It is a B.S. argument, but it is the current fad in martial arts discussions.
"If you can't take on an MMA fighter, your martial art is useless."
Nobody trains all-out. Nobody trains realistically. It is mental masturbation to think that you do.
If you did train all-out, like a "real" fight, you and your partners would not train very long.
Unless you are in a full-contact fight with no rules at all, it is very difficult to defend the way you want to.
If a shooter comes in, I want to knee them in the face and strike down on the back of their neck with my elbow. If someone clinches, I want to bite a hole in their arm.
If anyone practiced realistically, in any martial art, we would all take turns going to the hospital.
We were practicing clinches last week, and we laughed at one point because one of the best defenses is to just reach over and gouge out your opponent's eyes. But we were working on techniques more fitting to our art and we were not hurting each other.
At one point, I asked my partner to put me in a choke hold. He did. I faked a bite to his arm to get the point across.
In a real fight, if someone got me on the ground and wrapped a leg around my throat, he would be screaming when I bit a hole in his thigh. You think you are tough enough to take that pain? Not likely.
You do not have to hurt anyone or be hurt, or defend yourself against a trained young MMA fighter. You can still be a good fighter and defend yourself or others when necessary.
I was in the Toughman Contest in 1991. I was 38 and my larger opponent was 25. I won my full-contact fight, but afterwards, there was a dull ache in the center of my brain from being punched that I had never experienced and could not pinpoint. The photos on this post show highlights. I am in the blue shirt.
It convinced me that full-contact fighting is for people who don't look very far down the road.
That does not mean we can't learn to defend ourselves or others, as I proved in that fight.
The macho guys who now say you have to fight a trained MMA fighter or you aren't a martial artist have my permission to damage their bodies and get all the concussions they want.
I'll watch and then go practice my skills without hurting anyone, and without hurting myself.
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!!
Try Two Weeks Free on My Website and Get Complete Access to Step-by-Step Training in Tai Chi, Xingyi, Bagua, Qigong and More Without the Mystical Mumbo Jumbo -- This Training Will Finally Teach You the Complete Arts, for Self-Defense, Fitness, and Meditation. Click Here and Get Complete Access Now!
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.
Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang was teaching us the proper way to do fajin ("issuing energy") with the Hidden Hand Punch movement from Laojia Yilu. He had each person stand in front of him and do the movement.
I had really been practicing, and I was particularly proud of the way I was able to close into the kua before firing the punch. I had been studying Chen Taiji for over five years, practicing and practicing. I knew I was going to get a "good" from the Grandmaster.
He stood and watched as I assumed the position, legs wide, and I closed into the kua.
He shook his head. "Too much," he said.
"Too much?" I asked.
There was a bit of a language barrier, but it was clear that he did not like what he saw.
He showed me, and he settled into the kua the way I had done. "Too much," he repeated. Then he did it again, closing into the kua in a much more subtle way.
"Just enough," he said.
Ahhh, just enough.
I tried to copy him, and closed much softer. Then I fired the punch.
He nodded, said, "Okay," and moved on to the next student.
A laurel and hardy handshake?
Okay? Just okay? I didn't even deserve a laurel, and hardy handshake?
When you are a student of the internal arts under traditional teachers, do not expect a medal just for showing up. In fact, regardless of the number of years you have practiced, you should expect to be corrected as if you are a beginner.
Studying the traditional martial arts is not for those with fragile egos. Your ego needs to strap on a cup, because it's going to be kicked in the psychological groin for a few decades.
I have students who have achieved black sashes, and some that have studied 13 or more years and have not achieve a black sash. Others are just starting. When I see them perform, from beginner to advanced, I see different things that need to be corrected.
A week ago, I was correcting Colin, a student who has been with me for quite a while, and he seemed frustrated that he had not yet gotten a certain skill.
"Do you know what a special kind of person you are?" I asked him. "It takes a lot of strength to keep being corrected year after year. Not many can do it."
He had not considered the value of possessing this very great quality: persistence. It requires a lot of determination.
Over the years, you teach all kinds of students. Some can't handle criticism at all. Some decide as they become more advanced that they are not interested in being coached by you, and others take correction in stride, knowing it is intended to help them develop.
Occasionally, a student will quit very quickly, as soon as he or she realizes that it is very difficult, and the coaching can be picky.
Chen Huixian corrects me in 2013.
This August, I hope to attend a workshop with Master Chen Huixian and Michael Chritton. A few years ago, I was training with them, and they reminded me not to collapse my legs, a habit I picked up training in the Chen Xiaowang lineage. If you look at videos from some folks, even some who are called master, you will often see a collapsed leg.
