Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Food Math

We've all heard people say things like, "had a large fry so I'll need an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill." Maybe you even said something like that. The reality is that Food Math says it will never work. Weight control and eating well are hard and require attention.

The human body is an amazing machine. It has a big gas tank. It is able to store lots of calories very efficiently - mostly as fat. This is combined with a high performance, high mileage engine. The body can get a lot of performance out of very few calories. This served humans very well in past history when most people had to struggle very hard, dawn to dark, just to get enough food to stay alive, and a lot of that was pretty bad food. In the modern developed world, this efficiency and big gas tank can work against us.

Food Math works like this:
Eat a high calorie meal such as:
  • McDonald's 1/4 lb Cheese, Medium Fry, Medium Coke = 1100 calories
  • Burger King Whopper Meal = 1160 calories
  • Ruby Tuesday Grilled Chicken Salad (no beverage and no sides) = 866 Calories
Any of these can be obtained and consumed in under 15 minutes.

How long will it take to burn 1100 calories?

Here is a list of possible activities for a 180 pound man (Calories burned is influenced by body weight, intensity of exercise, conditioning level and metabolism. A lighter or less fit person must work even longer.)

180 pound man:
  • 1 hour Running, 8 mph (7.5 min/mile)
  • 1.1 hours Stationary cycling (spinning) very vigorous
  • 1.1 hours Cycling, 16-19 mph, very fast, racing
  • 1.1 hours Rowing machine, very vigorous
  • 1.4 hours Swimming laps, Freestyle, fast
  • 2.1 hours Walking 4.5 mph (very brisk)
  • 2.2 hours Boxing, Punching Bag
  • 2.2 hours Playing Basketball, non-game
  • 2.3 hours Weight Lifting, Vigorous, Body Building
  • 3.0 hours Golf, Walking & carrying clubs
  • 3.9 hours Golf using a powered cart
As you can see, it takes substantially more effort to burn 1100 calories than it takes to eat it. You have to already be very fit to do it and you have to devote significant time to the effort.

The result is that poor eating choices always trump exercise.

 So when you start to eat that 1100 calorie meal choice, ask yourself if you can run 8 miles in under an hour.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Secret of Tai Chi

"The secret of Tai Chi is simply this, yield yourself and follow the external forces."
-- Master Wong Chung-Yua (ca. 1600 CE)

A friend asked the other day if we should yield to all external forces. To which I answered "Well, yes."

This is a fundamental principle of Tai Chi.

Even though it says yield and follow, it does not imply surrender or defeat. The objective of Tai Chi, as any fighting art, is to win. However, the methods emphasized in Tai Chi to achieve that goal are different that those advocated in other arts. Let us say they are more in line with helping and leading the attacker to go on his own way to destruction rather than setting out to actively drag or drive him there.

Tai Chi adopts neither aggression nor passivity but active cooperation.

Furthermore, Tai Chi training is mostly about learning to "walk and chew gum at the same time." The solo form, push hands, are about learning good efficient body mechanics. You must learn to yield within yourself and get out of your own way before you can throw a powerful punch, maintain your balance while moving, properly lock a joint or throw an opponent. Your mind must be clear and unimpeded by doubt, fear, worry, or anxiety. Parenthetically, I feel most of the great health benefits of Tai Chi come directly from this mindful practice of properly living in your own body.

Another example of a similar fighting art is Japanese Ju Jutsu. Ju can be translated tenderness, weakness, flexibility, or yielding. Jutsu is technique, skill, magic and in the martial arts context refers to a warfare or fighting skill.

Thus Ju Jutsu is the art of winning in battle through yielding and flexibility.

This is directly related to the concepts expressed in the name Tai Chi Chuan.

  • Tai = "The" Great, Ultimate, Zenith
  • Chi = Great, Very, Ultimate, The first principle [of the Taoist conception of how the Universe works])
  • Chuan = literally the fist, boxing/fighting system

Thus Tai Chi Chuan is "The" Grand Ultimate Fist," or "the fighting system based on how the universe really functions."

In tai chi we seek to understand how the forces (both internal and external) work and to act in accord with them not in opposition.

Two other modern interpretations from other martial arts may help illuminate this idea.

In Aikido (a simplified derivative of Ju Jutsu) the saying is "If he enters (pushes) I turn. If he pulls I enter."

In Judo (a sport derivative of Ju Jutsu) the saying is "If he pushes, I pull. If he pulls, I push."

You cannot succeed in Tai Chi without completely abandoning yourself to this concept. Any half measure will spell defeat because you will neither be fish nor fowl and your mind will be bound by hesitation and your body unable to move effectively.

Either commit yourself to hard aggressive external methods (use your head to batter down the walls), or commit yourself to yield and like water flow into the weak spots, erode them and sweep the wall away in a devastating flood of power.

The first choice implies that you must be stronger, faster, and more powerful than your opponent, while the second only requires you to be more observant, flexible, and skillful.

In life, your strength, speed, and power WILL eventually fail you. Someone else WILL be faster and stronger than you. (See the UFC for regular illustrations of this).

Technique, properly developed, only gets better with passing time and training.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All elephants are gray, but not all gray things are elephants.

A mentor of mine once commented rather forcefully that "Tai Ji is NOT Qi Gong." Having thought about this for a while, it is fair to say that the differences are related to goals.

We've been training the "Eight Pieces of Brocade" over the last month or so. This is a very popular (for a thousand years or more) form of Qi Gong, which goes very well with Tai Ji. For the most part it is performed in a similar manner as the Tai Ji form, in the sense that we want to move in a smooth, rhythmic, and fluid manner for almost all the postures. The exception being posture 7, Punch and Glare, which is performed with a good bit of muscular intensity.

The other major difference is that Tai Ji is a martial practice, with martial intent in each movement, while Eight Pieces of Brocade is not a martial practice at all. The Eight Pieces is only concerned with health development and the development of the Qi system. The Tai Ji seeks to develop good health and powerful Qi flow in the Grand Circulation to support the martial aims of Tai Ji. Incidentally this improves health and well being. The Eight Pieces seeks nothing beyond the improved health and improved Qi flow in the grand circulation.

This distinguishes Tai Ji from Qi Gong practices, in that Tai Ji has a practical and utilitarian aim for the "use" of the Qi, while Qi Gong practices do not. Another way to view this, is that I can lift weights and do various calisthenics solely to feel and look better, or I can do these same practices because I want to play football better. In one case, I am able to increase the amount of weight lifted or the number of pull ups I do, just to have measured improvement in those specific activities. In the second case, the increase in weight lifted and pull ups performed is incidental to the true goal to improve the ability to block, tackle, catch and throw. In either case I will improve my health and appearance but in only one case is that the intended goal.

All elephants are gray, but not all gray things are elephants.