THE MARTIAL ART
This month we’ll be entering the amazing world of Qigong with the gentle guidance of Bina Bou. Bina is a certified instructor of Qigong and Tai Chi who enjoys sharing her knowledge with her students in Cave Creek and other locations in the Phoenix, Arizona area.
DEFINITION OF QIGONG
I began with Bina’s website (www.binabouchi.com), which answers the question “What is Qigong?” Long used in training for the martial arts, Qigong is described by Bina as an exercise “designed to cultivate your Mind,Body, and your Spirit; and revitalize your Chi, the life force energy, by deep breathing and synchronized movements.”Qi or Chi means energy—a resource so essential it is impossible to define or translate Gong or Kung means to cultivate—a practice or methodology.
Qigong, therefore, refers to the exercise of one’s internal energy, and is a path to Mindfulness. Intention – Attention – Repetition – Guidance.
While everyone has Qi, most people don’t know how to tap its potential for healing and stress management. Qigong training allows practitioners to learn to relax and develop their mind-body connection. Through slow and gentle movements, Qigong has the practical benefits of providing balance and enhancing the body’s own natural healing—benefits which are documented in numerous medical publications.
With this background on the Qigong tradition, I attended one of Bina’s classes. To warm up, the group of about 24 gathered together in a large circle. You could feel the effervescent energy rippling around the room. We started with some wonderful, uplifting music and reflexology for the feet. We accomplished this
by walking in a giant circle, first on our toes, then on our heels, followed by the outsides of our feet, and finally on the insides of our feet. Next, we continued to walk while kicking out to the front, and then kicking our tushes, kicking out sideways, and lastly, marching with our knees up high. The room was filled with smiling faces, exuberant walking, and good cheer. Oh, and did I mention that the participants in the class ranged in age from 55–83?
Qigong can be used for its martial, healing, or meditative aspects. Bina says that Qigong is the mother of all martial arts, and that with slight variations it can be used for each of these goals. According to Dr. Jwing-ming Yang, a well-known teacher and author in the field, there are two separate trains of thought in the Qigong schools focused on martial arts. One, Nei Dan, believes that one should build Qi in the body and then have that spread to the limbs to increase their martial effectiveness. The other, Wai Dan, follows the belief that you should build up the Qi in your limbs and then have it flow inward to your internal Qi. This type of Qi can be used to “energize the skin and the muscles, enabling them to resist a blow without injury.” Both schools teach that by harnessing the focus of the mind (Yi), you can send Qi to the muscles and increase your fighting effectiveness. The progression of acupuncture theory also increased the effectiveness of Qigong as a martial art. By gaining a thorough knowledge of the acupuncture meridians, a Qigong practitioner would know the most effective cavities to hit and the necessary depth at which to strike. This combination of knowledge had made for a formidable martial art.
The meditative aspects of Qigong can be as simple as enjoying the focus and stress release of the movements, or as in-depth as the intense Marrow/Brain Washing, a level of training revered and kept secret from all but a handful of practitioners in every generation. To learn more about this area you can read the Marrow/Brain Washing Classic by Da Mo. Da Mo wrote this book about energizing the brain and attaining enlightenment after nine years ofseclusion in a Shaolin Temple.
Bina Bou has focused her practice on the healing properties of Qigong. I was impressed by how her students were brimming with health. Don’t be mistaken— many of her students have faced and overcome health obstacles that would have stopped others in their tracks. Take, for example, Debra, who developed a serious illness and was having difficulty with stamina and balance. Debra had been in a wheelchair before she started working with Bina. After a few months of Qigong practice, Debra was helped to the extent that she is now walking freely. But more on this later; back to the class…
Read the rest of the article and get facts about Qigong on pgs. 40-43
“Instead of explaining why you’re complaining, change your reality altogether.”
When we think of what holds us back, we generally think of things outside of ourselves. It’s our rational mind’s way of finding a source for the “problem” and the ego’s way of shirking off responsibility and true independence. While the people, places, and situations around us may not be ideal, our reality is contingent upon the state of being we choose to create from within.
