Silk-Reeling Exercises - Fighting Applications of Chan Ssu Jin

I am finishing up production on a new DVD -- actually, a replacement of my original Silk-Reeling Energy DVD, a 2-disc set I did back in 2008.

The new revised version is all on one disc and it should be ready for market next week.

It includes in-depth instruction on 19 silk-reeling exercises that help you put the key body mechanics of the internal arts into action.

I'll announce next week when the DVD is available on my websites and on Amazon.

In the meantime, here is a quick highlight of some fighting applications for silk-reeling exercise number one. We shot applications for each of the SRE exercises for the website. Every movement in Tai Chi has a fighting application, even silk-reeling exercises, which are really just Tai Chi movements.


A Guided Chaos Workshop - Tai Chi Fighting Insights from the Outside

Guided Chaos Workshop Teachers 9-17-2016
Left to right: Kevin Harrell, Joe Martarano, Ken, and Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour.

Those of us who practice Tai Chi (Taiji) as a fighting art pursue concepts that represent a holy grail. They are written about in the classics, and spoken of in quotes by long-dead masters including Chen Wangting, who supposedly said:

"I know everyone, but no one knows me."

When I first became interested in the Kung Fu TV show back in the early Seventies, one of the interesting quotes from the show was:

"A Shaolin monk, when reached for, cannot be felt."

When I was 18 and watching that show, I thought that meant something mystical, as if a Shaolin monk vanished in front of you. But the quote resonated with me.

I have done push hands with some Chinese instructors, including Chen Bing and Chen Xiaoxing, who, when I pushed on them, they disappeared and very quickly I found myself off-balance (or on the floor). When I reached for them, they could not be felt.

In other words, I could not find their center, but they could find mine.

For a long time, I've been working to get better at maintaining my center while I control my opponent's center, setting him up for a counter. There are muscular ways of achieving this, and more subtle ways. And so, when my friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos, and its practice of "contact flow," I immediately saw the connection between this aspect of their art and the goal that eludes so many Tai Chi folks who end up using muscle to overpower their opponents, rather than relaxing, sensing, flowing, and controlling the opponent's center.

On September 17, 2016, I spent a day in Cincinnati working on contact flow with three talented Guided Chaos instructors: Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour, Kevin Harrell, and Joe Martarano. It was my second time working with Al and Kevin, and the first time I have met Joe. I hope it isn't the last. These guys are great martial artists.

Another important phrase that we often repeat in martial arts is from Bruce Lee, who borrowed from Taoist philosophy when he urged people to "be water." Pour it into a cup and it becomes the cup, Bruce said. Water can flow, and it can crash.

"Be water, my friend."

Contact flow, developed by the founder of Guided Chaos, John Perkins, teaches you to relax and flow around obstacles, redirecting incoming force, moving and maintaining your root, maintaining your center, and, as you flow and find your way, you knock the crap out of your opponent.

This is what Tai Chi is supposed to be. Tai Chi is about fighting, but it aims for more subtle principles and body mechanics than some arts do.

Chen Tai Chi push hands can be brutal. I know people who have gone to Chen Village and come back nursing broken bones. There are strikes, throws, joint locks and more. A good pluck can cause whiplash. If you aren't careful, or if you get a little aggressive, someone will need to heal up for a while. But in the beginning, you should develop sensitivity and be able to move from form to fighting. To do that well, you should develop subtle skills. At least that's what everyone talks about, but few seem to do it.

Practicing contact flow triggered insights and connected some of the dots of Tai Chi in an effective way. A year ago, after my first Guided Chaos workshop, it changed the way I thought about push hands, and this year, it has changed the way I practice push hands.

You should be able to learn some of these subtle skills, but it's not easy to find good push hands instructors, or experienced push hands partners. Another problem we face is that Americans simply do not grow up learning the concept of relaxing and flowing while maintaining the ground, peng, and using the spiraling movements of silk-reeling. Instead, we tense up and want to smash like the Hulk. It's funny to me now when I push hands with someone from outside the internal arts -- how tense they are. But that is how we all feel until we learn, and practice, practice, practice.

Guided Chaos - Ken - Evan
My friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos.

One time, around 1999, a Chinese gongfu "master" came to the Quad Cities to hold a workshop at my friend John Morrow's school. I attended, and at one point during the workshop, the interpreter walked over to me and said, "Master Wong says you have gongfu. He would like to visit your school and practice with you."

I was very flattered. When he visited my school a few days later, he had me put my hand on his chest, and he put his on mine. He wanted me to push him off-balance. That was the first time I ever pushed on someone whose center could not be found, and he wasn't nearly as skilled as the Chen family. It was eye-opening. But he had no idea how to explain it to me. So the concept remained like the Shaolin monk. I reached for it, but could not find it.

Guided Chaos has at least part of the answer, but as a combat art, it is about a lot more than contact flow. It is a no-nonsense fighting art and they will flat out kick your butt. I highly recommend any of their workshops.

I could only spend one day at this year's Cincinnati workshop because I had to return to teach my journalism class. Even one day was enough to inform me on some of the next steps in my own development. I am continuing to work on the relaxed strength, moving, centering, and spiraling that makes up good internal arts, but also allows you to flow like water, remain "out of reach" by your opponent, and then, as Bruce Lee also said, "I don't hit. IT hits by itself."

I can fight, but just fighting is no longer the goal for me, especially at my age. There is something else, skills that have been elusive.

I was working with Joe Martarano at one point during the workshop, and I realized that I was repeating some habits that have been part of my fighting but were not as efficient as I was trying to achieve.

"I need to empty my cup," I said, scolding myself. But Joe disagreed.

"Empty your cup?" he asked. "You already emptied your cup or you wouldn't be here today."

Good point. 

You never know when you will taste someone else's art and learn something that contributes to your own art.


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

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

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 - - 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.