Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review of Black Belt Fitness for Life by Grandmaster Tae Sun Kang

Review of Black Belt Fitness for Life by Grandmaster Tae Sun Kang

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given a copy of this book for review purposes.

Title: Black Belt Fitness for Life: A 7-Week Plan to Achieve Lifelong Wellness
Written by : Grandmaster Tae Sun Kang
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing

Format: Softcover
Page Count: 160
Cover Price: $12.95

    I've been studying aikido for over 15 years now, which means...I'm old.  I cannot rely on my youth to keep me in shape.  And as much as I love aikido, and it can be a vigorous exercise, it is not known for its athleticism.  So, I've decided to start looking for some advice on how to get back in shape and more importantly how to stay in shape.  Since I'm a martial artist, I figure the best way to get into shape would be to follow a martial arts fitness routine.  I'm not the type of person whose schedule allows for them to go to the gym for Taebo classes regularly, so I was looking for something I could do at home when ever some spare time (yeah right) rears its head.  That's how I found this book.  Grandmaster Tae Sun Kang has a simple plan that's not designed to just get you in shape, but to keep you in shape, which is always the hardest part of the battle.


    The book's introductory chapters give some background on the author, and then it delves into his philosophy of martial arts and how it can positively affect you physically.  He then starts to go through his life-change plan, which includes stretches, exercises, and eating plans/ideas/philosophies.  I don't know what to call his food intake ideas, but it is considered part of his overall life-changing plan.  Because its martial arts based, each week is a "belt."  So the first week's change in movements and eating styles is "white" belt level.  And because its the extreme basic level, there isn't much too it.  The next level, yellow belt, is designed to push you a little farther on your path.  Each week adds small changes that build on the weeks before it.  Just as your knowledge in martial arts builds on each belt you've achieved.  After 7-weeks you're at the black belt level, where you have your exercise and eating routine in place, and because it took 7-weeks to get there, you've adapted your life to be able to do it.  The author also gives advice on how to change up the exercises if you start getting bored of them.  


    One of the things that I really liked about this book is the "belt" system of weeks.  Just as belts are used in martial arts to be a goal, it can work the same way in life changing habits.  Everyone's goal is to be a black belt right?  I also really appreciate the idea that not everyone is ready to jump into a lifestyle change, but if you change somethings gradually it will become part of your lifestyle.  One point to make is that none of the movements in this plan are exotic or contortionistic stretches that you've never seen before.  They are all exercises and movements that you've probably done at one point in your life.  Even if you can't do a push-up you know what one is, and the book shows ways to modify the movements/exercises if you don't have the ability to do the full movement/exercise yet.  For example, do an inclined push-up if you aren't able to do a full push-up yet.  It still is the process of the change that's important.


    The one problem with this book, is that it is a book.  If you are able to motivate yourself to get off the couch and do the stretches and exercises, then this book is awesome.  If you are a person that requires external motivation, which could be other people in the dojo, or an instructor than no book will really work for you.  So make sure you know yourself, or at least want to change yourself, before you get this book.  
    Another thing that's a little weird about this book is the testimonials scattered throughout the book.  I think they're supposed to be motivation points, but I'm not sure.  It just seemed a little odd to me.


   This book is really well organized, very readable, and indeed, even makes you want to try out the stretches and exercises.  It really does motivate you to at least try out what the author is saying.  He's very logical in his presentation, and I would love to be in a room with him, as his writings make him seem like an awesome coach who encourages, and creates a non-competitive atmosphere when people are working with him.  Overall I'm going to give this book 4 out of 5 ninja stars.  The movements are generally martial arts movements, which is why I think most people reading this would want to give it a chance, and they are presented is a very good way where you can tell what is supposed to be done.  The motivation factor, and progressive nature of the exercises make this an easy path to follow, and more importantly and easy path to stay on.  That's the most important factor of a fitness/eating plan is not the number of people that start it, but how many are still doing it a year from now.  Again because of the martial arts nature, I think people interested in martial arts would be more willing to continue on this particular path.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The pains and joys of learning a new martial art.

Chendokan Aikido
    I've been studying Japanese martial arts since 1995.  However, I recently moved to Nashville and decided a change in location could mean a change in martial arts for me as well.  There is a local school of Chendokan Aikido, and I still practice there a couple times a month, but I specifically wanted to go back to the beginning and study something where I didn't know the language or ideas presented.  So I started looking for a new martial art to study.  I looked around at a couple of local schools, some karate, kung-fu and others.  Then I listened to a podcast where Steve Perry (the writer not the guy from Journey) was talking about Pencak Silat, and he described the way it looked as Aikido combined with Wing Chun.  I was hooked with the idea.  Here was an art that was completely foreign in its language and culture, but should still have some familiarity right?  I looked around, and there happens to be a school not far away from me.  So I started studying PCK Pencak Silat.


    I've been practicing, and teaching martial arts long enough that I've forgotten what its like to start at the beginning.  I forgot how standing in an unfamiliar position uses small muscles that you're not used to using, and how they hurt the next day.  I'm decently familiar with Japanese language and how it's structure works, especially within the context of Aikido and martial arts in general.  I forgot how daunting and overwhelming learning all the language components can be.   Pencak Silat is from Indonesia, and I have no experience with that language or culture.  Because Aikido doesn't really use kata, or forms, I was specifically looking for a martial art that had forms.  Silat does have forms, and learning them is a completely new, and again, awkward experience.


PCK Silat
 I'm not complaining or whining, all those same things that are the pains of learning a martial art, are also the joys of learning a martial art.  After a little while, the newness of learning a martial art wears off, and all you're left with is the more difficult parts.  That's where you have to find your joys.  Find joy in learning a new culture and language.  Find joy in that awkward, uncomfortable position slowly feeling more natural.  Find joy in the ability to push past the learning curve and find pleasure in incremental learning of new skills.  All of those are the real joys of learning a new martial art.