Many of us are familiar with those people in our lives who will seize any opportunity to complain about their current situations. Not only will they complain, but they’ll endlessly explain their justifications. When these people receive help, however, they typically reject it outright or don’t put enough faith and trust in the potential solution in order for it to make a significant change. This is because these types of people aren’t actually looking for their situations to change; they’re simply lost in their created cycle and refuse to make the necessary changes to get out. After all, doing the same thing over a long period of time can bring us to a nice sense of complacency, no matter what the situation is like.
The next time you feel the desire to complain or explain why you’re complaining, try using the same amount of effort to come up with creative solutions around the issue at hand. When we focus on the negative aspects of a situation, we will call more of that into our lives. Instead, focus on what it is that would make you feel happy, fulfilled, and abundant. Do this until you can feel it in a real, visceral way, and don’t be afraid to “dream big.” When you’ve captured that feeling, hold onto it and fuel that energy into all that you do, all that you feel, and all that you are.
Ironically, many of the times we face opposition or feel as though we’re dealing with a problematic situation, we’re not dealing with our own issues at all, but rather the issues we’ve taken on from others. For example, we all have met people who’ve said “I wish I could do ______ with my life.” Though what’s filled within the blank often seems farfetched, most times it’s quite achievable, albeit sometimes by being tweaked a bit. As beings living on this Earth and within the scrutiny of “society,” we tend to shoot ourselves down before we’ve had a chance to fly. We think, we feel, and we stop. What we should really be doing is thinking and feeling less about our current situations and instead take action to gain tracking on our future. Then, once we’ve made several real attempts, we can better gauge where we are and what we can put in place to get to where we want or need to be.
Your effort should always be indicative of what you desire. If you’re willing to complain about something 10 times a day, you should be just as willing to put the effort forth to usher change into your life 10 times a day. If these numbers don’t match, be honest with yourself. The goal is to reach a point in which you don’t feel it necessary to complain at all and naturally strive to change your life in positive, impactive ways. If you’re living solely in your mind rather than creating your physical reality, you’ll never be satisfied. Don’t be afraid to make what seem like mistakes, either. Be brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone and share yourself with others and with the world itself.
The body is an extraordinary vessel that gives us the opportunity to experience life here on Earth. It heals itself and asks for very little. Though our bodies are not who we are on a soul level, they must be respected. It’s important for us to treat them with the right care and consideration in order for us to optimize our Earthly experience. Know what you’re putting into your body. You wouldn’t blindly take up someone else’s belief system that’s thrown at you, and the same should be true for your body. This holds true on both a physical level and how you view your body.
When you’re choosing the foods you eat, research what they contain. Try your best to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet. So often we deem food and exercise as “things for other people,” but simple changes can have profound effects – not experienced or felt until they’re put into practice. The better we treat our bodies, the higher our energy will be, and the more adequately prepared we’ll be for the challenges we face and the things we’d like to accomplish.
Be sure to not let the opinions or lifestyles of other people overtake you. Though you should be receptive to science and information provided to you, it’s incredibly important to live life on your own terms. If people around you have a body image issue, don’t take their issue on yourself. Be comfortable in your body, listen to it, and work in concert with it. The more in sync you are with your body, the more you will be in all areas of your life. The best practice to put in place with the body is one with discipline. If you’re not a person who naturally thinks to exercise or eat properly, start making a list and follow it one task at a time without glossing over all of it and feeling overwhelmed. Some people have a hard time taking initiative on their own, so seek out community and try to get a friend or a group together to exercise or construct some meal plans together. Not only is it helpful to have people in your circle who are on the same page, but it’s fun and exciting and will help elongate the momentum you build.
