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The biomechanics of the measured, flowing movements of tai chi demonstrate...

If you’re familiar with exercise, you know that speed is an important factor to control. For common exercises like running and weight lifting, volumes of research has shown that it’s generally necessary to move faster for a more intense cardio workout and to make measured, controlled movements for building muscles. Other workouts, like mind-body exercises (e.g., yoga and tai chi), are somewhat harder to pin down. They aren’t cardio exercises, nor are they strictly muscle building.

The slow, flowing movements of mind-body exercises have been around for centuries, and they have been shown to help people develop balance,flexibility, and muscle function. Consequently, they’ve been increasing in popularity, both for physical therapy and personal enjoyment. While these exercises are widely practiced around the world, the biomechanical basis for their effects is not well known. To gain further insight, Ge Wu and Xiaolin Ren, biomedical engineers from the University of Vermont, chose to study how the unhurried steps of tai chi benefit its practitioners. 

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Experienced tai chi instructors like Ben Stanley often remind their students that slower is better. Stanley says that “it’s about breathing and being attuned to the muscles as you’removing. It’s important not to rush it, or you could miss the full benefits of the exercise.” In fact, Edwards pointed out that “the slower you go, the harder it is, and you definitely feel it in your legs.”


Tai chi can certainly be a test of patience for the inexperienced, as it is normally performed about 10 times slower than an average walk (2 mph), but it has a similar intensity to a moderate aerobic workout. Much of its direct benefits have been reported in the legs. To determine if and how the deliberate, gradual transitions in tai chi were responsible for these benefits, Wu and Ren employed a combination of biomechanical force plates, a camera-based motion analysis system, and EMG (electromyography) electrodes. 

The 12 subjects, grouped as young (22-34 years) and old (64-80 years), performed a fundamental tai chi movement, “part wild horse’s mane,” at various speeds. Besides marking the participant’s motion from shoulder to toe, Wu and Ren measured the duration and magnitude of activation for six muscles that are key to ankle, knee, and hip mobility.

They found, as expected, that the duration of muscle activation was longer during slower motions in all six muscles. The effect was most significant for the rectus femoris (one of the quadriceps muscles) and semitendinosus (one of the hamstrings). When the participants sped up, these muscles lost this activation duration, while two muscles, the soleus (part of the calf) and semitendinosus, showed an increased activation. Thus, speeding up created an overall loss in muscle activation.

Age was also a factor in muscle activation. At slower speeds, younger subjects showed more muscle activation than older participants. This could be the result of older practitioners having a more limited range of movement. Stanley has often observed that it’s “difficult for older people to really sink down and fully extend in some of the postures compared to younger students,” but he has “seen posture, balance, and overall well being improve through time.” 

Overall, Wu and Ren observed that speed had a greater impact on lower body muscles than other factors, like age or depth of movement. Their work demonstrate that slow, controlled movements can activate muscles more than rapid motion. The approach can also be used to study additional movements in tai chi and other exercises like yoga—a thorough understanding of exercise biomechanics should allow people to make more informed choices about what activities to pursue.

Clinical Biomechanics, 2009. DOI: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2009.03.001

by  

Read the original article in published in Ars Technica Aug, 2009

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This summer, pick up everything you'll need for your next sash at White Dragon's one-day Summer Sale. Save up to 40% on all training equipment or upgrade your membership and accelerate your progress to the black sash. Don't miss out on our super summer savings!

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White Dragon's annual school tournament, the Dragon Cup Championship, raised $5400 for the San Diego Rescue Mission to help with homelessness in San Diego County. The San Diego Rescue Mission is a non-profit, faith-based organization committed to assisting the homeless in a transition from an environment of poverty and dependency to self-sufficiency.

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The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report in April of 2014. Titled "Not Alone" the report stated that 1 in 5 students experience sexual assault during their college years. Did you also know that you can help stop campus assaults simply by learning how to protect yourself? At White Dragon Martial Arts, you’ll learn to defend yourself using Kung Fu, one of the world’s most effective systems of self-defense.

"Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone. We have your back. I've got your back." 

President Barack Obama, January 24, 2014

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The ancient practice appears to be good for you in just about every way.

The gentle, 2,000-year-old Chinese practice of tai chi is often described as "meditation in motion." But the Harvard Women's Health Watch newsletter suggests a more apt description is "medication in motion."

Tai chi, the most famous branch of Qigong, or exercises that harness the qi (life energy, pronounced "chee"), has been linked to health benefits for virtually everyone from children to seniors. Researchers aren't sure exactly how, but studies show that tai chi improves the quality of life for breast cancer patients and Parkinson's sufferers. Its combination of martial arts movements and deep breathing can be adapted even for people in wheelchairs. And it has shown promise in treating sleep problems and high blood pressure.

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Flexibility and strength. Tai chi is credited with so many pluses, physiological and psychological, that Chenchen Wang, an associate professor of medicine at Tufts University, set out earlier this year to analyze 40 studies on it in English and Chinese journals. Wang found that tai chi did indeed promote balance, 

flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and strength. In a study comparing it with brisk walking and resistance training, a tai chi group improved more than 30 percent in lower-body strength and 25 percent in arm strength, nearly as much as a weight-training group and more than the walkers.

"Benefit was also found for pain, stress, and anxiety in healthy subjects," adds Wang, who was influenced by her mother, a Chinese doctor, to study an integration of complementary and alternative medicine with Western medicine.

In a 2008 analysis, Harvard Medical School's Gloria Yeh, an internist and assistant professor, reviewed 26 studies in English and Chinese and reported that in 85 percent of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure. Other studies have shown it to reduce blood levels of B-type natriuretic peptide, a precursor of heart failure, and to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. The nonprofit Arthritis Foundation offers its own 12-movement tai chi sequence.

Wang says more study is needed. Still, says New York Times personal health writer Jane Brody: "After reviewing existing scientific evidence for its potential health benefits, I've concluded that the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not."

Lesson One: Find a teacher. "Learning from a book or video just does not work," says Greg Woodson, vice president of the international T'ai Chi Foundation and a teacher for 35 years. Students need real feedback from a teacher who can make sure exercises are done correctly "so the practice does not cause the type of injury it's designed to alleviate," he says. One example: Weight-bearing feet need to be flat on the floor to avoid knee stress, "an extremely subtle point that an experienced teacher will see." Woodson suggests that if a teacher has less than 10 years of experience, you should make sure he or she has the backing of a school or a more experienced teacher.

How much tai chi is enough? "Data suggest the minimum amount for effective results" is once- or twice-weekly sessions for eight to 12 weeks, says Wang. No pain, big gains.

by Courtney Rubin | Nov. 26, 2010 

Read the original article in U.S News Health here.

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On Saturday, January 24th, we had the privilege of hosting a three-part seminar series for students to learn directly from Master Nathan Fisher, the founder of White Dragon Martial Arts. Choy Li Fut and Tai Chi fundamentals were covered in depth, as well as the proper mindset one must adopt in order to achieve long-term training goals. It was a day packed with much wisdom and inspiration that will guide us through another meaningful year of training. Enjoy!

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White Dragon Martial Arts Battle of the Bulge

Looking to battle the holiday bulge? Join forces with White Dragon Martial Arts to get into tip-top shape for the new year! Between January 12th and February 19th, use your Yelp account to check-in every time you visit the school. And at the end of the contest, you'll have a great chance of winning a full set of sparring gear, a broadsword, or a weapons sparring faceshield! Plus, you'll get a one-month Guest Membership* for a friend that includes 4 private lessons, unlimited group classes, and a free uniform! (Guest Memberships cannot be redeemed for cash.)

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