Places of Power

Training outside in the elements has always been one of my favorite ways to practice martial arts and the art of strength, or Warrior Fitness.  There’s something special about the fresh air, sunshine, and changing terrain that gives life to the training and makes it hugely satisfying for me.  In fact, my weekly Bujinkan Martial Arts class trains outside all year round in all sorts of weather from the bitterly cold and snowy winters to the blisteringly hot and humid summers.  This type training not only helps increase our physical resilience, but our mental fortitude as well by helping us to become comfortable being uncomfortable.

Power Places

While warriors, monks, mystics, and many other seekers of the way  have always trained outdoors for thousands of years, there are certain places that have come to be known as places of power.  These places of power have a particular feel to them, perhaps a higher level of vibration or energy, that makes training in them more energizing than most other locations.  The traditional places of power for a warrior to go on Musha Shugyo (warrior pilgrimage for austere training) are the mountains, the deep forests, lakes, and of course the sea shore.

LBI Beach

I spent last week at the sea shore in the New Jersey resort town of Surf City on Long Beach Island with my family.  While not technically on a Musha Shugyo, since it was a family vacation, I did get up early and head down to the beach every morning at 6 AM to do my solo training exercises.  My daily personal practice sessions focus on exercises for both health and the building of martial power.  Specifically it includes mobility (of course!!), specialized breathing exercises, Zhan Zhuang (standing) and Shi Li (testing force) from Yiquan, and other internal power/aiki conditioning exercises learned from Dan Harden to build a budo body.

photo 2

Being able to do my training standing on the beach in the early morning sun was an amazing experience.  The sunshine and fresh ocean air invigorated body, mind, and spirit.

I am not sure if it was the elevated levels of energy at the sea side, or the uniqueness of taking me out of my normal training location, or perhaps it was the relaxed atmosphere of being on vacation with loved ones and away from the daily grind, or maybe a combination of them all, but my training every morning felt like it was at a much higher level than usual.

Heaven Earth Man

In internal power training, TenChiJin (heaven earth man) is not just a way of distinguishing levels or separating out technical strategies, but in fact a concrete methodology for the training and attaining of internal power.  The force of heaven is gravity pulling down while earth supports up.  Both main forces of up/down are controlled in the middle through man’s intent.


photo 3

Standing in my living room at home I sometimes feel like my intent is big,strong, and full.  However, standing on the shore looking out at the vast ocean meeting the sky gave me a much greater appreciation for the enormity of this type of work.  Controlling the forces of heaven and earth in you through your intent is certainly no small feat; but it is trainable and can be taught.  However, like many things in martial arts, it’s a journey with no end – the training is ever evolving and ongoing –  no matter how good you think you are, there’s always more to learn!

I plan to use the progress I made last week in my place of power to motivate and inspire me to keep pushing forward in my training and teaching.

If you vacation this summer, make sure you use the early morning time wisely.  Don’t sleep in and miss the wonderful training opportunities awaiting you in nature.  Take advantage and allow it to inspire you for the rest of the year in your normal daily personal practice!


The Alpha Protects

I’m here in Long Beach Island, NJ for a week of fun and sun with the family.  Today, however, was cloudy and cool so instead of heading to the beach we decided to stay at the house in the morning to relax a little bit and then take in an early afternoon movie.  So with my parents and 2 kids in tow, we went to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2“.


If you have kids, you probably have this movie on your list to see, or have seen it already.  The story was enjoyable, albeit a little predictable, but hey, it’s a kids’ movie.  The important part to me, and the reason for this post, was Hiccup’s (main character) realization that his father was right – it’s the chieftain’s job to protect his people.  The line that really stuck out to me, and summed up the entire idea, was this- “The alpha protects”

 Why Train to be Strong?

There are many reasons to train for strength and martial skill, to become the alpha.  But as warriors one reason in particular stands out from and guides the rest, we train to be the strongest version of ourselves in order to protect others.  In comic books, Spiderman (or was it Superman?) was told, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  This is not only true for superheroes in movies and comics, it’s true for us warriors in normal daily life as well.


Being the Alpha has nothing to do with the stereotypical macho BS.  At least not in my mind.  Being the Alpha means continuously training and becoming strong(er) to make sure I have the capability to protect those in my charge.

“The Warrior Creed”

Wherever I go,
Everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
Anyone in need has a friend.
When I return home,
Everyone is happy I am there.
It’s a better life! 

-Dr. Robert L. Humphrey

Everyone who calls themselves a warrior (the Alpha) believes that they should possess greater strength, greater power, and greater skill; should they not also possess greater compassion for others and a greater sense of responsibility for helping others as well?  For those who have the strength and the skill, but no accountability, they cannot be called warriors – they are merely thugs.


