East Meets West by Peter Yates


Peter Yates on the cover

This article came out of a conversation i had with Gil Waldron about the influence of eastern health practices on the development of western physical culture. He mentioned that Monte Saldo often had visitors from the orient including Jiu Jutsu Masters. Interestingly the vacuum and stomach isolation from MAXALDING have been practiced in the Indian yogic tradition for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Seen left - Peter Yates, on the cover of "In Balance" magazine, June 2013 (Cover Story).

However the influence has not only been one way as there is evidence to show that Indian fighting arts borrowed from the Greeks at the time of alexander. In more recent years we have seen physical culture and strength pioneers adopting eastern practices into their training regimen.

For instance the Mighty Atom trained at a traditional martial arts dojo in japan where he learned techniques to help his grappling skill. I believe he also further developed his ability to focus his mind at this time enabling him to perform seemingly impossible feats of strength.

Another was bodybuilder, power lifter and muscle control master Ed Jubinville who also became a yoga adept. The areas where east meets in the realm of physical training go way back in history and are numerous.

Ed Jubinville performing "The Flag" height=
Ed Jubinville demonstrating "The Flag".  

Needless to say I feel anyone interested in total well-being could benefit from such an approach to cross training. 

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and sky stand presently at God’s great judgment seat;
There is no East or West, border, nor breed, nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho?
They come from the ends of the Earth!"
The Ballad of East and West
-Rudyard Kipling, 1889

Having spent over fifty years in the pursuit of physical, emotional and spiritual vitality I have experienced and practiced various disciplines of both East and West. During this journey which is still continuing I have noticed that the majority of practitioners in the West adopt an either/or attitude to selection of training modalities.

By this I mean that those in the West who have a tendency to gravitate toward the Eastern cultivation practices of Tai Quan or Yoga often are unable to see any need or value in the Western methods of strength and conditioning. By the same token there are those employed in the pursuit of greater strength, vitality and functionality by the means of Western style exercise systems who would see no point in adding an Eastern discipline to their training regimen.  

I was indeed fortunate to have been guided at an early age by my mentor Maurice Ainsworth. Maurice began lifting weights in 1949 a time when many doctors and sports coaches proclaimed that such activities would lead to muscle binding (sic), enlarged hearts and early death. He was also one of the early teachers of traditional Karate in the U.K.

Before I was allowed to lift weights I had to undergo six months of Oriental stretches and strengthening exercises combined with specialized breathing techniques to prepare my body (and mind) for the training to follow.

In the same way I had to spend two further years training with weights before I was allowed to begin my martial training.

Maurice saw no East/West division but only complimentary practices designed to get the job done. Having no previous experience or understanding it all seemed perfectly natural to me. Maurice would tell me stories of the old time strongmen and their ability to perform seemingly impossible feats of strength. He made it very clear that apart from the physical conditioning needed to perform such feats the development of extreme mental power and cultivation of inner strength were paramount. This was also what training in the Eastern arts aims to accomplish though the methods may differ. Training both means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I eventually spent fifteen years in East Asia, mainly Japan and China where I was fortunate to study with high level masters in Acupuncture, Shiatsu, Qi Gong, Tai Ji Quan and Martial Arts. The majority of these teachers had a high level of personal cultivation and all emphasized that physical and spiritual cultivation should go hand in hand.

Professor Wang was one qigong teacher living in Japan with whom I studied. He clearly stated that high levels of qi cultivation made it necessary to develop a strong frame of bone, muscle and sinew or the qi could not be used effectively and may even be injurious, analogous to having a powerful engine in a flimsy chassis.

In China I had the rare opportunity of living in the home of an accomplished martial arts master, Sifu Luo. He had many traditional body strengthening and conditioning tools and he showed me old books depicting a range of devices, used by the monks of the Shaolin Temple, some of which looked like modern exercise machines.

So throughout the years I have been constantly reminded that not only can both Eastern and Western methods of personal cultivation be incorporated but that doing so is a natural process that can bring about true and harmonious balance.

 Focus on correct posture and alignment combined with awareness of breathing patterns and internal movement, attributed to the practice of Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Ji Quan would complement and enhance any Western style athletic or conditioning practice. On the other hand, strength training and conditioning via the use of barbells, body weight exercise, rubber cables, sandbags, kettle bells, etc. would do the same for practitioners of Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Ji Quan.

One example of this was made very apparent recently. A long time Kung Fu and Tai Ji Quan student of mine had for many years been having difficulty getting into low postures. This was holding back his progress somewhat. After incorporating upon my recommendation a twice weekly strength program based around weighted squats his improvement has been literally astounding. This has been especially apparent in his performance of Tai Ji Quan.

Space does not allow going into the finer details of how each discipline can benefit the other but I do hope this article will prompt a few readers to explore and experiment for themselves.

©East Meets West by By Peter Yates

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