Monday, September 9, 2013

Migrating To Tumblr

In order to simplify my life, I'm migrating the blog over to Tumblr. As a consequence there will be no more posts on this blog until further notice.

My Tumblr blog can be found here: . It's a combination of my budo themed posts, my writing, and several of my other interests as well.

For those who prefer blogger, you can go to . IFTTT will copy every Tumblr post I make to that blog.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Blogging Question, Budo Edition

There are many blogs out there that I admire, full of inspiration and useful information. Every time I sit down to write a blog post for Laughing Crane Budo, I wonder if my blog is, or ever can be, like the blogs that I aspire towards?

I have a few handicaps. For one, I spend a lot less time online than I think is truly necessary in order to be a successful blogger. Every minute spent online is another minute I could be doing other things, like practicing kata, stretching, building strength, or going for a jog. (See also the other aspects of my life, such as four children, patient wife, chores, day job, and writing career.)

For another, I'm not sure I understand what a successful blog actually looks like. Ought I measure my progress in terms of likes, reblogs, or mentions on twitter? Is it my number of hits per day that makes me a good martial arts blogger, or the number of my followers?

Lastly, what is it that the world wants to hear from me? I don't mean to get existential here, but why do you, the reader, want to read my blog? Is it because I provide useful and inspiring information about the martial arts? Do you want to read about my own personal struggles and triumphs? Are you looking for areas in your own training that you could improve? Do you see that I have more than ten years of concentrated experience in the martial arts, and are you trying to tap into that, somehow?

Blogging is hard for me, because it takes a lot of time for me to compose something that feels right. I don't consider myself a man of the easy quip, the well-turned phrase that inspires and enlightens you. I see myself as the man who sits down with you, when the inspiration wears off, and provides you with some hard, and often dry, details, the reality of the situation. I'm not the guy who lights the fire. I fill the bucket.

I also have a problem just using other people's material. The whole re-blogging thing feels like cheating, to me. I'm sure the fault there lies with me, not the rest of the blogging world, so don't take that the wrong way.

So, in the end, when I have negative time to spare and plenty of other important things to do (like train, or spend time with my kids)

why do I blog?

I'm going to have to spend some time thinking about this problem. I'm no threatening to pull the rug out from under this blog, yet, but I am doing some serious personal value and cost analysis, here.

Until I figure it out, keep kicking and punching, and remember to spend your time wisely.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why the Splits?

Why does any martial artist need to do the splits? Is flexibility a requirement in order to be a good fighter?

Well, no. Not as such. On the other hand, here's a quick story that illustrates why I strive to become more flexible all round.

A few weeks ago I was working on a balancing drill with a partner. In this drill the attacker steps in with an attack and the defender waits until the foot is almost on the floor and gives it a nudge in the wrong direction, resulting in some of the greatest slow motion falls you can see in the dojo.

All was going well. My partner and I were getting comfortable with the drill, which usually when people stop cooperating with each other so nicely. I think I attacked, and he defended, and I decided to see what happened when I adjusted my fall after he took me out. What happened between that moment and the floor was too complicated for me to understand, but I think it involved him pulling his foot back because it was caught on my foot.

I landed in the splits.

Now, at best guess I'm about 190-200 lbs., and I landed with my full weight. If I hadn't been more flexible...

Well, anyway, I work my splits, so nothing bad came of it.

(This is also, by the way, one of the reasons why we don't work inside sweeps - the possible over-extension injuries are quite nasty.)

Be aware of the limitations and possible repercussions of your level of flexibility. Can't do the splits? Either work toward doing them, or make sure you never go down like I did.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Somebody Else's Rules

There are times when it's best to play by your rules, and there are times when you can gain a lot more by playing by someone else's rules.

There are times when you can do it your way and win, but that you could have learned a lot more by doing it someone else's way. Trying out another dojo, learning from someone who does the technique a bit different from you. This can be frustrating because you want to win. You want to do well. And you also don't want to waste time figuring out what their rules are.

I remember sparring with a girl who took Systema. One of my dojo buddies was there, and he pointed out that I could have "easily taken her". I think he might have been right, but that's just conjecture. But my answer was that I wanted to learn from her, not beat her. I study karate, which is such a different creature from the art she studied. Much better to take the chance to see what she could teach me - but I could only do that if I played by her rules.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dojo Placebo

I've mentioned the placebo effect and the nocebo effect. I have a few ideas about how they relate to things like meditation, chi kung, tai chi, and other martial arts.

What follows hasn't been researched (to my knowledge), and it doesn't count as science, medicine, or traditional Chinese medicine. I'm drawing on my own experience and the incredible things I've been reading about neuroscience and the human brain. I don't have the reference articles on hand, but I encourage you to go looking if you're interested.

Here goes.

What if the benefits of meditation, chi kung, and tai chi, are all mostly the result of the placebo effect?

