Monday, February 23, 2015

A Garden of Trees

If it’s possible to be both a logger and a tree-hugger, I am a little of both. I look at trees and I see board feet, cordwood, and BTUs. I walk among them and feel peace, awe, and a sense of connection to the earth. I sit by my fireplace in the wintertime, and explain to my children that the trees have stored the sun’s energy, and when we burn them, we bring a little bit of last summer’s sunshine into an otherwise cold, dark house.

In truth, I’m a poor excuse for a logger, and nor do I actually hug the trees. But my small woodlot has a management plan that I need to adhere to, or face a higher property tax rate. I could pay a professional to do the work, but I’ve chosen to do it myself – with the help of a good friend who has done some logging. We spend long, cold hours doing hard, dangerous work, and we couldn’t enjoy it more.

Forestry is long-term gardening. We are currently harvesting a crop that took 50 + years to grow –planted long ago by another gardener. The firewood thinning that I do annually is called “crop-tree release”, and is in a sense, weeding. The short-term result is the firewood I burn, but the long-term results will be a healthier stand of Sugar Maple, Red Oak, and Yellow Birch. 

We’ve owned the property for 15 years, and I’m not sure when it occurred to me, but I will not live to harvest much of that crop. Nor will I likely walk among the mature stand of towering, majestic trees that I envision, and am working so hard to grow.

When I began teaching martial arts for a living, I often said that I was doing so to avoid having to get a “real job”. The typical martial arts student of that era was an 18 to 24-year-old male, and it was a tough, macho, ego-driven environment. If I could have looked ahead and seen myself today – surrounded by young children, telling stories, tying belts, running a business – I might have had second thoughts. It has turned into a very real job, but one that I will love to do, for as long as I can.

As teachers, we plant seeds and foster growth. Whether our growing season is an academic quarter or a number of years, we have a limited time to accomplish our goals, and help our students reach theirs. If we see it as merely a job, we miss the simple joys of gardening. When we remember that our influence may be life-long, we can overlook the temporary setbacks and struggles of our workday.

My wife and I are blessed with two children, ages 16 and 8 at the time of this writing. The final phrase of that sentence almost takes my breath away – it jolts me with a reminder of the fleeting and transitory nature of parenthood. They won’t be 16 and 8 for long. This gardening is long-term as well, but seems to speed past faster than a Vermont growing season. We do our best, make our mistakes, hold on to the moments, and plan for the future.

We do most of the things we do either for love or by necessity. When we are truly blessed, the two converge. Sometimes when we are doing our best work, we work with a vision of a future we may never see. But that vision gives us strength, perspective, and hope. Further, it helps us appreciate the sacred nature of the present, fleeting moment, as well as the towering majesty of human potential.

David Quinlan, Owner and Lead Instructor
Bushintai-Do Programs and Martial Way Self-Defense Center
Milton, Vermont

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Physical Activity for All Children: Growing Up as a Decathlete

