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December 2013
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February 2014

Cheng Style Baguazhang 8 Main Palms Form - New Kindle Ebook

Bagua 8 Main Ebook Cover 250The Cheng style Baguazhang 8 Main Palms form is the focus of my eighth Kindle ebook, available now in Amazon's Kindle Store.  This ebook has 340 photos and step-by-step instruction on every movement in this important Bagua form.

The 8 Main Palms form is the first major Bagua form that I teach my students after they have learned basic bagua skills. There are eight sections that contain a lot of information. This form is considered the essence of Baguazhang.

Each section includes a sequence that is performed twice -- once on each side. The photos show a detailed breakdown and instruction of each side.

My goal is always to create books that I would want to read as a student. One of the things I have seen in martial arts books over 40 years is a lack of detail on movements that appear to be "transitions." I try to include that detail so readers know how they get from one movement to the next. I try to leave nothing to guesswork.

The instruction focuses on body mechanics, stripping away the mystical, abstract nonsense that is in some internal arts books. A lot of that type of vague instruction is confusing and leads to misinterpretation. My goal is always to use plain language that clearly communicates the movement and mechanics.

This is Volume One of a two-part series on the 8 Main Palms form. The second volume, available by the end of the month, will focus on the self-defense applications of each movement. The ebook costs $4.99 and is available in Amazon's Kindle Store. Follow this link to read a sample and to get more information.

The ebook is a companion to the 8 Main Palms form DVD that includes step by step video instruction on the movements and their fighting applications.


How Do You Find Inner Peace? A Story of Qigong and the Journey Within and Without

Ken-gullette-wall-street-250
Ken Gullette, feeling centered but vaguely inadequate on Wall Street more than 10 years ago.

My favorite poem comes from a book I bought back in the Seventies, Man of Contrasts, by taekwondo master He Il Cho. Here is the poem:

I can find peace amidst the city's roar

In the dry, frayed face of confusion

the exhausted hour.

My peace is cradled within.

Where does peace come from? I started finding the answer to that question when I began practicing Qigong in 1987, about 14 years after I began studying martial arts and reading about Taoism and Zen Buddhism. Qigong (also spelled Chi Kung) took it to another level. Before long, the ability to center myself in tense situations or moments of crisis began to develop somewhere inside me, and it was noticed, both by me and by others.

Around 1988, when a wall cloud was passing outside the newsroom where I was preparing the 6:00 News (I was the producer), people were racing and shouting in the newsroom, wheeling cameras outside to broadcast it live. I was trying to write some final teases and copy for the 6:00 News. It was total chaos.

Suddenly, I heard someone laugh. I looked over and a sports reporter was laughing at me. "What?" I asked.

"Dr. Chill," he said, pointing at me. "Everyone is going crazy and you're just taking care of business."

At that moment I realized that I had centered myself and had become the calm in the center of the storm. It felt good, and I had done it intentionally after many months of practice, and now it came naturally.

More than a decade later, I found myself in New York City for a conference. I had been wondering if I would be irritated by the crowds on the sidewalks.

As a rubber-necking tourist from the Midwest, I must have walked 20 miles in two days. Making my way through the crowded sidewalks, the poem from Man of Contrasts went through my mind.

I can find peace amidst the city's roar.

I found myself rising emotionally above the crowds of people rushing in both directions on the sidewalk, but even as I relaxed and rose above it, I felt part of it, and watched people with great interest and good will, even when they brushed me as they passed. I heard everything and felt connected to everyone and everything. It was a feeling of peace -- becoming one with strangers and with this amazing, loud, hustling city.

It was one of the most wonderful feelings I had ever experienced.

You do not need to travel to a city like New York to experience this ability to calm yourself and find your center. How many times do you find yourself tense at home and at work? How many times have you found yourself cursing other drivers on the road? How many times have you reacted angrily to a spouse or someone you love?

By practicing Qigong and learning to calm and center yourself, then recapturing that feeling in moments of stress, you can open a door to a better place -- a healthier place, where you control stress and do not let it control you.

This does not mean you never get angry. You do. It does not mean you don't stand up to injustice, bigotry or stupid, destructive people. You can, and you should. It does not mean you will not fight. You will fight to protect yourself, those you love, and those who cannot protect themselves. You may get sad, you may be hurt, but the inner gyroscope will eventually lead you back to center.

But you do not let anger control you. You do not give stress a home. All natural emotions are allowed. When they happen, you seek to find your center. When you find it, the emotions do not linger. But you do not deny them or suppress them. That only gives negativity more power. Expect the unexpected and you will be ready to handle it. It is not easy, and it does take work.

