43 Years Ago - My First Martial Arts Lesson During the Bruce Lee Craze

Ken75
A year or two after I began studying.

I am always surprised when the anniversary of my first martial arts lesson rolls around. Forty-three years tonight, during the height of the Bruce Lee craze, one month after "Enter the Dragon" opened in theaters, I attended my first lesson, at Sin The's school in Lexington, Kentucky. His school was in a converted garage in the Eastland Shopping Center, and there were so many students responding to the introductory class, we spilled out into the driveway. I was in the driveway.

I have forgotten exactly what we learned that night, but what Sin The ("Grandmaster" The) taught, "Shaolin-Do Karate," seemed mysterious and deadly. As years passed, long after I left his school, the name "Shaolin-Do Karate" made me laugh. But it was a start, and as I learned the punches, kicks, blocks, one-steps, forms and self-defense techniques, I took to it like the proverbial fish to water.

When I see students now who "didn't have time to practice" lately, I remember how I spent an hour a day in my dorm, doing kicks, punches, and stepping techniques up and down the hall for an hour a day -- over and over. I did that while in college and working three part-time jobs to survive.

When promotion time came, I noticed that some of the students around me looked terrible -- no passion, no energy, no snap in their techniques -- but they received their promotion just as I did. I didn't really care if they got promotions with less effort. I wanted to be his best student at each level that I reached.

At 20 years of age, I had no idea how important martial arts would be in my life. Several years ago, when I lost the function of my left lung, I wondered how long I would be able to continue in the arts. My wife said, "I can't imagine you not doing kung-fu. It is part of you."

She was right.

Ken-Gullette-Flying-Kick-2014-blogDespite the physical struggles of the past several years, I have persisted, and recently, for the first time in a few years, I've padded up and have begun working on fighting techniques with a harder edge, and sparring with my students. For several years, I was either in heart failure or I was coughing up blood, or in serious pulmonary distress. I'll never be what I was prior to 2009, but I can still learn, and I can still get better.

Besides, there are fighting techniques I simply need to work on. That's what fascinates me with these arts.

This past weekend, I attended a Guided Chaos workshop in Cincinnati. More about that tomorrow in another blog post. I was working with Joe, one of the talented, tough-as-nails teachers, and as he was working with me on a principle, at one point I said, "Yes, I see. I need to empty my cup and forget what I normally do."

He replied, "You have already emptied your cup, or you wouldn't be here."

And I think that is part of the key to the past 43 years of this love affair with martial arts. I realize as much today as I did on September 20, 1973 that I have so much to learn. The big difference is that now, I realize that I don't have enough time now to learn what I want to learn, or to become as good as I want to become.

But it's still a lot of fun trying.

I won't be here in another 43 years. I don't think. But then, in 2009, the odds were that I wouldn't be here now. So I'm not making any predictions. Now let's practice.


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New DVD Explores Fighting Applications of the Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form

Chen-Sword-Apps-DVD-250I have always believed if you are going to learn a martial arts weapons form, you should learn to fight with the weapon.

My newest DVD mines the gold inside the Chen Taiji Straight Sword form. I demonstrate 79 fighting applications, at least one realistic application for every one of the 49 movements in the form.

There is also a section that shows step-by-step how to go from form to fighting with a straight sword. How do you work with a partner to put the applications into practice? It is clearly demonstrated.

You will learn how the movements are used in parrying, deflecting, intercepting, adhering, controlling, and also how to counter with various cutting techniques. As usual, I teach with an emphasis on body mechanics.

This DVD is a follow-up to my Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form DVD, which provides instruction on the movements of the form. While it focuses on how to do the movements, this new DVD explores the fighting applications of the movements.

Running time is 1 hour 48 minutes. Check out the clip below for a sneak peak.

The Chen Straight Sword Fighting Applications DVD costs $19.99. There is Free Shipping worldwide, and a No Questions Iron-Clad Money-Back Guarantee -- if you aren't happy for any reason, just send the DVD back and you will get a prompt refund.

Click on this button for our secure order page and within a few days you will deepen your knowledge of the Chen family Straight Sword Form.

