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.


Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone -- A Guided Chaos Workshop

Ken Gullette - Al Ridenhour 1
Working on Contact Flow with a master at his art, Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour.

Have you ever emptied your cup and attended a workshop that is outside your comfort zone -- outside the art that you typically practice?

Some of the most valuable instruction I have ever received has been from people who made me feel like a complete beginner. I feel this way when I study with any of the Chen family, and I felt that way when I worked with my best teachers. I also felt that way when I attended a "Guided Chaos" workshop in Cincinnati last weekend and worked with Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour and Kevin Harrell.

I was introduced to Guided Chaos through my friend, Evan Yeung, a few years ago. How can I best describe this art? There are no forms. It is a no-nonsense method of handling the chaos that can happen when you are face-to-face with real-life violence. It is a fighting art.

When I first heard of it, I was skeptical. The world is full of people who "created" their own martial art. Very often, that means they were not willing to put in the work to master a real martial art. During the past few years, when Evan worked with me on Guided Chaos (at the same time I worked with him on Chen Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua), he showed me an exercise they call Contact Flow. I immediately saw the connection with push hands, but it was more than just a connection. Through Contact Flow, I was recognizing skills that all internal artists -- especially those who practice push hands and close-up fighting skills -- should develop, but many of them don't.

I have seen Al Ridenhour in the Guided Chaos DVDs. The videos do not do him justice. When I read about him

Kevin Harrell - Ken Gullette
Every bit of advice Kevin Harrell gave me at the workshop was gold.

and Kevin on their website, both had the title "Master." Naturally, I rolled my eyes. But after I worked with them for a weekend, I realized the titles are deserved.

Contact Flow is one of the skills they practice that resembles push hands although there is no "pattern." You start very slowly and match the speed of your partner. Each of you tries to strike and defend, but by starting slowly, you learn just how out-of-balance you can become and how inefficient your movement can be. As you get better, you speed up, but as in any quality art, it takes a while to get better as you overcome bad habits.

In person, both Al and Kevin could get through my defenses at will. And as I worked on it with other partners, they would offer coaching that was spot on. I took a lot of notes and have plenty to practice -- and plenty to apply to my push hands.

I used to drive a couple of hours to Rockford, Illinois, to study with my teachers Jim and Angela Criscimagna. In the car on the way home, I would always feel like bouncing around because I was excited at what I had learned. I felt the same way driving the 7 1/2 hours from Cincinnati back to the Quad Cities on Sunday night.

I have attended workshops by a lot of great martial artists -- from Bill Wallace to Kathy Long and the Chen family, plus some workshops I have forgotten. The Guided Chaos workshop was one of the best and most practical that I have attended. I can't say enough about Al and Kevin. They are great teachers.

The founder of Guided Chaos, John Perkins, doesn't really have a lineage in Taiji. To look at him, you certainly wouldn't guess he is a martial artist. And yet, he apparently is one of those people who comes along once in a while and possesses a gift. There are no forms in his art. It is designed for use in real-life self-defense. And yet, he has captured the essence of something that has eluded many internal artists. It should be required training for anyone in the internal arts. Hell, it should be part of any martial artist's training.

Ken Gullette-Al Ridenhour-Kevin Harrell-Evan Yeung
Evan Yeung, Ken Gullette, Kevin Harrell and Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour at the Guided Chaos workshop in Cincinnati on Sept. 20, 2015.

Most people never get to a level in push hands that approaches what I would expect from a good Contact Flow practitioner. And while in push hands we work hard to maintain a centered stance at all times, in Guided Chaos they work to strike from their root even when they find themselves in an off-balance or awkward position. It is a very complementary concept to what good internal arts should be.

And we didn't even get into the Guided Chaos ground-fighting or other aspects of their training. But you can check it out on their website.

