Ancient Ways for Modern Times: Paths to Health and Longevity

While most envision martial arts as a method of self-defense, the Kung Fu system of Eight Step Preying Mantis is complete with the inclusion of Tai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung, and Chinese Medicine, Abimoxi.

For centuries several practices were adhered to, which promote health, fitness, and longevity. Evidenced by the longevity of the masters of this system, with most active and healthy well past the 9th decade of life, these practices are encouraged in modern times.

Ancient methods which focus on attending to the environment, diet, exercise, breathing, rest, emotional control, and attention to the soul or spirit are a focus of this book. A holistic approach to these topics is presented, stressing the need for attention to their entirety as the practice most likely to produce success. Modern western medicine is beginning to identify and research many of these topics as they relate to health and longevity. Where possible, the authors have included references from the medical literature, supportive of these methods.

Ancient Ways for Modern Times

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This is an excellent book for anyone interested in improving and/or maintaining health with the goal of achieving a vibrant, healthy, long life.

Ancient Ways for Modern Times, Paths to Health and Longevity is the first book published on the practices used within this Chinese martial art system specifically for health and longevity.

Chapter 1

Introduction

In ancient times, one of the most basic prerequisites for survival was self-defense. The great kung fu masters of China, with their extensive knowledge base and mastery of the martial arts, excelled in this area. For centuries these masters adhered to an intricate and inter-related set of principles and methods that not only guided the practice of martial arts, but also produced and maintained health, fitness, and longevity. The greatest of these individuals, the grandmasters, were looked upon as counselors, healers, leaders, and protectors of their communities. Those who wished to become students of the martial arts sought after them, and if accepted, served as apprentices. The complete systems encompassed a vast body of knowledge, inclusive of martial arts techniques, breathing exercises (Chi Kung), and a form of Chinese Medicine specific to the martial arts, later termed Abimoxi. The knowledge base within each system was protected as rigorously as military secrets are protected in modern times. As a result, only the most trusted, loyal, and devoted students were entrusted to receive the entire knowledge base contained within each of the many martial art systems. The majority of students, those, who were not necessarily devoted to the art, were never privy to these secrets.

In this century, the emphasis of the martial arts on combat and self-preservation is declining, compared to previous centuries, given the relative advances in law enforcement and societal values. Modern society provides an expansive system of laws and order, intended to protect the individual against harm. Village, town, city, county, state, and national governments are equipped to protect residents and citizens from crimes ranging from vandalism to foreign aggression. Today, while martial arts certainly provide the capacity for self-protection, the emphasis, the greatest value offered by the martial arts to modern society, is rapidly evolving toward health, fitness, and longevity. Proper practice and understanding of this knowledge will hopefully lead to long, active, and vital lives for those who adopt the concepts and principles outlined in this book. Until now, the centuries’ old secrets pertaining to health and longevity of one system, Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu, have never been revealed to the general public. Through presentation of key points, in easy-to-understand terms, the reader should gain an appreciation for these alternative methods, which foster health and longevity. The key points include 1) the knowledge base of great kung fu masters that leads to health, fitness, and longevity, 2) perspectives on martial arts training practices considered to promote health and longevity, 3) an example of personal health issues that have been overcome in the life of one of the great Grandmasters, through the methods of Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu, and 4) correlates from modern thinking and western medicine which support some of these principles and methods.

Images of men dressed in pajama-type clothing, donned with knotted black belts, yelling, jumping through the air, kicking, punching, twirling weapons in contorted motions, performing superhuman feats of combat strength come to mind when most people think of martial arts. Movies and television programs capture the sensational aspects of the martial arts to stun and amaze audiences, through special effects and the unique blend of acrobatics, acting, and martial arts abilities. While entertaining, this depiction and presentation of martial arts has little resemblance to true martial arts training. Recently, many parents have come to understand the benefits of improved concentration, discipline, positive attitude, and better school grades among children who attend martial arts classes. For others, martial arts have offered extended benefits in terms of health, fitness, and longevity. These are emphasized in this book.