Taking action on a soul-level is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Your soul is who, what, where, how, and why you are. If you don’t connect to it, your foundation will be rocky at best. Because the soul is not a physical entity, people often make the mistake of thinking it’s wishy-washy and can be viewed and treated as such. That mentality can’t be farther from the truth, and should instead be approached with as much discipline and severity as any other part of your life. Grounding or centering yourself will help you cope with the stressors and drama of living life as a human being. If you’re sensitive, you’ll pick up on other people’s energies easily and sometimes it’s hard to tune these frequencies out. Most of us in our daily lives encounter a vast array of people, both online and off. Without noticing it, we’re picking up on the vibrations they emit – and usually, we’re taking them with us into our very private, sacred places within us without even noticing it. This is one of the root causes of having anxiety or feeling “off” without good reason. If you’re feeling this way, start to peel the layers off like an onion. Whenever an untoward thought or feeling creeps its way into your being, single it out and affirm that it is not a part of your life path or what you need to experience at this time. Keep repeating this until you’ve sent away all that no longer serves you.
When you experience thoughts or feelings that make you uncomfortable but are in fact lessons you need to experience, simply quiet the mind and step into your own private stillness. Then, ask what it is you need to learn from this lesson and how you can process it in an non-harmful, peaceful way. This method can be put in place in all areas of your life with all issues. Remember that the experience is not the same as how we interpret it; though Earth can be a very rigorous and grueling place to grow and evolve, we endure experiences because they’re for our higher good – or someone else’s. If you have a traumatic experience but process it in a healthy way, you can then go on to share the experience with others in a beneficial way which can help prevent pain and turmoil in their lives.
Another great way to connect to the soul is by means of breathing exercises and meditation. So many people write these two things off because they’ve been branded as something exclusive to monks or spiritual masters. On the contrary, these two processes are readily and easily accessible to all. When doing a breathing or meditation exercise, focus on quieting the body down. Get yourself into a comfortable position that won’t distract you in any way. This can mean lying down, sitting upright in a chair, sitting pretzel-style on the floor, or any other position that resonates with you. There truly is no wrong way – it is your experience, and yours alone. When you’ve gotten comfortable, visualize a white light pouring in from the top of your head down through to your toes. This represents pure, cleansing energy that helps to wipe out all the debris within you in all forms. Once you’re filled with this light, take a deep breath in through the nose and visualize this air as being entirely pure, safe, clean, positive, and invigorating. Hold your breath for a few seconds and then exhale through the mouth. The exhale should represent the emptying out of anything negative or that which you wish to do away with. The meditation part generally happens quite naturally after the breathing exercise. Simply relax and enter a very serene, safe place within you that isn’t contingent upon anything Earthly or man-made. Most people find this to be a place of rejuvenation and will receive some of their best ideas for creative projects or future endeavors.
After you’ve connected with your soul, you won’t differentiate you and your soul as being apart from one another. You’ll simply feel connected, whole, and at one with the Universe. All of the best and most important work comes from this place within you, so trust in it and allow for it to grow into something magnificent.
“I am fully capable of taking charge of my life. I’m making the commitment in the present moment to use my energy for the betterment of my life as opposed to the destruction of it. I become the reality I allow for, and I choose the reality that serves my highest good and the highest good of those around me.”
Kaiden Blake, recognized internet personality and artist, is currently anticipating the release of his forthcoming book. Kaiden’s incredibly strong bond with his fans, inspire personal empowerment across the globe.
Imagine you had the ability to embark on a journey into a brave new world, one in which you have never seen or heard of, one in which you do not speak the language and no one even really resembles you. The purpose of your journey is to navigate this new world, its terrain and elements, master its’ inhabitants’ language, and align with its’ culture. If successful, you have would have the opportunity to experience a new world full of natural beauty, empathetic compassion, soulful inter-connection and a myriad of physical sensations. Additionally, this new adventure holds the potential to learn skills and concepts beyond your current imagination. Your mind would expand exponentially. Best of all, this new environment is one full of hope, excitement and support where you can live, learn, grow and love in peace and safety.
What would you feel like and how would you behave once you have returned from your journey? How would it change you? Would you want your loved ones to go to the same place and have the same experience that you had? Would you dedicate your time and effort in assisting with their ability to journey as you did?
The fact is that we, as human beings, have already made the jump into that journey.
