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Practicing Tai Chi and Hsing-I with Evan in Cincinnati

Ken-Evan I've known Evan Yeoung for about 7 years. He's been a long-time visitor to my websites and this blog, and he's a member of the online school. He's usually the first in line when I produce a DVD and over the years, we've developed a friendship. He's a dedicated martial artist and a very nice guy.

It was great to finally meet him in Cincinnati yesterday. I drove one of our cars from Tampa to the Quad Cities this weekend and made stops to see my sister Kathy in Atlanta, my daughters Harmony and Belinda--and my granddaughter Melina--in Cincinnati. Evan and I got together for a long-overdue meeting and to practice for a couple of hours in a park. It was my first practice session since having heart surgery eight days ago and it felt great!

Evan demonstrated some fine quality Hsing-I and proved to me that you really CAN learn online and from DVDs, especially if you already have some martial experience. His fist postures and linking form were excellent.

We also worked on internal strength and silk-reeling movements, some Hsing-I fighting applications, and we did some push hands. It's nice to work with someone who has had some training. We spent some time working on how to deal with various forces coming in from different directions.

One of the greatest gifts the martial arts can bring you is the gift of friendship. I've been lucky to develop a lot of friends over the years -- not only my students, who become like family after a while, but also other martial artists. Our practice session was a highlight of my trip.

I'm writing this as I sit at the Moline, Illinois airport, waiting to fly to Atlanta and then to Tampa. I sort of dreaded seeing the Quad Cities, because I love the weather in Florida, but after I arrived last night and woke up this morning at the home of my stepson and his wife (and our grandkids) it felt like home. In a way, Nancy and I are strangers in Florida. It's a wonderful place to visit, but nothing can replace friends and family. I'm very excited to get everything packed and get the heck out of Tampa and back to the Midwest. A lot of good things are ahead.

35th Anniversary as a Martial Artist

KenStaff74 On September 20, 1973, I took my first martial arts class. It was 35 years ago today. Grandmaster Sin The was teaching Shaolin Karate-Do (kung fu) out of a converted garage in the back of a shopping strip mall. Because of Bruce Lee's impact that year, the first class was overflowing with students, and some of us stood outside.

Out of all the students who took up martial arts because of Bruce Lee in Lexington, Kentucky at that time, I wonder how many are still at it? A handful maybe. The photo at left is the proud green belt several months later in 1974. I still use the staff I'm holding (it's moved with me everywhere). It was the old fashioned kind--much heavier than modern staffs. I call it the "Staff of Death."

I was drawn to the martial arts for the self-defense and the philosophy. I had to study philosophy on my own, since few teachers included it in their art. But with that first class I was hooked, and over time, kung-fu became part of my life.

This anniversary comes at an interesting time during what has been a very strange year. In May, 2007, Nancy and I closed our kung-fu school and I left ACT, the college testing company, to take a position in Tampa at the University of South Florida. She left an employer where she had worked for 25 years.

The job I took here at USF was a very stressful position, working with the media (some of them trying very hard to tear the university down) and serving as a spokesperson for the president, but I enjoyed it. This year, I was laid off in April as the university reorganized to withstand a 52 million dollar budget cut.

Over a long professional career in news and PR, I've been amazed at just how bad management is from one company to the next. If top executives understood how so many of their VPs and middle-level managers were destroying their companies from within (or at least holding morale and productivity down by treating people with disrespect) you would think there would be action. The trouble is, top management often behave just as badly as the executives who report to them.

I decided that after a lifetime of dealing with it, I was ready to strike out on my own. Nancy said, "Go for it." She's the absolute best wife I can imagine.

So we're moving back to the Quad Cities in a week and a half. We're moving into a smaller house and slashing our expenses. She's returning to her long-time employer and I'm going to produce new internal arts instructional DVDs and continue developing more content for the online school, which is showing real promise, growing as anticipated and attracting new members around the nation and the world who appear to be very pleased, considering the emails I receive.

So after 35 years in the martial arts, I'm launching a new career. I've been working at it since April. I look forward to each day and sometimes forget what day of the week it is because I'm no longer living for Friday. On Sunday, I don't stress over the upcoming work week. I can't wait to get up each morning, grab a cup of coffee, and make the commute into my home office to edit new lessons for the web or work on marketing. It is total creative freedom. I'm doing all of the things for myself that I have tried to do for other companies, but could never quite satisfy myself that we were doing it right because of the strange politics and hierarchies that infect every company and organization. Each day, I create marketing pieces, video promotions, podcasts, emails -- I videotape new lessons and end up turning the lessons into DVDs that include real instruction.