 

Buy Both DVDs and Save $10 --

The Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form DVD and the Chen Straight Sword Fighting Applications DVD -- Buy Both for only $29.99 with Free Shipping worldwide and a Money-Back Guarantee if you are not satisfied.

 

Here is a short clip from the Chen Straight Sword Fighting Applications DVD

  

 


Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and the Story of Students and Spaghetti

Chen Xiaowang 2At one of the workshops I attended with Chen Xiaowang, he told the story of a taiji instructor who invited his young, eager students to have dinner with him.

They all sat around the table as spaghetti with meatballs was served.

The master took his fork and tried to spear a juicy meatball that was on his plate. He missed.

The master kept trying to spear the meatball and it kept slipping away from the fork, so he chased it around the plate, stabbing and missing.

After a moment, he looked up at his young students seated around the table. Each student was chasing a meatball around the plate just like the master was doing.

That is how the master does it, so that is how it must be done. The master is showing us the way! 

I am paraphrasing this story. In Chen Xiaowang's version, the master may have been using chopsticks - it has been a while, but the gist of the story is the same, and he laughs when he tells it, but as you look around at the students who are listening, you see them smile and shake their heads because they see the truth in the story.

Yes, we are all guilty. We see a master do a movement one way and we think, "That is the way it is done. There is no variation!"

Later, we see the master doing a movement differently, and we wonder why he changed it. And if the master makes a mistake, students who follow blindly continue to make the mistake.

Then we get confused when we see a different master doing the same movement differently. But THAT is not the way it is done! Some masters of Xingyi don't bend, or "seat" the wrist when the lead hand is forward in San Ti. Some hold it another way. Some bagua masters used the ox tongue palm, others used the willow leaf. Once a master does it one way THAT IS THE WAY YOU MUST DO IT, or at least that is what students often think.

Some of my students will ask questions about small, subtle placements of hands, or one particular way of doing one tiny part of a movement. Sometimes, I tell them to follow the way that I learned it, but I sometimes tell them that it doesn't matter. You can do it this way, or you can do it that way. As long as you are maintaining the proper structure and mechanics, some of the little things don't matter. Also, as long as it still works in application, that is a good guide to follow.

Gongfu masters are human beings. Honor them, learn from them, get corrected by them, and follow them as well as you can. But don't check your brains at the door. Think, study, and apply your knowledge and carry the art forward. But don't be frozen in time like a snapshot just because "that's the way the master did it." And don't forget -- other masters might have a better way. Don't become too attached to one way of doing something.

Don't be a meatball.


Five Minutes of Zhan Zhuang in the Morning Produces Benefits All Day

Standing 2Do you make a habit of practicing Zhan Zhuang -- "Standing Stake?" It can change your life. 

This is my little Standing spot, in the corner of a 3-season porch, just a few feet from a tree in my backyard. This morning, light rain was hitting the roof, and I could hear birds and the little shrieks of squirrels as I relaxed, breathed, and felt my energy melt into the floor.

You don't have to believe in the scientific reality of chi to get a lot of benefits out of Zhan Zhuang. The benefits come from calming the mind, relaxing the body, focusing on your breathing, and holding the solid structure of Taiji. 

I recommend starting your day this way, even if you only have time for five minutes. Later, as you go through your day, your goal should be to recapture this calm, centered, relaxed feeling when you encounter a stressful moment, as we all do every day. Whether it is someone driving like a crazy person, or an inconsiderate boss or customer, or an angry spouse -- make it your goal to recapture the feeling of Standing instead of reacting with tension or anger.

You will notice a difference, and so will your body.


Xingyi and Bagua Instructor Robert Allen Pittman - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Pittman
Robert Allen Pittman

The new edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast features an interview with Robert Allen Pittman, a martial artist and author who teaches Xingyi and Bagua through his system that he calls Wisdom of the Body. He is the type of martial artist I love to talk with -- a man who has gone to extraordinary lengths to learn his arts, particularly Xingyi and Bagua.