Leaving New York City, a cab driver took me to the airport. I asked where he was from. He talked about Ethiopia. I asked about his country and if he missed his family. He had just visited them for a month. He and I became friends on the way to the airport, and when I got out and handed him his tip, he shook my hand and said, "You are a nice guy."

I wondered how many people he transported every day who showed no interest in connecting with him. He was a wonderful man who loved his family and was working hard. I helped him to smile on a busy, hectic day. As I turned to enter the terminal, it felt as if I had left my mark in New York City, and it felt very good.

Since that trip to New York, my internal gyroscope has seen me through job losses, near-death health disasters, and the typical ups and downs of life. It means a lot more than just handling the roar of a big city. Life has a lot of twists and turns, and the older you get, the harder it gets. I am now 60 and facing a much shorter life expectancy because of a weakening heart and the loss of one lung. But I've rarely been happier and more content with my life. When the end comes, I want to see my children and my wife's face, and I think I'll be smiling.

The quest for peace is universal -- peace on earth, good will toward men. But you do not have to look very far for this, and you do not have to look outside yourself. You do not need to depend on other beings -- spouses, bosses, or invisible beings -- to give it to you. The farther outside yourself you look, the farther away you get. It is right there, cradled within you, ready for you to find it.


Breathing and the Internal Arts -- Hen, Ha and A Bunch of Hooey


Shi-Er-Xing-Cover
This movements calls for a forceful exhalation.

In recent days, members of my website have asked some questions about breathing during Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, and Qigong.

I replied to one question last night, then saw that the great Kevin Costner movie Bull Durham was playing on cable. I turned it on and within a minute or two, Susan Sarandon gave Tim Robbins some pitching advice.

"Breathe through your eyelids," she told him, "like the Lava Lizards. It's Mayan, or Aztec, I get them mixed up."

I laughed pretty hard because of the good timing. The "breathing through his eyelids" joke was repeated throughout the movie.

This is the type of Hooey that a lot of internal arts instructors give their students. Gullible students are told to "breathe through their skin" or other silliness. It would be fine if the instructor said that this is simply a technique of mental visualization, but there is no qualification, and that encourages people without critical thinking skills to believe that they can breathe through their skin.

But it gets even more ridiculous. Some Tai Chi instructors teach the "Hen" and "Ha" sounds during breathing. You train yourself to make the sounds as you inhale (Hen) and exhale (Ha).

Here is a section of instruction that I found online, discussing the Hen and Ha sounds that some instructors say you should make during Tai Chi breathing:

"Properly learning and practicing the Hen and Ha will eventually impart the ability for the practitioner to strike the opponents nervous system with this sound. Nervous system strikes tend to be one of the more specific targets for Fa Jing and this kind of breath directed strike can easily add a lot of juice to any Fa Jing practice. The normal effect is that the recipient will freeze for a second or two and will definitely feel and be affected by the sound. The first trick to learning how to do this is to make sure that the sound is practiced correctly so that the volume is quite loud and generated from the entire body core. The second required skill in order to have the impressive result is to practice so that you can direct the sound. Begin by practicing to make the sound of your yell spread out and also to narrow the sound of your yell so that it hits someone standing at 12 -15 feet with a spread that is no larger than the size of your facial area. This will take practice but is very achievable. When you can tighten your focus to a diameter of less than 8 inches across on a target person who is standing at 20 feet then you should be starting to get some impressive results with the sound hit that can be produced with the Hen and Ha."

There is absolutely no evidence that you can "strike" someone with your sound in any type of damaging way. It is the equivalent of the no-touch knockout and even suggesting you can do such a thing is just one more sign that an instructor is ethically bankrupt, but also is a good indication of a lack of critical thinking skills.

Shouting in martial arts has been used for centuries to surprise an opponent, but if you think that it will add to your self-defense ability to practice this type of nonsense (striking with sound), go ahead and spend your money and time. I can't help you.

I found another breathing technique on another site:

"Now relax the center of your palm, and imagine you are exhaling out the finger tips.  You will feel as if your hand is filling up on the inhale and then emptying on the inhale.  When you get comfortable with this, start inhaling up to the forearm where you are filling the breath coming in through your fingertips to the forearm and then out.  Do this while your arms are dangling.  Then breathe in to the rest of your arm.  You will feel as if your arms are filling up and floating."

That one is good because when you are doing Qigong, it helps to focus on techniques like this to relax the mind and body and to take your mind off daily matters. If you focus long enough and imagine you are holding a big ball of energy, you will eventually be able to feel the ball of energy. If you focus on breathing through your fingertips or arms, you will eventually feel that it is happening.

