Sunday, March 29, 2020

Five Minute Kettlebell Workout

This is still the best kettlebell workout video I've found. She covers the plank, press, behind head dip and lift, lunge, around the world, row, squat and two hand swing.

She left out the halo:

And here's the infamous Turkish Getup:

Or the Half Turkish Getup:

Here's a link to a bunch of good kettlebell exercises:

Some Steel Mace Workout Videos

I'm learning that the steel mace is a total body workout. You can use it for intense ways, both cardio and strength oriented. And you can also use the mace for more mindful, flowing movements. 

Here's a good strength/cardio workout:

Another good one:

Here's one that might take a little while to master:

Here's a whole playlist of exercises you can do with the steel mace:

This looks tough:

Bonus video. Not steel mace, but could it be adapted?

I wonder about this one also.

Can anything from this routine be used?

Or this?

Indian Clubs: Inward and Outward Heartshapes

I just spent about ten minutes trying to find this video. So I'm creating a post with it embedded to make it easier to find.

Here's another helpful lesson:

Some step by step images:

Inward continued


Outward continued

Beginner Persian Meel Exercises

Meels made by BodyMindFit
Persian meels are larger than Indian Clubs, weighing between 2 and 10kg each (5 to 20 lbs). Meels train the whole body through a combination of weight and circular movements. 

Here I'm sharing some videos and tips from Tom Crudgington of BodyDevelopment Gym in Bath, England. He has the following advice:
-Stay light. 
-Build a base layer of basic moves. 
-Rest. Don’t start out swinging heavy clubs daily. Start with twice a week and build up from there. It is like anything else… you have to condition yourself. Be prepared to be in it for the long-haul.

Tom's basic drills are Door Frame, Alternating Chop, Block>Sweep>Chop, and Crucifix Drill.

Door Frame

Alternating Chop
Here the emphasis is in keeping stable around your abdomen. always be mindful of pulling into your mid section, pulling your elbows in nice and tight to the waist.

Cast - Block, Sweep and Chop
Basic Persian meel cast carries on from the 'door-frame' drill shown earlier in the series. Here the pushing block action is beginning to turn into a swing and flow move.

Crucifix Drill

Here are some videos and tips from Paul Taras Wolkowinski:
Middle Cast

Low, Middle and High Casts

Paul's Instructions (
Swing the clubs up together from the floor and hold them in front of the chest not touching the body, keep your wrists just below waist level, at roughly 100 degrees. To start lift one hand up and over the shoulder, elbow should be pointing up, then bring the club back to the front and repeat on the other side.

When you are comfortable with this movement, push (cast) the club across your back and turn your body as the the club swings to the outside, then pull it back up to the front.

Traditionally Persian Mil Clubs are swung alternately around the shoulders keeping time with a drum beat. In swinging terms each arm performs a closed arm inward back circle, each club is pushed (cast) up over the shoulder, dropped and swung to the back, with a quarter body twist the club travels outward completing the circle with a sharp pull to the front of the body.
There are three casts, LOW cast, MIDDLE cast and HIGH cast.

Low cast is made by the hand holding the club kept close to the neck and passing to the back below the ear. Starting position is from the waist.

Middle cast is made by the hand holding the club kept close to the ear and passing to the back at ear level. This cast is quicker than the low cast because the club is lifted higher and has further to drop which means a quicker swing and recovery. This cast is very popular, both Meels are worked together. Note that the hands should come to the front in passing the face roughly at nose level before the Meel is brought to rest in the upright position.

High cast is made by the hand holding the club pushed over the top of the head raising the club even higher, the club has even further to drop and the swing is fast, this cast is a one handed version of a mace swing and is great preparation for advancing to gada or mace swinging, promoting great shoulder flexibility and incredible grip strength.

All three casts should performed with a turn of the shoulders and body as the Mil Club drops at the back, the turn harnesses the energy of the drop helping to pull the Meel up and back to the front position. It is quite natural to assume a body sway, like an upside down pendulum.