The day before you were born, you were very much alive. You did not breathe as you do now, but absorbed your oxygen and nutrients from the fluid that surrounded you. What you heard of the sounds of the world, and whatever you could see, also first passed through this same fluid. You had virtually no control of your body, knew nothing of the new world’s language, and had no idea what another human being even looked like. The journey you were on was completely foreign. If there were a way to infuse the knowledge to the vulnerable you that in 24 hours you would be breathing not water, but air for oxygen, eating food, learning the basics of a foreign language, navigate obstacles, see, hear and feel through new, yet undiscovered senses, in a land you could not even imagine, life would certainly at that point be utterly and completely unrecognizable to you. Yet, that is what ear and every one of us have done. Our truth and very existence changed in yet a few precious moments. I wonder how many of us would have in fact been brave and courageous enough to have been born, if given the choice?
There are other times in history where truths have changed. In Galileo’s time, the truth of the world was that its’ surface was flat. If we traveled to the “edge,” it was believed we would simply fall off into an endless abyss. Today we all know that concept was not the truth, simply “the truth of the time” and what the masses believed in, so for a while, it became their truth. What kind of spirit, fortitude, and belief in oneself, must it have taken for his theories to be pushed through until proven.
Then there were the myriad of courageous explorers in days gone by who traveled and colonized new lands. Armed with tools, ships and the like, their beliefs and sheer will were probably among their most important assets to continue onward. They just kept pushing forward toward a new world, a new life, and new truths.
The funny thing about some truths, is that they are not just there waiting to be discovered. There is no concrete substance to a truth that one seeks and then finds. Truth exists only in the minds of those who believe it, and the resulting culture is the manifestation of those thoughts and beliefs. Truth is evidenced into existence through action and behavior.
Fast forward to 2014 and our cultures have their own sets of current truths. One truth is that we live in a place of much beauty. Our lands are graced with natural beauty from majestic mountains to red rock canyons to turquoise waters and pure sandy beaches. We are blessed with an abundance of colors, changing and blending constantly everywhere, different species of life to live amongst and learn from, and the power of self-renewing passion and inner strength, that we can draw from and share with others of our own kind. Yet, there are other truths. The truths that some subscribe to that cause humans to choose to kill each other, imprison each other, torment, deny, and destroy each other. Clearly the former are simply supplied to us, luckily we come by such beauty naturally. Violence is always a choice. One that begins in the mind, out of fear.
The day before we were born we had no choice, and we had no fear, only progression. There was only one way to go, forward, and why not? Hopefully, that transition was into loving arms and a new beautiful world full of hope and possibility. That was the truth for some people, and not for others. Clearly then there is no one truth, and the only thing we can control is ourselves. There is only your truth that you bring to the world through your thoughts and your actions. This is our choice as human beings.
What would you choose if you had no fear? What could you become? Would you choose to shine with beauty as a gift to all those around you if you knew you would be accepted? Would you, like Galileo, take the natural gifts in front of us and pursue new ways to interpret and combine these elements to open up the boundaries of our environment? Or maybe it is simply enough to see the need in just one other person, and respond. If you are reading this, you probably have been around long enough to figure out, that there are many improvements we can make in the way we are living today and we could all use a little more grace.
No one asked you years ago if you were brave and courageous enough to leave the only home you ever knew and be born alone into a strange new one.Today, however, you can ask yourself if you are brave enough to choose a new attitude of enlightened empowerment, enhanced encouragement, deeper consideration, empathy, kindness, and support. If we did accept this challenge, that would certainly be the ultimate form of self-defense, because we simply would not need any.
I came in looking for Ninjitsu, but, left with a glimpse at an entire Japanese Martial Art system. The way of the Japanese warrior is actually a combination of many paths. At the Budo Shingikan Dojo the students are guided along five of them, through the system of Bushin Ryu Aiki Bujutsu. This literally translates as “Authentic Style of War Arts Utilizing Harmonious Blending of Energy”. At first glance those concepts may seem to be at war with each other, but as I learned, that is the beauty and balance of this art. (www.martialartsmesa.com) From the moment I chatted with Shannon on the phone I knew we were in good hands. She asked that we arrive 30 minutes early so we could have a tour of the school and be assigned a student to “shadow”. This student would help us a along the way through the class so that we could blend comfortably into the class and learn some basics. She then further shared that we should wear long pants and a t-shirt to be most comfortable in the class. I took Kris Costa, our favorite Editor, along for the adventure.