This year has also been strange because of something I haven't experienced before -- a health problem. It hasn't slowed me down (okay, a little bit but not too much) and I continue to train, but it has been a concern and we still don't have it quite fixed. A week before I was laid off from USF, I was diagnosed with a heart problem - atrial fibrillation. I've had two heart procedures this summer--the most recent just a week ago. Instruments were sent up the veins (my kua are very bruised) and into the heart, where spots were burned or frozen to stop extra electrical signals and pathways that have been causing the heart to beat in strange patterns. So as I've dealt with this problem and sudden unemployment, I've been creating the material and the new online school.

I was told by one friend that most men would be in a pretty sad state of mind after going through all this. Instead, I took two days to think a bit after the layoff (and the heart diagnosis) and I told Nancy, "I can't imagine going to work for more people that I can't depend upon to treat me right." So I didn't mourn and didn't get very angry (Nancy was angrier than I was at the university). I set my goal and began working, sometimes 12 and 14 hour days. Kung-fu has had a very centering impact on me during the past three and a half decades.

Nancy and I are a bit sad to leave Florida, but we're very determined to make all this work. Don't ask us to say anything kind about the University of South Florida. We just won't say anything at all. But despite that, we're on quite an adventure, we're returning to family and friends in the Midwest, and we're looking forward to it. I'd be lying if I said it didn't contain a little excitement. I have a two year vision and plan for the online school and the DVDs, and I look forward to diving into it even deeper when we get finished with the move. And I plan to return to the tournament circuit next month at age 55.

35 years ago, as I took my first class, little did I know what an important role the martial arts would play in my life. As I tell people who've known me a long time about what I'm doing, they often tell me, "This is what you love, so go ahead and live the dream."

Stay tuned to see what happens during my 36th year as a martial artist. It should be fun.


One Quality that Separates Successful Martial Artists from the Failures

Pete Rose was my hero. I began watching him play for the Reds when I was a kid. By the time I got to college in the early Seventies, he was at his peak. My buddies and I would gather at the TV, or we'd drive 90 minutes to Cincinnati from Lexington and watch a game in person. Anytime Pete came up to bat and the Reds desperately needed a hit, he got a hit. And he dove head first into second or third or home. He was the best player I've ever seen.

That doesn't mean Pete was the most gifted in the beginning. As a young man, no one would have guessed he would become the leading hitter in baseball history (I was there the night he broke Ty Cobb's record by the way).

What made him eventually the best was one quality: persistence.

He practiced when others didn't. He worked at hitting when others had gone home. He practiced fielding when others were done for the day. He kept at it with a passion that lifted him above most players.

I've seen a lot of kung-fu students begin classes with a passion and a drive, and within a few short lessons they see that it's difficult. It appears easy, but the movements are so nuanced and the body positions so exact, they quickly give up.

I've seen some students begin with a promising start, stay with it a while, and then get stuck at a plateau that they -- for some internal reason -- can't push beyond.

I've seen some who start studying with a friend, but when the friend progresses faster than they do, their egos can't take it and they drop out.

I've seen some who start with a promise, go to a tournament and don't walk away with a trophy, and instead of learning what went wrong and working on it, they just give up.

For some people, it's a LOT easier to give up than to work harder. It's a lot easier to win than it is to realize there are skills that require a lot of practice and pain to improve.

There have been very few that I've personally taught that have pushed and pushed and worked and studied and practiced at home and put in the real brain work and the persistence it takes to lift themselves above the pack. I can count them on one hand with a few fingers left over. Currently, there are some folks in the Quad Cities who have shown that they have this quality and I'm hoping they keep it up.

Throughout the 35 years I've studied, I haven't always had a teacher around (I launched the online school for people in the same situation). When I was a young parent struggling to pay the bills, I didn't always have the money for lessons. But kung-fu was always on my mind, and I practiced even when I wasn't involved in a school. When I discovered Chen tai chi, I didn't live in the same town as my teachers -- sometimes not even the same state or part of the country. I had to travel, sometimes spending a thousand or two just to study for a day.

The teachers I've had have not lived near their teachers. They had to go to China or wait for the one or two trips a year the masters would make to America to get a few days of study in. Between times, they were on their own. But their passion pushed them, and their skill grew. I don't know one martial arts teacher I've ever had who isn't still trying to get better.