The Grandmasters of Eight Step Preying Mantis lived well past the eighth decade of life. Aside from the outward and obvious physical abilities, and beyond the disciple and concentration required in the early stages of training, the core elements that contributed to the health and fitness of these individuals allowed for the vitality they experienced through the advanced decades of life. The core elements not only addressed the outwardly visible aspects of health, but also those, which are internal and not as obvious. For example, the effects of exercise on the musculoskeletal system are readily apparent such as muscle tone, strength, and endurance, yet the impact on the cardiovascular system is not as obvious, such as lower blood pressure and resting heart rate. The physical exercises of importance also have a positive health effect on the cartilage and bone, in addition to the muscle. These exercises also train pulmonary system (lungs) in addition to the entire cardiovascular system (heart, large and small blood vessels), such that excessive strain or improper breathing are avoided. This prevents heart and lung damage. Additional elements of training include the time of day at which these exercises are performed. The timing is intended to coincide with the predominant time of chi flow to particular organ systems. The timing addresses the health needs of the central nervous system, the mind and soul, the immune system, the blood element forming system (bone marrow), the gastrointestinal system including the small and large intestine, gall bladder, stomach and liver, other organs such as the spleen and pancreas, the excretory system including the kidneys and urinary bladder, and the reproductive system. Methods attending to body metabolism and energy generation and distribution within the body are also important elements of training. These and other important factors must be addressed to appreciate the health benefits of the Grandmasters of this martial art. Unlike the western concept of exercise, which promotes the visible external aspects of a healthy body and cardiopulmonary endurance (eg. running, weight lifting, rowing, aerobics), the great kung fu masters recognized both the internal aspects of the martial arts, as well as the external. Their understanding avoided several pitfalls of physical exercise, specifically, the expense to the internal organs and other tissues, such as ligaments and joints. Through proper breathing, coordinated with posture and other practices, including internal visualization, the ability to energize the often-neglected internal organs can be achieved. Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent example of an internal martial art, which assists in accomplishing this goal. An entire chapter will be devoted to these forms of exercise, referred to as Moving Chi Kung. These types of health related practices, found in the martial arts, are not widely practiced in western society. In an attempt to be accurate, avoiding misrepresentation of other martial art systems, only that, which is contained within the Systems of Eight Step Preying Mantis and Shyun Style Tai Chi Chuan, as taught by Grandmaster James Shyun, Shyun Kwong Long, will be presented in this book. All reference made in this book to the Chinese martial arts and/or Chinese martial arts health experts should be understood to be made in this context.

Exercise is one part of a broader set of principles, referred to as the Three Pillars of Longevity. These include proper diet and proper sexual behavior, in addition to proper exercise. It is believed that attending to these three will determine an individual’s vitality and longevity. Improper diet is one of the leading causes of disease. One only has to scan the magazine racks, turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or search the vast array of excellent books published on the subject, to recognize the widespread opinions over diet and health in western society. The relationship between diet and health has been recognized among martial arts masters and practitioners of Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The medical writings of the 7th century, Sun Sze-Miao indicated that the best way to treat illness was through a balancing of proper dietary components. Diet has proven to be a method to treat disease over the centuries. In western history, certain fruits, such as limes and oranges, could be used to treat scurvy among sailors, a condition later understood to be due to a deficiency in vitamin C. The potential of foods to balance ying and yang energy, thus serving as a treatment of illness, and moreover, to improve and maintain health, has been appreciated for centuries on an empirical basis. The use of foods to establish health, on a wider scale, is likely to be understood through the rigors of modern science. As has the use of fruits and other foods rich in vitamins been understood to provide benefit in the treatment and prevention of illness due to vitamin deficiencies, the use of diet will likely be understood to treat other illnesses, based on providing a rich and natural source of antioxidants and other life enhancing substances.

It is believed, within this system of Chinese martial arts, Eight Step Preying Mantis, that five basic considerations should be made with regard to diet. These include the amount of food consumed, season, personality and body type, and the application of Yin and Yang theory and the Five Element theory to diet. The amount of food consumed is not necessarily the amount of food required to sustain the body for optimal health. Often, food is used as a source of comfort, leading to excessive consumption to satisfy taste or some other psychological need. Under these circumstances the amount of food consumed can be considerable, leading to the short-term shunting of energy and blood to the digestive processes, thus leaving energy required for other organ systems, deficient. Difficulty breathing due to an overfilled stomach and somnolence following a large meal are readily apparent adverse effects of such behavior. Less visible are the effects on other organs. Chronic behavior of this nature will ultimately lead to excess weight, possibly obesity, and the diseases that often follow, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. From a martial arts perspective, overeating will leave the martial artist vulnerable for similar reasons. Again, the advantage of consuming the proper amount of food not only provides a mechanism to improve health, by preventing such diseases, but also promoting organ function and optimizing the potential for health and longevity.

The type of food consumed, based upon the season of the year, is as important as amount of food consumed. For example, during winter, foods such as meat, whole grains, and even moderate amounts of alcohol, serve to increase Guardian Chi, which bolsters the body’s defenses against common winter illnesses. Personality also dictates the optimal foods a person should consume. For example, an individual who is extroverted and have a type A personality, should consume cooling or Yin type foods, thus providing balance to the Yang personality. This brings into play the Yin and Yang Theory with respect to dietary behavior. Foods can correct for Yin or Yang deficiencies, resulting from factors other than personality type, thus improving and maintaining health and internal fitness. Specific foods may address the needs of various organs that can be in a state of deficiency, thus insuring proper balance. For example, sweet food can address certain conditions of the stomach. Western medicine recognizes the value of sweet substances for treating nausea in children. An entire chapter will be devoted to the subject of proper diet and use of foods in promoting health based upon the Yin and Yang and Five Element Theories.

Sex is a very personal topic and one that is often used in a moral or ethical context. The issue of proper sexuality will be discussed here strictly from a health perspective. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is believed that a persons level of energy, overall health, and vitality are determined through original essence, or Jing Essence, which is derived from an individual’s parents, through the joining of DNA from the sperm and ovum. Factors, such as excessive work, stress, and overindulgence in sexual activity, deplete Jing throughout life. Moderation with respect to sexual activity preserves Jing, and therefore, promotes longevity.

