10 Quick Ways to Break or Lock an Elbow with Chin-Na Joint Locks

Elbow Hyperextention
Ken Gullette (with Colin Frye) demonstrates an elbow lock commonly found in movements such as "Single Whip."

Most traditional martial arts styles give names or numbers to joint-locking techniques. In Chinese chin-na (also spelled qinna), we have names such as "Half Moon," or "Push the Boat Down the Stream." I have always loved these descriptive, poetic names, but sometimes they get in the way.

The best way to learn chin-na is not to memorize names and techniques. The best way is to look at principles -- look at the way joints move -- and then do free-flowing sparring exercises and push hands to practice recognizing opportunities for joint locks when they arise in a fight.

IMPORTANT RULE FOR CHIN-NA:

When someone attacks you, you will NEVER be able to say, "I'm going to get that guy in an Outside Wrist Twist." If that is what you are planning, he will probably knock you out while you are looking for your opportunity.

The best plan is no plan. And that is what practice is for.

You practice with this goal in mind: you want to be able to recognize opportunities for joint locks that arise during close contact with a partner. In that way, you learn to flow with what is happening.

There is no plan for any particular joint lock, but when the opportunity appears -- there it is! 

Study this video, practice the techniques carefully with a partner. The next step is then to practice push hands or getting into a clinch with a partner and looking at how you can recognize opportunities that arise on their own during the give-and-take of a push hands or grappling session.

And as always, use caution and be gentle when practicing joint locks with your partners. And for those who are not on the website, the next video shows how to incorporate this into push hands. For more than 800 video lessons in the internal arts, plus downloadable pdf documents, try two weeks free at www.internalfightingarts.com. 


Think Before You Strike -- the Legal Side of Self-Defense

Pi Chuan Cutting 1Oh, sure, you talk big. If someone threatens you or comes at you, he will get his butt kicked, right? You'll kick it for him, won't you?

We all have an image in our minds of the guy who gets attacked and we take out the attacker with a few cool techniques.

It is more likely that you will be in a bar where someone gives you some crap, you'll both do the Monkey Dance, and he will tell you he's going to kick your butt. You punch him out and he crumples like an empty suit.

In reality, that could land you in jail.

Here are some guidelines that can help you decide if the law is on your side in a case of self-defense.

Is there an imminent threat of violence?

Do you fear for your physical safety?

If someone shouts at you from across the room that they are going to beat you up, that is not justification for you to strike. If someone insults you or calls you or your girlfriend rude names, that is not justification to hit them. You can go to jail if you strike when you are not in imminent danger of physical harm.

If someone is throwing a punch, there is no longer a question of whether you are in danger.

Is the threat of physical harm over?

Someone hits you and hurts their hand. He doubles up in pain and staggers away, clutching his hand. You walk over, punch him in the face, and he falls and strikes his head on the floor, causing serious head trauma.

Be ready to go to prison for a while. The threat of physical danger was over and you took a violent action that injured someone.

A bully pushes you and swings at you. In self-defense, you punch him in the solar plexus and he falls to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. At this point, he is no longer a threat to you. Any further action you take can land you in trouble.

Is your response proportional?

A tough guy in a bar picks up a pool stick and takes a swing at you. Reaching into your pocket, you pull out a knife and stab him.

You could be going away for a while, because it could be successfully argued that your response was deadly force, when you were not on the receiving end of deadly force.

There are a lot of scenarios that you can imagine if you are one of the people who takes advantage of concealed carry laws.

Would a reasonable person be afraid for their safety?

This is a question often asked in a court case. If a "reasonable person" were in your place, would that person have been afraid to the point of violence?

If you weigh a muscular 250 pounds, and a person weighing 140 pounds is threatening you, a jury could consider how serious a threat the smaller person presented to you in reality.

An insult or a challenge would not necessarily cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety. 

Do you have the opportunity to retreat instead of using deadly force?

In many states, you have a "duty to retreat" if you can leave without harm and without using deadly force.

Self-defense laws can change from one state to another, so it is a good idea to do a little research for the state where you live or the states you visit.

Another Important Point

Okay, perhaps you hurt somebody badly in a self-defense situation, you are charged with a crime but you are found not guilty. 

That is not the end of your troubles. A civil lawsuit is always possible by the person you hurt or their family.