Entering the dojo was a study in balance. Dedeuc D’Antonoli Kaiso proudly shared that they moved into their new location about a year and a half ago. It is the perfect combination of spacious 21st century warehouse and feudal Japanese simplicity. We were only 10 minutes into the tour when Kaiso demonstrated the intricacies of his art. We were chatting about AiKi, the study of the marriage between body structure and energy. After carefully listening to a question of mine, he clarified with a simple demonstration. He asked me to stand in a typical martial arts front stance with my hand extended in a punch. After I complied he pushed on my extended hand. I noted the familiar concussion as the jarring energy pushed me backwards and my body attempted to accommodate by exerting pressure of it’s own. Next, he asked if he could move my body a little. With my permission he then rotated my hand position about 20 degrees and bent my elbow in. Again, he struck my hand. I was riveted, as I realized my body didn’t have to absorb any of the energy, and I felt his impact flow right out of my right heel into the floor. I had read before about Japanese martial artists wanting to emulate an “immovable mountain”. At 128 lbs, I didn’t think I had an immovable anything. It wasn’t my strength or powerful resistance, rather, the structure of my stance and body position by which the energy flowed right through me.
I was hooked!
Back in the front office we were filling out permission forms when we were introduced to Jim. Jim is referred to as Senpai (sen-pie). In class, he is the highest ranking student. We were to shadow Jim throughout our class. Senpai did a masterful job of guiding us through the ins and outs of the lesson, while gently educating us on the culture and etiquette of the dojo
The first thing I noted upon entering the dojo was the silence. Students are encouraged to remain quiet and I was moved by the centering affect this granted. Before the class the students lined up by rank and knelt in Seiza (say-za). This is a position where you kneel on both knees with your feet tucked under your bottom. We bowed in as each student mindfully placed their left and then right hand on the floor and bowed their head towards their hands. Then, equally mindful, placed their right hand and then left back onto their thighs. We bowed to the front of the room and then to the Sensei. The students recited several words in Japanese. Kaiso then asked one of the students to lead the class in warm ups. It was clear to me that this would be considerably different than classes I had been to before. Rather than warming up with jumping jacks and stretch kicks, we focused more on wrist and hip limbering techniques. Almost all of the stretches were static and each student was responsible to stay within their own limits. We stretched in unison as the leading student counted out the moves. The commands were spoken in Japanese and I was told the students are taught these through a student guide and practice.
Freshly warmed up, we moved onto Ukemi (ooh-kim-e) – tumbling. As new students, Senpai took us to the side and taught us forward rolls. I was guessing that these were designed to make me feel as uncoordinated and humble as possible! However Kaiso, explained that they are actually a very important way to teach us how to fall. He shared that living in such a safe area, we are more likely to get hurt by slipping and falling than by being attacked. Falling gracefully and without injury is an important skill. Senpai’s demonstration did look like a graceful flow of skirts and limbs. My rolls, well, …. not so much.
Next, Kaiso gathered us back into a straight line kneeling in seiza. I noted that if students became uncomfortable in this position that they would bow and then quietly move into a cross-legged position for more comfort. Kaiso asked Senpai to come to the front of the class and they demonstrated an attack with it’s counter move. It was an artful escape and countering control technique one could use if an attacker had both hands held behind you. D’Antonoli Kaiso demonstrated that it wasn’t a tug-of-war between you and your attacker. If there is no conflict, there can be nothing for your attacker to move against. He flowed masterfully out of the grab and Senpai ended up on the ground.
