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November 2007
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January 2008

Clip from Internal Strength DVD

Wow, I never expected a DVD to be greeted so enthusiastically. The Internal Strength DVD is doing very well, and it's getting some good reviews from martial artists who have purchased it during the first two weeks it's been available. I put a clip on YouTube that basically shows the first 6 minutes of the DVD. The entire DVD is 102 minutes and there's a wealth of information for anyone who does Hsing-I, Tai Chi or Bagua.

I'm working on an e-book that I'll send to everyone who has purchased the DVD, and it will be included free in the future--it should be ready in about a week. And I'm editing the next DVD now--it's detailed instruction on the five fist postures linking form, Lien Huan Wu Hsing, a great form for learning the fist postures and it does very well in tournaments, too. My students and I have won many first place trophies with this form. The DVD will also include the fighting applications for each movement in the form.

No Sweating in Tai Chi?

I was on the patio this morning and practiced the following forms:

  • Chen 19
  • Chen 38
  • Laojia Yilu
  • Laojia Erlu
  • Xinjia Yilu
  • Chen Straight Sword
  • Chen Broadsword

By the end of Xinjia Yilu, I was sweating like a pig (it's going to be in the low 80's today in beautiful Tampa and I'll sweat at the drop of a hat) and I was reminded of a tournament I attended a few years ago when I decided not to seek a trophy but to showcase Chen Tai Chi for the local crowd. I have a lot of trophies, so in recent years I've tried to perform Chen Tai Chi and Bagua just to publicize the arts before large crowds who don't realize the internal arts are, in fact, martial arts.

I warmed up in the already warm room, and did the Chen 38 for the judges and the audience, with a little extra fajing. This was a few years ago, before any of them had seen any Tai Chi performed at all in mixed martial arts tournaments, so as I expected, I didn't win a trophy. But I noticed one karate guy (who was usually quite full of himself) scored me very low. Afterwards, he came up to me and said, "I would have scored you higher but you were sweating. There's no sweating in Tai Chi."

Oh, really?

Obviously, he's never been in a Chen class when you hold stances until you collapse. But that's the sort of thing you run into when you introduce this art in an external tournament scene.

It's worth it to go through that kind of thing. I began doing more Chen in the empty hand forms divisions, going up against karate, TKD and external kung fu competitors. Each year, judges began appreciating it more as a martial art, and each year I began placing higher in the judging.

I do Hsing-I when I'm after first place. :)

So I was chuckling a little to myself this morning while practicing, feeling the sweat drip down my chest. If you don't sweat when practicing Tai Chi, you're not working hard enough.

Finding the Heart of a Form

     TrophiesMany years ago, I received some excellent advice from a female karate black belt judge who consistently scored me very low in tournament competition, even when other judges scored me high. I usually performed Hsing-I forms in tournaments back then.
     This went on for a couple of years. Then at one competition she scored me a full point below John Morrow. Now, as you can imagine, that was just outrageous. :))
     So I approached her after the competition and said, "Critique my form."
     She told me that I blew through it like a house on fire. There was no pacing, she said. I thanked her for the advice.
     Naturally, at first I thought, "Oh, what does she know," and then as I thought about it for the next few minutes, I realized she was right on the money. When I watched the video of the performance, I knew exactly what she was saying.
     I was performing the movements and trying to get through the form without giving the movements the full life that they deserved. I compared it to the advice I used to give young TV news anchors that I hired, when they read each story, whether it was a murder or a story about a squirrel on waterskis, all in the same tone of voice. I reminded them that they were communicators, and each story contained its own emotional tone. When they found that emotion and communicated it with their voice, they would be great news anchors.
     The same is true with a form. I began studying each movement, looking for the internal power, the pauses, the subtle places where the pause would then turn into fa-jing. The movements became smoother, I was able to distinguish more easily between the soft and the hard, and the fa-jing became more noticeable. I began getting a lot more compliments from other black belts who watched from the sidelines.
     My first place finishes increased dramatically.
     My entire approach to Hsing-I changed with that advice. Many of us who find the internal arts after studying other arts bring a lot of baggage with us. We use too much muscle, too much tension, and too much speed at the wrong times. It took an observation from a karate black belt to make me realize this.
     A form is a lot like a play -- an imaginary fight -- a demonstration of fighting techniques. You're the actor, and if you're playing the form with only one tone, you just aren't getting at the heart of it.

Cultivating Chi - What Does It Mean?

I get emails from people -- some of them starting out in the internal arts -- and they've been told that they do certain exercises such as standing or chi kung to "cultivate chi."  More than once, people have told me that when they do tai chi they don't "feel the chi," and they ask me what they're doing wrong.

My opinions on these matters tend to differ from the standard schpiel that you get in internal arts classes.

I tell them to stop worrying about feeling chi and worry about strengthening the legs, developing peng and silk-reeling and whole-body movement and the skills that will make their internal arts high quality.