Footwork. As the Persian Mil Clubs are cast rhythmically transfer your body weight from one foot to the other creating a small sliding step that is done in time with the turn of the shoulders and body.

Shifting your bodyweight is very important, and very much part of swinging Persian Meels. For example, if you are going to swing the club on your right hand, you should aim to transfer your body weight to your right leg and slide your left foot over to your right foot. Then to swing the left-arm the same happens in reverse, you transfer your body weight to your left foot and slide the right foot over to the left foot.

On account of one, the first club is lifted and swung.
On the count of two, the first club returns to the front starting position.
On account of three, the second club is lifted and swung.
On the count of four, the second club returns the front starting position.

You should aim to keep the club as close to the body as possible without touching, this is very important when you prepare to swing the club, you should try to steer your hand holding the club between the top of your shoulder and your ear. In doing so the base of the club should rise behind you with the push-up before you let it fall into the swing.

Lastly, here's a flowing exercise developed by the inimitable ZenKahuna:

ZenKahuna and the Double Ball Staff

ZenKahuna (Rocannon MacGregor) is very active on YouTube. His videos often demonstrate mindful movements that one can do with clubs, maces, kettlebells and more. One of the implements ZenKahuna has come up with is called the Double Ball Staff which he says can help with brain organization and training, mobility, strengthening joints & sinews, digital dexterity, and enhancing fluid moving skills. These are made in Idaho by Rosewater Kinetics.
Image from Rosewater Kinetics' Facebook page

He's a collection of videos (in no particular order) demonstrating how to use this apparatus.

Tai Chi Ball Qigong Exercises

The tai chi ball is an exercise tool I've been learning about this week. I don't have a wooden sphere like you're supposed to use, but I do have a 4lb medicine ball so at least I can try out some of these movements to see if it's something worth pursuing further.

The tai chi ball is used for body conditioning. It strengthens the arms, torso, spine and lower back. The wood ball weighs between 2 to 10 lbs depending on what size ball you use. The motion has a cumulative effect in gradually building your physical body strength, without tensing too much, so your qi circulation can still be abundant.

For strength training the variables used are: 1) the weight of the ball, 2) the number of repetitions of each movement performed, 3) the number of movements performed in a training session, 4) the depth of the stances (lower = harder), 5) the speed of the movements, and 6) the focus, concentration, and mental intentions used in each movement.

In the beginning posture of the tai chi ball qigong practice, the mind should be calm and empty, and the weight evenly distributed on both feet. This state is wuji. Your mind starts to lead the body into the movement, internal (yin) and external (yang).

Ramel Rones - Three Tai Chi Ball Videos

Ahn Circles

Advanced Motion

Excerpt from Sunrise Tai Chi DVD

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Workout at Home Using These Four Unconventional Training Tools - Primitive Fitness Equipment

So far in 2020 I have turned my attention toward diet and exercise with great results. In addition to walking/hiking I have started to incorporate some unconventional fitness methods into my practice. Here's a rundown on four different unconventional training tools that will give you a workout without having to leave home or break the bank.

The kettlebell or girya resembles a cannonball with a handle on top. Its center of gravity is offset from the cast iron handle and constantly shifting, which makes it hard to control. The kettlebell lends itself to flowing motions and building strength and power: swings, presses, squats, rows and carries. It is used for cardio, flexibility and strength. It has been said that if you own a kettlebell then you own a gym.
Steel Mace
The steel mace or gada is a weighted ball on a long straight handle. Let's not kid's a weapon! The heavy head and light handle give the mace an uneven distribution of weight, making it very unbalanced. The most common mace exercises are called the 360 and the 10 to 2, but you can get super creative with the mace. It can help with balance, coordination, posture, stability and body awareness.