This is yet another reason to think very carefully before rushing into violence.

Remaining Centered Is Great Self-Defense

I was at a James Taylor concert around 1999 or 2000, with great second row tickets. Three guys were behind me, and one of them was drunk and singing off-key at the top of his lungs, drowning out James Taylor. People around us were seething with frustration, but everyone was afraid to speak up, except me.

JT
I like James Taylor, but maybe not enough to lose a job over.

I finally turned to the guys, who appeared to be around 30 years old, and I said, "Hey guys, I paid good money for these tickets and I would really like to hear James Taylor sing instead of you." 

One of the sober ones, a mean-looking guy, gave me the Evil Eye and said, "The three of us can take you on."

I turned to my wife and we both laughed. Actually, they probably couldn't have taken me on. But as I sat there with others in the area thanking me for speaking up, and the three guys making occasional taunts at me, I realized that the situation could potentially escalate to violence.

At that point, I realized that there was no good outcome. I could get my butt kicked by three guys, or I could hurt one or two or all of them, or we could all be arrested in mid-fight by security.

I had a vision of spending the night in jail, of a story landing in the newspaper, of losing my job and possibly being sued if I injured one of the idiots who were sitting behind me.

I decided to center myself and not react to their taunts. They stopped singing loudly and we enjoyed the concert, despite the layer of tension that existed because I didn't know what would happen when it was over. But when the concert ended, they went in one direction and my wife and I went in the other direction.

No one was injured and nobody lost their jobs.

A friend of mine was in a bar one night and a guy came charging at him. My friend punched him in the face -- hard -- and his attacker hit the floor, out like a light. 

Stories like that scare me. Punching an adult in the face is serious business. Breaking their limbs is a serious act of violence. The most serious injuries don't happen when the punch is thrown -- it happens when the person falls and hits their head. What began as a simple bar fight could now be manslaughter....or worse. You could become a felon in about five seconds.

If you are seriously in danger of harm, or you see another person who is in danger of harm, self-defense is the reasonable thing to do. But it is a wise person who studies the law and understands when self-defense is justified or when it could turn your life into a living hell.

I encourage you to find your state's laws on self-defense and learn them. If you are a martial arts teacher, your students should know the law, too.

And remember, no one is ever hurt when at least one of the parties keeps his cool and defuses the situation instead of escalating it. That could be the best self-defense advice of all, and the best lesson you can teach your students.

 


Do Martial Arts Prepare Students for Real-World Violence? The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Rory Miller

Rory Miller 2Rory Miller's book, "Meditations on Violence," slapped a lot of martial artists across the face with the cold hand of reality.

Miller is a former corrections officer who worked in "booking," where criminals are brought to be checked into the jail or prison when they are angry, still on drugs, and not always searched as well as the booking officer would want. Officers who work in booking are unarmed, and if they work at a county jail, for example, they end up getting in more fights than the entire police force combined.

As a martial artist, Miller soon realized that there is a big difference between real-world violence and what is taught as self-defense in traditional martial arts classes. 

Internal Fighting Arts Logo 250I have wanted to interview Rory Miller since I began my Internal Fighting Arts podcast. He is the guest in the latest episode.

He talks about the difference between "social" violence and predatory violence, and how you can prepare yourself for both.

Listen online or download the file by clicking this link to Audello. The podcast is also available on iTunes.

 

 


43 Years of Flying Sidekicks

I celebrated my 64th birthday two weeks ago by attempting a 6-foot-high flying sidekick.

It was my first attempt at a flying sidekick in three years.

My first attempt ended with me on my butt, and I was so tickled that I cut this short video including some outtakes, along with photos of different attempts beginning in 1974, when I was 21 years old.

This crap doesn't get any easier as you get older, lose a lung, lose muscle mass, and go through heart failure. But one of the reasons I got into martial arts was to have fun.

Take a look and celebrate with me. Hooray for getting old!!!

 

 


Jeet Kune Do Instructor Tim Tackett -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Tim TackettLast summer, I was looking through my martial arts library and I ran across a couple of old Hsing-I books written by Tim Tackett in the '70s and '80s.

I thought, I wonder if he is still alive. In all these decades, I never made the connection between this Tim Tackett and the one who co-authored a couple of great books on Jeet Kune Do.

