10 years ago today, I launched my kung-fu membership website -- July 4, 2008. It had around 200 video lessons on it and some pdf documents.
I wanted to teach, but I was tired of the bricks-and-mortar school business model. And I was receiving emails from people who bought my VHS tapes and DVDs, asking how they could learn when there were no teachers nearby.
So I created the membership website.
10 years later, there are 830 video lessons, dozens of pdf documents to download, and step-by-step instruction in three internal arts of Chinese kung-fu -- Chen Tai Chi, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, plus Qigong and more. All of this is taught without the mystical mumbo jumbo and chi fantasy you see in so many other places. The website is at www.internalfightingarts.com.
I have members worldwide, from Illinois to Shanghai, to Malaysia, Japan, throughout the UK and Europe. They pay a monthly fee to study and to get feedback from me through live coaching sessions via Facetime or Skype.
Tonight at 5:00 Central, I am doing a Facebook Live to give away DVD bundles or single DVDs to 10 members whose names I will draw.
This morning, I received an email from a member in Scotland, thanking me and Nancy and telling me that I am creating a "worldwide legacy."
I still don't think most of my friends and family understand what I do, or how I earn an income. It has been a labor of love for 10 years, and I have created it while going through some serious health struggles. Sometimes, it makes me laugh. Sometimes, the health issues slow me down. But we persist.
All the skills I learned in radio and TV news, plus PR and communications, I put to work for myself, instead of for other people. It is a little overwhelming at times, being a one-man business. I do all the content creation, editing, Photoshop, writing and marketing. It is also a total creative challenge. I have no committees to overrule my creative decisions, and no one to say, "Oh, we can't do THAT."
As long as I am able, the website will continue to grow. It is truly a labor of love. I could not have done it without Nancy's help and support (she is also an excellent videographer). I also appreciate my local students, and all those who have been in my videos in exchange for training. Among those you see in the videos over the years -- Tom Revie, Sean Ledig, Colin Frye, Chris Miller, Kim Kruse, Justin Snow, Chris Andrews, Jay Stratton, and others.
Here's to 10 More Years!!
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I first launched the $5,000 Chi Challenge around 2002. It was published in Inside Kung-Fu magazine in 2003 (see the headline halfway down the left side of the magazine cover in the photo).
To date, no one has accepted the challenge. The most recent teacher to receive my challenge was Richard Clear, but after an initial acceptance in messages (he said he would be "happy" to take my money), when it was time to sign an agreement, it fell through.
After it fell through, I began to receive messages and emails from his Business Manager with what I considered veiled threats to "visit" me.
Here is what happened, boiled down as simply and accurately as I can do it:
On the Fajin Project Facebook page -- I am a member of the page -- we look at videos by martial artists who appear, whether stated or not, that they possess "chi" powers that defy physics. Often, these are teachers who pretend to knock their students down without touching them, or they touch them lightly with push hands, for example, and after a light touch, the student goes hopping or falling away.
For about 17 years, I have challenged these teachers on occasion to perform their feats on me, and if they succeed, I will give them $5,000 cash.
It would require a simple, written agreement which would spell out the challenge, a description of what signifies success or failure, etc. The stakes for me would include the $5,000 reward, plus my expenses to and from the instructor's town. The stakes for the person being challenged would be, if he failed the test, he would have to pay my expenses to his town and back home. In this case, that would have been less than $1,000.
Here is how it went down:
A couple of weeks ago or so, this video was put up on the Fajin Project, showing Richard Clear, an instructor in Maryville, Tennessee, demonstrating examples of "fajin" and "energy transfer."
There are bits throughout the short video that could be questioned, but the section that I challenged begins at 44 seconds into the video. Take a look.
The video received a lot of flaming on the Fajin Project page. Some people were rather profane. But Mr. Clear's Business Manager, Matthew Holker, defended it on the page.
Personally, I think videos like this lack integrity, and I said so, but when other people flamed it more harshly, I decided that the fair thing to do would be for Mr. Clear to demonstrate that last section on me, have me fall away like the third student in line, and if he were successful, I would pay him $5,000 cash. We would record it and publicize the results.
Naturally, I didn't think he could do it. But Matthew accepted. His claim was that it is simple physics that caused the student to fall away like he did. It was my opinion, however, that a student would not do that unless he was playing along.
I made it clear that this was a friendly challenge, non-physical and non-violent, and regardless of the outcome, I would be glad to go have a beer with Richard afterward. I'm sure he is charismatic, and I was pretty sure we would hit it off, other than the challenge.
Meanwhile, I did a test with three other martial artists. Between the four of us, we have 160 years experience in martial arts. Please look at this and compare my reaction in four attempts to Richard Clear's student's reaction in the video.