But please don't confuse this with reality. Please remember that it is a mental visualization tool -- you are NOT actually breathing through your fingertips or arms. You are NOT holding a big ball of energy. The purpose is to focus the mind and relax.

This is from a science blog by biological anthropologist and science communicator Greg Laden:

"I’m pretty sure that the answer to the question “do humans absorb Oxygen through their skin” — which is clearly a yes or no question — is “yes.” But perhaps this leads to concerns that some of the dumb-ass humans will misuse this information thinking that we actually breathe through our skin in any meaningful way. Imagine the stupid Darwin-Award winning tricks people might think up to do with this factoid. Nonetheless, while “the widely held mis-belief” that humans “breathe through their skin” is a potentially dangerous concept, it is also simply true that all typical normal living eukaryotic cells respirate. Even plant cells “breathe” in O2 and “breathe” out CO2. So the answer “no” isn’t really acceptable."

This myth about breathing through the skin was probably boosted by the movie "Goldfinger," when James Bond loses a girlfriend when she is painted gold. According to the movie, Jill Masterson died because her skin could not breathe and she suffocated.

So let's go to the skin experts -- cosmetic companies -- and ask if your skin really breathes. This from Carolyn Ash Skin Care:

Myth #1: Skin breathes. I hear a lot of people say, "My skin can't breathe," or after removing a heavy cream or foundation, "Now my skin can breathe." Well, the truth is your skin doesn't breathe. Not externally, anyway. Your skin is nourished from the oxygen and nutrients carried in the blood. No measurable amount of oxygen is absorbed from the outside air. Your outer skin does eliminate toxins, sweat, and oil and absorbs moisture from the air. When you put a heavy cream or foundation on for instance, your skin is less able to function properly. You might mistakenly say it "can't breathe." These occlusive coverings (foundations and heavy creams) can inhibit elimination and absorption, but not the actual oxygen nourishing the skin. Now you know—skin does not breathe.

I often use reverse breathing when doing Qigong. It helps me to focus on the Dan T'ien. In reverse breathing during Standing Stake for example, you pull in the Dan T'ien area when inhaling and push it forward when exhaling, allowing it to drop. 

If you do reverse breathing, remember that it is only a technique, and not some mystical way of breathing. Does it matter if your tongue is lightly touching the roof of your mouth when you inhale? In chi theory, it helps connect the flow of energy, but that's pretty silly and totally lacking in any type of scientific evidence. Must you inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips? No, not really.

Regardless of whether you are using reverse breathing or keeping your tongue at the roof of your mouth, you are still breathing air into the lungs and exhaling it into the atmosphere. Your diaphragm is a muscle that helps the lungs work more effectively. It helps your lungs expand and contract. Here is an article that explains what happens when you breathe. The Cleveland Clinic also has a web page to explain diaphragmatic breathing. It does not include reverse breathing.

I exhale forcefully when I do fajing and try to rotate the Dan T'ien in the proper direction of the movement. If someone punched me in the stomach, I would exhale sharply and tighten the abs. I exhale forcefully when I lift a heavy weight. Boxers exhale forcefully when they punch. Karate guys exhale sharply and "Kiyap" when they strike. It is taught as part of effective striking technique.

Chen Xiaowang often urges students to "breathe naturally" when doing Taiji. At higher levels, you can do reverse breathing, but in the early stages (the first 10 years or so) you are probably still trying to get your structure, movement and body mechanics right, so adding reverse breathing is not going to help you do quality Taiji. The slower you go, as you work on body mechanics and structure, the more naturally you should breathe.

So, how do you breathe when doing the internal arts? 

Breathe naturally if doing a form slowly. Inhale when doing moves that are not obviously attacking moves, and exhale when doing attacking moves. The faster you are doing the form, and the more fajing you use, you will exhale more forcefully. For example, I will exhale normally when sinking at the end of Lazy About Tying the Coat if I am performing it slowly. I will inhale when opening the chest in Single Whip. But if I am using that opening move as a strike, I will exhale forcefully. If I am doing Single Whip slowly, I will inhale as the hand comes across and exhale as I settle in the final part of the movement.

In the opening movement of a Taiji form, I will inhale as I raise the hands and exhale as my hands drop and I sink my weight. If I am lifting my hands to free myself from a strangle as self-defense, I will exhale forcefully.

As you can tell, how you breathe also depends on the intent of the movement.

And it doesn't really matter how you are breathing if your body structure and mechanics are not right. 

Just breathe. Through the nose and mouth, not through the eyelids. We are not Lava Lizards, after all.