So I did some Google research and realized it was the same guy as the Jeet Kune Do instructor. I sent him an email and he agreed to an interview for the Internal Fighting Arts podcast.

I've always had a lot of respect for JKD. I studied "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" cover-to-cover back when it first came out in the original hardbound version in 1975 and tried to adapt some of the techniques and philosophies. 

As I got older, attacking on recovery and between my opponent's punches (I believe in JKD that is on the "half beat") became essential to winning tournament sparring matches.

Tim Tackett began studying kung-fu while living in Taiwan in the early '60s. He was an early pioneer when most Americans Tim Tackett 4had no clue what kung-fu was about. He received his senior instructor certification from Dan Inosanto in 1973.

He co-authored a couple of great JKD books and he has written a couple on his own. At age 75, he still teaches a Wednesday night class in his garage in Redlands, California.

It is my honor to present this edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast, featuring an interview with Tim. Follow this link to listen online or download the file -- Tim Tackett interview on Audello.

Use this link for the Tim Tackett interview on iTunes.


Newly Revised Chen 19 Form DVD - In-Depth Instruction on the Short Chen Taiji Form

Chen-19-2017-250My newly revised and expanded Chen 19 DVD is available starting today. It replaces the original, which was produced in 2008 in the older 4:3 TV screen format. The new DVD is longer, at 2 1/2 hours, with much more detail on each movement, and in widescreen format with better camera angles and overall better production.

The Chen 19 was the first Chen Taiji form I learned in 1998 from Jim and Angela Criscimagna. Through them, I also met Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and studied the form with him. He designed the form in the mid-90s in response to popular demand for a shorter Chen style form that would fit into busy modern Western lives. I suspect it was also the Chen family's answer to the Yang 24, which is probably the most popular form in the world.

The new DVD includes:

** A complete demonstration of the form from front and rear views.

** Detailed instruction on each movement with an emphasis on internal body mechanics.

** You'll also see a student being coached through the movements, so you can learn to avoid beginner mistakes.

There are a few self-defense applications sprinkled throughout, but I decided to focus this DVD on the form. If you are interested in the fighting applications, I would recommend the DVD set on Laojia Yilu Fighting Applications, which explores over 400 applications from the longer form.

Here is a short clip from the DVD, part of the instruction on movement #3, "Lazy About Tying the Coat." The DVD costs only $19.99 and there is free shipping worldwide (International orders are shipped without the plastic cases). As usual, there is a no-hassle, iron-clad money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied for any reason. Follow this link to order the Chen 19 DVD. All of the video is also available for streaming for members of my website - www.internalfightingarts.com

 Sample Clip from Chen 19 DVD

Follow this link for more information and to order.


A Bully is Dead and I Am Not Happy About It

Kenny-Gullette-1966061
In 1965, bullies would see this face and want to punch it. I was constantly defending myself.

The first violent encounter I had in middle school was with a big bully named Tommy.

It was the fall of 1965, at the start of seventh grade at Beaumont Jr. High in Lexington, Kentucky, my hometown. I was standing in line outside the cafeteria at lunchtime, when a big kid in front of me dropped a quarter on the floor.

I have never met a stranger. I will joke and talk with anyone I meet, and I was the same way when I was a kid. So when I saw the quarter drop, I did what a lot of kids did back then when their friends dropped money. I put my foot on the quarter and yelled, "Grimes!" That meant the quarter was mine. Everyone knew it was a joke except Tommy.

He exploded with rage and shoved me into the wall. Tommy was a lot bigger than I was. He had been held back in junior high, so physically, he was far ahead of me. It was no contest.

"If you ever do that to me again I will beat you to death!" he screamed into my face, holding me against the wall. I believe he slapped and punched me a couple of times.

I was so shocked at the sudden fury that I didn't even feel the punches. I was stunned. Then it was over, and we went on through the lunch line, with Tommy looking back and making threats.

A Cycle of Bullying

And that set up a cycle of bullying for the next two years, when I would see Tommy and hear his threats, taunts, and see the sneer on his face. It seemed as if his greatest desire was to beat me to a pulp. I found ways of avoiding him.

That continued until one day, a couple of years later in 9th grade, Tommy was taking on all contenders in an arm-wrestling contest on the playground. I had begun to add on a little weight and muscle by this point. 

