video series: