The Ultimate Self-Defense Technique: A Real-Life Story about the Art of Fighting Without Fighting

ViolenceWhat would you do if a big drunk guy walked up to you and wanted to knock your head off?

It happened to one of my website members recently and he called to tell me what happened.

John was standing in a business and talking to someone when a drunk guy walked in and wanted to fight. The drunk was larger than John, and it was clear that he could do some damage.

Like most guys, John's first reaction was to think about fighting techniques. And as the drunk got more agitated, it seemed that violence was about to happen.

Suddenly, John remembered the recent Internal Fighting Arts podcast with my guest, Dan Djurdjevic. In the interview, Dan talked about "flipping the script," and how it got him out of some potentially violent encounters.

When you flip the script, you say something bizarre to the attacker to throw him off-script; to confuse him.

So just as it seemed that a punch was going to be thrown, John said to the drunk, "Did you see the game last night?" 

The drunk looked confused. "What game?" he asked.

"My daughter's baseball game," John replied. "She made her very first out at second base."

The drunk guy didn't know what to do with that information.

"Oh, that's great," he said. "Congratulations."

With that, the encounter moved in an entirely new direction. The drunk guy calmed down. No violence happened. Nobody was hurt, nobody was arrested, nobody went to the hospital, lost his job or got sued.

Bruce Lee once said he practiced "the art of fighting without fighting." Flipping the script is one of the coolest self-defense tactics I've ever heard, and it is something you will want to remember. Imagine a thug's reaction if he wanted to fight and you said something like, "I love homemade pickles. My Aunt Jane used to make great pickles."

When I was growing up, I wasn't the toughest kid, but I beat up a lot of bullies because I was smarter than they were. As an adult, I have not been in a fight because I have been able to avoid them.

As adults, avoiding violence is the ultimate self-defense skill, and we do that when we use our brains, our awareness, and our ability to remain calm. John was able to do that by remembering a lesson he learned on my podcast, and I am very happy to have been a small part of this story.


Jeet Kune Do Instructor Tim Tackett -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Tim TackettLast summer, I was looking through my martial arts library and I ran across a couple of old Hsing-I books written by Tim Tackett in the '70s and '80s.

I thought, I wonder if he is still alive. In all these decades, I never made the connection between this Tim Tackett and the one who co-authored a couple of great books on Jeet Kune Do.

So I did some Google research and realized it was the same guy as the Jeet Kune Do instructor. I sent him an email and he agreed to an interview for the Internal Fighting Arts podcast.

I've always had a lot of respect for JKD. I studied "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" cover-to-cover back when it first came out in the original hardbound version in 1975 and tried to adapt some of the techniques and philosophies. 

As I got older, attacking on recovery and between my opponent's punches (I believe in JKD that is on the "half beat") became essential to winning tournament sparring matches.

Tim Tackett began studying kung-fu while living in Taiwan in the early '60s. He was an early pioneer when most Americans Tim Tackett 4had no clue what kung-fu was about. He received his senior instructor certification from Dan Inosanto in 1973.

He co-authored a couple of great JKD books and he has written a couple on his own. At age 75, he still teaches a Wednesday night class in his garage in Redlands, California.

It is my honor to present this edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast, featuring an interview with Tim. Follow this link to listen online or download the file -- Tim Tackett interview on Audello.

Use this link for the Tim Tackett interview on iTunes.

A Guided Chaos Workshop - Tai Chi Fighting Insights from the Outside

Guided Chaos Workshop Teachers 9-17-2016
Left to right: Kevin Harrell, Joe Martarano, Ken, and Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour.

Those of us who practice Tai Chi (Taiji) as a fighting art pursue concepts that represent a holy grail. They are written about in the classics, and spoken of in quotes by long-dead masters including Chen Wangting, who supposedly said:

"I know everyone, but no one knows me."

When I first became interested in the Kung Fu TV show back in the early Seventies, one of the interesting quotes from the show was:

"A Shaolin monk, when reached for, cannot be felt."

When I was 18 and watching that show, I thought that meant something mystical, as if a Shaolin monk vanished in front of you. But the quote resonated with me.