Several related concepts are pertinent from a health perspective. Jing Essence, believed to hold the potential for all genetically derived characteristics of the offspring, DNA, is therefore related to disease. It has been known for years that some diseases are genetically based, such as Down’s syndrome. Only recently has DNA testing revealed the presence of genes that may predispose to other illnesses, including certain cancers, via oncogenes. Whether faulty genetic structure occurs at some point following union of sperm and ovum, or is inherited from parental genetic material, is dependent upon the disease. Sickle cell disease is inherited from the parental genetic makeup, for example. It is as conceivable that general characteristics can be influenced by genetic makeup, in a manner similar to disease. Energy level or vitality can, therefore, be included among the many characteristics inherited from either or both parents. One need only consider the number of energetic people encountered and determine the energy level of their parents to make a correlation. Jing Essence, thought to be housed in the kidneys, underlies the foundation of this concept, not only in Chinese Medicine, but also in reference to several recent books (1). Much of a person’s resilience and energy can be explained, in part, through understanding of the endocrine system. Hormones produced in the kidneys and adrenal glands, located near the kidney, such as cortisol and erythopoetin, are responsible for resilience to stressful conditions and for maintaining blood cells with oxygen carrying capacity, respectively. It is, therefore, conceivable that similar observations with regard to energy level and the kidneys were made, which are now explained, based on normal hormone production by the kidneys and other glands located near the kidneys. On the one hand, Jing Essence was understood on the basis of general observations over the course of centuries, while the modern understanding, based on specific scientific observations, revealed the role of specific hormones of the endocrine system.

The topics of diet and exercise have briefly been introduced. The environment and our interaction with the environment, breathing methods, rest, and incorporating religious beliefs into one’s life represent other important aspects of health and longevity. The types of breathing, incorporated within the martial arts applications, not only lead to an increase in lung capacity, but also assist in exercising of the internal organs. The time of day in which the breathing and related exercises are performed strengthens different organs. The types of exercise include stretching, strengthening, toning, and relaxation. These exercises are performed while coordinating with deep breathing, mental attitude, and focus. One goal of such exercise is to increase internal energy. In general, it is these “internal” aspects of the martial arts, which are consistent with health and longevity. These will be given specific attention in one or more of the following chapters.

It can be appreciated at this point, that numerous factors contribute to fitness, health, avoidance of disease, and longevity. For optimal effectiveness, these factors must be viewed in a holistic manner. That is, one or more factors should not be ignored in preference to others. All are important. They are inter-related, dependent upon one another in some cases, and influence one anther. All are paths to health and longevity, and must be traveled.

Through the accumulated knowledge, resulting from trial and error over centuries, the great kung fu masters have left a legacy, from which modern culture can gain. Over the last three to four centuries of western culture, through the scientific method, various hypotheses, related to health and disease, have been tested. In many cases, the two approaches of trial and error and the scientific method have addressed similar topics. While the approach of each may be different, sufficient consistency exists, supportive of practices associated with improved health and longevity. Despite support from two different paths of knowledge, it would be erroneous to assume that those who participate in the health and fitness practices described in this book will benefit or achieve the same benefit compared to others. Factors, which cannot be controlled for, will play a role in the effectiveness of attempts to improve health and longevity. These factors include, genetic makeup, individual proficiency in technique or understanding, dedication to practice, unknown factors that influence health and longevity, and unanticipated and unpredictable events, which have profound effects on health and longevity, such as accidental trauma, will influence outcome. No claim can be made, as to the impact of the contents of this book on the health, fitness, or longevity of any individual. People interested in participating in this methodology should always seek medical advice, as would normally be the case with any activity that holds the potential to impact health status. The contents of this book outline the knowledge and practices believed to be associated with improved health and longevity. Participation in this knowledge and practice is at the reader’s own discretion and choice. It is, of course, hoped that with appropriate participation, outcomes similar to those experienced by the great masters of kung fu will be achieved, and lives benefited.

The information contained in this book is derived from four general sources. These include, the information passed from generation to generation within the Eight Step Preying Mantis System of Kung Fu. In addition, peer reviewed, scientific reports, such as clinical trials, provide much of the supportive information where indicated. Other sources of information pertaining to modern thinking on the subject matter, such as material contained on various websites, is also provided. Finally, information that falls into the realm of “common knowledge,” for example, the association between high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, represents another source of information. References will be provided for peer-reviewed scientific information. Information noted to stem from the Chinese martial arts represents that of the Eight Step Preying Mantis System and Shyun Style Tai Chi Chuan, for reasons mentioned earlier. Information which is derived from “common knowledge” or available through Internet websites will not be referenced, unless unique.

It must be kept in mind, that, the purpose of this book is to present the ancient paths which have led to health and longevity, yet the relevant ideas, thinking, and scientific evidence available in modern times must also be considered. Therefore, the additional information provided, related to modern times, should be viewed in this context, not necessarily as the definitive evidence supporting these ancient practices, but as complimentary. In this regard, the lack of modern scientific evidence will not be viewed as a lack of support for a practice or concept, merely a gap in modern knowledge that may someday be filled.

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