I sent this test video to Mr. Clear, and he replied that he would be happy to take my money if I came to do the challenge. But he said the agreement must not use the word "chi," because he claimed his test was not about chi.
My belief, and I expressed this to him, is that any martial artist with any experience knows exactly what he was implying in the video -- that he has chi abilities that are not real, and that is what the test was set up to establish; whether or not the result of his demo is true.
So I wrote up an agreement. It spelled out what I had been clearly saying all along, that we would record the test, and I would have to be knocked back "like the third student in the video." I also made clear that an "adjusting step," like the slight ones that I took in the test video, would not represent success for Mr. Clear. Only if I was knocked back like the student in the video would it be considered a success for Mr. Clear.
If I adjusted my stance with a step backward, as I did in my test video during two of the strikes (on two more, I did not need an adjusting step), that would not be success for Richard. But if I was knocked back like the student in the video (with a hop and two steps as he did, or with just three steps) that would be success for Richard.
The agreement also stated that I would either bring two other martial artists as volunteers to be in line with me, and said those students would not know me or Richard, or I would get two other adult volunteers, or I would use Richard's students if those options didn't happen.
Richard said that everyone in his area knew him, so the volunteer martial artists wouldn't work. I reminded him that his students knew him, too. The purpose of the volunteers was to remove the element of "playing along" that might likely exist with Richard's own students.
He said if I took an adjusting step, that would be success for him. However, that would change the basis of the challenge, which was always to demonstrate what he did in the video (knocking the student uncontrollably back). I would not accept that. He would either knock me back like the student in the video or he would not. It would be easy to see.
I also called for the test to be done at a neutral location -- Sandy Springs Park in Maryville. We could both videotape the test, but the video could not be edited in any way from the start of the test to the end.
I even offered, in the agreement, that Richard could do the test on three of his students before I stepped in. He had three attempts to knock me away as he knocked away the student in his video.
We had a few exchanges, but then Richard stopped communicating with me and his Business Manager, Matthew, began communicating again. He said I was invited to their school, not for a challenge, but to see the school and see what they were about, basically.
So the challenge was not accepted and I said so in a message to Matthew. I posted about it on the Fajin Project page and the comments were coming from around the world.
In an email later, after some exchanges, Matthew told me that if I did not respect them, the conversation was over. He again repeated his offer for me to come visit the school and check it out, with my expenses paid. But it was clear the challenge was not accepted, even though I suppose Richard was implying, since he did not get back to me, that he did not actually turn down the challenge.
I assured Matthew that, because the challenge was not accepted, I do not respect them, and I thought that would end the conversation, as he promised.
I was prepared to simply walk away. But then I received another message from Matthew (text in blue):
He did not decline, and you do not strike me as stupid enough to really believe that. You can infer whatever you like from the video, but all that was shown is that the force did in fact transfer. The fact that the student was taken by surprise makes for good advertisement. You can begrudge us our marketing all you like, but any teacher with real integrity would be more interested in skill than ad copy. We do not need your respect. In the end, skill is the only true arbiter. We would have gladly paid for your trip here so that you could see our skill, but you refused the offer. One of these days I will find my way to your neck of the woods with a camera, and we'll see how much skill you have.
I replied: "That's funny. I thought the conversation was over. Please be my guest anytime. We will record that, too. Now you resort to threats. This is typical behavior of the evangelical."
I see chi belief as very similar to religious belief. If you ask probing questions of an evangelical, and you do not accept the "evidence" that other evangelicals will accept without question, you are often met with anger and threats, usually of eternal punishment. In martial arts, if you do not accept the "energy" abilities of a teacher, you are sometimes met with threats of violence. This is not my first time being threatened. Many students of martial arts "masters" act as devout as an evangelical, I have learned.
No threat. You have not accepted our invitation, but I will gladly accept yours. We will be in touch.
I was a little amused by the fact that he kept sending messages even though he had previously said the conversation would be over if I did not respect them. And so I replied:
"And the conversation keeps going."
To which Matthew replied with this:
Done for now, but we'll pick this up again when I find my way to your school.
I blocked Matthew and Richard on Facebook, so I would receive no more Messenger communication from them, and so we would no longer be able to see each other on Facebook.
But Matthew, Richard Clear's Business Manager, was not finished. He sent this email on his account linked to Clear's school:
You can block me on Facebook, but you can't run from this. You've insulted me and my teacher just a few too many times for me to let you off the hook that easily.
It is interesting that you think I was threatening you when I said I would visit you with a camera and see what skill you really have. You must not think too highly of your own abilities if you are threatened by the idea of a contest with me. You were certainly quick to try to discredit my teacher, and I've been studying with him for less than three years. Little old me should be absolutely no threat to you...