"Come here, Four Eyes," he sneered.

I thought, "What the hell," and went over to take him on, knowing that I did not have a chance. A crowd of guys surrounded us, cheering and shouting and laughing.

I beat him. When it was over, something changed in his face. He never bothered me again.

Being a scrawny, friendly kid who wore glasses, I was on the receiving end of bullying all the time. One particular bully, Rob Brewster, would sneak up behind me and hit me in the hallway. For years, I looked over my shoulder for Rob and his friends, Dan Cotter and a big, dumb kid named Prentice. They were mean boys. Dan grew up to be a doctor on the East Coast. I'll bet he is still mean.

Bullies Pick On People Who Won't Fight Back

Then one day in 1971, I ran into Rob at a pickup softball game. His bully pals were not with him, so I walked up, reminded him of when he used to punch and spit on me, and I punched him in the nose. He backed away, his eyes watering. I punched him again. He ran and hid in his car.

This is what bullies understand. Later, a friend who witnessed this incident saw Tommy and told him that I had beaten up a guy who bullied me. Tommy reportedly looked worried and said, "Tell Kenny I always liked him."

I guess he thought I was coming for him next.

I didn't see Tommy until my 20th high school reunion. He was talking and laughing with some old friends when I walked up to him and shook his hand.

"You were a real prick at Beaumont," I told him, "but you seem to be a pretty good guy now."

He looked down as if he knew he had been a prick. We talked for a minute about what we were doing, then went on to mingle with other people. That was the last time I saw him.

A decade or so later, I heard from another friend that Tommy had a reputation as a bully in the workplace, too, as an adult.

All of these memories flashed through my mind last night when I received a text telling me that Tommy died. He reportedly killed himself in his home after suffering a painful degenerative illness.

My first reaction was sadness, and it surprised me.

Bullies Driven to Bury Their Internal Pain

I don't necessarily believe bullies are born that way. I believe some of them are made. Something puts rage inside of them, or insecurity that makes them need to lash out. It could be that they were abused, or constantly humiliated as children. I guess it is possible that they could simply have mental issues that make them sociopaths, able to hurt others without feeling pain.

Bullies often feel shame and humiliation, so they try to bury those feelings by making others feel shame and humiliation. Check out the psychology of a bully.

I never felt shame or humiliation when I was bullied. I felt anger, and if a bully actually wanted to fight, he found someone who would fight back, and the bully lost every time. I whipped several of them and the script always played out the same way: the bully taunted and threatened; I would try to avoid the fight; the bully would back me into a corner or begin hitting; I hit back and the bully would give up.

I will never understand what made Tommy a bully, but I was not his only target. I was not the only one who encountered his violent temper.

One day around 1966, Tommy and another big guy got into a slugfest in the hallway at Beaumont. By the time a teacher broke it up and dragged them to the principal's office, they both had huge red circles on their faces from the force of the punches, like red crop circles left by angry aliens. I remember thinking that I did not want to mess with either of them.

Still, to think that someone like him might have carried that anger with him, and then reached a point in his own life when he would decide to end it all, is a realization that can only bring sympathy and compassion.

A bully is dead. I am not happy about it. I would have been much happier if he had never felt the need to intimidate, humiliate or attack anyone.

I wish he had lived long beyond his early 60s, dying peacefully in his bed as an old man, leaving behind a legacy of happiness and laughter, instead of memories by people who knew him and who are sharing the news about his passing, always with one word that keeps coming up over and over; the word "bully."

What a shame. 


The "Glimpse" That Keeps Us Coming Back to Tai Chi, Qigong, Bagua and Xingyi

Ravine 2
The "Ravine" at Eastern KY University in Richmond, my alma mater.

A Taiji instructor and a former guest on the Internal Fighting Arts podcast, Kimberly Ivy of Seattle, wrote a post on Facebook a few days ago that brought back some vivid memories for me, and reminded me of one reason I have kept coming back to these arts decade after decade, putting myself through the hard work and practice to get better at these skills.

She wrote that some of her long-time students, some of them off-and-on students, told her that it was the occasional "glimpse" they received when practicing that kept them coming back.

Ahh, yes. The "Glimpse."