How to REALLY Relax

I know what you’re thinking. You already know how to really relax.  I mean, all you have to do is sit down on the couch with your feet up, the remote in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, right?  Or maybe sitting on the beach chilling out listening to the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore, like I am at the moment…

But there is a much deeper level of whole body relaxation achievable through the conscious action of your mind and breath.  This is accomplished through the Yiquan process of relaxed standing, otherwise known as Health Standing.  Before we get into the particulars of the exercise, you need to know how to stand.

How Do We Stand?

In practical terms, how should we stand?  Let’s start with the head and work our way down…

Lift upwards slightly with the crown of the head allowing the chin to lower.

This straightens the vertebrae at the back of the neck. Shoulders are back and down sitting on the spine.

The back should be flat.

Do not tuck the pelvis.

The spine should be suspended from above like a skeleton hanging in a Science classroom.

Do not have the arms lay flush against the body.

There should be a golf ball sized space under the armpits.

The bottom of the spine pulls straight down from the tail bone.

Feel like you are sitting on a high stool.

Allow the knees to bend slightly.

Feet should be shoulder width apart and pointed straight forward as if on railroad tracks.

Legs should feel like they are squeezing a beach ball.

Remember though, the ball puts outward pressure on the legs as they squeeze in.

Both directions, not just one.

The weight is carried in the hollow behind the balls of the feet.  In Chinese Medicine, this is known as the yongquan or bubbling well point.

All of the above points must be maintained to have a truly “natural” standing posture.


Relaxed Standing

Now that you have the external mechanics down, let’s talk about how to supercharge your relaxation process.

  1. Mentally scan the body for areas of tension.  The usual suspects will be the neck, shoulders, low back, and the quads.
  2. Begin to actively release each area of tension one by one with your mind.  For example, think of the tightness in your shoulders and mentally relax it by telling yourself “the tightness in my shoulders is letting go and relaxing”.  Then proceed to the next area until you have systematically gone through them all.
  3. If one particular area is giving you trouble work on breathing into it.  Inhale into the area, hold for a few seconds, then exhale from the area to release it.  Use this process over and over again until the tension has let go.
  4. Once you have removed all the residual tension in the body continue to stand holding that relaxed feeling.  Think of your body as a drop of ink dissolving in the ocean, spreading out in all directions.
  5. Start with 10 minutes of relaxed standing.  Work up to 60 minutes.

Powerful Book Recommendations

I am an absolutely voracious reader.  Usually I am reading 3-4 books at a time AND listening to a book on CD in my car.  The book on CD is key.  My car becomes a mobile library and I’m able to productively utilize my driving time.  I do occasionally jam out to my favorite tunes while driving, sometimes you just have to roll down the windows and sing (or try to in my case) at the top of your lungs, but for the most part I really love being able to read and drive at the same time!

What Do I Read?

Lately I have been on a Navy Seal book kick.  There’s something extremely powerful and motivating reading about the experiences these men have gone through in training, in real combat, and in life.  When you think you are going through some tough shit at work or on the home front and then you read what these guys go through in war, you realize maybe you don’t have it all that bad after all.  It also helps to put your own physical training and mental toughness in perspective.  Could I do what they do?  Am I capable of even a small percentage of their feats of physical fitness and bravery?  How does my training measure up?  How can I do more?

No Easy Day is the story about the hunt for, and killing of, Osama Bin Laden.  If you have not read this firsthand account yet, I highly recommend it!

Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell is the heartbreaking story of Operation Redwing.  The movie is great, but I recommend reading the book first.  There is so much more detail and background story in the book that gives the reader a much broader perspective and feel for what happened out there.

Service is another outstanding book by the author of Lone Survivor.  It describes other operations as well as the aftermath of Operation Redwing and his rescue and healing both physically and mentally.  It also has a powerful section written by the wives of Navy Seals who are just as strong, brave, and outstanding as their husbands.  Highly recommended!

Another fantastic book that I have been reading slowly, just a few pages here and there, is Spartan Up by Joe De Sena, founder of Spartan Race.  I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend, but didn’t actually think I was going to like it.  Turns out I was wrong.  Joe’s passion for physical training, mental toughness, and overcoming all sorts of  real life obstacles make this an outstanding book.  I have not only recommended it to several people, but bought a copy for my brother for his birthday.

This is just a short list of some powerful reading material to whet your appetite.  There’s a ton more that I have been reading over the past few months on a broad range of topics, as well as new stuff on my book shelf that I haven’t gotten to yet, that I plan to share with you.  Stay tuned!

If you have read any of the above books, drop me a comment and let me know what you thought of them.  Did they affect you as powerfully as they did me?

