Using Internal Principles in Grappling -- How to Escape a Clinch

Can Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua be used against a grappler?

A lot of macho types say no, but that's because they do not understand the internal martial arts.

Tai Chi has been slandered, maligned and unfairly criticized during the past year or two because a couple of people who claimed to be Tai Chi "masters" (they are not masters) had the stupidity to take on a trained MMA fighter and they lost. Badly.

I had a Wing Chun guy come into my school once and he wanted to spar full-contact. I told him we didn't do that, but we would gladly spar with him and do light contact. We hit him in the face anytime we wanted. My top student and I both tried him out. It was pitiful, but I did not judge Wing Chun based on this guy.

The internal arts have principles and body mechanics that work if you follow them, just like any art. Sometimes, you simply have to fight. That includes punching. But sometimes, you use body mechanics to take advantage of your opponent's force or to break his structure.

This past Wednesday night at practice, three students -- Justin Snow, Colin Frye and Chris Andrews -- worked with me as I demonstrated how to escape from a clinch. We had a good time playing with this.

Justin and Chris are both around 300 pounds. They are strong guys, around 30 years old. They have experience fighting. Real fighting.

I am 65 with one lung, heart issues, and I lost a lot of muscle mass when I got sick 9 years ago. 

They still can't hold me in a clinch if I use internal principles. And I can't hold them, either.

We had fun playing with this. Enjoy the video and I hope you learn from it. And remember, 850 video lessons and pdf downloads are available 24/7 on my membership website at www.internalfightingarts.com. Check it out.

 

 


Who is Chen Huixian? A Tai Chi Video You Need to Watch

There is a Taiji instructor -- a Chen family member -- living in the Kansas City area who every Chen Taiji person in the U.S. should know. 

I have trained with several top Chen masters, and I believe she is the best instructor of them all. She is highly skilled, a traditional teacher (in other words, her classes are intense), but she has a sense of humor that makes her classes enjoyable. Also, she is interested in the people who attend.

Her name is Chen Huixian. She grew up in the Chen Village, met Michael Chritton when he went there to study with her uncle, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, and they eventually got married and moved to Overland Park, Kansas. Huixian is also the niece of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.

This is a brief capsule video explaining who she is.

 


Chen Huixian - A Tai Chi Jewel Living and Teaching in the United States

Chen Huixian and Ken Gullette
Chen Huixian and Ken Gullette in Madison, 2018

If you have been reading this blog since I began writing it in 2006, you know that I do not put teachers on pedestals.

I look at martial arts masters as people, not gods. I do not worship them. I do not want them to be a parental figure. All I want to do is learn from them and support their efforts.

And so I hope it means something to you when I tell you there is a jewel of Taijiquan that is shining here in the United States and, in my opinion, the best Taiji instructor that I have met. For most of the people who have studied Chen Taiji in America, it is an undiscovered jewel.

This past weekend, I attended another workshop by Chen Huixian, who lives and teaches with her husband Michael Chritton in Overland Park, Kansas, which is part of the greater Kansas City area. Michael met her when he was training in the Chen Village under Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. They eventually married and she moved with Michael back to Overland Park.

How lucky that was for Michael. And how lucky it was for us.

Michael was the very first guest on my podcast, and he told of how their relationship developed. It is a great story. Here is a link to the podcast.

Huixian grew up in the Chen Village and is the niece of Chen Zhenglei, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.

So we have a member of the Chen family living and teaching in the United States. And she speaks English.

This means we do not have to go all the way to China, or wait for the men to visit here to get high-quality Chen taiji training. All we have to do is either go to Overland Park or sponsor Huixian for a workshop.

I have trained with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi, Chen Ziqiang and Chen Bing. Each of these teachers are outstanding, and I have enjoyed my experiences with them. But here is a little secret. Don't tell anyone, but I would rather learn from Chen Huixian than any of them.