"Maintain peng in the legs," Huixian said.
Instead of resenting the correction, it had a huge impact on the strength of my stances.
Another time, we were doing a movement, and Huixian said, "Relax the hip."
I realized she was talking about closing the kua. Suddenly, what Chen Xiaowang could not properly describe to me in 2003 became clear. By relaxing the hip, your kua closes in a much more subtle way.
Ahhh. Okay. Now I can make progress.
I have seen my teachers corrected by Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and Ren Guangyi. Being corrected in front of others is not a bad thing. You see, you will never be as good as you can be until you set aside your ego and realize that all good players -- in any physical activity -- need a coach to watch them and make corrections. The top golfers have coaches, basketball, baseball and football stars have coaches, and martial artists need coaches, too.
Without a coach telling you where you are screwing up, and what you are doing well, improvement takes a LOT longer.
We also tend to slip into bad habits. A coach can spot a bad habit and correct us. When I see some masters collapse their legs, for example, I realize they have no one correcting them, so a bad habit persists, and their students then pick it up.
So the next time your teacher corrects you, thank him or her. You have just been given a gift -- time. And if you are like me, you will drive away absolutely fired up over taking one baby-step further down the road on your internal arts journey.
If you can't handle criticism, perhaps you should do something else for fun, like stamp or comic book collecting, hobbies that don't require a teacher to slap you upside the head with the Dim Mak of a critique.
I was very sorry to read in the New York Times about the death of Charles Neville, one of the Neville Brothers, one of the greatest bands to come out of New Orleans. Aaron Neville is one of his brothers.
Charles bought several of my DVDs and joined my website when it launched, 10 years ago this July. Each month, I would get a notice that he had paid his monthly fee, but I never really connected his name to Aaron Neville and the Neville Brothers. He remained a member until less than two years ago, and I wondered if he was in poor health. I knew he was in his 70s.
He called me on the phone a couple of times over the years, before I realized who he was. I talked to him like I do all of my website members.
The last time he called, he had forgotten his password to the website, so I created a new one for him. He said, "I haven't been on the website in a couple of months because I've been traveling, playing music."
Almost as a joke I asked, "Are you related to the famous Neville Brothers?" He replied, "Yes, I'm one of the Neville Brothers."
I almost fell out of my chair.
Charles Neville played the sax for B.B. King, Bobby (Blue) Bland, Johnny Ace and more. He overcame a drug addiction and eventually studied taiji and meditation, and that brought him to my DVDs and website.
He was 79 years old. I hope his internal arts and qigong helped him ride through the ordeal of pancreatic cancer a little bit. I was honored to think that he and I were connected, and that he supported my efforts and studied my material. In the video below, from 1994, Charles is in the white shirt with the saxophone.
It is strange to be on the other side of the microphone. I am accustomed to doing interviews for my podcast, so it was a different feeling to be interviewed by Jeremy Lesniak for his Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio podcast. I was honored to be asked. My friend Jonathan Bluestein, who was interviewed a few weeks ago, recommended me to Jeremy.
Here is a link to the show. I almost postponed it because I had been battling a lung issue for almost two weeks, and with only one lung, I could hardly speak without coughing for several days. The heavy breathing is very obvious, and the microphone picks up every bit of it!
Ian Sinclair is a tai chi instructor in Orillia, Ontario who studied with Grandmaster Shouyu Liang and Sam Masich.
I interviewed him almost two months ago for the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. It was a long conversation, so I broke it up into two parts.
He tells stories about training the Grandmaster Liang, we talk about fighting applications of tai chi, and the importance of practicing basics. We also talk about the controversial "fight" between MMA fighter Xu Xaodong and Tai Chi "master" Wei Lei last year, when Wei Lei was defeated in just seconds.
Here are parts one and two of the podcast interview with Ian Sinclair. You can listen online or download the mp3 file to your computer. It is also available on iTunes.
I didn't look very tough at 14, and that's why bullies targeted me, but I was rocking that Beatles haircut!!
He was 16 years old; taller, heavier and stronger.
And he wanted to beat me up.
I was 14, a skinny, friendly kid with glasses who was a magnet for bullies back in the days when boys settled arguments by fighting.
He was the son of the sheriff of Jessamine County, Kentucky, and he had a couple of young toadies who followed him around.
A couple of my cousins were with me, leaving the drugstore in downtown Wilmore where we had been drinking Cokes, looking at comics and lusting after Helen, the pretty girl who worked there.