I first experienced the "Glimpse" around 1980. I had been involved in martial arts for seven years at that point, and I had been studying Zen Buddhism and Taoist philosophy. One of my favorite books was "Zen Buddhism," by Christmas Humphreys. I loved reading the koans -- little anecdotes or riddles that are supposed to make you realize the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to trigger enlightenment: the "Glimpse."

Here is a koan:

A monk asked Kegon, “How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?”
Kegon replied, “A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never go back to the old branches.”

Here is another good one:

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”
Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”

Most people are familiar with the famous koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is usually said as a joke in the United States. No one actually reflects on the meaning behind the riddle.

So I was sitting one day around 1980 in the Ravine at my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University. I spent a lot of time there when I was a student (graduated in 1975 with a double major in journalism and broadcasting). It was a terraced field, leading down to an ampitheater, nestled almost in the center of campus.

1980 was a rough year. I was working in TV news but earning so little money, my wife and I were teetering on bankruptcy. My wife was pregnant and having serious mental health issues related to the pregnancy. The baby, a little girl named Shara, would die at six weeks of age from crib death later in the year.

RavineI was visiting EKU and decided to sit in the Ravine and meditate, touching the ground like Antaeus, who maintained his strength as long as he was in contact the ground. Perhaps it would renew my strength for the daily battle.

It was a sunny day. I sat on one of the terraced steps of grass and tried to calm my mind and body, detaching and letting all thoughts and concerns go.

A few moments later, just as I reached my calmest moment, a robin landed in front of me in the grass, just a few feet away. It turned and looked at me. Our eyes met.

For a few short seconds, I felt my connection to the bird and to all things in the universe. A sense of calm, order and acceptance washed through me. It was the most complete feeling of peace I had ever experienced.

Then, just as quickly, the moment I thought, "This is satori," it was gone. Vanished. And I was back in my own head.

When you reach for it, you cannot grasp it. Once you get back into your own head, it is gone.

This moment, this "Glimpse" stayed with me. It consumed my mind all the way back to Lexington that day. And I immediately tried to look for it again. But it does not come very easily when you are caught up in daily activities and concerns.

Satori is when you suddenly are aware of your connection to all things; your place in the universe; your "One True Nature." Sometimes, we simply refer to it as a "connection." 

Some people attempt to achieve this through religion, but too often in our society, that means a benevolent (or malevolent) dictator above you, ready to reward or punish your every thought. It too often involves judging others and meddling in their lives, particularly on "social issues." 

The "Glimpse" I'm talking about does not depend on invisible beings or gods. In my opinion, having experienced both worlds, I eventually rejected the religious view for a different path. If you are reading this and think, "Oh, I get the same feeling from (Insert Name of Deity Here)," then I would simply note that you probably have not traveled this path.

In 1987, I began studying the internal arts and qigong. Since then, I have had several moments of the "Glimpse." It can happen in the middle of a form, when I feel my body flowing through the movement. It can happen when doing Standing Stake or another qigong exercise. It can happen when I am sitting on the couch with Nancy.

The "Glimpse" keeps me coming back. 

On the day that I took my black sash test in the style of kung-fu I was studying in 1997, part of the test involved sparring another black sash with a wooden broadsword. We got into our fighting stances and prepared for the start of the match. I tried to center myself and connect. A calmness came over me, and I felt as if I was part of my opponent.

Mr. Garrett moved to thrust his broadsword and before he could move more than a couple of inches, my broadsword was at his chest.

Ahh, the "Glimpse." Just at the time you need it the most.

Do you ever get the "Glimpse?" It comes when you are in the moment, your ego is gone, your awareness broadens and your mind opens to your One True Nature as it relates to all things, without judging, without liking or disliking.

The journey to achieve this takes you to a place where you react differently to relationships, to aggression, to tragedy, and even to tough deadlines at work. You can take the first step with qigong exercises, Standing Stake and internal art forms. And a great book to read is "Zen Buddhism" by Christmas Humphreys.

It is a journey worth taking.  

Here is a website with some great koans to stimulate your mind. And there is a second type of "Glimpse" you get when practicing the internal arts. That will be the topic of my next blog post.


Newly Revised Silk-Reeling DVD Offers Detailed Instruction for 19 Chan Ssu Jin Exercises and Tai Chi Pole-Shaking

SRE-Workshop-2015
Portions of the new Silk-Reeling DVD were shot at a workshop Ken did in 2015.