She does not need an interpreter to explain the details, the concepts, the mechanics, the applications and the philosophy behind the movements of Taiji. She is genuinely interested in the people she meets, she is funny, and a very generous teacher, willing to answer any question.

Chen Huixian
Chen Huixian teaching "Cannon Fist."

Patrick Rogne, of Ancient Root Taijiquan in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored last weekend's workshop with Chen Huixian. It was held at Orthdx Natural Fitness. I attended one of her workshops in Madison five years ago, then again last year. 

When I first attended her workshop in 2013, Huixian and Michael gave me corrections that no one else had given me, including advice on maintaining peng jin that I felt took me a step forward instantly.

She also gave me an insight into the use of the kua that illuminated this important part of internal body mechanics.

This past weekend, we did three hours on Friday night, focusing on the final few movements in Laojia Yilu that we rushed through at the end of last year's workshop. 

We started with Punch the Crotch, which involves folding the arms, kicking the palm, turning and punching downward.

Huixian gave more detail in these movements than I ever received from Xiaowang or Xaoxing, and she gave it in English. As she demonstrated, coached, explained and corrected in detail, the quality of her teaching slapped me like the flat edge of a kuandao. 

I am 65 now, and with one lung and a heart issue, my legs were screaming for mercy when I got to my hotel room Friday night. I was so exhausted, I wondered if I would be able to last the weekend. Eating bitter with a member of the Chen family reveals how easy we take it on ourselves in our own practice, and after only three intense hours, I was feeling it.

Chen Huixian application
Chen Huixian demonstrates an application - Part 1.

On Saturday and then Sunday morning, we spent a total of nine hours on Laojia Erlu, also known as "Cannon Fist." It has been one of my favorite forms for a dozen years, but this time, I was looking at it through Huixian's perspective, which is closer to the way Chen Zhenglei does it than the way Chen Xiaowang does it.

I had to rewire my brain and do a few movements differently than I had been accustomed to doing them for so long, but at the same time, I caught nuances in the body mechanics, the turning, the movement of the hands and feet that will add depth to my form, explained in detail.

I also received good postural corrections.

Five years ago, when I first met Huixian and Michael, she was coaching us through a movement in Laojia Yilu and I was concentrating. When I do that, I sometimes look a bit downward as I ponder the body mechanics of a movement.

As I looked downward, from across the floor Huixian shouted, "Ken! The answer you seek is not on the ground."

Chen Huixian
Unbalancing the opponent and using a leg hook - Part 2.

I cracked up, and for the past five years, I have been repeating that to myself when I catch my head tilting forward or looking down. And she taught me that lesson with humor.

In fact, laughter is common in her classes. She is dead serious about the art, but she sometimes jokes, and of course, I have always enjoyed laughter in everything I do, so I tend to crack an occasional joke to lighten the atmosphere. 

Michael said on the podcast that when he first saw her practicing in the Chen Village, it seemed that anytime he heard laughter, she was in the middle of it. 

On Saturday, late in the day, when our legs were burning and aching, she asked the class, "Are your legs hurting anywhere?"

"Everywhere," I said loudly, and she almost doubled over laughing along with the class.

It is a lot easier to eat bitter when you can cleanse the palate with humor.

Watching her do movements from Cannon Fist is a treat. Her grace, her relaxed strength, and her explosions of fajin won the admiration of everyone in the workshop.

On Saturday evening, there was a group dinner at the Nani Restaurant in Madison. Huixian talked about a wide range of subjects, including her children and life in the Chen Village. She asked about my children, and she figured out that she is three months younger than my youngest daughter. That was a profound shock to me.

Chen Huixian
The leg hook works - Part 3.

I was in good shape and energized until I landed back in my room. I sat down and posted some pictures on Facebook, then stood up. My thigh muscles clenched. "Oh, hell no," they screamed at me. 

We finished Cannon Fist on Sunday morning, with a lot of fajin in the fist and elbow strikes. On Sunday afternoon, we spent the final hours of the workshop on push hands. Near the end, we got into some applications and Huixian started throwing some of the guys who were almost twice her size, showing them how a bump can unbalance your opponent, then you can step in and uproot him, then turn and throw him. 

