Friday, July 22, 2016


by Phillip Starr

Because if you don't, nobody else will, or can, do it for you.   - P. Starr 

Most of the grading examinations that I administer require that the examinee demonstrate a certain level of destructive power (and belief in oneself) by performing one or two breaking techniques. And so it was some years ago that one of my students asked how one should go about breaking boards.

     Of course, the examinee is provided with the usual information; setting up the boards, directing his blow beyond (and behind) the surface of the wood, and striking into the exact center of his target. However, I also gave him a piece of advice which applies not only to being successful in breaking boards, but in being successful in all other aspects of martial arts and life in general.

     I told him whenever I performed breaking techniques in public demonstrations I always pictured myself in my mind successfully executing the break. This simple mental device never failed to enable me to perform a variety of what would normally be very difficult breaking techniques. I have used this same psychological principle many times throughout my life and I believe that it has great value - and in re-reading Maxwell Maltz's famous book (which I picked up in 1966 for the price of one dollar) I see that I have been using many of the principles which he outlined in "Psycho-Cybernetics."

     I think it might be well to do a series of lectures on how some of these principles work and how you can use them to your best advantage.

     The Buddha once said, "As a man thinketh, so he is."

     This statement contains more truth than many people suspect. It tells us that you ARE what you think. Sound kind of metaphysical or new age? It's not. It's very old and time-tested.

     Each of us has certain beliefs about ourselves. These beliefs may or may not be based on the truth - in fact, they're often not based on the truth at all - but that's not the point. The point is that WE BELIEVE THEM. And if you believe in something, then it's true...for you.

     If you believe that you're homely for some reason - maybe your ears are too big, your nose is too pronounced, your lips are too thick or thin, or whatever - then you'll behave according to your belief, convinced that other people also regard you as a poor physical specimen.  You'll avoid them and feel very uncomfortable around groups of strangers. You KNOW they're looking at your huge Dumbo ears or your Pinnochio nose; you KNOW they're whispering to each other about how you you do your best to avoid getting into these kinds of situations. You avoid being around people. Standing up in front of a group of people to give a speech is absolutely terrifying.

     Maybe you're not concerned with being homely. Maybe you think you have other defects. You might perceive yourself as physically weak, mentally slow, or uncoordinated. Maybe you believe that you're no good at mathematics or any one of ten thousand other things.

     And if you believe it's true, then it is...for you. You MAKE it true by believing it. You have, in fact, hypnotized yourself. Consider - hypnotism works because the subject BELIEVES that what the hypnotists tell him or her is true. If the subject doesn't believe in what the hypnotist suggests, the whole thing fails...but if the subject trusts the hypnotist and BELIEVES that what he says is true, the subject will then behave accordingly.


     If the hypnotist tells the subject that his hand is resting on a hot stove the subject will exhibit signs of severe pain and the skin may actually blister! There are many similar examples but I think you get my point. 

     You will behave according to how and what you believe about yourself.

     Some time ago, I wrote about an old student of mine named John. John had (and still has) an absolutely devastating punch. Many years ago when he worked at a meat-packing plant he was attacked by a large hog. Now, a full-grown hog can weigh as much as 250 lbs. but John brought it down with a single punch to the forehead (the thickest part of the hog's skull).

     Anyway, I once convinced John that the inch-thick board he was holding was actually a piece of extremely hard oak. I spent a couple of minutes talking about how strong this wood was - how he could probably park his car on it - and when he tried to break it, HE FAILED! Not once, but twice!

     Then when I told him that I was just "funnin'" him, he split it without any effort at all.

     There's a lesson to be learned here (and John not only learned it; he mastered it)...that you will behave according to what you believe. John believed the board was too hard for him to break and, appropriately enough, he failed! Yet, when he realized the truth, he succeeded easily.

     So, how can you begin to change yourself? First, you have to realize that you already have an "image" of yourself, one that you have created and based upon past experiences and current beliefs. At the present time, you act in accordance with this image because it is how you perceive yourself...regardless of whether or not it is based on truth.

     Many, many years ago I used to simply sit back, close my eyes, and imagine myself executing a given form flawlessly. I was having trouble with some of the postures and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't perform them properly. I decided to "see" what they would look like if I DID do them correctly, so I sat back, relaxed, and "saw myself" doing them perfectly.

     To my great surprise, I found that I was able to perform these movements very efficiently (albeit not perfectly...not yet, anyway) in a very short time!  It was as if I had physically practiced them many, many times although I had only exercised them in my mind!  This, I realized, was a wonderful principle that wasn't well-understood by most martial arts practitioners.

     Later, I realized that this same principle could be applied to almost every facet of life - not just martial arts.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


by Phillip Starr

Boring as it may be to practice, breathing is key to improving martial arts performance and effectiveness. Correct breathing can make a strong technique even stronger, enhance one's “root” to the ground (which adds impetus the one's technique), calm your mind and spirit, help increase the velocity of technique and body movement...everything that you WANT in your practice of martial arts. But there's correct breathing and then there's correct breathing.

Most martial arts teachers teach their pupils to exhale (usually forcefully) when executing a powerful technique. What they generally teach is a strong form of what is known as “normal” or “post-birth” breathing; as the breath is exhaled, the abdomen is powerfully contracted and thus, hardened. This works well for those who are already quite physically powerful, but there is another method that will turn a weaker person's technique into an explosive and very powerful force; moreso than that of a physically stronger practitioner. It is known as “reverse breathing” (it is described in detail in my books, MARTIAL MECHANICS and DEVELOPING JIN).

Initially developed by Taoists in ancient China, this breathing technique was considered a great secret for generations but as secrets tend to do, it escaped from its cage and it became fairly well-known. Many, many martial arts devotees practiced it as a part of their regular curriculum but because it isn't especially exciting to practice, it was gradually forgotten.

It was even taught to the Okinawans who learned forms of gong-fu from their Chinese neighbors. I have long suspected that the original form(s) of Sanchin kata utilized this form of breathing rather than the “post-birth” method of breathing that has been in use for some time now.

If one needs to exert a lot of strength for any given task – lifting, pushing, or pulling – reverse breathing should be employed. It will double your strength the first time you do it. Bear in mind that in cases of lifting, pulling, or pushing heavy objects, the exhalation needs to be rather long. But in the case of delivering a strong blow, the exhalation should be very short and sharp, with 2/3 of your breath being exhaled (1/3 is kept in reserve). The faster you can get the air out, the better; the longer it takes you to exhale, the more of a “push” effect will be generated.

If you're sucking wind after a strenuous exercise, 3-4 reverse breaths will immediately stabilize your breathing. A similar number of strong reverse breaths can reduce the pain of being struck in the testicles,

Using the “normal” or “post-birth” form of breathing actually separates the upper and lower body so that your punch is made with mainly the strength of your arm and shoulder and your kick uses the strength of only the leg. There are muscle connections that run between the upper and lower body and “post-birth” breathing causes them to go somewhat slack. However, reverse breathing brings them together so that the strength of the whole body can be brought to bear on the task at hand.

Reverse breathing was once one of the great secrets of martial arts. Because it's been forgotten for so long,it is once again secret...until now.