Indian Clubs

Steel Clubs
Clubs aren't lifted, they are swung. Club swinging is a very natural motion where the club acts as an extension of your arm. These ancient rhythmic movements can be set to music. The shape of a club resembles a baseball bat, bowling pin, or juggling club. It can be made of wood or steel. Lighter clubs are best for flexibility and mobility. Heavy clubs are for strength and grip. Strability, flexibility, endurance, fat-burning, lean muscle and concentration are among the benefits of club swinging. It's like a blend of cardio and weight training.

the Shena
Persian style push-ups are done on a traditional wooden board with two triangular supports which raise your hands off the floor. This board is called a Shena.  The push-up poses resemble yoga - downward dog, upward dog, low plank, deep knee bends. Persian push-ups are done slowly, methodically and strategically with an emphasis on rhythm and fluidity. Continuity of motion. The Shena adds a different dimension to any fitness practice; developing strength, flexibility, muscle endurance, stamina and agility.

There are more tools you can utilize - ropes, sandbags, pull-up bars, escrima sticks. I'm sticking to just the above four for now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Five Sets I Was Most Looking Forward to at Big Ears

Big Ears announced its hour-by-hour set/stage times just one day before its COVID-19 related cancellation announcement. In that 24 hour span I had already scanned the schedule and sketched out a rough draft itinerary with some DO NOT MISS sets penciled into the schedule. Here are the five sets I was most looking forward to at the March 2020 Big Ears Festival.

We All Break - Friday 3pm at Old City Performing Arts Center
I don't recall this venue from the previous year. It must be new. This set was at the top of my list because A) I loved the We All Break release when it came out in 2017 and B) I couldn't believe that I was going to get to see this band live. Ches Smith's We All Break project is one of the best examples of the traditional melding with the modern, and this was part of many Haitian themed performances scheduled over the festival weekend. It felt like it might be a once in a lifetime experience. Let's hope it's not a none in a lifetime experience.

Jake Xerxes Fussell - Friday 10pm at the Jig and Reel
Big Ears isn't strictly for experimental art music. They also have excellent taste for selecting artists dwelling within the Americana or roots music scenes, both obscure and well known. Jake Xerxes Fussell is a prime example. He was a late addition to the festival lineup and I was psyched to see his name pop up. I was going to try and catch him multiple times over the weekend and I had a hunch that he might sit in with some folks like William Tyler or Nathan Bowles, or they might sit in with him. But this 10pm Friday set at the Jig and Reel was my number one slot for Jake. This venue is a tiny little pub so it would have been awesome.

Bang on a Can All-Stars - Saturday 1pm at the Bijou Theater
I prefer the more club or bar-like venues at Big Ears: The Mill and Mine, The Standard, The Pilot Light. But I was still very excited for Bang on a Can at the Bijou Theater at 1pm on a Saturday. I loved the idea of that time slot in this venue. I've been a superfan of Bang on a Can's interpretations of Brian Eno's Music for Airports and Terry Riley's In C for at least 15+ years now. Way back when I think I was originally attracted to the name Bang on a Can All-Stars. With a name like that they had to be good. I actually haven't listened to this band all that much and don't know too much about them or what they had in store for this set, but I was going to be there checking it out.

Xylouris White - Saturday midnight at the Mill and Mine
I was a little disappointed to see that the only set Xylouris White got at Big Ears was going to be at midnight on the Saturday. Or was Big Ears holding back and waiting to reveal some secret sets? Anyway, that late at night was going to be a tough one to stay up for...or in all likelihood stay sober enough for. Note that Bang on a Can was going to be eleven hours earlier - that's a long day! But I was determined to check it out since even before the set times were announced Xylouris White was bolded.'s another example of the traditional meeting the modern. In this case Xylouris White does it with Greek or Cretan music. When the Big Ears initial lineup was first announced last fall I remember scrolling through it, already liking what I was seeing, then letting out a "hell yeah" or something even more exclamatory when I got to the alphabetical end of the list and saw Xylouris White in the lineup. I've been wanting to see these guys ever since Goats came out in 2014.