I have done push hands with some Chinese instructors, including Chen Bing and Chen Xiaoxing, who, when I pushed on them, they disappeared and very quickly I found myself off-balance (or on the floor). When I reached for them, they could not be felt.

In other words, I could not find their center, but they could find mine.

For a long time, I've been working to get better at maintaining my center while I control my opponent's center, setting him up for a counter. There are muscular ways of achieving this, and more subtle ways. And so, when my friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos, and its practice of "contact flow," I immediately saw the connection between this aspect of their art and the goal that eludes so many Tai Chi folks who end up using muscle to overpower their opponents, rather than relaxing, sensing, flowing, and controlling the opponent's center.

On September 17, 2016, I spent a day in Cincinnati working on contact flow with three talented Guided Chaos instructors: Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour, Kevin Harrell, and Joe Martarano. It was my second time working with Al and Kevin, and the first time I have met Joe. I hope it isn't the last. These guys are great martial artists.

Another important phrase that we often repeat in martial arts is from Bruce Lee, who borrowed from Taoist philosophy when he urged people to "be water." Pour it into a cup and it becomes the cup, Bruce said. Water can flow, and it can crash.

"Be water, my friend."

Contact flow, developed by the founder of Guided Chaos, John Perkins, teaches you to relax and flow around obstacles, redirecting incoming force, moving and maintaining your root, maintaining your center, and, as you flow and find your way, you knock the crap out of your opponent.

This is what Tai Chi is supposed to be. Tai Chi is about fighting, but it aims for more subtle principles and body mechanics than some arts do.

Chen Tai Chi push hands can be brutal. I know people who have gone to Chen Village and come back nursing broken bones. There are strikes, throws, joint locks and more. A good pluck can cause whiplash. If you aren't careful, or if you get a little aggressive, someone will need to heal up for a while. But in the beginning, you should develop sensitivity and be able to move from form to fighting. To do that well, you should develop subtle skills. At least that's what everyone talks about, but few seem to do it.

Practicing contact flow triggered insights and connected some of the dots of Tai Chi in an effective way. A year ago, after my first Guided Chaos workshop, it changed the way I thought about push hands, and this year, it has changed the way I practice push hands.

You should be able to learn some of these subtle skills, but it's not easy to find good push hands instructors, or experienced push hands partners. Another problem we face is that Americans simply do not grow up learning the concept of relaxing and flowing while maintaining the ground, peng, and using the spiraling movements of silk-reeling. Instead, we tense up and want to smash like the Hulk. It's funny to me now when I push hands with someone from outside the internal arts -- how tense they are. But that is how we all feel until we learn, and practice, practice, practice.

Guided Chaos - Ken - Evan
My friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos.

One time, around 1999, a Chinese gongfu "master" came to the Quad Cities to hold a workshop at my friend John Morrow's school. I attended, and at one point during the workshop, the interpreter walked over to me and said, "Master Wong says you have gongfu. He would like to visit your school and practice with you."

I was very flattered. When he visited my school a few days later, he had me put my hand on his chest, and he put his on mine. He wanted me to push him off-balance. That was the first time I ever pushed on someone whose center could not be found, and he wasn't nearly as skilled as the Chen family. It was eye-opening. But he had no idea how to explain it to me. So the concept remained like the Shaolin monk. I reached for it, but could not find it.

Guided Chaos has at least part of the answer, but as a combat art, it is about a lot more than contact flow. It is a no-nonsense fighting art and they will flat out kick your butt. I highly recommend any of their workshops.

I could only spend one day at this year's Cincinnati workshop because I had to return to teach my journalism class. Even one day was enough to inform me on some of the next steps in my own development. I am continuing to work on the relaxed strength, moving, centering, and spiraling that makes up good internal arts, but also allows you to flow like water, remain "out of reach" by your opponent, and then, as Bruce Lee also said, "I don't hit. IT hits by itself."

I can fight, but just fighting is no longer the goal for me, especially at my age. There is something else, skills that have been elusive.

