The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Beijing Olympics & Martial Arts Class Teach Common Sense Cooperation

The opening ceremonies of the Beijing Summer Olympics were a quiet, powerful reminder of mutual cooperation as path to strength, beauty, and peace. Thousands danced in metaphor for healthy society - that we cooperate to create a masterpiece, and each individual is significant. Responsibility and support flow both ways.

Paul and I were in China in 2001 for a martial arts competition. I hope to post training stories with some of the motivating photos from there. Discipline and eagerness to do good were all around us. We haven't been back to China yet, although we live in other areas of Asia for part of each year. In many places where we live there, human, animal, and machine-powered vehicles of every description overflow the roads, in all directions at once, often with no traffic lights or signs to guide. Both lanes may flow in either or both directions at once. Turns occur any place needed at the moment. Problems are infrequent because people are taught cooperation from early age. It is an Eastern philosophy, way of life, discipline, and virtue. Words are not needed. Westerns who are not aware that cooperation and thoughtfulness is taking place mistake this highly evolved order for disorder. When tourists see someone coming their way, they may not not cede way or cooperate, but insist that others are in their way. Traffic accidents frequently involve tourists.

When I teach martial arts classes in the US, I teach beginning students something that startles them. If a blow is coming toward you, don't stand there and get hit. Move out of the way. Some students first insist on trying to bat my arm/leg/head out of the way with theirs. I tell them not to do that. If two arms hit each other, whose will win, theirs or the other person's? You don't know? Better to get out of the way instead. What if it is an incoming baseball bat. Or weapon. Or an opponent you have gravely misjudged,even if they only seem to be an old lady. In Zen the concept is called, "Don't be there." In common sense it is called "duck." Some beginners insist the air is theirs to stand in and they want to meet an incoming object with their body. Instead of ducking, or at the least, deflecting it without damage to any party (or maybe training some discipline and arm hardening techniques), they throw their arm up to meet mine, then depart class cursing and exaggerating to administration that they broke their arm, and that they were right to deliberately disobey the teacher who was teaching a valuable lesson called, don't hurt yourself or others. In class, I give the students a moving drill. They practice a specific footwork drill to keep them moving. I walk around the class - right in their way, one student at a time. They are confused. Some try to push or hit me to get me out of *their* way. Some try to stand still to resist, but get deflected off balance. This continues until one student remembers the point of the lesson. They get the smart idea to go *around* me. The message - polite, cooperation. No confrontation. No hitting someone in your way, or believing no one owns the ground but you. Just smile and say excuse me. It seems to be a titanic message to some.

Click the arrow to watch group traffic cooperation in this short movie from a street in Vietnam.

Paul and I are comically (to locals in the street) co-occupying a tiny front basket of a bicycle rickshaw. Locals routinely travel by pedicab, but our height and Paul's epic shoulders blocking the driver's view and feet at the same time caused so much merriment by on-lookers that it won us many new friends that day. The driver looked to weigh no more than 100 pounds (45 kilos), pedaling a steel bicycle weighting at least 200 pounds (90kg). In another post I will tell of Paul's and my ride on an Olympic bobsled on an actual competition track. A professional driver took first seat of the 4 man sled, and we put Paul in second seat, as it was the only place for his long legs. For new readers, Paul is almost 7 feet tall (2 meters, 13cm). We were supposed to have a 4G ride (4 times the usual pull of gravity on earth), but Paul's giant feet, it turned out, prevented the driver's elbows from moving enough to steer the 15 sharp turns. We got quite an extra ride - the wildest the driver said he ever had. To be continued in a future post on g-forces.

China posts to come - Athletes are afraid of the squat toilets, why some Chinese citizens wear masks, Eastern societal practices that promote physical health through advanced age, answers to reader questions that pile in, and more on Olympics and human potential.

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Movie © by Paul and Jolie
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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.