Make sure you check out my post on my Top 5 Favorite Martial Arts Books on my friend Josh Sager’s site!

The UN-Natural Athlete

I was never what you would call a natural athlete growing up.  In fact, I pretty much sucked at every sport I tried – baseball, basketball, soccer, kickball, tennis… you name it, I sucked at it.  To make things worse I was also ridiculously shy and introverted as a kid, so that combination, on top of having little to no athletic skill, made things even worse!


The one are of physical culture that captivated me ever since I can remember was martial arts.  When I first began Tae Kwon Do in 3rd grade I found that I actually did have some level of natural ability to perform the techniques and kata (forms), but the fitness part was always difficult and somewhat eluded me.  I always used the small measure of confidence in my techniques to make up for the fact that I lacked any kind of high degree of fitness and athleticism.  In my immature mind it was perfectly acceptable to not be fit and/or athletic because I had other “deadly skillz”.


In my freshman year of high school I decided to go out for the cross-country team.  All the pretty girls were on the team, so I figured – why not?  I mean, how hard could running be, right???  Well, it turned out pretty quickly that I sucked at running too.  I ended up injuring myself in the first week and subsequently allowed that injury (even after it had healed) to be an excuse as to why I always lagged behind on the practice runs and never was quite able to finish the course.  The coach tried to give me a kick in the ass to let me know he knew what I was doing and to suck it up, but at that age of being young and stupid, I thought he was a bully and an idiot (apparently I knew everything at 16…).  I decided I would show him, so I quit!  Yeh, that showed him.  But, hey, I was the damn Karate Kid – what did I need running for?


Next I tried my hand at wrestling.  I figured that was a sport I could succeed at since it was combative.  Wrong again.  Nothing in my Karate training background prepared me for the rigors of freshman high school wrestling conditioning.  So, rather than embracing the suck and putting in the work to make myself physically prepared, you guessed it, I quit again.  Once again my ego consoled me.  I had karate skillz, plus had just started training in the ancient Japanese art of Ninjutsu.  Who needed athletics???! (or so I thought)

Getting Warrior Fit

It wasn’t until college that I began to take my fitness semi-seriously.  Thanks to a bodybuilder roommate, Chris, and my other roommate, Jason, who was on the college swim team, I began to train regularly.  Running, lifting, and martial arts training became the rhythm of my weekly training plan during all 4 years.

After college, while working at “real” jobs in corporate America, training Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu twice a week and teaching once a week, and starting a family my passion and intensity for unconventional fitness methods grew.  By 2000 I was training all sorts of bodyweight exercises, Russian Systema, and bought my first kettlebell in 2001.  I was hooked.  2004 saw me certified as a Circular Strength Training Coach under Scott Sonnon and officially kicked off my fitness teaching/coaching career.  My system as it exists today, began back in 2008 with the publication of my first book, Warrior Fitness: Conditioning for Martial Arts.

Now, in 2014, after 14 years of dedicated, consistent, hard training, study, learning, and working I finally consider myself an athlete.  I am strong, coordinated, conditioned, agile, mobile, and hostile (well, maybe not hostile…).  My journey to become a “natural athlete” was a 14 year long overnight success story.  

And, it’s still going.  The process of becoming who you are never ends.

Do You Have Fitness ADD?

I have to say it.  Fitness ADD is running rampant.  And, no I don’t mean math skills, I mean Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)!  The misinformed, and some who should know better, running from program to program looking for, but never finding, the holy grail of fitness training.  They never stay with a program long enough to actualize the real results inherent within it.  Exercises are changed up on a daily basis to stave off boredom or keep it interesting or to never plateau or to confuse the muscles, or whatever nonsense people tell themselves.  But really it’s a problem of commitment; actually sticking to a program to reap all the promised results from it.


How to Make Progress

For me personally, the most progress I’ve ever made in my training has always come from the times I’ve committed and stuck to the program I was following.  Of course I fall off the wagon sometimes, just like you do.  I make mistakes in my training.  I am guilty of looking for shortcuts or trying to find (or create) the perfect program only to get stuck in a rut of constantly starting over again.  But then I step back and realize that what I’m doing is not getting me anywhere, or at least not getting me anywhere I want to be in relation to my goals.  So I buckle down and submit to the pain of discipline rather than revel in regret, and I do the work following the program I’ve laid out for myself.  I know by now that my greatest gains and most profound insights only come when from committing to my training full on.

No Perfect Program

You see, there really is no such thing as the perefect program.  They are ALL flawed, some moreso than others.  This is why sports science invented cycles.  The real question for you to answer is – what are your specific goals right now and which training program is not only geared towards acheiveing them, but also appeals to you and resonates with you?  Then just pick one and go.  Go with everything you’ve got and you will never be disappointed.  If you spend too much of your time vascillating between all the various and sundry programs out there you will get nowhere and achive nothing.  You’ll be lost in the morass of paralysis by analysis.

