Dynamic Tension

Introducing, Mr. Charles Atlas

If you grew up reading comic books like I did, you probably saw this advertisement somewhere inside its pages:

It’s perfect. It plays on your fear of not being able to defend yourself; as though muscles alone will keep you safe!

The Man

The photograph of the man in the lower left corner is Charles Atlas who won the title of “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.”

The Claim

Atlas said the secret to his incredible physique was a regime of physical exercises that used no equipment, or weights. He said anyone who followed his advice would get the same results.

The Course

He sold a mail-order course explaining exactly what to do, and how to do it. Being the curious sort, I bought the course a couple years back and I’m so glad I did.

The Secret

Turns out, the story of how to do the exercises was more important than what exercises you were doing.

The Technique

Our bodies work because we have 2 sets of muscles for every joint, basically. One to make it extend out, and one to make it contract in.

Charles said if you flexed both sets of muscles so that they were flexing against each other, you’d get stronger. Imagine you’re doing a bicep curl without a dumbell. Instead, you flex your biceps AND your triceps as hard as you can as you move through the motion of the curl.

This is what makes it “dynamic.” You’re moving through a full range of motion instead of flexing and holding a pose/position like you do with an isometric exercise.

The Revelation

A long time after I’d forgotten about the course, I found a martial arts teacher who told us to run through a series of postures, and make it as difficult on ourselves to move as we possibly could.

After that workout I was sore as I could be. Seems like it worked, after all!

I realized Charles Atlas was using a technique (knowingly or not) that martial artists have been using for centuries. And it makes sense.

The idea is as you work out, you get stronger which provides more resistance, which gets your stronger, and so on with the cycle. Plus, it’s incredibly hard to injure yourself because as you get tired, you can offer less and less resistance. It’s nearly impossible to overload your system.

The Conclusion

People tend to see results for the first couple weeks, but then progress tends to plateau. If you’re coming from absolute zero, almost anything you do is going to be an improvement.

After the initial easy gains are made, it looks like you need more than just dynamic tension to build muscle mass, but it’s a phenomenal way to up the difficulty of any workout; especially if you’re running through a series of postures during your training.

Startle Response

Everybody Has It

Air horned

Whether you’re a mongoose avoiding a snake, or a dude sitting on the crapper, any time your neurological system has too much input, it freaks out.

This is the essence of the startle response.

The idea is, if there’s way too much for me to handle that probably means it’s dangerous, and my body freaks out to get as much distance between me and whatever is happening.

Physiology to the Rescue

Any effective self defense system has to address this detail. You can’t keep it from happening, so you have to incorporate, adapt, and learn how to nudge your startle response in the right direction.

But, all the training in the world isn’t going to keep you from dropping your phone in the toilet. #BrowseResponsibly

The (Un)Importance of Lineage

The Art Doesn’t Make The Artist

Who was Picasso’s teacher? Who was Picasso’s student?

Neither question matters, does it? All you care about is the work Picasso created. You care who he was as an artist. You judged him on his own merits, not what letters were on his certificate. (Did he even go to school?)

Lineage in Martial Arts

Too often there’s an emphasis on who taught who, and what did they learn.

None of it matters. Name confers no skill.

If acquiring skills was like breeding puppies, then lineage may matter. But, it’s not, so it doesn’t. You have to put in the hard work and effort required to do what you want to do.

Until the day we can download abilities into our brain like the Matrix, this truth will remain.

The teacher doesn’t make the student.

Appeal to Authority

One of the most pervasive cognitive biases in the world is confusing authority with skills, ability, or effectiveness.

People love saying, “I studied with so-and-so,” or “I’m 3 degrees of separation from Ip Man” or any number of flavors of trying to steal some of the glory from the teacher for themselves.

You could have the best teacher in the world and be completely useless in a crisis. You could have had no teacher and be amazing in a crisis.

What it boils down to is what can you do? Not where you got it. Not how you got it. But what you can do with it that matters.

Physics is the Most Effective Teacher

The best masters of fighting can be found in the writings of Sir Isaac Newton, Carl Friedrich Gauss (Creator of Non-Euclidean Geometry), Buckminster Fuller, and other thinkers on the natural world.

Look to them, and you can’t go wrong.

Update Book Now Available:

If this resonates with you, you might enjoy my book “Wing Chun: Life Physics” where I share the development of Wing Chun as the result of studying embodied physics, and its impact on life. Available now on Amazon.com

First Principles

First Principles

Elon Musk, savior of Earth Humans, explains in this short video what it means to reason from first principles, and why it’s important.

This distinction is incredibly important in the martial arts world, and here’s why.

Tiger Style

Think about kung fu. For thousands of years the knowledge and skills have been passed down as analogies.

“We fight with the strength of a tiger, the swiftness of a crane, and the deadly accuracy of a snake.”

Makes sense to reason from metaphor because it’s the way humans have made sense of the world since before history.


But the instant people started looking at fighting, self defense, and strategy as what it is instead of what it is like, they started getting superior results. Immediately.

That’s why the UFC has been such an incredible proving ground for a variety of martial arts; you see what works, and what doesn’t right away.

The Problem

We have to be mindful, however, that we can wind up making the same errors when we take lessons learned from the UFC and apply them to violent encounters on the street or in bars.

They’re two different creatures!

“Take What Works, Discard The Rest”

These words from Bruce Lee are great, and they echo the idea we’re talking about.

What works, usually, is called “physics.” It’s what governs the world of reality, and as an entity living in the universe of cause & effect, it will do you more good to study how physics applies to the human body than it will to spend decades practicing to be fierce like a tiger.


There’s a genius whose work you’re probably familiar with, but you may not recognize his name: Buckminster Fuller.

The work you most likely recognize is this “Golf ball;” a geodesic sphere that lives as the visual anchor for Disney’s Epcot amusement park.Its real name is “Spaceship Earth,” and it’s a marvel in engineering terms. How in the world can such a lightweight structure span such a large distance without collapsing under its own weight?

Tension + Compression = Structure

Fuller figured out that given the right relationship, a system of relatively delicate connectors (called “members”) brought under tension (usually by cables) can easily withstand the compression force of gravity by distributing its effect over the whole structure.

This insight of how to distribute compression through a structure is the secret to why Fuller’s domes are phenomenally strong, despite being much lighter than traditional building approaches that use heavier materials without getting anywhere close to being the same weight-to-strength ratio of Fuller’s geometric structures.

Shape of Nature

Turns out, nature’s been using this approach since the dawn of time.

Fuller’s domes rely on the same geometry as the Helix structure of our DNA. It’s the same geometry as nature’s strongest shape: the triangle.

Where can you see this system of rigid supports connected by cables that can withstand tension?

Drumroll please. . . .

Our human bodies!

They’re an incredible example of tension & compression.

It’s an incredibly complicated system of muscles, bones, and tendons connecting the whole thing together. These simple components allow us to stand, walk, run, jump, roll, dodge, dance, clap, and every single action you take over the course of your entire life.

Without even thinking about it I can stand up, walk to the fridge, and grab yet another LaCroix.

Tension + Integrity = Tensegrity

Integrity, in this case, is the structure of compression members held together by tension which results in Fuller’s new word for that process, “Tensegrity.”

Tensegrity Training

Wing Chun is the process of specifically training your physical system of tensegrity. You compress your body by flexing your body, and through the application of this “Dynamic Tension” you gain incredible strength. This is how you build a structure (physically AND emotionally) that can withstand forces that would overwhelm a structure that lacks this type of geometry.

Want to learn how to do this? Let’s train together!

PS: This is the guy we’re talking about. Straight genius.