All posts by itolchinsky

Immediate and long term benefits of practice


When practicing some form of exercise there are immediate benefits that are the result of just one session and there are long term ones that manifest themselves after months and years of practice.

The immediate effects of a Kung Fu session can be compared to taking your car in for a service.  You may change the oil and filter, top up all the key fluids, and make sure there are no serious issues that need to be taken care of.  With clean oil and a new filter your car leaves the service feeling the best it can in its current condition.

The long term effects of Kung Fu training can on the other hand be compared to upgrading your car.  I used to own a Mitsubishi Eclipse some years ago.  It was a fun fast and relatively cheap car.  It came with 210 horsepower and could do 0-60MPH in around 6.5 seconds.  The crazy thing about that car is that it could be upgraded to over 600HP.  The engine remained the same, the main thing that changed was how much air was pumped through the system.  From the air intake, to the Turbo, all the way to the exhaust, the air flow was maximized.  Other components then needed to change to match the new system, such as the suspension, fuel injection, and electronics.  Additional instrumentation was added to see exactly what was going on to enable fine tuning the performance.

The cool thing about upgrading the Eclipse is that the fuel efficiency of the car was actually improved for regular daily use.

The parallels with developing a Kung Fu body are very interesting.  Breathing efficiency has the highest focus and the amount of oxygen flowing through the body is maximized.  Skeletal strength and stability while moving are next, this is like the suspension of a car.  The efficiency of the digestive organs which deliver energy from food, or our fuel, is also improved.  Kung Fu requires improvement in reaction times, this is our electronics.  Finally a deeper awareness is required to continue fine tuning and developing all of these aspects.

The result of continuously challenging one’s body and mind to develop it to its full potential is that regular daily life becomes easier and more enjoyable.

So try a session to experience the immediate effects.  When you get a taste you will then be able to imagine what the long term effects will be like.  Don’t waste your time, start today and enjoy them for yourself ASAP.

Progressive Training

When studying mathematics understanding basic operations such as addition and subtraction is just the first step.  After these are mastered the student moves onto multiplication, division and beyond.  Studying only addition and subtraction has very limited use.


The same thing goes for doing exercise.  With any art of movement it is first necessary to start with very basic exercises.  Once these are accomplished, it is time to move to the next level, one that builds on top of the previous one.  Then the next level, and so on.

Unfortunately today most people never experience this.  They go to a gym class, they follow a group.  They get some benefit, then progress slows down, then they get bored.  They may stick with it because they know it gives them some health benefits or they might try something else.  But they rarely go deeper and the benefits of the practice do not increase beyond a certain level.

Eventually old age sets in.  Maintaining a healthy active body becomes more difficult.

Ba Gua Zhang training takes a progressive approach that has been polished over millennia.  It challenges and develops every aspect of the body and mind.  These include flexibility, strength, coordination, speed, balance, awareness, and concentration to name just a few.  Each facet has corresponding progressive training that can start at your current level and will never stop changing.

The main benefit of this lifelong practice is optimal health throughout your lifetime.  So why not start today?

The secret of living a long and healthy life

In our society we accept that old age brings frailty. We rely on modern medicine to cope with the inevitable changes. Opiods are being commonly prescribed to deal with chronic pain. As a result painkiller addiction is reaching epidemic proportions. From CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Drug overdose deaths in the United States hit record numbers in 2014. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.”

Current advances in medicine extend lives, but for most people the end of life is not healthy. According to research done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in 2010 healthy life expectancy at birth was 10 years shorter than actual life expectancy.

The Figure below from the Harvard School of Public Health illustrates this trend.


Alarmingly this gap is actually widening and people are living with pain for longer. However, there are alternatives, it is well established that exercise is the best preventative drug.

The most advanced exercise knowledge belongs to a family of Chinese Martial Arts. These arts are known as the ‘Internal Martial Arts’. Practitioners of these arts stay active, strong, and healthy into very old age. Tai Chi is the best known of these arts. However, the art I practice and teach, Ba Gua Zhang, is even more effective. Masters of Ba Gua Zhang live longer and stay healthy to the end. Below is a picture of a famous Ba Gua Zhang master, Lu Zijian, who lived to the age of 118.


It is never too late to start.  Join me for a session and experience the benefits yourself.

Prescription Training

Let’s say you need to clean a surface. You wouldn’t scrub the whole thing if there was just one part that was really dirty.  You would concentrate on that one part.  Another time, there may be just some light dust on it and in that case you would uniformly dust the whole thing.

Similarly, if you are exercising to improve your health, you wouldn’t want to do the same routine every time.  You would want to diagnose what you need to work on and then target that area with an exercise that is appropriate for its condition.

Ba Gua and other Kung Fu styles, use low body stances to develop the legs.  In Ba Gua there are 8 stances and together they cover every angle of every joint in the legs.

A few of them are shown below.


A practitioner who goes through all of them may identify that one of the stances is weaker than others.  He could then spend more time on that one to bring all of them into balance.  If the problem is flexibility he may perform some slow gentle movements to stretch and lengthen the connective tissues that prevent full range of motion in order to relax that area and improve circulation.  If the issue is strength he may do a very different exercise like jumping from and into that stance.

Ba Gua also has a similar approach to the upper body with 8 animal upper body postures.  These are shown below.


There are many other exercises, each one with a very specific purpose and target.

All of us have a limited time that we can afford to spend on exercise.  To make the most of it, your exercise program must allow you to focus on what you need for your current condition.