Growing Up as a Decathlete
It was a different era. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, every child I knew trained as an elite athlete. We ran, swam, jumped, skipped rope, climbed, and biked constantly. We played sports for hours with no substitutions. Since we rarely had enough players to complete two teams, every player played offense and defense without a break. I pushed and rode a bicycle loaded down with two baskets of newspapers up a long hill every Sunday. We walked or biked miles to get where we needed to go. It was how we played, travelled, worked and lived.
I am not a retro-phile. I’m a big believer in bike helmets, seat belts, and other ‘modern’ safety developments. My children are encouraged to participate in a variety of organized activities – nearly all of which are run by adults, and involve being driven to and from. I think that children should have structure and adult supervision. But I think that we have done a dis-service to our children by not letting them “go out and play” often enough.
The fitness industry, the professional sports establishment, and our conventional wisdom, have come to recognize the importance of “functional” training methods. Fitness is no longer measured by how much a man can bench press, how many miles a woman runs in a week, or what our BMI might be. There is a growing understanding of the need for exercises that prepare us for specific athletic challenges, whether they are sports-related, or merely the necessary physical demands of everyday living. The Functional Training Model has replaced the old “size, tone, and cardio” goals.
Classroom-based Brain Breaks from Bushintai-Do Programs.
In recent years, physical activity has been shown to facilitate brain development and improve brain function in children and adults. The positive effects of exercise on the brain are thought to be even  more significant and long-lasting in children. In addition, exercise has been shown to be a more effective treatment of depression than medication is.
The physical demands of my happy childhood constituted a complete functional training and brain development regimen. We had no idea of the mind-body-spirit significance of what we were doing, and neither did our parents. But current and emerging research tells us that is was good for our functional strength, cognitive development, and emotional state. Say what you will about the intelligence, fitness level, and mental health of the baby boomers, but apparently, it could have been worse.
Today’s middle-class and affluent children have more opportunities for learning new skills, participating in various activities, and developing new interests than ever before. But they are far more sedentary than previous generations, and have far more non-physical distractions available. Participation in youth sports is declining and, if you add in time sitting in the car on the way to practice, waiting for a turn, and taking instruction, the activity level is often low to moderate. A pickup basketball game or a sidewalk hopscotch session probably provides much more exercise than many organized sports practices - even more so if participants walk or bike to the playground or sidewalk.
A recent study indicated that children born in today’s sedentary Western society have a life expectancy that is five years shorter than that of the previous generation – due in large part to their lack of moderate to vigorous physical activity. To many, this is a startling call to action. There are some positive initiatives – Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity effort, the CDC’s recommendation for 60 minutes of exercise per day, and the NFL and Dairy Council-sponsored “Fuel up to Play 60” program – but there is one area of potential leadership and direction that is being largely under-utilized – the public school system.
Our education leaders have recognized that not only do our schools have an obligation to promote wellness, but also that it has a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn. We provide students with breakfast and lunch, not only for their overall nutritional health, but also because it supports their brain function. With everything we now know about the value of exercise, our schools should also provide daily moderate to vigorous physical activity for all school children.
Many will question whether this is practical – educators are already under pressure to improve student test scores, and are likely to balk at giving up classroom time in favor of any non-academic activity. But research has shown that test scores will improve with regular physical activity – even if it results in less classroom time.
Some have already adopted measures to address this. The Vermont Department of Education’s Education Quality Standards (2014) requires that every student in grades K-12 have access to at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day – in addition to PE classes. This is a start, but we need to change the lifestyles of our children. We can’t – and shouldn’t – go back to a time without computers, two-income households, or fast food. But we can go forward as a society that understands the value of physical activity, and takes steps to promote it. 

David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
Bushintai-Do Programs and Martial Way Self-Defense Center
Milton, Vermont

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gratitude, Hope and Giving Thanks

When my son, Liam, was 3, I noticed that he was relatively strong for his weight. He “played” on the Chuck Norris Total Gym, pulling his own weight at the maximum setting. As he got older, and wasn’t captivated by team sports (he didn’t like the aggression of soccer), we enrolled him in a gymnastics program. He enjoyed it and stuck with it for about seven years. I remember so many of his milestones –from the first time he did a successful cartwheel up to his first “giant” (big 360-degree spin around the high bar). He became a successful competitor and would have continued with gymnastics if he hadn’t started playing football (so much for disliking aggression).
In addition, Liam was, and is, an exceptional martial arts student. I was so happy to have him in my classes, that it never occurred to me to want him to be good at it – that was a bonus. He has also become a skilled teacher, and helps me run the summer camps, as well as running his own class at the town recreation department summer camp. He’s a sophomore in high school, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have his help for a few more summers.
As gratifying as it has been to have Liam a part of the dojo, there was something different about watching him at gymnastics. Instead of working, I could sit and watch, and learn a little bit about something new. I got to know some of the other students and their parents. We went to watch a collegiate championship meet. Gymnastics was, and always will be, a part of my son’s childhood and our memories of it. I am grateful for those memories.
My daughter, Evi, is 8, and has been involved with gymnastics, dance, skiing, baseball, skating, and martial arts. I relish the opportunities to watch her play, practice, and perform. As she gets older, she’ll have to make choices as well. I hope she will stay (voluntarily) involved with martial arts, as I know how beneficial it can be, and she is a joy to have in my classes. But as for the other activities, I don’t care which she chooses. Whatever it is, I will be there watching, cheering, and enjoying the moments, before they become just memories.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to share and support my children’s interests. I am also grateful for the opportunity to work with your children. As a martial arts instructor, I have an opportunity to connect with a student for his or her entire childhood, and possibly into adulthood as well. I teach ages five and up (I have black belt instructors who are braver than I am, who handle the three and four-year-olds). I enjoy everything about teaching at every level. I am privileged to have a have an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of so many people. I am grateful for every student, in every class that I teach.
I get to spend every work day in an environment I love, with people of all ages who share a common passion for this activity. I don’t know how long I will be able to continue to train with my younger, stronger, more resilient students, but I am grateful for every success and every defeat, the exhilaration of feeling fit and capable, and the pain and frustration of injuries and failure. I am grateful for my critics and my supporters, and for the martial arts, and all of the triumphs and challenges they have provided me.
I am grateful for the instructors and staff who have not only learned my system of teaching, but have added their own individual improvements to the program. Together, we are constantly developing and improving our martial arts, and the ways we teach them.