I enjoy the "art" part of martial arts. I love the precision of the forms and enjoy working on my body mechanics and movement. I have not been in a "real" fight since I was 18, and I try to avoid situations where I would need to use my martial skills. So at 62 years of age, I would not be satisfied to study an art that does not include what I get from Chen Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, which are great fighting arts if studied and practiced properly. And when it comes to real self-defense, there is NO one-size fits all. For every attack that is raining chaos on you, I can show you two YouTube videos where one punch ends the fight. So you can put down one glass of Kool-Aid and replace it with another if you aren't careful. I try not to drink the Kool-Aid, remaining open to the truth in different styles.

There is truth to discover in Guided Chaos, and it fits perfectly into whatever internal or external martial art you are studying.

My thanks to R.J. Trusty for hosting the workshop at his Five White Tigers Martial Arts school. I will be at the next one, too.

Extra Note -- For more about Guided Chaos, here is the Internal Fighting Arts podcast I did with Ari Kandel earlier this year.


Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing-I - The Difference Between Fighting and Art

Black-Dragon-1I received an interesting email from a website member in the United Kingdom. It started as a discussion about Hsing-I and the relationship of the Five Fist Postures to the 12 Animals. It went on from there to discuss the evolution of fighting movements into art.

In our 21st Century, MMA-obsessed culture, traditional arts are often criticized or brushed off as ineffective. That's pure B.S. of course, another one of those "my style is better than your style" type of arguments.

These are called martial "arts" for a reason. The styles that I study are internal martial "arts." The movements in Hsing-I, Tai Chi and Bagua can be used for fighting, but the word "art" is part of the name. Over the past 40 years of practicing, the reason has become more clear to me.

Black-Dragon-2Let's look at a movement in the Bagua Swimming Body form called "Black Dragon Slashes Its Tail." It's part of the 3rd section of the form. I just put a long video lesson up on the website last week with detailed instruction. This movement involves a sideways step and a coiling of the right arm, then a cross-step and a coiling of the left, then a coiling of the right arm and a strike with the left in a cross-step.

You don't have to perform the movement artfully in order to pull off some fighting moves. The self-defense applications can be practiced without looking real good. In fact, applications are never as "pretty" as a form.

But to do the movement well in a form requires a flowing, connected energy from the ground, spiraling through the body, turned by the Dan T'ien and flowing through the legs, body, shoulders, elbows and hands. How well am I using silk-reeling through the body? How well am I connecting the ground with whole-body movement? Am I spiraling from the leg through the body, shoulders, elbows and hands in a flowing, connected way? Learning and practicing the body mechanics to do the movement in a beautiful, connected way is the art. It also makes your application more powerful. Building skill takes hard work and time (the very definition of "Kung-Fu"). It also takes time to learn the self-defense applications well, but you don't have to look good to do that. You just have to be effective.

Black-Dragon-3I was watching a video online of the founder of Aikido. It reminded me how unrealistic a lot of fighting applications are when they are dependent on students who are playing along. Demonstrating these movements helps explain concepts, but where we go astray is when we think that even what O'Sensei (or any teacher) uses in a demonstration is effective against a motivated adult who is attacking you to do violence. A lot of fights can be ended with one good punch. The simplest techniques are often the best. But concepts such as  the sphere of power or the capturing of an opponent's center are important and must be shown.

In my own videos, I try to make the applications realistic. I'll admit when an application would be difficult to use in a real fight, but I will teach it if the concept is solid. Sometimes, an application is more "art" than fighting. It's okay as long as you understand that. There are some Bagua videos that I see where a student punches and the teacher deflects the punch, snakes his arm around the student's neck, and then gets him into a choke or a throwing position with very little reality-based response from the student. Naturally, they're not going to make it difficult for the teacher as a real opponent will. But the video is useful in showing you concepts of the art.

For those of us who have been in real fights, we know that some of these moves are extremely difficult against a motivated adult. At the very least, you would have to soften them up with other techniques (punches, knees, elbows, kicks) to employ the element of surprise in pulling off the more complex movements. So you have to keep this in mind when watching movements and demonstrations of fighting applications. In fact, at your next practice you should put on some pads and tell your partner not to play along. Then try to do some of the more complex moves of your art. I guarantee a big difference if your partner is not cooperating.