Cultivating chi is a very interesting concept. In my opinion, cultivating chi means that you are growing stronger and more healthy, and learning to develop the body mechanics for good internal arts.

From a movement perspective, cultivating chi might mean practicing a tai chi form until you understand and can execute the movements with the relaxed strength that correct body mechanics give you. If your "chi is flowing" it means that your alignment and structure are sound, and you are exhibiting the "iron wrapped in cotton" that tai chi, for example, is known for.

Does that mean you have to do chi kung or internal arts to cultivate chi? Of course not. You can grow stronger and healthier by weight training, cardio training, healthy eating, getting a good night's sleep, maintaining a positive attitude.

The internal arts don't have magical abilities that other exercise programs or martial arts don't have. The standing stake posture, for example, can "cultivate your chi" by strengthening your legs (you will be extremely well rooted if your legs are strong), by helping you to develop a sense of peng, by giving you a vehicle to calm the mind and body, and the resulting stress relief will improve your health, boost your immune system, and--in short--"cultivate your chi" if that's the way you want to describe it.

Frankly, I most often describe cultivating chi as getting stronger and healthier, but what the hey -- to each his own.

I also cultivate my own chi through very hard sessions with my personal trainer. I've never felt more in shape than I am right now. I feel strong, light on my feet, and lean. When I do tai chi, I feel solid, smooth, and relaxed but strong. Does that mean I've cultivated chi or am I just healthy? Call it what you will.

We're going to get into more techniques on this blog and on the website, but I'll occasionally discuss this "chi" business because it's the one area that is used by internal artists to set us apart from the rest of martial arts, and I believe it has been misused to the point that it makes us look stupid to rational people who have enough critical thinking skills to see through the chi myth.

The internal arts can make you healthier. They can help you "cultivate your chi." But so can brisk walking or jogging or weight training or golf. Taking up jogging might not help your self defense skills, but if it helps ease stress and calm the mind, it will improve your "chi."

Focus on the Right Things

A couple of weeks ago we talked about a bagua book that contained some interesting historical stories about the founding of bagua and some of the early masters. One comment to the post warned me about some of the things they were saying in the book, and when I got into the instructional part of it, I found some good information and, as usual, information that can lead people down the wrong path.

One bit of information involved circle-walking, and the fact that chi shoots our your toes and goes underneath the ground in front of you.

What bothers me about these books, and this type of martial arts writing, is that it appears the authors actually believe this. Rather than saying that this is a mental visualization, or a concept that can help you visualize some of the "rooting" that you need in your circle-walking, it is presented as fact.

Our American education system falls far short in one particular skill (and don't even get me started on math and science): that skill is the ability to apply critical thinking skills to what you read, see, and hear. Most of these writers and authors that you read in the books and magazines only parrot what their teachers and masters have told them.

Most rational people know that if you do any type of walking, circle or otherwise, invisible, magical energy is not shooting out of your toes and going underneath the ground.

Proper circle-walking, like any other internal arts skill, involves many hours, days, months, and years of practice, and it involves sinking your weight (you can call it sinking your chi if you want), maintaining a centered stance, keeping the hips underneath you as you walk, opening and closing the kua as you move, maintaining the ground and peng, and continuing to work on these things as you practice moving and changing direction faster and faster over time.

The one thing proper circle-walking has NOTHING to do with is energy shooting out your toes and going under the ground in front of you.

The Internal Strength DVD goes into some of this stuff in a realistic way. During the next month or so, I'm changing my website into an instructional site for members only, and there will be many new video, audio and written lessons on the internal arts of Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua. Video sessions will be constantly added, questions from members will be answered through videos, and we'll all improve our skills together without the silly stuff that causes so many internal arts students to focus their attention on the wrong things.

Internal Strength DVD Now on Sale

Internalcover3 I've met so many internal artists during the past 10 years who have no idea of the body mechanics required for Hsing-I, Tai Chi and Bagua. Some of these people have studied for years--even decades--and still haven't been told about some of the essential skills they need to do these arts properly.

The skills I'm talking about are establishing the ground path, using peng jin with the ground path, and combining both of these skills with silk-reeling energy and whole body movement. If you practice these four skills, your internal arts will rise to a higher level.

This DVD is 100 minutes long -- pretty long for a DVD -- and it's a private lesson. I work with a young taekwondo black belt who has never studied the internal arts. There are 25 internal strength exercises that you can practice with a partner, and much more.

To order, click on the PayPal button below. There's a 30-day money back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

I love the internal arts, and I keep studying and trying to learn more. When I learn something new, I pass it along to my students, and with this DVD, I'm attempting to reach all the internal artists in America whose teachers haven't taught them these skills (and there are thousands).

When a Chi Master Meets A Real Fighter

Thanks to Evan for this clip that he found on YouTube. It's too good to keep on the comments section. It shows a "chi master" knocking his own students down without touching them, and then he claims to be able to beat any MMA fighter. He offers $5,000 to any MMA fighter who will take him on. No doubt his students believe he can win.