Back in the 1950s and '60s, dogs and boys ran free through the streets and farms around Wilmore because, by God, that's how the good Lord made us. We walked on the train tracks, explored the graveyard, went swimming at local creeks, and even walked across High Bridge, a dangerous feat especially when trains were coming.
Our parents didn't care where we went as long as we went outside and left them alone. We were always ready to oblige.
"Kenny, Don't Ever Run from a Fight"
On this day, as we left the drugstore, the bully and his followers began taunting us, then challenged me to fight behind the drugstore.
I did not want to fight, but what could I do with my cousins watching?
The words of my dad rang in my head. "Kenny, don't ever run from a fight."
My dad was born in the 1920s and joined the Marines near the end of World War II. He was the nicest, friendliest man I ever knew, but he had a limit if he was mistreated. He would fight back.
As a kid, I took his advice to heart. I was not going to back down.
We went behind the storefronts where no adults could see us. The bully began circling me in the gravel and dirt as our friends cheered us on.
I was trying to figure out how to get out of this alive. Then he punched me in the face.
The Hard Punch of Reality
Fear gripped me. He is taller, heavier, and stronger, I was thinking. If I punch back, he will kill me.
He slapped at me and scratched my face. He got me into a head lock and I managed to escape. He kept hitting me and pushing me for what seemed to be half an hour. I could feel the scratches and welts on my face and head.
Eventually, I knew that I had to hit back. Either way, I might be whipped.
It is said that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing what needs to be done despite your fear.
I remember thinking, "Okay, here goes...."
The bully stepped in and finally, I uncorked a punch to his face as hard as I could.
He stumbled backward, pain and surprise in his eyes.
"You hit me!" He held his face with one hand and unleashed a string of profanity that I hadn't heard since my dad hit himself on the thumb with a hammer.
Yes, I did hit you, I thought, and it felt really good. I advanced on him, but he backed away, covering up and wailing like he was scared to death.
He took off running with his toadies.
The Birth of a Legend
My younger cousins stared at me with a hero worship usually reserved for Superman or, in Wilmore, the mere mention of Jesus.
At that moment, I deserved that look. I had defeated the town bully, the sheriff's son, with one punch.
The legend spread through Wilmore. Kenny beat up the town bully. Gullette boys could hold their heads up with pride.
It was not my first fight with a bully, and it would not be my last. But as I look back on all those fights, I see a common thread.
A bully acts angry and tough to instill fear in his target. When he identifies someone who is afraid, he chooses that person as his target, thinking that the target will not fight back.
And the bully always has his friends behind him, weaker guys with their own personality issues who run away when the bully gets taken down.
Bullies Feed on Fear
I was always friendly, always ready to joke around, and bullies typically saw that as weakness. But there is one thing they did not understand.
I tried to avoid the fight as long as possible, but once I began fighting, I really loved it.
Nothing was more exciting than putting your own safety on the line against a bully.
Fighting another person is the ultimate macho one-on-one competition.
Even now, at 65, a cage fight is mesmerizing to me. I find MMA fights to be ugly and brutal, but I am drawn to them if I happen to see one on TV. It brings out something primal in me.
The last thing a bully wants is to fight someone like me.
When my daughters were in school, girls began getting mean. Only "trashy" girls fought when I was a kid. In middle school, a girl threatened my oldest daughter, Harmony.
"You have my permission to hit a bully," I told her. "You might get in trouble at school, but you will never get in trouble at home."
Harmony took after me. She was very friendly and never met a stranger. But eventually, she stood up to bullies at least a couple of times and it worked.
Remove the Fear and Change Your Reaction
You see, the worst thing about dealing with a bully is the fear they instill in you. The only thing you have to fear about a bully is your own emotional reaction. If you react to a bully with fear, you give them exactly what they need. They thrive on it. They depend on it.
When you change the way you react and remove the fear, you take away the fuel that drives their actions.
Bullying gets more complicated as you get older. In relationships, bullying can take the form of emotional control or domestic abuse. Once again, the bully does not believe he or she will face a backlash from their targets.
At work, bullying can be more insidious, with verbal bullying, giving you impossible deadlines or tasks, and the invisible bullying that can happen when someone poisons your reputation behind your back.
In the workplace, bullies understand you can't hit them back.
I have seen them all. I cannot explain why they behave this way. A lack of self-esteem, abuse they endured as a child, or simply mental instability or internal demons they cannot control. It does not matter if you are the target.
In the workplace, bullies know they have economic power over you. If they sabotage you, it can be much more damaging than a punch to the face. It can be life-changing.