I hope your experience with martial arts, as a parent, student, teacher, or all of the above, is rewarding and memorable. I hope parents find time to watch their children's classes. I hope the children will choose martial arts as their main focus as they get older. If they move on to other activities, I hope they will take the lessons learned at the "dojo" and apply them throughout their lives. I hope we all can have the vision and the presence to recognize that what we have here is temporary, and that it should be enjoyed to the fullest while it is here.

David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
Bushintai-Do Programs and Martial Way Self-Defense Center
Milton, Vermont

Friday, October 31, 2014

Honey, I Pumped the Kids Up!

Child-Centered Physical Activity, Part 2

The importance of physical activity for children is well-documented. The question is, what kind of activity is recommended? In a previous article, we discussed the unsuitability of jogging, or other aerobic exercises, for pre-pubescent children. In this article, we’ll discuss another staple of the fitness industry – weight training – and whether or not kids should participate.
For many, the image of kids pumping iron might seem alarming. In fact, it’s not just an image, but a perception and a conventional wisdom, that pre-pubescent children should not lift weights. There have been reports that heavy lifting could damage the growth plates in young bones. There are still some who think kids can’t benefit from weight training because they typically don’t experience muscle growth as a result. And there is the danger of weightlifting-related injuries. 
Pushups are an effective form of strength-building.
It should be mentioned that we can substitute the term “resistance training” for “weightlifting”. Weights are only one way to improve neuro-muscular strength. Many body-weight exercises, such as pushups or squats, can be effective for strength-building, without the use of weights or resistance machines. Exercise bands, and suspension trainers (straps, rings, or pull-up bars) are other means to create resistance to movement.
The idea of bone growth-plate damage, and “stunted growth” caused by weightlifting, has been proven, in several studies, to be a misconception. It was largely based on one study of concentration camp survivors, and another of child-labor performers, who had been forced to perform hard labor. They had excessive workloads and inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition, and may have suffered bone damage as a result. Current research shows that children who regularly practice resistance training are likely to have healthier, stronger bones.
It is true that pre-pubescent children lack the hormones that will enable muscle growth in response to resistance exercises. However, they can make significant gains in strength, through neurological adaptation. With regular resistance training sessions, the child’s neuro-motor system will get more efficient in the practiced movements, thus functional strength will increase. Studies have shown that this improved neuro-motor function will stay with a child into puberty and adulthood.
Body-weight exercises build strength.
As for the fear that children will injure themselves using weights, this is a potential danger. However, if this is seen as a reason to keep kids from lifting weights, it would also follow that they shouldn’t ride bicycles, play team sports, go swimming, or ride in an automobile. The key is appropriate training and supervision. On the contrary, children who regularly practice resistance training may be less likely to injure themselves participating in other sports, as strength is considered a preventive factor for children’s sports injuries.
Resistance training, whether using weights, bands, tubing, suspension, body-weight, or other reasonable means, is likely to build healthier, stronger children, and ultimately healthier, stronger adults. Start pumping those kids up!

David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
Bushintai-Do Programs and Martial Way Self-Defense Center
Milton, Vermont