We paired off and attempted to emulate the technique. This was my favorite part of the entire experience. Sensei would visit each pair and make minute changes that made all the difference in the world. He would gladly repeat the technique with you until you could see the differences. In other martial arts schools I have practically felt the testosterone rolling off my instructor as he made the students “comply”. Often times it seemed to me that the students would submit just to stop the pain. This was not like that. Never for a moment did I feel negative energy flowing from Kaiso or Senpai. It was clear that their goal was to share this knowledge until you truly “got it” and without conflict. I felt as if they were effortlessly guiding me through the lesson. It was like the gentle swish swish you feel and hear as you ski down a gentle mountain slope.
Each time we partnered up to practice we would say “Ome gai shimasu”. This is a way of saying that you are trusting your partner with your body and your theirs. You are both sacrificing your body’s security for the potential learning of your partner. Before returning to the line up, each partner says “domo arigato’. Which means “thank you, very much.” After each technique I felt the pride of victory and achievement. Not because I had overpowered, or outmatched my partner, but because we had travelled down this path together.
Later, as Kaiso was demonstrating a technique to me, he explained “I then help my partner to the ground”. I laughed at this, and joked about “how kind he was”. He acknowledged my mirth, but then shared, that this is actually an important point. “Forcing” your opponent to the floor holds a much different feel and energy than “helping” them to the floor. Practitioners of his art, always strive for the absence of “fighting mind” and internal centering is a big part of this. It was interesting to me that there wasn’t any “kihaps” (yells) in the dojo. Ki-haps are used in other martial arts to harness and release your energy during the time of impact. Of course in Bujutsu there is no “point of impact”. The dojo is flush with quiet and centered energy.
Kaiso then called us back to line up and showed us what to do after we had “helped our opponent to the floor”. Again, we paired off and practiced the technique. And, again Senpai insured that I actually understood it. There was no veil of mysticism that would be raised after years of study. He helped me understand it right.
D’Antonoli Kaiso called us back to the line up to have a chat about Chudo (chew-doe) — The way of the middle. He asked the students to put this into their own words. I heard, “balance”, “no extremes”, “taking the center path”. Kaiso expanded upon these definitions. In the martial arts you may have two extremes. For example, you may have one martial art that is teaching you to rip someone’s arm off and take it home for dinner. At the other extreme, a martial art that is completely defensive and would never hurt another. Rather, he spoke of taking the middle path. Not constantly moving through life looking for, and interpreting, signs of an attack. And, not moving through life shying from all attacks and cowering. Rather moving through life with expectations of peace and a willingness to defend oneself if necessary. D’Antonoli Kaiso had explained during our introductory tour that there are five tips that each student must demonstrate to earn their next belt rank. And, like a star, each of these five points need to be equally developed in order to be a complete and well rounded Japanese warrior. They are:
1. Yellow Tip – Koppo Jutsu – punching and kicking techniques,
2. Blue Tip – Jujutsu – grappling/joint locks and chokes,
3. Purple Tip – Aiki no Jutsu – internal components, body mapping and body architecture (structure),
4. Brown Tip – Kobujutsu – weapons – they focus on sword, staff and knife,
5. Black Tip – Martial concepts, principles and philosophies.
Our final lesson of the evening was one in energy. Kaiso invited Senpai up to the front of the class to try and “push him over”. They were both kneeling on the ground, facing each other, with their knees planted wide. Senpai would push against Kaiso and Kaiso would flip him around on the floor with little or no effort. D’Antonoli Kaiso explained that he had no conflict with Senpai. That his mind was actually behind him and that he let the energy flow right through him so there would be no “point of conflict.” Dutifully impressed, we set off with our partners to practice this mystical art.
Guess what? It worked! Again, I had that feeling of complete immovability. I wasn’t “fighting” against Senpai’s force. Rather, I just focused my energy behind him. And, when it was my turn to push against Senpai, it felt absolutely useless. Because I could tell I was actually just pushing him harder into the mat. The only one pushing was me.
We lined up by rank a final time and knelt again in seiza. Kaiso made a couple of school announcements and we mindfully bowed out. What an amazing lesson! After class each of the classmates came up and shook our hands and introduced themselves. It was clear that the dojo was a family and we were welcomed in with open arms. What a wonderful adventure!