Bullies love Facebook. If you write martial arts posts, or put video up showing techniques, bullies come out of the woodwork like roaches, belittling you from the safety of their keyboards. I have a one-strike-and-you're-out policy. One drive-by bullying comment and you are blocked forever. I will take away your control, remove the target, and lead you into emptiness.
How to handle bullies -- online and in the workplace -- would make a great podcast. I'm going to work on lining up an interview with an expert.
We study martial arts for a reason. We study so that we never have to use our skills, but if suddenly we find ourselves to be the target, or we see someone else become the target, we are ready to set aside fear and do the right thing.
Violence in school is taken much more seriously now than when I was growing up. But bullying has not stopped, and administrators still don't do enough to stop it and put the hammer down on the bullies. If my daughters were back in middle school, my advice would be the same if they ever feared for their physical safety. You may get in trouble at school for hitting back, but you will never get in trouble at home for defending yourself or someone else from a bully.
I never saw the sheriff's son again, but the story of our fight behind the drugstore echoed through Wilmore, Kentucky for years.
Your philosophy of life does not have to be complicated to be effective. Sometimes, the simplest of messages can have the biggest impact.
Let me explain.
A Facebook friend of mine, Abby Cheesman, posted a link a couple of months ago that struck a chord in my heart.
The post told about a simple campaign that was trying to spread a message with only four words:
Do Good. Be Kind.
When I saw the baseball jersey with these words printed on it, I had to have one.
Abby's mom and dad, Peg and Brad Neilson, who were in my tai chi class this winter, gave me one of the shirts at the end of a series of classes. They also gave Nancy a shirt.
In the couple of months since, these words have haunted me every day, but in a good way. I wake up and think about how I can accomplish this every day.
How can I do good, and how can I offer kindness to others today?
Since the 1970s, I have tried to live according to philosophical Taoism and, to a lesser degree, Zen Buddhism.
The center of my personal philosophy is to "connect" to all things, and to remain centered at all times.
If you are truly connected to others, to the world around you, doing good for others becomes natural. You treat others as you would treat yourself. You do not do good because you hope to be rewarded with something -- money, eternal life, etc. -- you do good for moral reasons, for goodness' sake.
Likewise, being kind to others is rooted in being connected and centered. You cannot treat another person with cruelty if you have your act together. You only behave in a mean way when you perceive yourself as better, or as special, or perhaps even as worse than they are, and your mean actions are masking a feeling of inferiority.
It is complicated to explain how to connect to all things, and how to remain centered at all times. It also takes a lot of practice.
That is why "Do Good. Be Kind." hit me like a two-by-four. In its simplicity lies perfection. This is really all you need.
If you seek to do good in each action you take, and if you seek to be kind to every person you encounter each day, you will connect and you will be centered.
In the real world, however, we do fall short. There are times when anger is appropriate. I study and teach self-defense because, even if our goal in practicing kung-fu is to master ourselves, we understand that there may be times when we must defend against those who are not kind, are not good, and are not centered.
But most of the time, the choice is ours. How do we behave each day? We can decide for ourselves.
So each day now, I ponder these four words. As I go through today, I will look for every opportunity to Do Good. Be Kind.
I hope you will, too. Think of the ripple effect we can have in the lives of others, the Butterfly Effect that an act of kindness could have.
It's worth a try, isn't it?
A philosophy is useless if it is not put into action. So let's live our philosophy today. Do Good. Be Kind.
Visit the website -- www.dogoodbekind.life -- and check out their mission and their apparel. It was started by Christopher Kurtz of Peer Thru. He and his wife Brittany run the nonprofit for Do Good. Be Kind. Please help spread this wonderful message.
Last October, I offered a free tai chi class for people aged 40 and over. I stopped teaching older students a decade ago because I wanted to focus on the martial-oriented side of the internal arts. But we used to have a lot of fun with the older friends we made, so I started this new, free class to make new friends, have fun, and teach the Chen 19 form. Some of the students were nearly 80 years old. The oldest student was 83.
When you have practiced a form for 20 years, it seems easy. It was clear the very first night that even a beginning, short form like the Chen 19 appears like a deep, yawning abyss in front of someone who has not studied it before. The idea of actually getting through the thing seems impossible when you are learning the first movement.
As we went through the opening movement, I began coaching them through the simple stepping out and raising the arms, then dropping the energy while lowering the arms.
We practiced it a few times and then I said, "Okay, practice the opening movement on your own and I'll watch."
Suddenly, the entire class looked like a herd of deer in the headlights. Most of them had no idea what to do. Most of the others could not step out and then remember to raise and lower their arms.