That's okay. We'll find out. Unlike you, I'm not making an empty promise. I'll be coming through Moline in August with a camera, at your invitation.
I thought this was really becoming creepy, so I replied with this email (in dark red):
So now, are you going to be a cyber stalker? Is that really the way you plan to play this?
You don't need my invitation to come through Moline. And "we'll find you?" I'm not hiding. Are you in third grade?
This is getting really weird. I printed off your threats. At any time when you plan to act them out, you will easily find me.
For some reason, you think this is scary or something?
There is retaliation for cyber stalking, you know. It can be reported.
You are cyber stalking me through Richard Clear's company email. I am taking notice. And I am printing this email, too.
Adults don't behave this way legally. Now, I am officially asking you to stop contacting me. You want to "come through Moline?" I wouldn't even want to stop you. It's a free country.
And, despite my request for him to stop contacting me, he could not resist one more email (again from the Clear school account):
I am not cyberstalking you, Ken.
I got your contact info off of your website, where you posted it publicly.
It seems you are excellent at one thing: false accusations. I'm willing to bet that you are full of false claims where your skill is concerned too. We'll find out. (Not find you, find out.) I won't email you again, so don't worry about it. The next time we talk it will be in person.
I sent Matthew a link to some guidelines on the fact that it is a federal crime to cross state lines with the intention of injuring someone.
I thought he was finished with his messages. I was wrong (see below).
I challenged a Master Wong back around 2001. He was also in Tennessee. He stood on a stage, surrounded by more than a dozen students, who were all pushing on him from different directions. He barely shook his body and all the students went falling back across the stage floor.
I told him I did not believe he could do that, and if he did it to me, I would give him $5,000. It was not a challenge to fight, it was a challenge for a demonstration.
I received email threats from his students. One said, "if you are going to get to our teacher, you must go through us first."
One of the first challenges I made was to Richard Mooney, who held "Empty Force" workshops and had an article published in a national martial arts magazine, showing him knocking his students down without touching them. They ran at him and he pointed toward them with his palms, and they crumbled to the ground.
I challenged him to do the same to me and offered him the $5,000 reward if he succeeded.
Richard Mooney replied to me with insults, and later, one of his students taunted me and said that Mooney drove a better car than I did.
Well, if I took money from people by implying I would teach them this ability, I might drive a better car, but that's the price you pay sometimes for integrity.
At the time I thought, "You have tapped into a Universal source of power and you reply with insults to a skeptic, instead of a demonstration?" A power like that would make you one of the most famous people in history, and instead of holding little workshops for money, you could make millions.
None of it makes sense, but what makes even less sense is that people actually believe it.
I have received threatening emails at other times, mostly when I more actively challenged "chi masters" back in the early 2000s. Sometimes, they said they were going to show up at my school on particular nights. I always let them know the address, and the times that we would be there.
They never showed up. It's a lot easier to believe in fantasy than to develop real internal skill.
Some people ask why I do this; why I challenge people. Here is my answer: I think the internal arts have been seriously damaged by people who pretend that you gain mystical powers from it -- particularly Tai Chi. It was created as a martial art, but it has been corrupted, in my opinion, by people who need to believe in chi, and who need for others to believe they have abilities beyond most humans.
Isn't that such a human trait?
I believe the only way for Tai Chi to regain its reputation is to call out people who demonstrate things that violate the laws of physics. I felt that, while of course there is energy transferred when you have three students standing with stiff arms stretched out as in the above videos, and you deliver force into the first student's hands, of course as the first two students recoil backward, some force will enter the third student. But the force of the strike in the video, and the recoil of the first two students, was not enough by a long shot to send the third student hopping and falling back as he did. To pretend it does makes the internal arts look bad, in my opinion.
When the video began being flamed on the Fajin Project, I tried to take it to a higher level. I put my money where my mouth is.
The moral of this story is clear (no pun intended): Don't put videos online that you cannot back up with people who do not study with you, or with people who do not believe you can do what you demonstrate. It makes life so much easier. It makes you appear more credible, and your students don't have to issue veiled threats to anyone.
Ken's Note: I wrote this post and hesitated to put it on. I started this blog in 2006 to discuss my experiences in martial arts and philosophy. But did I want to trigger more emails by publishing my experience with Richard Clear and his student/Business Manager? Then, I received another email from Matthew on July 2, 2018, even after all the earlier communications (I didn't even go into all of our communications). I decided that documenting this experience here on the blog was important. You see, cult-like behavior is fairly common in martial arts. It begins when you put your teacher on a pedestal, and that's why I always tell people not to do that. It is also why I have not pursued being a disciple of any master.
The $5,000 Chi Challenges will keep coming. Perhaps I should raise it to $10,000 next time. Why not? It's the easiest bet I will ever make.