When I started kung-fu training in 1973, I spent an hour each evening in the hall of my dormitory, practicing kicks and punches and stances. I recognized that some fellow students hadn't practiced nearly as hard, but were promoted anyway (an early lesson on how martial arts schools operate). But it took me 24 years to get a black sash due to my constant moving (TV news career), family pressures, experimenting with different styles (I even studied TKD for a while) and lack of a teacher. When I earned my black sash, I realized I was just starting. That's when I really began to study. Even now, there are so many skills to learn, I doubt I can do it in my lifetime. But we continue on the path.

In any endeavor, whether it's business, school, sports, or kung-fu, it isn't always the person with the most gifts who succeeds. It isn't always the person with the most education who gets rich. It isn't the student who appears totally gifted on the first day of class who develops skill. Some of the most famous and talented people failed several times on their way to the top. Inventors who we know as geniuses had their share of flops. Thomas Edison failed thousands of times to produce a light bulb and most wealthy people have been bankrupt at least once and sometimes more. 

The people who persist and don't give up almost always come out on top. So if you feel that your training has hit a plateau that you can't get beyond, or if you feel that there's a skill you just can't seem to understand, keep at it. Seek input and feedback. Study and really think about it on your own. Keep working at it and eventually, if you just stick to it, you'll break through to that next level.



New Tai Chi Applications DVD in the Works

Shuttles 1I began shooting the next and final DVD in the series exploring basic fighting applications of Laojia Yilu. The first two volumes went from the first move through movement 31. It doesn't include moves that are repeated (moves such as Six Sealings, Four Closings and Single Whip are repeated throughout).

The first two DVDs included nearly 250 good, solid fighting applications in only 22 movements from the form.

The third DVD will demonstrate around 120 applications in the second half of the form.

Shuttles 2One thing to think about when looking at applications -- they're not just used against empty-handed opponents. For examples, the photos here show part of Jade Lady at Shuttles -- the part where you leap foward and turn your body. Empty-hand techniques include a palm strike, a turn into an elbow strike. The first photo above shows part of this move empty-handed.

But if an opponent is swinging a staff at you, as in the second photo, Jade Lady at Shuttles is also a disarm. You leap and capture your opponent's center as the staff is swinging. Grab the staff and continue turning the body, connecting with the ground as you do. It's an effective disarm.

Shuttles 3During the Tornado Kick, I show it being used against a broadsword, kicking the flat of the blade and knocking the broadsword away. After the shoot, I was reading about Chen Fake and how he was asked to defend himself against a wushu master with a broadsword. Chen Fake, the grandfather of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing, disarmed the wushu master with a kick, knocking the broadsword away.

There are said to be more than 600 fighting applications within the 75 movements of Laojia Yilu. I can certainly believe it. I know that even the 370 that I've uncovered are certainly not the only ones for Shuttles 4the movements I am studying. And if you add the repeated movements, it's easily more than 600. There are so many aspects of this form to uncover. That's the beauty of Tai Chi. It really is a lifelong effort.

Buddhism's Eightfold Path to a Satisfying and Enlightened Life

The Noble Eightfold Path is a Buddhist concept that can be found in other religions as well, perhaps worded in different ways.

Isn't it a shame that so few of us practice these eight "golden rules?" When you think of the way martial artists treat each other, badmouth each other, when you see the way husbands and wives treat each other, when you look at the anger in drivers on the road, anger and lies on the campaign trail, attack ads on TV, it makes you wonder if anyone has ever heard of kindness, empathy or tolerance.

Try living all eight of these concepts for just one day and see what it does for you:

The Eightfold Path:

1.  Right View -- often called "right understanding." See life in its reality. Understand the nature of pain and sadness and their causes. Recognize how to prevent pain and sadness.

2. Right Intent -- Intend to do no harm to anyone, thus helping to prevent pain and sadness.

3. Right Speech -- Don't lie, don't be abusive, don't argue and don't chatter idly (sort of sums up Internet chat rooms doesn't it?).

4. Right Action -- Don't physically hurt or kill anything, don't steal, avoid sexual misconduct. In short, behave ethically at all times.

5. Right Livelihood -- Don't take part in businesses that result in harm to any living being.

6. Right Effort -- Work on developing your own intentions for self-perfection, to walk an ethical path, and to eliminate evil.

7. Right Mindfulness -- Sense the information you receive free of emotion so that you can assess it accurately. Put away greed and distress toward the rest of the world.

8. Right Concentration -- When your daily life is focused on achieving the previous seven concepts.

You can find a lot of information about the Eightfold Path on the web.