I was working with Joe Martarano at one point during the workshop, and I realized that I was repeating some habits that have been part of my fighting but were not as efficient as I was trying to achieve.

"I need to empty my cup," I said, scolding myself. But Joe disagreed.

"Empty your cup?" he asked. "You already emptied your cup or you wouldn't be here today."

Good point. 

You never know when you will taste someone else's art and learn something that contributes to your own art.


43 Years Ago - My First Martial Arts Lesson During the Bruce Lee Craze

A year or two after I began studying.

I am always surprised when the anniversary of my first martial arts lesson rolls around. Forty-three years tonight, during the height of the Bruce Lee craze, one month after "Enter the Dragon" opened in theaters, I attended my first lesson, at Sin The's school in Lexington, Kentucky. His school was in a converted garage in the Eastland Shopping Center, and there were so many students responding to the introductory class, we spilled out into the driveway. I was in the driveway.

I have forgotten exactly what we learned that night, but what Sin The ("Grandmaster" The) taught, "Shaolin-Do Karate," seemed mysterious and deadly. As years passed, long after I left his school, the name "Shaolin-Do Karate" made me laugh. But it was a start, and as I learned the punches, kicks, blocks, one-steps, forms and self-defense techniques, I took to it like the proverbial fish to water.

When I see students now who "didn't have time to practice" lately, I remember how I spent an hour a day in my dorm, doing kicks, punches, and stepping techniques up and down the hall for an hour a day -- over and over. I did that while in college and working three part-time jobs to survive.

When promotion time came, I noticed that some of the students around me looked terrible -- no passion, no energy, no snap in their techniques -- but they received their promotion just as I did. I didn't really care if they got promotions with less effort. I wanted to be his best student at each level that I reached.

At 20 years of age, I had no idea how important martial arts would be in my life. Several years ago, when I lost the function of my left lung, I wondered how long I would be able to continue in the arts. My wife said, "I can't imagine you not doing kung-fu. It is part of you."

She was right.

Ken-Gullette-Flying-Kick-2014-blogDespite the physical struggles of the past several years, I have persisted, and recently, for the first time in a few years, I've padded up and have begun working on fighting techniques with a harder edge, and sparring with my students. For several years, I was either in heart failure or I was coughing up blood, or in serious pulmonary distress. I'll never be what I was prior to 2009, but I can still learn, and I can still get better.

Besides, there are fighting techniques I simply need to work on. That's what fascinates me with these arts.

This past weekend, I attended a Guided Chaos workshop in Cincinnati. More about that tomorrow in another blog post. I was working with Joe, one of the talented, tough-as-nails teachers, and as he was working with me on a principle, at one point I said, "Yes, I see. I need to empty my cup and forget what I normally do."

He replied, "You have already emptied your cup, or you wouldn't be here."

And I think that is part of the key to the past 43 years of this love affair with martial arts. I realize as much today as I did on September 20, 1973 that I have so much to learn. The big difference is that now, I realize that I don't have enough time now to learn what I want to learn, or to become as good as I want to become.

But it's still a lot of fun trying.

I won't be here in another 43 years. I don't think. But then, in 2009, the odds were that I wouldn't be here now. So I'm not making any predictions. Now let's practice.

Bruce Lee Did Us A Disservice When He Said "Boards Don't Hit Back"

Bruce Lee did all of us a disservice but I don't think it was intentional. He said, "Boards don't hit back," but he said it in the context of a movie, when O'Hara arrogantly broke a board just before he was to fight Bruce.

When Bruce said, "Boards don't hit back," it wasn't a put-down of board-breaking as a training tool. It was a threat that he was going to kick O'Hara's ass in a movie.

Now, 43 years after "Enter the Dragon," when you put a video up showing breaks, a few guys who troll the internet as keyboard warriors love to say, "Boards don't hit back."

Here is my answer. Neither do heavybags. Neither do speedbags. Neither do focus mitts. Air doesn't hit back when you shadowbox.

And Bruce Lee understood what board-breaking was -- a demo of focused power. If you hit a board wrong, it lets you know. It doesn't break, and with some boards, like the black one that I use, which is the strongest, it can cause a little pain.