I never expect to be in another real fight. I am prepared if that happens, but over time, your focus shifts. When I began studying in 1973, I wanted to learn self-defense and philosophy. As I learned self-defense, my confidence grew. Now, I love to improve my internal mechanics to smooth out my movements so they flow with relaxed power. It involves self-discipline and self-mastery, the same benefits you receive when you excel at anything, from gymnastics to basketball, from golf to being really good at your job. Those who do anything well are artists. They have "kung-fu."

The usefulness of a painting is the message it conveys and how it blends with its surroundings. The usefulness of a martial arts move is in the self-defense application.

A painting that is low quality to the eye of an art critic can go very well with a room's decor, and if you don't know what good art is, it might seem great to you. Remember the black velvet Elvis and the dogs playing poker?

An internal technique done poorly can still be effective in self-defense. But the skill of the painter in the brush strokes, the application of color and capturing the message he intends to convey -- that is the art, just as the connected, coordinated, flowing strength, and fajing of Bagua, Tai Chi and Hsing-I movements represent a more complete expression of skill.

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Fighting and Concussions -- the Damage Done to Young Brains

Ken-toughmanI've been concerned for some time about concussions. I've never had one, but came very close in the Toughman Contest in 1991, when a fighter who was bigger and a lot younger hit me upside the head and caused me to go numb for a few seconds. My brain was vibrating like a tuning fork, but it cleared quickly and I was able to win the match. The top photo here shows the punch that nearly rang my bell. The bottom photo shows me snapping his head back a few seconds later after my head cleared. I hit him hard in the head a few times during the match.

I did not want to do that again.

Ken toughman 2I've always believed that you don't have to get hurt or hurt someone else to learn martial arts and be a good fighter. I have proven over the years that I can take a punch. I just don't like to take a punch, and have nothing to prove by taking another one at my age.

An article in my local paper today talks about the damage teens suffer when they have concussions in sports. Football contributes most to this problem, but the implications are clear for fighting arts that involve hard hits to the head. The study offers some scary information about the damage teens suffer from getting in fights.

Click this link and read the article about the damage done by concussions.

A year or so ago, I kept seeing a young MMA fighter at the gym. He was a nice kid, maybe in his early 20s, and one night I asked if he had ever had a concussion.

"Three of them," he said proudly. I was horrified.

"Man, you have to stop this," I said, but he just grinned. He was training for his next fight.

He will pay a terrible price. It's a shame he too young to realize it. If you are a martial arts teacher, you need to watch out for your students. If you are a student, understand that your body will pay a price for every cement block you try to break, for every block of ice, for every stack of boards, and for every hard punch you take to the head.


Applications - The Similarities Between Karate and Tai Chi

Heian1The book that I found in my martial arts library from 1974, teaching the movements of two basic karate forms (kata), is interesting to read. Some basic applications are included, and I'd like to add an application to one of the techniques.

In these books, a simple view of karate forms was shown in great step-by-step photos. For those of us caught up in the Bruce Lee craze in 1973 and 1974, there was really no distinction between arts. Karate and kung-fu and Taekwondo all seemed exotic and exciting -- we didn't really focus at all on the differences between these arts. And I had no idea how much I would be drawn to the internal arts.

Karate-1 (1) One of the katas demonstrated in this book is Heian 1 -- the other is Tekki 1. In this form, the teacher does a move showing him defending against two attackers (photo 1), bringing his foot up and inward (photo 2), and the application shows him evading a kick.

Karate-2 (1) This is a perfectly good application. Please forgive the crease -- the photo was placed between pages. The application itself is obvious and it's level 1.

There are some good karate and TKD teachers around who teach beyond the basic applications. They are few and far between but there are a couple here in my area (Jai Johnson and Hector Lareau, for example).