My first DVD on Silk-Reeling Energy was shot in 2008 in the old 4:3 TV format. I was never really satisfied that it was spread over two DVDs, forcing me to charge a bit more for it ($24.99). But it has been very popular over the years with internal artists worldwide.

Now, I have completely redone it in widescreen format and I have managed to put more than 2 1/2 hours of instruction onto one DVD at a lower price ($19.99). The camera angles are better, too.

Silk-Reeling "Energy" has been misinterpreted by many literal-minded people. When you talk about internal "energies," you are not talking about an actual "energy" coursing through your body like the concept many use for "chi." What energy means is "method." What are the methods of moving in the internal arts that helps give you relaxed power, without the muscular tension that some martial arts use?

Silk-Reeling, or Chan Ssu Jin (Chan Ssu Chin) is part of that method. It involves spiraling movement through the body, which is combined with the ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, Dan T'ien rotation and proper use of the kua. Now, I always get flamed when I say that SRE is not mystical, especially by people who are into the woo woo, but it's true. The spiraling movement of Chan Ssu Jin is a physical skill, like all skills in the internal arts. You can still believe in the woo woo if you want, but the exercises still work.

SRE-1-CoachingThe Silk-Reeling exercises on this video teach you how to take the six key body mechanics that form the basis of internal movement and put them together into exercises that will help make your internal movement better.

There are many "energies" involved when you practice self-defense with Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua, but there are also basic body mechanics that you need; without them, your movement is empty.

I first learned these exercises and concepts from Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and their students and disciples.

One thing I love about these exercises is the fact that you can do most of them even if you don't have a lot of room. Most of them can be done in a cubicle, or in a small office, anywhere you find yourself without room to do a form.

When you do a Silk-Reeling exercise, you are doing Tai Chi. 

They can be done as qigong, too. Sometimes, if I'm watching TV at night at the end of the day, I'll get up and do these exercises rather than sit on the couch. They build leg strength and, if you practice as intended, they will improve your internal movement.

The DVD also contains a section on pole-shaking, which is one of the ways to begin putting all the body mechanics to work for fajin (issuing energy).

Here is a short clip from the Silk-Reeling Energy DVD. If you are interested, you can click here for more information and to order it. There is free shipping worldwide and an iron-clad, no hassle, money back guarantee. If you're not happy with it, just return it for a fast refund. I have never had anyone return this DVD after selling more than 1,000 of them since 2008. All the video from the DVD is also on my website at www.internalfightingarts.com. 

 


Iron Wrapped in Cotton - How Tai Chi, Internal Arts and Qigong Help Develop Your Internal Strength

Ken-ClevelandClinic-2-webSeven years ago today, I had just commemorated Halloween in a drug-induced stupor, in the ICU at Cleveland Clinic, with a breathing tube down my throat and another tube coming out of a hole in my chest. I had to take strong sedatives, because of my gag reflex. I choked and gagged on the breathing tube, so the only way I could handle it was to be doped up. 

My condition made the horror movies showing at Halloween on the Chiller network even more bizarre. There was one movie, playing once a day, that I have not been able to find in the years since this happened in 2009. Nancy says I was hallucinating, but it's remarkable how much I remember of this terrible time, despite the sedation I was under.

I went into the hospital on Oct. 22 for what I thought was a one-hour procedure to try to find out why I had been coughing up blood for about 8 months. But when doctors discovered my left pulmonary veins had closed up, causing my terrible breathing difficulties that year, they tried to stent one of the closed veins, tore it, and pierced my heart with the wire.

The cardiologist came out to see Nancy in the waiting room and said, "There is nothing more I can do for your husband."

That isn't the way it was supposed to go. Cleveland Clinic sent a team of doctors into the operating room and they worked to save my life.

Remaining Centered in the Midst of Crisis

So, as I was drowning in blood that kept building in my lungs for the next several days, Nancy and my daughters, and some friends and sisters, were distraught, thinking that I was about to die. They maintained a cheerful attitude around me, but they would go out into the hallway as I was coughing up jet streams of blood, and they would break down in tears.

Meanwhile, I was in bed trying to wrap my mind around it all, remaining determined to push through it, and keeping my mind on my goal of competing in a martial arts tournament that was coming up in five or six months.