Make a choice. 

Cut off all other possibilities (for the duration of the program), and do the damn work!

Here are some of my humble suggestions for amazing, results-oriented fitness training programs – click HERE!

What Have You Done (to yourself)?

Do you people watch? I do. Traveling a few weekends in a row earlier this month gave me ample opportunity. The people watching was especially entertaining at the various rest stops along the highways, turnpikes, and parkways the length of the northeastern corridor from NJ up to MA, and out through PA on the way to OH.

rest stop

In all my recent people watching adventures I’ve notice something pretty sad.  On the whole, in general, there are many, many people out there in very poor shape.  Actually, horribly pathetic shape is a more apt description. Now I know this is not a revelation to you, my dear readers, nor is it one to me either.  It’s just that in crowded spots where people are traveling from all over are congregated, it becomes very noticeable.

Formula for Failure

The question I kept coming back to, as I looked around at these horribly out of shape people from all walks of life and all ages, was WHY? Why are people so enormously overweight? Why is their physical condition so screwed up? Why do they struggle for breath just standing up or sitting down? What happened along the way to get them in such a state? Surely no one started out wanting to be fat, out of shape, and de-conditioned.  Surely no one wanted to feel so devoid of energy and vitality. Surely it was a slow, slow decline. Surely it was an insidious series of small errors over the course of a long, long time that brought them to this, right?


Formula for Failure

“A few errors in judgment repeated every day.” – Jim Rohn


  • What does it matter when you decide not to exercise?
  • What does it matter when you have that extra dessert?
  • What does it matter when you sit all day?
  • What does it matter when you skip your mobility practice?
  • What does it matter when you don’t breathe fresh air and walk in the sunshine?
  • What does it matter when you smoke that pack of cigarettes?
  • What does it matter when you watch TV for hours at a time?
  • What does it matter when you KNOW the right thing, but don’t DO it?
  • What does it matter when you don’t eat your vegetables?
  • What does it matter when you add 4 sugars to your coffee?
  • What does it matter if you don’t get enough sleep a night?
  • What does it matter when you consistently eat too many carbs?

The truth is, it does matter. The little things you do, or don’t do, on a daily basis matter very much in the long run.

The only one ultimately responsible for your health and well-being is you.  Not your doctor. Not your spouse. Not your friends. Not the government. You.  You alone.  Make the right choices.

Settling for Imperfection

I’ve got some news for you.  You will never be perfect at anything.  Not your strength, not your conditioning, not your martial art, not your job, not your relationships, nothing.  You will never even be able to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Nope.  Not ever.

So what does that mean?

Should you simply stop trying right now? I mean, since you’ll never be perfect at anything, what’s the point, right?  Why bother? Why struggle and make the effort?  Well, I think the struggle is the point. It’s the process, not the goal.  It’s what struggling and reaching and trying make of you that is the important thing.  The journey itself, not so much the destination.  In any worthwhile pursuit, like budo (martial arts to you non-budo people) for example, there is no end to the learning.  The study is so vast and so deep you could pursue it for several lifetimes and still not reach the end.

The late, great Brandon Lee once said, “With what level of imperfection will you settle?”  I think this is what he was talking about.

brandon lee

How content are you with your current level of skill in your martial arts practice? How satisfied are you with your current level of strength and conditioning at the gym? How happy are you with your current job, status, level of wealth, or relationship(s)?

Are you willing to settle for where you are right now in one or all of those categories, or do you want more?

The question you need to ask yourself in each of those areas is Brandon’s – with what level of imperfection will you settle? Where will you stop growing, pushing, struggling, changing, expanding your capacity, living up to your potential?  When will you stop?

Or will you ever stop?

Keep Going!

The Difference Between External Strength & Internal Power

For as long as I can remember, I have always believed that the body is meant to be used as a fully actualized, integrated unit – nothing can (or should!) exist in isolation.  By this I mean that muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone are all equally important and must all be unified in producing amazing degrees of strength and skill for fitness, martial arts, sports, or life. And, in most cases this is completely true. [Read more...]

Never Take Ukemi Again

What if you never had to take ukemi again?  Not because you stopped training or avoided it or anything negative like that, but simply because no one who came in contact with you was able to throw you.  Interesting idea, eh?  Although for the sake of paired training and being a good training partner, perhaps a better model would be this – what if you only took ukemi from someone when you wanted to, and not when you had to?  What if you had the skill to naturally reflect incoming force so that an attacker was not able to throw you, joint lock you, take you down, or even off balance you? [Read more...]