Let all the intelligent martial artists put this old cliche to rest, because it is just a line from a movie that has no context in training. After all, as this video shows, Bruce was not opposed to using boards as a tool.

1969 Video of Bruce Lee Breaking A Board With... by videobash

Also remember that when Bruce Lee demonstrated his One-Inch Punch, his partner was not hitting back.

A board is a training tool. It is just one tool that provides a little feedback. Lighten up and use every tool you can. When keyboard warriors try to make themselves feel like tough guys by making these comments, I ban them from my page. They aren't smart enough to deserve the information I try to provide.

173 Board Breaks in the Chen Tai Chi Laojia Yilu Form

Tai Chi (Taiji) is performed slowly so students can learn the internal body mechanics that make it a powerful fighting art.

Every movement in Taiji has several self-defense applications. In my DVDs on fighting applications, I show more than 400 strikes, kicks, joint locks, sweeps, and takedowns in the Laojia Yilu form.

Recently, I decided to go through the 75 movements of Laojia Yilu -- also known as "Old Frame First Form" -- and do as many board breaks as I could find, without repeating any of the movements (several movements are repeated in the form). This video focuses only on striking possibilities in the form -- not chin-na or sweeps or throws. Just strikes and some kicks.

I came up with 144 board breaks in a little over two hours, then, after first posting the video a week ago, I saw 29 breaks that I wanted to add, so we shot those yesterday. My thanks to Colin Frye for holding the boards and my wife, Nancy, for being the ace videographer.

Now for some Breaking News -- 173 board breaks in one Taiji form. If you want to learn the body mechanics behind the movements, join my website at, or check out my DVDs on this blog.

Chen Xiaowang says fajin ("issuing power") is the same as the slow movements of Tai Chi. The only difference is when you want to do fajin, you "step on the gas." In this video, I step on the gas.

One more thing about board-breaking. Bruce Lee said "boards don't hit back." Well, neither do heavybags, speedbags, or makiwara boards. These are all tools to develop power, technique, and to get a little instant feedback. Anyone who dismisses board-breaking because of something Bruce Lee said in a movie needs to think a little deeper.



Boards Don't Hit Back -- Bruce Lee's Famous Line is Only Entertainment

Last Saturday at our practice, we took a few minutes to have fun with board-breaking. We tried different breaks from short range, the idea being if you are in close, can you generate enough power to do some damage to an opponent.

Here is the video that resulted.

When you put a video like this online, you will inevitably have someone reply with "Boards don't hit back." Sometimes a friend will say it in jest, but sometimes it is said by someone who is serious.

"Boards don't hit back" is a line that Bruce Lee said in "Enter the Dragon," when Bob Wall broke a board at the beginning of a fight with Bruce. 


Since 1973, some Bruce Lee "purists" and "Real Fighting" macho guys have pretended that board breaking is stupid.

They would be wrong.

Yes, boards don't hit back. Neither do heavy bags. Neither do makiwara boards. And neither does paper.

Did you know that Punching Paper was one of Bruce Lee's training techniques?

Here is a video I shot in 2006, showing my cute wife Nancy holding a newspaper page up very lightly with two fingers as I try to punch my fist through the paper. It doesn't count if you rip the paper. You must put your fist through the paper. Try this sometime.

When I first put the paper punching video on YouTube, a troll made the comment, "That's great if I'm ever attacked by a newspaper."

He didn't get it. And I'll bet he couldn't punch through a newspaper. It's harder than you think.

Of course, Bruce Lee also used a lot of tools extensively, including heavybags and wooden dummies. The last time I checked, heavybags and wooden dummies don't hit back.

Bruce even broke boards occasionally to demonstrate power.

This is one of the problems when people take an entertaining line from a movie and try to turn it into Holy Scripture. 

Heavybags, makiwara boards, board breaking, Bob bags -- it's all good for focusing your technique and your power. I can't break my training partner's face tonight, and I can't break his ribs. So how do I train to focus and test my striking power and my ability to break an opponent? I use the right tools.