But then an MMA fighter accepts the challenge.

The result is exactly what would happen to ANY so-called "chi master." It's a beautiful thing to see a phony exposed so completely, and it would be very nice to see all of them in the same type of match. But don't count on it. I offered some chi masters $5,000 to make me wobble and they wouldn't take me up on it. Now you can see why. If they run up against someone who doesn't play along, they know they have nothing to back them up.

My friends, the internal arts are not mystical or magical. Any teacher who focuses on chi is missing the point. Any tai chi teacher who doesn't teach the martial aspects isn't worth studying with. There are so many people out there claiming or implying very strongly that they have tapped into some mysterious source of energy, it's an insult to anyone with a mind of their own and a few critical thinking skills. It's so nice to see one of them get what they have coming.

Hilarious and Sad - Both at the Same Time

Don't you feel a bit sorry for the students in this guy's school? The link takes you to a YouTube video showing a guy stopping his students in their tracks using his chi.

I see teachers like this and I think "just give me a shot, big guy." :) Let's see how strong your chi would be then.

Once, a guy told me that he could take a knife and by using qigong, he could try to cut himself with the knife and his skin wouldn't be cut. I said, "Give me the knife." That's when the excuses started--"Oh, I'm not at that level yet."

Like, whatever. :)

You see other "no touch knockout" guys like George Dillman always using that type of excuse. Usually it's the tired old, "It doesn't work on everyone," which is their way of saying it works--they have magical powers--but it doesn't work on someone who doesn't play along.

It's a shame the martial arts community doesn't rise up and hammer these guys for making the arts look so stupid.

Reality versus Theory in Fighting Applications

My training partner Tom came over for a couple of hours today. We put down the mats and went through fighting applications from the first three movements of Laojia Yilu -- the commencement, Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar, and Lazy About Tying the Coat.

Two hours on these movements and we didn't even get to all the applications.

But what we tried to do is apply the applications to real fighting situations, not the type of one-steps in which the partner holds the arm out or doesn't move when you grab them.

It isn't pretty when it's more realistic. It can be very effective, but it isn't always pretty.

Military generals always say that the best plans fall apart upon first contact with the enemy. The same is true with martial arts fighting applications. What looks real pretty and clean in a classroom situation takes on unpredictable qualities, and requires instant changes based upon the way your opponent reacts in a more realistic encounter.

The arm break in Buddha's Warrior works well but you have to really anticipate your opponent's punch so they can't withdraw the arm. The leg sweep in Buddha's Warrior works very well and can quickly change into an arm bar takedown over the leg, but the key is catching the punch with both hands and then very quickly placing your leg in front of his to be in the right position.

The crotch strike in Buddha's Warrior works very well -- first doing a palm sweep of the punch. You can also change the crotch strike into an uppercut fist strike to the ribs.

Perhaps my favorite today was the arm break and takedown in Lazy About Tying the Coat.

It's December 8, and the high temperature today is around 82 degrees here in Tampa, so Tom and I were practicing outside on the back patio. I was sweatin' to the oldies in the sun. I love Florida, where you can just go outside and practice through the "winter." You should all move down here so we can train. Hurry!

But in the meantime, try to work on your fighting applications against realistic attacks. Progressing in these arts involves study and hard work, just like a college class. Experiment and find out what works and what doesn't and you'll gain valuable insights about the arts.

How to Make a Kung Fu Teacher Proud!


I'm blown away by what I learned tonight. At tournaments in 2007, five of my students walked away with a total of more than 40 trophies and medals. In the picture, from left to right, are Kim Miller, Steve Rogers, Kim Schaber, Jon Stratton, Chris Miller, and Jay Stratton. They've carried on, through the leadership of Chris and Kim Miller, after I moved away. My only black sash student, Rich Coulter, has started working out with them again (I think Kim and Chris will be reaching that point in the next year or so). We've also been trading videos through YouTube -- I've watched their performances and offered coaching tips to keep them moving forward. But they've worked hard on their own, each of them dedicated to kung fu and to the internal arts that we study.

The greatest thing about these guys -- they're each outstanding human beings; kind, considerate, helpful, fun, and they welcome anyone who seriously wants to learn. They're the kind of people that always made our school, as small as it was, a fun place to learn. Our classes involved a lot of laughter, but as you can see from the photo, the quality speaks for itself.

Wow, I'm proud of you, guys.

I personally competed in fewer tournaments in 2007 than any previous year since the early 90's because of the move to Tampa, but I swept a couple of tournaments early in the year and I plan on hitting the Florida tournament circuit big-time in 2008. And after our next grandchild is born in January, Nancy and I are making a return visit to the Quad Cities for some serious training, and to finish shooting the DVD on Hsing-I fist posture applications!

Congratulations everyone!!!!!