Allen was a student of Robert W. Smith, a pioneer who wrote some of the first books about Chinese kung-fu for the Western audience. Allen also co-authored books with Robert W. Smith on Xingyi and Bagua

I was thumbing through my martial arts library a few weeks ago when I came across his book, "Walking the I Ching." I tracked him down on the Internet and we arranged an interview while he was visiting his mother in England. I have seen his name for a long time, because of his work with Robert W. Smith, but I had no idea that he had such a good story.

Download the file or listen online by following this link, or play here:

 

 

 

 


Xingyiquan from Form to Fighting - Pi Chuan Splitting Deflecting Block

When I teach the internal arts - Xingyiquan, Chen Taiji and Baguazhang - I teach fighting applications with the movements.

It is very important to learn how to move from form to self-defense. A positive learning environment helps, where your partner is trying to help you internalize the meaning and the application of the movement.

My website - www.internalfightingarts.com - has more than 750 video lessons and downloadable pdf documents.

This is a short clip from some of the videos we are currently shooting and putting on the site. It shows a Pi Chuan cutting block and deflects and redirects your partner's energy, setting you up for a counter.

If you enjoy this, visit the site and try two weeks free with absolutely no risk and no contracts.

 


Is Tai Chi a Healing Art? Interview with Author of Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi - Peter Wayne

HarvardTai Chi is a martial art. Every movement is a powerful fighting application for self-defense.

But is it also a healing art? Does it have benefits that are more powerful than normal exercise, and if it does, do those benefits come from the slow, controlled nature of Tai Chi and the mindful, meditative components and from the flow of chi?

I would guess that more people consider it to be a healing art than a martial art. But is it really? Or when it is done in slow motion, is it one of the most low-impact exercises that elderly people can do to get them moving and to get their minds off their problems?

Do we think of it as a healing art based on outdated stories and science that doesn't hold up?

And do clinical trials show benefits that can be attributed simply to exercise and calming meditation, or is it something more? Are the health benefits of Tai Chi anything special?

Almost a year ago, I bought the Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, by Peter Wayne, Ph.D. I began asking Peter to appear on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast last August. After the podcast last month with Dr. Harriet Hall, the "SkepDoc," and the heat I encountered from some in the Tai Chi community following that interview, I thought it was time to balance the scales and talk to someone who is obviously more inclined toward the "traditional" view of the art.

Last week, I was finally able to talk with Dr. Wayne for an hour. The result is this podcast, the 24th in the series.

Don't miss the final five minutes, as I clarify part of the interview and have some final thoughts that wrap up some of the issues raised in the past two podcasts.

Follow this link to listen online or download the mp3 file to your computer -- the Internal Fighting Arts podcast 24 - Peter Wayne.

 

 


Changing Yin to Yang -- Turning a Negative Life Situation into a Positive

Ken Defense 97
Oh, really, Life? You want a piece of this? 1997

What do you do when life gives you a roundhouse kick to the head? A punch to the groin? A heel kick to the solar plexus?

Nineteen years ago this morning, I walked into WHBF-TV, where I was news director, and management was waiting for me. I was pulled into a meeting where the GM and the Program Director told me they were letting me go. In the news business, it happens.

"Ken, we're parting company," the GM said.

"I have two words for you," I replied, and saw them brace as they sat across the table.

"Thank you," I said.

I left the station, and by the next day, realized that while I was looking for another job, I would train hard and finally test for my black sash in kung-fu.

I worked hard for a month, went to Omaha to test, and succeeded. I began teaching by October. By that time, I was working at Mike Bawden's ad agency in Davenport. From there, I went to ACT (the college test) as director of media relations.

Being fired from a job changed my life in a very positive way. Besides pushing me toward a new career in media relations, PR and communications, it helped me take steps that have resulted in a third career, teaching martial arts to people around the world through this blog, my DVDs and my membership website

After more than eight years at ACT, I decided to try something new, so I took a job as director of media relations at the University of South Florida. It was a great job, but I found myself being asked to hold news conferences and do media interviews on sensitive topics ranging from students arrested on terrorism charges to football players accused of cheating. It was more intensely political than I expected, and each time I did an interview on behalf of President Genshaft, I walked away with arrows in my back, often fired from within the University.