So let's go to the next level with this application.

Remember, level one of a movement is basic -- a punch is a punch and a kick is a kick. A step is a step.

Karate-App-1 Let's look at level two of this movement.

An attacker punches. You block with the forearm (photo 3) and position your leg behind the attacker's leg.

Then you kick your foot up and sweep your opponent (photo 4).

One of the main goals of the internal arts, particularly tai chi, is to unbalance the opponent, then take advantage of him when he's unbalanced. When the opponent punches and Karate-App-2 you deflect it, he is easier to unbalance at that moment. Here's a hint -- your foot doesn't have to rise like it does in the photo, and it always helps to exert opposite energy on the upper part of his body.

There are many similarities between karate and tai chi, karate and Shaolin, etc. It's well known that one term used for karate was "China Hand" because of the influence of kung-fu masters on the development of karate. The body mechanics of tai chi are far different, but similarities exist if you look for them.

Take a look at the forms (kata) that you do in your art and see if you can find movements that could be sweeps hidden in the form. It's possible that your teacher doesn't even know, but that shouldn't stop you from seeing deeper.


One of My First Martial Arts Books from 1974 - Karate Kata Heian1 Tekki1

Heian1 I began studying martial arts in 1973, during the explosion that Bruce Lee created with "Enter the Dragon," "Fists of Fury" and "The Chinese Connection." I finally took my first class on September 20th from a teacher of Shaolin-Do, Grandmaster Sin The in Lexington, Kentucky. I studied with him for about 3 years and earned a brown belt before exploring other systems such as taekwondo, T'ien Shan Pai, and eventually the internal arts.

I also began buying martial arts books that year, and some of the only books on the market were karate books.

One of my first books was "Karate Kata Heian1 Tekki1" by M. Nakayama, Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Association. It was called an Official Manual of the Japan Karate Association.

Two weeks ago, when I was packing as Nancy and I prepared to move to our new house, I re-discovered many old martial arts books, and I decided to review them and study them again to see what I could learn that would apply to the internal arts, or would increase my knowledge of martial arts in general.

Even though I read many of them when I first bought them, it will be interesting to look again with the eyes of a martial artist nearly 38 years down the road.

Heian2 In looking at the photos, they broke down the forms step-by-step, but the fighting applications were very basic. A punch was a punch. A block was a block. I like them because they very clearly show the movements of the form. But such simplicity of fighting applications got a lot of martial artists off to a weak start. Many martial artists never got beyond that first simple fighting application to see the wealth of material beneath the surface.

In the next few weeks, I'm going to look through these books and offer posts on what I find, and how movements can be applied in more creative -- and sometimes brutal -- ways that aren't included in the books.

The first printing of this book was in 1970. The edition I have is the 6th printing from 1974.

It's like finding an old friend -- these old books have been with me through 29 moves in Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois.

 


You've Got to Take Responsibility for Your Own Martial Arts Training

Two years ago, I felt palpitations in my chest. For a few months, I attributed it to stress (I was in a very stressful job). Then I visited a doctor, who became alarmed and told me I had atrial fibrillation -- my heart had developed extra electrical pathways and the heartbeat was all screwed up.

I had two choices -- take blood thinners the rest of my life to avoid a stroke or clot, or undergo "laser ablation," where they go into veins in your groin, send lasers and a camera up into your heart, and burn spots to stop the extra electrical activity.

I wanted to be back to normal, so I opted for the laser ablation.

It was a surreal experience after being healthy and fit my entire life. After the procedure, it was clear within a day or two that it hadn't worked. My heart was still beating strangely -- part of it was fluttering instead of beating normally.

I returned to see the cardiologist, Dr. Bengt Herweg, a week later. He came into the room and looked at my charts.

"What dose of coumadin (blood thinner) are you on?" he asked.

Hmmm. I just got the prescription a week ago and hadn't paid attention. I just took it and didn't ask questions.

"I don't know," I replied.