It had been more than a decade since I had taught a group of beginners. The enormity of the task hit me like a roundhouse kick to the head, and I believe it hit them, too.
Oh Crap! This is Hard!!
In the past 20 years of teaching, I have seen a lot of students show up for their first martial arts class, eyes shining and with eager faces, ready to discover the mysteries of self-defense and Chinese kung-fu.
I have also seen a lot of students fail to return for their second martial arts class.
There is a good reason for this. Martial arts pushes people out of their comfort zone, and when they get a glimpse of the hard work and physical and mental challenge ahead, it's far too easy to run back to an easier life.
Very few activities push you out of your comfort zone like martial arts. It isn't like running or lifting weights. With running, you simply try to run a little farther or a little faster than the last time you laced up your running shoes.
With weight-training, you add one more rep or a few extra pounds of weight.
But martial arts pushes you in more ways. If pushes you physically. Your legs are burning and exhausted, you are sweating and gasping for air, and your arms are sore and feel like they weigh a ton.
Martial arts also pushes you mentally. You are asked to learn movements that rewire your brain and make you feel uncoordinated.
Look at how uncomfortable it is to learn a new form. It can take years to learn one Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua form and do it well.
No Comfort for the Achiever
I have seen my teachers being corrected by teachers such as Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi and others, as if they are beginners.
I have been corrected by those same masters, and others such as Chen Bing, Chen Ziqiang and Chen Huixian. Each of them made me feel like an uncoordinated fool. And I would collapse from the physical pain and fatigue as they made me hold stances until my legs burned and would not hold me up any longer.
It isn't easy for our egos to take such a beating.
But that's what excellence requires.
Each time I left a class feeling as if I had been humiliated, but feeling as if I had taken a baby step forward in my insight and skill, I was excited, bouncing off the doors of my car as I was driving home. Yes, it was not easy for my ego or my body to take, but the payoff was worth it.
Success in martial arts is awarded only to those who are willing to put themselves in an uncomfortable place for a long time.
Practicing the same movements year after year is too boring for many. Practicing the same body mechanics, the whole-body connection, the smooth unfolding of internal strength through the body -- the slow, step-by-step progress year by year -- it's just too much.
Darren Hardy, the former publisher of Success magazine says, "Comfort is mediocrity. Success is hard. Enjoy that fact. It eliminates the weak."
The Difference Between Successful and Unsuccessful
Hardy says that the things we have to do to be successful are the same for both successful and unsuccessful people. Both groups of people HATE doing the uncomfortable things that are required to achieve your goals.
But there is a big difference between successful and unsuccessful people.
Even though they don't want to do what is uncomfortable, successful people do it anyway.
It really is true, and it is true not just for martial arts but for any goal in your life.
As I was reaching my fifties, I adopted a tougher conditioning program as I prepared to compete and spar in tournaments. I would go 12 rounds on a heavybag -- three minutes per round with 90 seconds of rest between each round. During the first round, I would punch as fast and as many times as possible for three minutes. The second round, I would kick as fast and hard as possible.
This was very difficult. I wanted to pour a glass of wine and watch TV, but I got in shape, and continued to win sparring competitions until my mid-fifties.
Do you want to succeed at something? Do the things that most people won't do.
Chen Xiaowang practiced Laojia Yilu 10 to 20 times a day for many years. Imagine spending that much time each day practicing one form. How boring! How uncomfortable.
But what a master he became!
Small, Consistent Steps Over Time Equal Results
My class of older Tai Chi students reached the end of the Chen 19 just four nights ago, after five months of practice (with a little time off during the holidays). As we practiced the last move, the closing of the form, I turned to the few remaining and said, "See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"
I could see the recognition in their eyes that they had achieved something special.
Out of 75 people in the first class, around eight or nine remained for the end. But they now have something the others do not have.
Do you want to succeed in martial arts? Decide what you need to practice today and do it. You don't want to spend an hour practicing? Do it anyway. You are tired of working on this form? Work on it. You think you are good enough at these body mechanics? Good enough is not good enough. Drill deeper, think deeper, and break down your movement again. And again.
Your success requires a constant state of discomfort, of going farther and pushing harder than the person who simply wants life to be easy and comfortable.
As Chen Xiaowang says, "If it were easy, everyone would be master."
--by Ken Gullette
Try Two Weeks Free on Ken Gullette's Membership Website -- Take Years Off Your Development Time and Save Thousands of Dollars with More than 800 Step-By-Step Video Lessons -- Basic to Advanced -- in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua. Check it out via this link.