I also put part of my mind on my Dan T'ien and continued to center myself through the procedures, the uncertainty over whether I would live or not, whether I would see my grandchildren grow up, see my daughters develop in their lives and careers, continue to laugh and love with Nancy, and whether I would ever practice kung-fu again.

I did not worry about any of that. I used my internal arts and qigong training and I calmed myself. I needed to be ready for that tournament in late March.

"It is what it is," I reminded myself. Just relax, don't fight it, and heal. If I died, I would be the last to know, so it was not something I worried about. And I never once, not for a moment, considered changing my religious views (I am not a believer in invisible beings and was very comfortable with that, thank you very much).

Misguided Ideas about Chi

When I first got sick earlier in the year, the side effect of a medical procedure, I weighed 206 pounds. When I finally hobbled out of Cleveland Clinic late in the first week of Nov. 2009, I weighed 156 pounds and could hardly walk, I had lost so much muscle and so much strength.

Occasionally, I will get an email from someone who tells me that obviously, I was doing Xingyi or Taiji wrong, or I wouldn't have been sick. Obviously, they say, I didn't cultivate enough chi.

I try not to insult their intelligence, although they deserve it, and remind them that perhaps I am alive because I had cultivated strong chi.

That thought usually doesn't occur to them. I wonder what they will think when they grow older and come down with a serious condition or illness. Will they blame a lack of chi cultivation? I don't think so.

As October turned to November in 2009, one doctor after another would come into my room and tell me that I would not be alive if I had not been in the excellent physical shape I was in when I arrived.

By the time I left to make the long drive back to the Quad Cities (against doctor's advice but I wanted to go home), when I arrived home my ankles were swollen. I could hardly walk to the bathroom. I could not walk down to my basement office to work on my website. It was a very long recovery. 

Bad News on the Road to Recovery

In the years since, as I have struggled through a loss of muscular strength and a serious diminishing of my breathing capacity, I still have to remain centered and work hard to wrap my head around the fact that I am not as young and strong as I used to be. As a teacher, I can still try to improve, but I can't go toe-to-toe with younger, heavier students and spar or get thrown like I used to. It is occasionally frustrating. I am wrapping my head around the concept of being more of a coach than a fighter.

For a couple of years, the impact of all this left me in heart failure, with a weakening heart that was at 25% of pumping capacity. My cardiologist told me that I could "drop dead at any moment with no warning."

That sort of news will play with your head, no matter how centered you are.

I went to the Mayo Clinic in 2010 for a second opinion. Two doctors told me that my heart would fail within three to five years. 

SRE-1-Coaching
Still teaching and practicing seven years later.

It is now six years later, and thanks to various factors, including medication, my heart is beating normally most of the time, and my EKGs always look normal. I continue to practice, train with my students, and try to improve my internal arts skills.

Iron Wrapped in Cotton

One of my Facebook friends said I should write about how the internal arts and qigong helped me get through all this.

I think the greatest benefit I have obtained from my practice is better physical conditioning and an ability to ride the ups and downs of life. The mental workout you get from doing these arts and from practicing qigong can help you to remain calm in a crisis. Physically, I believe in cross-training, both cardio and weight-training.

The "internal strength" that I teach includes body mechanics that make your internal arts stronger, giving you the "iron wrapped in cotton" that good internal movement is known to possess. You appear relaxed and smooth, but underneath, there is a powerful martial art that can break an opponent.

But those are the physical benefits. There are mental benefits as well.

You cultivate self-discipline when you work to improve at an art over decades, setting small goals and achieving them one by one.

You cultivate an innate calmness when a crisis happens -- the ability to center yourself and remain focused on the problem at hand. You cultivate an ability to ride the crests and troughs of life without being capsized. This happens when qigong becomes more than just exercises you do. It happens when qigong becomes a way of life.

This is the type of internal strength that is even more valuable than the physical strength that comes from good body mechanics. Your mind, your attitude, your ability to maintain humor during the occasional loss or tragedy -- this is the "iron wrapped in cotton" that I have found to be the greatest benefit after 43 years of martial arts practice.

I have not needed to use my self-defense skills since I began studying martial arts, and I may never need to use them, but every day, every single day, I use the internal strength skills that I have gained from my training.