Monday, August 14, 2006

Training the Way of the Warrior, Part III: Does It Really Work?

In the interest of not boring my readers, I’m condensing the last two parts of Sifu Shi Yan Ming’s “The Shaolin Workout” into this final part III of my analysis. As you’ll recall, Sifu’s routine encompasses only 28 days, but it's not as simple as it at first appears. In parts three and four, the kicks and crouches and one-legged stands increase. He even adds a few hops. I followed along as best I could, but didn’t really meet my Waterloo until I came to the Crossed Seated Stance. One look at the illustration was as much as I needed, but my conscience wouldn’t let me describe it here without at least trying it. If you’d like to give it a shot yourself, here are the slightly paraphrased instructions:

“Stand straight and relaxed, feet planted firmly, slightly farther apart than shoulder width. Turn your body to the left, pivoting on both feet, without lifting your feet or taking a step. When you’ve turned 180°, so that you’re now facing the opposite direction of where you started, go down slowly into a cross-legged crouch. Go down gently until you’re sitting on the ground, with your legs crossed, the left leg over the right thigh. Be mindful of keeping your body fully extended, back straight, head and chin up.”

I can crouch, but I can’t get myself down to the floor in this position without landing on Big Beatrice in a most un-Shaolin-like heap. (Stop laughing out there! I see you!) But wait – it gets worse! Sifu actually expects me to rise back to my original position!

“To return to your original standing position, simply ‘unwind’ yourself. As you begin to rise from the ground, turn your body to the right, pivoting on both feet. Keep turning and pivoting until you’re standing in your original position. Remember not to lift your feet or take a step. Just pivot in one spot.”

Don’t lift your feet? Don’t take a step? I have four words for you, Sifu: Bring on the crane.

"The Shaolin Workout" comes to a close soon after, with a photo of Sifu blowing a kiss to his readers. It’s a sweet gesture, but I’m feeling less than appreciative at the moment. However, that’s not his fault.

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You’ve heard my thoughts on Sifu’s routine – what do others have to say? reviewers gave it an average of four out of five stars. Here’s a pro and con sampling of their comments.

“As a how-to, it’s limited because all martial arts and especially the more subtle ones have to be shown and taught in person….Some of the daily meditations are a little over the top, but the enthusiasm is catchy….Why does a stay-at-home mom need to learn Kung-Fu? Why not? Part of transforming your body and soul is just being open-minded. We all need to do things for ourselves occasionally, even if it is a simple stretch….It’s the only workout I’ve ever really enjoyed that didn’t involve a competitive sport….After just a few days I could feel myself standing taller and walking with better posture….No normal person would actually do this workout on their own for very long; it is just too strenuous to endure without encouragement from an instructor….To perform the techniques as he [Sifu] does takes relentless hours of practice, so the 28-days mantra is deceptive at best….There is ample reason to read this book even if you do not train physically because the life philosophy applies to all.”

And that brings me to the next part of "The Shaolin Workout" that I wanted to spotlight – the daily meditations. These bear repeated study even if you've ceased to do the workout. One of my favorites was “Dripping water bores a hole in the rock.” The persistence of dripping water is indeed what many of us need to achieve mastery over Sifu’s routine or whatever workout we choose, especially when we start from Ground Zero, as I did (see blog entry of May 22, 2006). As Sifu says (and how contrary this is to the typical American way of life!): “Your improvement may be so gradual that you don’t even notice, but don’t give up. Be as patient as the rain and the ice.”

Another one I particularly liked was “Beautiful birds always land on the top of the tree. Brilliant people always express their ideas up higher.” Sifu asks if we’ve ever seen a lazy bird. The answer is no, because there is no such thing. Birds are constantly active, constantly expressing their lives in their songs, their bright feathers (think of the peacock), and their soaring flight overhead. Sifu advises his readers to watch the birds arching and zipping across the sky – and then observe where they land – at the top of the tree. “In your life, you should be reaching for the top as well,” he says. “Don’t be like water running downhill.”

Is "The Shaolin Workout" a worthy purchase? I would say that really depends on the individual’s goals and interest in the martial arts. While I didn’t personally find the movements enjoyable, I rarely rank any exercise in that category, so don’t give that too much importance. On a scale of one to ten I would rate the overall sweat factor as about a seven, if you do the entire routine at once. The real benefit that I took away from the book is, as I have previously mentioned, an increased appreciation of the beauty and grace that comes from a fit and flexible body, as well as a renewed appreciation of the body itself. In attempting even the “for me impossible” moves, I learned to really listen to my muscles (and not just their shrieks of protest!). The photography is excellent and the layout well-executed. So if I’ve piqued your interest, crouch, leap and kick your way over to or your local bookstore, and check it out for yourself. And if you decide to embark on your own course of warrior training, write me and let me know how it works for you!

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Reader Joyce – who, by the way, has a wonderfully informative and beautifully photographed blog of her and her husband’s new “work camping” life in Rockport, Maine over at – alerted me to another interesting blog titled “The Fanatic Cook,” written by a female nutritionist. FC (I don’t know her real name) features detailed research, excellent illustrations, and recipes. For her analysis of the alleged benefits of bottled water, book and article recommendations, or just a mouth-watering recipe for lemon chiffon pie, “get thee on over” (as the inimitable Matt Furey would say) to This is one website definitely worth checking out. Thanks for the tip, Joyce! And speaking of tips…if you find a blog of note related in some way to the theme of this one, please write and let me know. I’ll be pleased to feature it in an upcoming entry.

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Have you ever seen Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man”? If so, you’ll likely remember that Professor Harold Hill, the suave, fast-talking traveling salesman of the production’s title, relied on something called “The Think System” to get his ragtag boys’ band to produce the “Minuet in G.” No practice was involved – in fact, the boys weren’t even allowed to attempt a note on their shiny new instruments! No, Professor Hill insisted they do nothing more than think the piece. Of course, Harold Hill was a charlatan who planned on being well out of town before his “Think System” could be exposed for the fraud it was…but this was Hollywood, not reality, and at the show’s finale, the River City Boys Band, with no prior musical ability or rehearsal, managed to stammer out a highly unprofessional, yet recognizable, “Minuet in G.” Was it just the magic of Hollywood at work? Or was there another type of magic involved – the magic of belief? Didn’t the boys have to believe they could play the minuet in the first place? I think they did. And not long ago I found myself wondering if Meredith Willson hadn’t read an intriguing book by Claude M. Bristol titled “The Magic of Believing” when he dreamed up that fictional boy’s band. For a look at that magic, stop by here again next week for “Professor Harold Hill Was On to Something.”

Until then...Keep on Treading!