So the next time someone tries to be an Online Know-It-All and says, "Boards don't hit back," tell them to come closer and let you use their face instead of a board.

As a Taiji teacher I respect -- Michael Chritton said, "The air doesn't hit back, either, and I punch it all the time."

Now THAT is a good line worth repeating.

Here is another board-breaking video my students and I shot last winter. Fun with a purpose.

Self-defense is serious business, but you can't take yourself so seriously. It takes all the fun out of the arts. And even at age 62, I want to have the power to break an opponent's face, but I'm still in it to have fun.

John Little and the Legacy of Bruce Lee -- Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Bruce Lee Dan Inosanto
Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto while filming "Game of Death" in 1972.

This weekend I will meet Dan Inosanto and study for the first time with someone who trained with Bruce Lee. It has been a 41-year old wish that will finally happen.

Dan studied with Bruce and also taught Bruce a few things about Kali. He appeared in Bruce's film "Game of Death," and he has the reputation of being a very nice man and a great teacher.

All the people who once trained with Bruce Lee are getting older now. Most are in their Seventies. Some have passed away. Bruce Lee would have turned 75 later this year. I can't imagine having the experience of actually training with Bruce as part of my martial background.

I also can't imagine having complete access to all of Bruce's notes, letters, photos and drawings.

This week's Internal Fighting Arts podcast features an interview with John Little, who took Bruce's personal papers and photos and created some of the best books that document Bruce's legacy. His books include:

  • Jeet Kune Do
  • Letters of the Dragon
  • The Art of Expressing the Human Body
  • Words of the Dragon
  • Artist of Life
  • The Warrior Within
  • Bruce Lee: The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon
  • Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living

Bruce 1In 2011, John Little heard an interview I did on The Infidel Guy podcast and he sent me an email, telling me how refreshing it was to hear an internal artist who applied critical thinking skills to the subject of "chi powers." We struck up an email conversation and I asked him if I could do an interview.

Since my trip to the Inosanto workshop has backed me up this week, I am running that 2011 interview with John Little as the latest edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast.

Follow this link to listen or download the podcast with John Little.


Be Water, My Friend - Bruce Lee, Push Hands and Close-Up Self-Defense

One of my favorite quotes from Bruce Lee was not completely original. The concept was already part of Taoism and Zen long before he said it, but Westerners had not heard it in the early Seventies.

"You must empty your mind," he said. "Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. Put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

Ken Gullette - Colin Frye 1
My partner Colin aims a punch at my chest.

I think of this often when I work with my students on push hands and other close-up self-defense skills. I try to be water, and flow around resistance to find my way to my target.

What happens when you punch water? Bruce Lee talked about an inspiration he had when he was frustrated and punched water one day on a lake. Whether this story is true or not doesn't matter. Bruce said that when he punched into a lake, he was inspired because the water gave in to his punch and yet flowed around his fist.

Taoism says "the softest thing cannot be snapped." It discusses a blade of grass or a reed, bending as a strong wind blows. The wind might knock down a large tree if it is old and stiff, but a blade of grass is soft and flexible, and lives through the storm.

Ken Gullette - Colin Frye 2
I flow around the punch, removing the target and setting up an elbow strike.

When you are practicing push hands or any close-up fighting drill with a partner, you should become that soft blade of grass, giving way to force but surviving.

Be water, my friend.

Flow around the force that your partner or opponent directs at you. Relax, intercept it and find your way around, just as water in a stream does when it encounters a large rock in the river bed.

When I do push hands with someone who is too stiff, they are very easy to defeat. It is easy to find their center and move it, because a stiff arm connects directly to their center. Push the arm and the center follows.

Ken Gullette - Colin Frye 3
He stiffens his right arm but loses focus on his left, so my right hand finds his face.

Likewise, someone who is focused on the force they are trying to give you has often lost their center. Their focus can have too much purpose and too much intent. If you are able to remain relaxed and flow around that force, you can find your target and strike effectively.