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Strength, Weight and Power Lifting, and Body Building by Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 1990; 5: 801-803.
  2. Fleck, S.J., Kraemer, W. J. Strength Training for Young Athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1993.
  3. Faigenbaum, A.D. Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2000; 4: 593-619.
  4. Guy, J.A., Micheli, L.J. Strength training for children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 2000; 1: 29-36.
  5. Heinonen, A., Sievanen, H., Kannus, P., Oja, P., Pasanen, M., Vuori, I. High-impact exercise and bones of growing girls: a 9-month controlled trial. Osteoporosis International. 2000; 12: 1010-1017.
  6. Payne, V.G., Morrow, J.R., Johnson, L., and Dalton, S.N. Resistance training in children and youth: a meta-analysis. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1997; 1: 80-88.
  7. Tsuzuku, S., Ikegami, Y., and Yabe, K. Effects of high-intensity resistance training on bone mineral density in young male powerlifters. Calcified Tissue International. 1998; 4: 283-286.
  8. Witzke, K.A., Snow, C.M. Effects of plyometric jump training on bone mass in adolescent girls. Medical Science and Sports Exercise. 2000; 6: 1051-1057.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't Take Your Kids Jogging (or to Classical Symphony Concerts)

Child-Centered Physical Activity, Part 1
I learned an important lesson about children’s fitness at a performance of classical music. It was during the annual Lake Champlain Mozart  Festival, and my wife and I and another couple were attending a concert at Memorial Auditorium. This was during the parenting phase in which we still had only one young child, and hadn’t given up completely on grown-up recreation. My son was six, and our friends’ daughter was five, and we brought them along.
Naturally, the kids quickly became restless, and I, sharing their appreciation for the intricacies of Mozart, volunteered to take them for a walk. It was a pleasant evening and we went outside. The front entrance has a lot of stairs, and a big marble ramp with a handrail. It was a perfect playground, and other erstwhile concert-going children were already taking advantage of it. They ran up the stairs, slid down the ramp, ran up the ramp and down the stairs, and occasionally hung or swung from the handrail. It was an excellent functional training circuit, and I watched in appreciation. I considered the ways in which the adult athletes I worked might benefit from this workout.
Bushintai-Do was designed for
children and young teens.
As time passed, I noticed a pattern of exertion that did not fit the concept of this as a circuit for my adult clientele, primarily combat sport athletes. The kids put in some vigorous activity, but did not sustain it for more than a few minutes at a time. They would charge through the circuit, laughing and talking, and then flop down for a rest. Then it was back to the circuit for a few more frenzied minutes, and back down for a rest.
Since I also work with child athletes, I made a mental note to structure their workouts more along the lines of this “run and stop” pattern. I thought it would be more enjoyable for them. What I later found out was that it is not only more fun, but more natural and beneficial for them.
As parents, coaches, and mentors, we try to help children benefit from our knowledge and experience. We want them to learn, as we did, the value of hard work, determination, and the ability to delay short-term gratification in the interest of long-term success. As athletes (I include recreational athletes and other fitness enthusiasts), we know that if we persist through hard workouts on a regular basis, our bodies will adapt to the stresses we put on them, and we will become stronger and have better endurance .
Not so with prepubescent children. Research has shown that, given an exercise program that would yield significant improvements in aerobic capacity in adults, children will not make similar gains. Their transition from anaerobic to aerobic energy production is not as efficient as it is in adults. They can be forced to run for 20 minutes three times per week, but will most likely only develop a distaste for running, and exercise in general. It will be all pain and no gain.
According to Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP, in Aerobic Capacity and Training Ability from, Hopefully this is clear. Read my lips—there is no need for elaborate, excessive, and exhaustive training programs for children and pre-pubertal athletes. This does not suit their needs or interests.”
The benefits of exercise for children, and the national crisis in juvenile fitness, are well-documented. If we want to serve this population, it is vital that we consider their specific physiological needs. We need to learn how to teach the lessons of determination, persistence, and hard work, in child-appropriate ways.
David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
Bushintai-Do Programs and Martial Way Self-Defense Center
Milton, Vermont

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Exercise Crisis

The Case for 60 Minutes of School-Based Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity

Bushintai-Do Programs
School-based Bushintai-Do for all ages.
We begin our lives on a dramatic upward trajectory of physical development and activity. As infants, we wiggle, kick, and grasp. We progress to lifting our heads, and later, turning over unassisted. Eventually we crawl, then stand, stand, then walk--huge leaps in neuro-motor accomplishment. Our increased mobility as toddlers not only allows us to meet the physical demands of daily living, but also creates a platform for even geater neuro-motor accomplishments – running, riding a bike, swimming, jumping rope, throwing, climbing. Most of us master these skills as a normal part of childhood. At this point, a normal healthy child in an affluent peaceful society, has extensive opportunities for specialized motor skill development and moderate to vigorous physical activity. The greatest challenge they face is whether to choose team sports, dance, figure skating, gymnastics, snowboarding, martial arts, tennis, skiing, mountain biking, skateboarding, swimming, track and field, or any of the exciting possibilities that compete for the active child’s attention.