Before any martial arts masters lambaste me for turning away from hundreds of years of tradition and martial science, let me say this. I don't mean that chi kung doesn't work, or that there is no such thing as chi. I believe chi exists because of my own experience with it. What I am saying is that so many of the benefits of chi kung can be traced back to the placebo effect, which is a measurable phenomenon we know exists.

Let's look at it another way. We know that the movements (or, in some drills, the lack of movements) have specific physical effects on the body. It is a gentle exercise and reaps the benefits in kind. We also know that it has certain slow but powerful effects, like decreasing discomfort or pain, and slowing, stopping, or sometimes reversing the damage caused by degenerative diseases (Parkinson's, Alzheimer’s, etc.)

These seemingly mysterious healing powers are usually attributed to chi, by practitioners. A blockage is removed, chi flows freely, and balance is restored, allowing the body to heal itself. If you don't believe in chi, you should believe in the placebo.

Consider that the placebo effect works even when the patient is aware of it. In other words, I could give you a long (and accurate) list of the things tai chi is supposed to help with, then tell you that it only helps because of the placebo effect. You would, if you took tai chi, still reap the benefits, even if you thought it was "all in the mind."

Also consider that the perceived effort, or sacrifice, in a treatment affects the degree of benefit. A sugar pill helps, but less so that a saline injection. That's because the injection "costs" more in terms of a big needle. (In the nocebo effect, it's the same reason that treatments performed by people in lab coats hurt more than those done by people in plain clothes.)

Tai chi and chi kung cost you. You have to learn, practice, improve, and perfect. You have to take on a whole new way of thinking about your body, about your breathing, your chi (real or imagined.) Since chi kung, like all treatments, is subject to the placebo effect, and we know that the higher the "cost" the better the effect, it seems likely that the placebo effect is very potent in chi kung.

Again, I'm not saying it's all placebo, or that there's no chi. My current guess, from my limited reading and experience, is that it's a bit of both.

There are so many rabbit holes we could go down here. What does this say about the responsibilities of the teacher? How does this translate into the martial aspect of things, or martial arts like aikido or karate? How do we avoid letting the nocebo effect slip into the dojo? What about the ethics of teaching something and espousing its incredible benefits, when you don't believe it's any more than the placebo effect?

All these discoveries are amazing and potentially quite powerful, but they're certainly making some questions very, very complicated.

I truly hope a concentrated group effort comes together soon, to properly study how all this hands together. In the mean time, when pressed on whether I believe in chi or if I think it's all in the mind, I'll just say:


Monday, August 5, 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


So we've talked about the placebo effect, and how wonderful and mysterious it is. We've known about it for a while now, but it's relatively recently that we've really begun to consider the opposite effect - the nocebo.

Nocebo means "I shall harm." It is the evil twin brother of the placebo in terms of the mind-body connection.

It turns out that if you believe there will be negative side effects to a given treatment you stand a much higher chance of developing those potential side effects. And, as with the placebo effect, the same thing can happen with your negative expectations of the treatment.

If you think it's going to hurt it will. If you think you might feel a bit sick, or light headed, or uncomfortable, or queasy...

You know those flu vaccines they're trying to get us to take? You know that long list of symptoms? Understanding the nocebo effect changes the way you'll look at that.

There's not much more to say about the effect itself. It's not as widely researched, for obvious reasons. It's hard to get a grant or a pass from the ethics board for pretending to cause harm to someone, especially when there's a chance their brain will believe you and actually cause the harm.

We do know that, while it is similar to the placebo - in and evil doppelganger sort of way - it is also distinct from it. For one thing, the response kicks in from a different part of the brain. For another, it's possible to have both placebo and nocebo acting on a patient at the same time.

Consider clinical trials for a moment. Usually there is a disclosure of information which includes intended effects of the medication, as well as possible side effects. Well, we developed double-blind tests to prevent false data from research studies - to weed out the placebo or otherwise account for it. But no such thing exists for the nocebo. This means that a lot of the data we have out there for drugs and medical procedures is going to be off until the equivalent of a double-blind test can be developed for the nocebo. (Triple-blind? Quad-blind?)

What's really interesting, and kind of frightening, are the ethical implications of this. When a doctor tells you about possible problems with a treatment or drug, their loading the dice against you. But should they withhold that info in the hopes of alleviating some of the mind-induced discomfort? Would you trust a doctor who lied to you, even if it was in your best interests? Or is it okay to give someone a placebo and tell them it's real medication? For one thing, the prescription would have to be just as expensive as the real drug, or the ruse fails, which means the drug company would make a killing selling sugar pills. For another thing, neither placebo nor nocebo account for 100% of a drugs effect on the body.

There is so much more to be said about this, and the field is so fresh. I can't wait, for instance, so see how all this can be applied to the martial arts and related healing arts. For that matter, this understanding could be applied to everything right down to the very core of how we understand the world around us - and how that understanding changes how our bodies react to it.

Next post will probably deal with some of my own thoughts, as an outside observer to this research and how it might be used.