This type of training should be started very slowly. You and your partner should look for openings and move very slowly for a while as you learn how your body should best respond. You will find yourself tied up, twisted, and off-balance, but you must respond as slowly as your partner moves (if either partner moves too fast, they must be called on it). Both partners should attack and defend whenever they feel an opening.

It is okay to do poorly at first. If you find yourself in a double-weighted position -- in a position where you cannot defend -- ask your partner to do it again, slowly, so you can figure out how best to deal with an attack. This is "investing in loss." If all you are interested in is getting a shot in on your partner, your skill will not progress as it will if you understand that your goal is to find your own weaknesses and make improvement in your skill.

Over time, you speed it up, but for a while, it is best to go very slowly, learning to walk before you run.

It doesn't take water very much work to be relaxed -- only a temperature above 32 degrees. For you and me, being relaxed and learning to flow like water takes a lot of hard work.

So how do you apply this to your life outside of self-defense? I'll talk about that in my next post.


Dropping Power in Taiji Xingyi and Bagua - Generating Power Over a Short Distance Like Bruce Lee's One Inch Punch

Have you ever heard of the "Teacher Test" in Taiji? When you meet a Taiji instructor, ask if they can do the Teacher Test.

Most often, they will stare at you with a blank expression, but if they actually know what you are asking, and demonstrate the Teacher Test, you have found a good teacher and you should sign up for instruction.

The Teacher Test was demonstrated to me by my first Chen Taiji instructor, Jim Criscimagna, the day I met him in early 1998. I had been in martial arts for 25 years at that point, and I had read about the Teacher Test in an online forum but had never seen it. When I asked Jim about it, he asked me to stand next to him and put my hand on his shoulder.

Dropping Power is part of many techniques, including the self-defense application of the Opening movement in a Tai Chi form.

"Now, without cocking your arm and shoulder -- without using local arm and shoulder muscle -- and without changing your stance -- knock me off balance," he said.

I was paralyzed. I had no idea what to do.

He laughed and asked me to stand there while he demonstrated. He put his hand on my shoulder and, without using "arm and shoulder" muscle, and without changing his stance, he knocked me off my spot.

I knew that I had to start over and re-learn Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang.

I just recorded a video for my online internal arts school demonstrating how the Teacher Test is done. It uses Dropping Power -- a close relative of Borrowing Energy and utilizes a Bouncing Energy that pushes down into the ground and then rebounds through the body and out the hand (or whatever body part is attacking).

It is very similar to Bruce Lee's One-Inch Punch, and it can knock someone off his spot, but its power is amplified if an opponent is bringing force to you and you combine Dropping Power with your opponent's incoming mass and velocity (Borrowing Energy). Recently, one of my good friends demonstrated this concept and he did not learn it from a traditional Taiji instructor -- he learned it (and very well, too) as a student in the Guided Chaos system. So the knowledge is out there, just not very often in the typical internal arts classes that you sign up for.

Knock your partner back, not by pushing, but by dropping your energy and letting it rebound through the body.

We've all heard stories of the little Chinese man who can knock a big guy away and not appear to move very much at all. It is one of the stories that gives rise to the mythology of "chi." But it is not mystical. It is completely physical, like everything else in the internal arts. It depends upon proper body mechanics.

To do Dropping Power, you drop your weight (some like to say "drop your energy" but it is your weight) into your feet -- catch the ground path and let it rebound up through the body and out your hand. You can use a forward motion -- you do not have to stand perfectly straight, but you do NOT want to use localized arm and shoulder muscle to cock the arm or bring it back before the punch. 

It is a whole-body strike, and it is perfectly internal. In fact, it is an internal principle that everyone involved in the internal arts should know and be able to demonstrate. Especially your teacher. If your teacher has not shown you this, I would suggest supplementing your teacher's instruction with the material on my website, or else find a teacher who can demonstrate (and teach) this skill without making it seem mysterious and metaphysical.

Learn how to do Dropping Power and have complete access to more than 600 other internal arts instructional videos for two full weeks free -- just visit and sign up. No charge for two weeks -- no contracts -- cancel anytime. There is nothing to lose and a lot of insight to gain.