Previous month:
July 2008
Next month:
September 2008

Kung Fu Humor

Here are some oldies but goodies. My buddy Sean Ledig sparked these jokes when we got together this morning to videotape Laojia Erlu for the online school.

How many tai chi masters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Answer: Ten. One to screw it in and 9 to stand around and say his movements aren't right.

How many wing chun masters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Answer: Ten. One to screw it in and 9 to complain "that's not the way Yip Man would have done it."

My favorite:

How many zen masters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Answer: A green tree in a quiet forest.

More Wisdom from Chen Xiaowang

This is a photo taken during a private lesson I had a few years ago with Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang. Ken_cxw_july_29_2002I like to look over some of the notes I've taken over the years. It's hard to retain everything you're told during a martial arts lesson, so I try to write things down as soon as possible after leaving a class or workshop.

Chen Xiaowang says "natural is best." He also believes that until you learn proper structure, you shouldn't try to do tai chi movements in a very low stance. Form and balance are most important. Proper structure is more important than low stances. And it takes us years to get proper structure.

Good kung-fu, he says, is proper structure, not low stances.

There is one principle and three techniques involved in tai chi, according to Chen Xiaowang. He's worded it differently at different times, but the one principle boils down to "when one part moves, all parts move. When dan t'ien moves, the whole body moves."

The three techniques are: dan tien rotates horizontally; dan tien rotates vertically; dan tien rotates in a combination of horizontally and vertically.

There are three languages in tai chi: talking, showing, and hands-on.

Talking can give you some "intellectual" information but it can't give you skill. It can provide some basic understanding, but it can also create a lot of misinterpretations (writing is even worse).

Showing is very important, and can give you even more information and movements to follow and imitate.

Hands-on is where you really develop skill -- the corrections and adjustments to your structure and movement that helps you realize your mistakes and learn to correct yourself.

Many of us want to speed through the process. We see tai chi masters in low stances and we try to imitate, even when we don't have the structure or movement down properly. It sets us back more than it helps (the main benefit is a good leg workout).

Internal arts skill is a marathon, not a sprint. It's good to remind ourselves of this and slow down sometimes, raise our stances higher and work on the fundmentals of structure, the one principle and three techniques, and the body mechanics that will give us skill. Oh, and good corrections are always helpful, too. 

Chen Tai Chi - A Grappling Art

Chen Bing is a talented young tai chi master. He's the nephew of Chen Xiaowang. Here's a really cool video in which he demonstrates some grappling maneuvers at a recent U.S. workshop.

From what I hear, he's more likely to teach at a deeper level when he's in the U.S. than some of the older masters. If you have a chance to attend one of his workshops, it would be worth it.

This type of video makes you wonder how the Chen Village-trained fighters would do in MMA competition. I have a feeling they would do pretty well. I would love to see that on Pay-Per-View. What a boost to tai chi THAT would be. :)

Silk-Reeling DVD Packs 2 1/2 hours of Instruction into Two Discs

Sre250 One of the key skills needed for Tai Chi (and Baguazhang) is silk-reeling energy, or chan si jin. When Chen Wangting created Tai Chi nearly 400 years ago in the Chen Village, he invented the concept of silk-reeling energy and made it a core component of the art.

I know from my personal experience as a student and from many of the tai chi folks that I meet around the country (not the Chen folks) that silk-reeling energy is misunderstood. In fact, some of the information that some teachers pass on is downright inaccurate.

Silk-reeling energy is a physical skill, just like any other skill in the internal arts. It isn't mystical or magical, and you can't develop it by "cultivating chi" or by imagining your chi spiraling through your body.

I've been working with my students on silk-reeling for many years, and the instruction I've received from my teachers and through contact with members of the Chen family have helped me learn the concepts.

My newest DVD is a 2-disc set with just over 2 1/2 hours of instruction. There are 18 silk-reeling exercises demonstrated with detailed instruction on body mechanics (something that isn't easy to find on video). There are several private lessons with a silk-reeling novice that you can eavesdrop on to see corrections being made and to check yourself to see if you're making the same mistakes. There is also a bonus section on tai chi's pole-shaking exercise, which helps develop connected body mechanics and fa-jing.

This DVD set is the perfect companion piece to the Internal Strength DVD and will continue your internal strength education if you've purchased that DVD in the past.

Because it's a 2-disc set, I've had to boost the price to cover the extra cost but I think it's worth it (it's only $29.99), and there's a money back guarantee if you disagree. :)  You can buy the DVD set through PayPal using your major credit card or your PayPal account. FREE SHIPPING!