Dr. Herweg looked at me sternly. "Why don't you know?" he barked. "You have GOT to take responsibility for your own treatment."

I was surprised, and for a few seconds I was a little steamed.

And then I realized he was right. From that moment forward, I can tell you how much I'm taking of each medication. And often, I called the doctors to tell them what needed to be done, what medicine I needed, and why. They almost always agreed.

In fact, I know what's happening with my body and my medicine so well, I have caught nurses when they made mistakes, and I've had them re-check to find their mistakes. Unfortunately, I ended up having three laser ablations and that set off a year of near-death experiences that I'm just now recovering from (losing the function of my left lung in the process from side-effects of the procedures -- but that's a story for a different time, boys and girls).

So what does this have to do with martial arts?

A kung-fu student once complained to me that I hadn't given him written material to answer some basic questions about Chen tai chi, and I hadn't written out some techniques for him. We had just gone over these techniques two days earlier. One of the questions he wanted me to write out for him was "What are the eight main energies of Tai Chi?"

As a teacher, this presented me with an opportunity to drive home the same lesson that Dr. Herweg drove home to me in that hospital room in Tampa. So I pointed out a couple of things to the student:

1. You've got to do outside research and reading, and stop using me as the sole source of your information. A quick Google search can turn up a lot of information about the eight main energies and just about any other question you have. You don't need me to hand it to you in writing. There are also some excellent books on Chen tai chi that everyone should read, including the books by David Gaffney and Jan Silberstorff.

2. When I have attended classes with my teachers, and when I've been able to spend time with people like Chen Xiaoxing, or attend workshops with folks like Mike Sigman, Chen Xiaowang, Ren Guangyi and others, I have written pages and pages of notes. I spent a thousand dollars one weekend travelling to San Francisco for a private day of training with Chen Xiaoxing and my teacher at the time, Mark Wasson. I was given personal feedback and coaching from each. On the plane ride home, I wrote pages of notes, going back over each movement in Laojia Yilu and recalling the corrections that were made and the advice given.

3. At workshops by the masters, you'll see some people run to their notebooks during breaks and write down notes to remind them of what they've learned so they retain it after the workshop.

4. You have GOT to take charge of your own training. Write down notes after each class. Write down the feedback you have received and the corrections made. Write down techniques and body mechanics. Practice from your notes. And don't depend on anyone to spoon-feed you everything.

5. If there is ANYTHING in the curriculum you're fuzzy on or haven't practiced enough to be able to recall it instantly in physical expression, bring it up and ask if the instructor will go over it again with you. There's really no excuse at all for a brown sash not to be able to recall everything in earlier levels right now if asked to perform it.

6. Break up all the curriculum you know into lists that you can get through each day. This includes forms, applications, self-defense, push hands, silk-reeling exercises, chin-na -- and try to get through all the curriculum at least once a week. For students of mine, this represents a lot of material by the time they earn a black sash. Perhaps you can't get through it all in a week. Perhaps it's every eight days. The point is -- you should practice everything often enough to be able to recall it instantly.

You won't become the martial artist you want to be until you take control -- and take responsibility -- for your knowledge.


Okay I'll Say It -- MMA Gets the Adrenaline Pumping but There's Something Ugly that Lies Beneath

Mma  MMA is mesmerizing, especially for guys. It gets our testosterone pumping. There is a part of us that wants to be inside the ring, mano-a-mano, toughing it out with minimal protection, and may the best man win.

I've watched MMA matches on TV and they hook me with raw brutality. Maybe it's the fights I got into while I was growing up. I never wanted to fight, but I was often picked on by older, bigger guys, and was forced into fighting. Once the fight began I loved it. I considered it the ultimate competition, and you have no excuses if you lose.

I never lost a fight. A few were draws, but I was never beaten up. 

So MMA appeals to me on one level. On another level, I've reached the conclusion that this type of fighting is ugly, and the fighters and hard-core fans may have a problem.