In previous generations, exercise was part of a child’s daily routine. The primary after school activity was “going out to play”. This included biking, hiking, running, swimming, tree climbing, hopscotch, jumping rope, capture the flag and other active games and pick-up team sports. It was unstructured, could be done nearly every day, and did not require being driven to practice. Today we know that this kind of active play develops the whole child. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that cognitive skills and motor skills develop through this dynamic interaction. Moderate to vigorous physical exercise affects the brain’s physiology and these physiological changes improve cognition, help prevent obesity, help treat depression, prevent many diseases, and lead to greater success – socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically.

Integrate circuit training with a Bushintai-Do Belt Program.
Classroom-based exercise stations.
In spite of what may seem like many opportunities for physical activity and despite the well-documented benefits of exercise, according to The President’s council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, only one-third of American children are active on a daily basis. And of those who play team sports, only 25% of them get enough daily exercise. More concerning is that our children’s overall level of physical activity has decreased by 32% over the past 40 years, with the majority in need of more exercise. After school activities, PE classes, active transportation to and from school, and in-class physical activity are all needed to adequately meet the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity for our students. However, the Institute of Medicine reports that 48-69% of children and adolescents in the United States do not attend physical education classes in an average week. One potential high-impact solution is for schools to mandate a movement period during every school day. Second only to mandatory PE classes, in-class physical activity delivers the greatest amount and most consistent form of movement in a child’s day. Studies estimate that classroom-based activity will routinely add at least 20 minutes of the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity to a child’s day.

This would not be the first time American schools have taken the lead in confronting a serious health problem. Schools have been vaccinating children against illness for decades. School lunches, and more recently, breakfast programs, have helped fight malnutrition and food security issues among our children. The next big (and avoidable) health problem for our children is their lack of moderate to vigorous physical activity. As a result of this inactivity, children born today now have a life expectancy that is five years less than the previous generation. Schools need to take advantage of the opportunity they have, and make daily exercise mandatory for every student.

Integrate outdoor exercise options with Bushintai-Do Programs.
Exercise options for outdoor recess.
There will be opposition from those who say that valuable classroom time will be sacrificed. However, studies have shown that regular exercise--even if it means less classroom time--leads to academic gains. This is an opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of children and to prevent the eventual societal costs of the current exercise crisis. Our school system needs to once again take the lead in helping our children reach their physical, emotional, academic, and social potential.

David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
Nancy Keller, Education Coordinator

Bushintai-Do Programs

Milton, Vermont

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Father's Day Message

Happy Father's Day

David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
David Quinlan 
Starting when I was four years old, my brothers and I played baseball from the time the snow started to melt until it fell again. We played little league for six weeks each spring, but we also played whiffle ball, "backyard ball" (our own invention – a game in which the object was to hit three consecutive line drive outs), and hardball at the diamond we had set up in a hayfield. We strung chicken wire across some small saplings for a backstop, used seat cushions we found at the dump for bases, and eventually wore base-paths and an infield into the high grass, by the foot traffic of our endless games. The outfield remained in high grass, which slowed down some drives into the gap, but sometimes gave runners an extra base as outfielders dug for the ball.

My dad was our little league baseball coach for a few years. But long before that and long after those short summers, he supported my brothers' and my interest in the sport. He pitched to us, played catch with us, and never got mad about the windows we broke. We had a nine-panel window in our basement door, which happened to be dangerously close to home plate when we played in the backyard. I remember him calmly taking the door off the hinges and installing new panels, probably knowing they’d soon be knocked out by other foul tips, but he never complained.

As I watch my own son and daughter blazing like comets across the sky of my adult life, I marvel at their growth, I mourn the passing of their childhood, and I cling to its last moments. I watch in wonder as they become individuals – not just extensions of their mother and me – but unique individuals, on their way forward into their own separate lives. I celebrate their milestones – birthdays, accomplishments, personal bests- but I know that I could do without these moments. I'd be happy to stay where we are. I think I could stay calmly in the background, fixing the windows, for as long as they’d like to keep breaking them.

To my dad, and my children, Happy Fathers' Day!

David Quinlan, Founder and Lead Instructor
Bushintai-Do Programs
Milton, Vermont