The Necks - Sunday 3pm at the Bijou Theater
The Necks are a trio from Australia. If I understand correctly, what they do when they perform is basically improvise for the entire set. They don't have "songs" per se. They just get on stage and take the music wherever it needs to go - could be jazz, or ambient, or something like post-rock. I've long heard of these guys and they are another legendary group that I couldn't believe I was going to get to see. When the full set times were announced I noted that this Sunday 3pm slot didn't have any major competition so my attention could be fully devoted to The Necks without any fear of missing other stuff. As news of COVID-19 increased I began to wonder if The Necks were going to be able to make it here from Australia. Of course the answer to that question and many others was answered when the festival was cancelled.

Big Ears 2020 was going to be an incredible festival. I haven't even mentioned performers like Marc Ribot, 75 Dollar Bill, Jeff Parker, Mdou Moctar, Molly Tuttle and Thundercat who were supposed to be there. It's tough when something you've been looking forward to for months on end gets snatched away. The only thing that made it more acceptable is knowing that basically everything else was also being cancelled and that it was the right thing to do, given the circumstances. I hope Big Ears can come back just as strong next time.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Anxiety Art - Best Overlooked Album from 2019

The best overlooked album from last year is far and away a little known pop rocker called Anxiety Art by San Francisco's The Reds, Pinks and Purples

A couple months ago I posted my favorite 2019 albums list. And what a fine list it is! Of course it's just my favorites out of the albums I was able to hear and familiarize myself with during 2019. With Spotify and other means (plus a hunger for searching) it's easier than ever before to continually find new and old music that you A) love and B) haven't ever heard before. Inevitably some good things get left off of any person's best of because you can't hear it all.

In the two months since 2019 ended I've been turned onto at least a dozen great albums from 2019 that I wasn't even aware of at the time of making my own favorites list. These include:

Tomeka Reid Quartet - Old New
Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek - Kar Yağar
Gong Gong Gong - Phantom Rhythm
Joose Keskitalo - En lähde surussa
Los Wembler's des Iquitos - Vision del Ayahuasca
Mike Compton and Norman Blake - Gallop to Georgia
Woolen Men - Human to Human
Billy Strings - Home

These are all albums I wish that I had known about in 2019 but I'm glad that I know about them now. However, for me, the best overlooked album from last year is far and away a little known pop rocker called Anxiety Art by San Francisco's The Reds, Pinks and Purples

I know little to nothing about this band or album. It was listed on Raven Sings The Blues' enlightening best of 2019 list:

On Bandcamp The Reds, Pinks and Purples are described as "DIY kitchen pop project of Glenn Donaldson with live support from friends, currently: ‎Katiana Mashikian, Thomas Rubenstein & Andrew Hine.‎"  About the songs, Donaldson writes:
I wrote these songs in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. They came to me on walks around Golden Gate Park and shopping at Asian grocery stores on Clement Street. They are fiction and non-fiction. I recorded them in my kitchen, but we live in the future now, so some of them are coming out on vinyl in Spain. To me, they are straight pop songs with not much of a filter. The cover art is by my partner's father; he has dementia but still makes amazing pictures sometimes. Stress or bad times can drive people to make music or art. It's a relief for me to make things, so I called this record Anxiety Art.

I'm not sure why this album has had such an impact on me.  New Wave, or middle of the road rock in general, is not necessarily my most preferred style. The songs are not super hooky and the musicianship - while sufficient and well formed - is not what I would call virtuosic. There are no long jams or much improvisation or experimentalism of any sort. The songs are pretty short - the two or three minute range - and have pretty basic structures. The same chord patterns, guitar riff motifs, and topics seem to show up on multiple tracks, whether intentional or by accident. It doesn't quite sound like 2019...or 1982. But oh is it addictive and gripping. The feeling the album conjures can't really be put into words - something like a mature, hopeful, melancholy. Hidden beauty. Finding pleasure in simple, mundane things. Too bad the vinyl is completely sold out. Good thing I'm also into compressed audio.