Within a year, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and a week later, I found myself without a job. My nephew, Brian Ragsdale called to talk, and he sparked the idea for my website, www.internalfightingarts.com. I would work for myself, putting all the instruction onto video lessons that I had been teaching my students for over a decade. I would offer it to people around the world who wanted to study but didn't have a teacher nearby. I began making DVDs more prolifically, and on July 4, 2008, the website was born and it is going stronger than ever eight years later.

None of it would have happened if management hadn't asked me, 19 years ago this morning, "Ken, you got a minute?"

Yes, I do. I "got" all the minutes you want. 

How can you turn a life-changing negative event into something positive? You can do it. I am living proof. But after all, one of the things our philosophy in kung-fu is supposed to do is help you ride the ups and downs of life, isn't it? Trust me, I've seen as many downs as anyone. If you hang in long enough and work at it, yin will always turn into yang again. The wheel turns.

Sometimes, an event that seems to be really bad at the moment can be just the push you need. The next step is yours.


Remaining Centered in the Heat of Battle and the Three Internal Harmonies

Tourney
My opponent in this match provided an example of NOT using the Three Internal Harmonies.

He was in his twenties -- young and cocky. I was in my late forties. I could tell by the way he carried himself and the way he looked at me that he thought it was going to be easy. He thought he was going to kick my butt.

It really made him mad a moment after the match started when I swept him to the ground. He hit the wooden gymnasium floor hard, and when he got back up, he was STEAMED

I always loved to spar in tournaments. It was great competition, and it refined some of the skills you need for self-defense on the street. Even in "no contact" tournaments, a lot of contact was made. Ribs were cracked, jaws were jacked, gashes were opened up sometimes. Damn, it was fun.

In a tournament match, I never lost my cool. If my opponent scored on me, I would congratulate him. 

"Good shot," I would say. The referees loved the sportsmanship. I never got angry. If my opponent was good enough to score a good shot on me, he deserved a pat on the back. And then a roundhouse kick to the head, heh heh.

This young karate guy I sparred in 2001 was one of those guys who proves the validity of the "Three Internal Harmonies" concept in the internal arts.

When you are successfully using the Three Internal Harmonies, your "heart" or "spirit" is in harmony with your "intent," or your logical mind.

If you are afraid or nervous, your spirit (Shen) is weak. If you are courageous and calm, your spirit is strong. You have the "fighting spirit."

When your logical mind (Yi) is strong, you clearly see your opponent's techniques, his strengths and weaknesses, and if your energy (Chi) is strong, you take advantage of them by applying strength (Li). In the internal arts, it is expressed this way: the Shen harmonizes with the Yi, the Yi harmonizes with the Chi, and the Chi harmonizes with the Li. 

When your "heart" and your "intent" is strong and in harmony and your "energy" is strong, you can then use your "strength" and skillfully defeat your opponent.

Ken-Eye-of-Tiger-1983
A Cincinnati tournament in 1983 - the Eye of the Tiger.

This is the best example of what the Three Internal Harmonies really means. There is nothing mystical about it.

At this tournament in 2001, this strong, cocky young man came at me hard. But when I swept him, he lost his cool. He became angry and his "intent," or logical mind became scattered with anger. His "heart," or emotional mind took over. He was no longer in harmony. He couldn't focus his strength or technique and became out of control.

I never could understand why guys would get angry in tournament matches. I met a lot of really great competitors with good attitudes, but I have to admit -- I enjoyed it when my opponents got angry. It was a good sign that I was going to win.

As the years passed, I grew to enjoy sparring so much, I stopped keeping score during the match. It didn't matter to me who won any particular point. The judges would stop us, they would rule on the point, then tell us to resume fighting.

I remained calm and centered, and took each point as it came. Sometimes, at the end of the match, I was surprised to find that I had won.

The lesson of the Three Internal Harmonies can be applied in self-defense, but also at work and even in your personal relationships. When faced with an impossible deadline at work, when faced with an angry spouse or child at home, simply understand that you have the ability and the skill to solve the problem, focus your calm attention on the problem at hand, and get to work.

The Three Internal Harmonies can really help you out when someone is trying to kick your butt. But this concept is intended to be used not just as a method of fighting, but also as a way of life.