Notes of Chen Xiaowang

Kencxw  Each time I've had the pleasure of learning from a teacher or a tai chi master, I've taken notes. It's hard to retain everything, so I try to write as much after each session or day as possible. I've been sorting through papers and tossing stuff, and I ran across a lot of notes that I hadn't seen in a while.

One of my favorite memories of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang was at a workshop near Washington, D.C. sponsored by C.P. Ong. Nancy and I flew to D.C. so I could study at the workshop. The participants were doing standing stake and CXW was going around the room correcting everyone. When he came up to me I had my eyes closed and he moved my hands in just a little. I smiled, opened my eyes, and he was smiling at me. He softly chuckled in a friendly way and went on to the next person.

CXW likes to compare tai chi to driving a car. He says if a wheel is broken you can't drive well. If your posture is broken, it's hard to do proper tai chi. That's why, when you begin learning Chen Tai Chi, you spend a LOT of time holding postures and getting hands-on corrections. Then you must learn the body mechanics for movement.

He compares the use of the ground path and peng jin to a car. He says if you rev the engine of a car, that represents peng jin. But if the car has been lifted up into the air, you can rev the engine all you want and the car goes nowhere. Put the car on the ground, though, and rev the engine, and the car takes off. Peng jin and the ground work together.

Without peng jin, you are not doing tai chi. If you're studying tai chi and your teacher hasn't instructed you in maintaining peng (and I'm not talking about the "ward off" posture) then you're doing movements that look like tai chi, but you're not really doing tai chi. Peng jin is the most important aspect of tai chi.

Grandmaster Chen says peng jin is "everything full, everything flowing, nothing broken." That's a lot easier said than done. That's why we do Laojia Yilu thousands of times.

According to Grandmaster Chen, fa-jing is like driving a car--to go fast, just "give it the gas."  :)  We all know, however, that it takes years to get to the point where you're ready to give it the gas. First is the proper posture, then proper movement. When you are able to connect the body mechanics, then you're ready to give it the gas.

During the next two or three days, I'm going to put more posts on from notes I've taken over the years after some great training sessions and classes.

Message from England about the Online Internal Arts School

Hi from the UK. I would just like to say congratulations to Sifu Ken on such a brilliant site. Please keep up the good work, as the material here is incredible and exactly what I have been seeking for a long time now. (and I guess there is a lot of people like me out there) I do not know the status-quo is the US, but where I am based it is nigh impossible to find quality teachers. (the old saga that 90% of tai chi teachers don't know what tai chi chuan is all about). Access to Bagua and Xingyi is very limited in the UK. So this website is perfect timing for me. The other thing that really impresses me Ken is your honesty. I listened to your last teleconference and was struck by your passion and sincerety for teaching and delivering quality knowledge, that unfortunately many kung fu teachers hold back on, whilst they are happy to charge top dollar. I will hopefully be learning from this site for a long time to come, so congratulations and I hope this venture succeeds for you. -- J.E.

More Kung-Fu Fun than You Can Shake a Pole at!

Poleshake250 One of my kung-fu friends, Eric Jones, came over last week to practice pole shaking.

Pole-shaking is a great exercise for the internal arts. I first heard about it from Mike Sigman, then learned it first-hand from Jim and Angela Criscimagna. Chen Zhenglei occasionally does a pole-shaking workshop and I've always wanted to attend one.

For this exercise, you can use a waxwood pole or an 8 or 9-foot section of PVC pipe. I even have a rattan staff--only 6 feet long--that I can do it with, although you don't get as much of a shake at the end of the staff.

The intent is to use the body--opening and closing, whole-body movement, dan t'ien rotation and spiraling--to whip the pole and cause the end to shake when the energy reaches it. And when I say energy, I mean nothing mystical--it's physics, and it works because you are relaxed and using good body mechanics.

Holding the pole as shown above, you hold it so that you don't use any arm and shoulder muscle. This photo shows me at the bottom of the forward strike. I'm moving into the forward kua while remaining relaxed and whipping the dan t'ien and shifting my weight. The photo is frozen during the actual shake of the pole (you can see it bending).

The mistake most people make when they first try it is using their arm and shoulder muscle--bending the arm and extending it to whip the pole. When you get them to straighten the forward arm and stop them from using it, they always find it much more difficult. It's also very difficult if you don't use the ground or if you aren't connected throughout the body. This exercise can teach you a lot.

You can use different motions with the pole to move in different ways--closing into the left kua, the right kua, striking down, up, sideways, forward.

I'm developing a DVD with silk-reeling exercises and I plan to include this on it as an "extra."

One of my favorite Marx Brothers jokes happened when Groucho was describing a party. "There'll be more girls than you can shake a stick at, if THAT's your idea of a good time," he said.

Well, if you're looking to develop internal strength, shaking a stick really is a good time.