Structural Integrity

Using the Wikipedia definition, Structural Integrity means the following:

Structural integrity and failure is an aspect of engineering which deals with the ability of a structure to support a designed load (weight, force, etc…) without breaking, tearing apart, or collapsing, and includes the study of breakage that has previously occurred in order to prevent failures in future designs.

Ultimately this is the kind of strength that is desired from our own bodies. Everyone would like to have a body that easily carries its own weight with ease and comfort. In Kung Fu terminology this is referred to as a ‘light’ body. It does not mean that the body weighs less, just that it feels like it weighs nothing to the person carrying the body.

To explain how this is achieved in Kung Fu, let’s first take a look at a familiar structural example, a bridge, like the one in the picture below.


A bridge like this is very carefully engineered so that it carries the load of its own weight and that of the cars passing over it very efficiently. There are structural elements that take compressive forces, like the arch itself. There are other structural elements that take tension forces, like the vertical hanging cables.

If any element of this structure was either out of alignment or the wrong length, the overall structure would become less efficient and would be able to carry less weight. As an example, let’s take one of the cables in this bridge and shorten it, see the picture below.


So now the red cable is being stretched apart by the blue members which are now being bent. This results in internal stresses even without any external load on the structure. When the internal stresses are pushed to the limit by an external load, the cars going over the bridge, the bridge will fail under a much smaller load.

Now let’s look at these ideas for the human body. In our bodies the structural elements that take compression are bones, the elements that support tension are the connective tissues (tendons and ligaments). To give you an idea of how efficient these individual elements are, bones have a better strength to weight ratio than steel; animal ligaments were used to make cables for large castle siege weapons like catapults.

When the length of all the connective tissue is just right, the body’s structural integrity is at its optimal and this is when you have what is called ‘light’ body in Kung Fu. When such a body is at rest (sitting, standing, or lying down) there is very little tension in the body. It is fully relaxed while at the same time very strong. Movement is also very efficient and the body is very strong against external forces.

The images below show how a Ba Gua practitioner is able to take a pull or a push using the strength of the structure of the body. A push goes through the back leg and a pull goes through the front leg.  This does not require any muscle use, the bones and connective tissue do all the work of transferring the forces into the ground.


This is a very different strength than one gets from body building type of weight lifting. Weight lifting primarily focuses on muscle development that allows the body to move external weights. Often this results in unbalanced internal stresses. An extreme example of this is someone who wants to just develop huge chest muscles because they look great. Such muscles when at rest will pull the chest and shoulders forward because the muscles that oppose them, the back muscles, are relatively underdeveloped. This results in all kinds of misalignments and unnecessary tension in the body. At best, body builders attempt to develop a symmetric, balanced body. The problem is that the evaluation of this is done visually, and is not necessarily right from a structural integrity perspective. Even if the balancing of the internal forces is successful, meaning that when relaxed the muscles do not pull on the body structure, the large muscles are an extra weight for the body to bear at all times. The weight itself is not the only unnecessary load on the body, the muscle tissue has to be supplied with energy which could instead be used to maintain and develop other, more important parts of the body such as the internal organs.

The understanding of how to develop the structural integrity of the human body has been researched and developed within the Chinese martial arts culture since antiquity.  Today the state of the art of this knowledge is available through the study of Ba Gua Zhang.



What is Kung Fu?

To most westerners, the term Kung Fu means Chinese Martial Arts. The original meaning, however, is different. It can refer to any skill attained through hard work over a long period of time. To say someone has Kung Fu of a particular skill implies that they themselves have changed as the result of practicing that skill.

Most people know that practicing something for long enough changes them. The obvious example is going to the gym. People go to the gym to get fit which most equate with getting healthy.

It follows that someone can choose a skill to practice in order to change themselves. Kung Fu has become synonymous with Chinese Martial Arts because these arts are known to develop a person further than any other practice. Reaching the highest level in these arts requires the full realization of human potential; physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Physically this means having a body in which you are comfortable. The body becomes relaxed, well-coordinated, flexible, and strong. Reaction speed is improved. The touch becomes more sensitive. The body becomes better at fighting off disease. It ages slower. Practitioners of Ba Gua Zhang stay active and able into very old age.

Mental benefits include improved concentration. A more powerful supply of energy is available to your mind which allows a deeper level of observation of one’s surroundings and one’s self. Improved control over your mind means you can turn off the calculator in your head when it is not required and just enjoy the awareness of your experience.

The primary spiritual benefit that can be achieved is a mind that is at peace. A mind that is not disturbed by negative emotions. It is known in the west that such a mind indicates the highest level of emotional intelligence; what is less understood is how to get there.

Not all styles of Martial Arts and not all schools of a particular style can provide these benefits. Here Ba Gua Zhang shines. It is known to be the most advanced Martial Art in China. If you need to be convinced, watch a recent film called “The Grandmaster”. It is a story of Ip Man, a legendary Master of a very popular style called Wing Chun. He is humbled when he meets a Ba Gua Zhang expert.

Anyone can benefit from practicing Ba Gua Zhang. It should be obvious, however, that to gain enough knowledge of such an advanced art so that it can be passed on to the next generation requires serious commitment. This has always meant that these arts tend to be diluted over time as individuals start teaching without completing their training. Today it is very difficult to find a school that continues to develop the ‘state of the art’ and I feel very lucky to have been able to graduate from such a school.

If you are not near me, you can join my online class. It’s all free!