Maybe I've gotten older and wiser.

There's a reality show that follows ultimate fighters around through their lives, training and travel. I watched one show and it was obvious that some of the guys on this episode had violence issues -- physically abused as children, growing up in violent families. As I watched the show, a realization set in.

If I were 20 years old again, I might train for MMA for a while but I doubt that I would last. I believe MMA attracts fighters who like to hurt people and don't mind being hurt. Perhaps they've been hurt at other times in their lives and feel as if they deserve it. Perhaps, as a lot of us do in our marriages, they're recreating what's familiar to them from their childhood. Naturally, this is a generalization and wouldn't be true for everyone, but I suspect it's widespread. I'm sure there are a lot of guys who try MMA just for the adrenaline and testosterone rush -- the same reason I entered the Toughman Contest back when I was 38 years old. I just wanted to test myself.

But there are other reasons some people want to go "ultimate." Perhaps its part of the video game culture of the past 20 years as kids have grown up hurting people on video screens. Have we desensitized ourselves to the point where we're returning to the days of the Roman Coliseum? Have we gotten to the point where we have a sociopath's lack of empathy when we see someone getting hurt?

One hilarious scene from the recent comedy "Bruno" was a scene near the end where Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be an homophobe and gets into an MMA ring. It's a real crowd of MMA fans who aren't aware of the joke. Shots of the crowd show a lot of angry people who want to see violence. As the scene progresses and Cohen ends up making out with a guy in the cage, the crowd goes nuts and the ugliness of the people attracted to the MMA event is revealed.

My wife works at a filter manufacturer and she overheard guys in the shop talking about going to a bar downtown while they show MMA fights on the TV screens. One guy said he stopped going during those times because "you have to be very careful. You can't look anyone in the eye. They watch MMA and they just want to fight someone."

In recent years, MMA has siphoned off a lot of younger guys who would normally have entered into traditional martial arts. Go into a bookstore, check out the sports section of magazines, and you'll see a dozen MMA-type publications and only a few martial arts magazines like Black Belt, Inside Kung-Fu, Taekwondo, T'ai Chi Magazine, etc.

MMA guys laugh at regular martial arts. They believe real fighting is their domain. Those of us who have been in the martial arts for a long time know how wrong they are. Sure, there are bad martial arts schools, but in general we do learn to fight and we learn to defend ourselves. There are two main differences. I don't ever want to be in a fight. I don't want to make someone else bleed. I would do it if attacked, but I wouldn't feel good about it. If I go to a tournament I want to see skill and good sportsmanship, not competitors or spectators who suffer from a bad case of blood lust. Some of my students have had to defend themselves and they've done so very successfully. So we have nothing to apologize for when people who want to hurt others badmouth what we do.

I also like the precision and demands of the complete martial art. To become good requires determination, persistence, and physical skill. It takes many years of focus and self-discipline. I've never done anything as difficult and demanding as Chen tai chi.

Can anyone name more than one or two active boxing champions right now? If you're my age, you remember when Ali, Frasier, Holmes, Foreman, and others were competing for the heavyweight title. Some, like Ali and Holmes and Sugar Ray Leonard were artists. Boxing was the "sweet science." Sure, it was brutal at times, but underneath it all was skill and personal determination and toughness. You could win a fight on points, without hurting someone.

It's a different world. People interested in MMA aren't as interested in "sweet science" as they are in toughness.

The purpose of this post isn't to say that martial artists can kick an MMA fighter's butt. I know that isn't necessarily true (and so do you). It all depends on the person's size, strength, skill, and ability to remain cool under pressure.

I enjoy watching MMA sometimes because I'm a guy, I'm familiar with fighting, and it gets the adrenaline flowing. But there's something very ugly lurking just below the surface (and sometimes on the surface), and I think there are more positive martial arts that a lot of guys could participate in to channel their energies -- martial arts that could, in the long run, have a much more positive impact on their lives and their own self-image.