When a man is thrown by a woman, it is interesting to watch their faces when they hit the ground and begin standing up. With each one, you could see the respect and realization in their faces, each one not only impressed with the way she threw them, but you could also see the light bulbs going off after they were able to feel the way she did it.

I hated to say goodbye on Sunday afternoon.

I have studied with several teachers over the past 45 years. I do not believe I have met a better teacher than Chen Huixian. 

Sometimes we get a bit tribal in the martial arts, just as we do in politics. Sometimes martial arts become political. Oh, I can't study with this teacher because I study with THAT teacher. I'm in THIS style, so I can't study THAT style.

An open-minded Wu stylist who attended this workshop from Detroit told me, "I have never seen this level of personal corrections in any workshop. She is excellent." 

Before I attended my first workshop with her in 2013, my main taiji teachers and the Chen masters I had learned from had been men, and it was only natural, given our society and the culture I grew up in, that I wondered how good a woman would be, and since I adhered a bit to the Chen Xiaowang/Xiaoxing way of doing things, would it matter that her "side" of the Chen family added different flourishes to the movements? Each of the "Four Tigers" of the Chen Village (Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian, and Zhu Tiancai) add their own artistic touches to the forms.

Any reservations I had vanished quickly five years ago. The quality of her taiji and the concepts, principles and mechanics she teaches transcends style and teacher. She won my immediate respect and it has only grown since.

I still feel the same as I always have about putting teachers on pedestals, but Chen Huixian deserves every bit of respect and recognition that the men in the 20th generation of the Chen family receive, and regardless of who you "follow" in taiji, if you live in the U.S. you have a Chen family member here of tremendous value, willing and able to share -- and more importantly TEACH -- her family's art with skill, power, and an unpretentious, fun personality that makes every moment a pleasure.

-- by Ken Gullette

Chen Huixian's website is www.kctaiji.com. 


New Book by Ken Gullette - Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi

Book CoverI believe this is the first time that someone has tried to organize and teach, step-by-step, the fundamental body mechanics that are required for high-quality Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi. I have seen at least one book titled "Body Mechanics," but it did not discuss body mechanics. After 31 years of studying these arts and 21 years of teaching them, I decided to write a book that is clear on this topic.

Body mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi are much more than simple directions such as "turn your foot out 45 degrees and relax."

I have included 250 photos and clear, straightforward descriptions in this book. I am confident you will have several "Aha!" moments about internal body mechanics when you read it. If it does NOT teach you anything important, or give you insights that help you in your internal arts journey, send the book back to me and I will refund your money.

Basically, I wanted to write the book that I wish I had when I began studying the internal arts back in 1987. If I was able to read it back then, it would have saved me many years and thousands of dollars in class fees. Based on some of the martial artists I have met during the past 20-something years, I know there are millions of internal arts students who are not learning these skills.

The six fundamental body mechanics for internal power include:

** Establishing and maintaining the ground path at all times.

** Using peng jin at all times along with the ground path.

** Using whole-body movement -- when one parts move, all parts move.

** Silk-Reeling "Energy" -- the spiraling movement that adds power to techniques.

** Dan T'ien rotation -- guiding the internal strength and power as the body moves.

** Using the kua properly -- opening and closing the kua, like a buoy in the ocean, helping the body stay balanced as incoming force changes.

Each of these body mechanics represents a physical skill -- NOT metaphysical. You can "imagine chi" for the rest of your life and still not be able to develop real power in your Tai Chi, Bagua or Xingyi. It takes hard work and practice -- real study -- to move with internal power in these arts. When a teacher does not know the body mechanics, it is much easier to make students think that "cultivating chi" is the goal. It is not the goal. 

The intent of Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi is self-defense. You can practice for health and meditation if you want, but unless you understand the body mechanics and the way the movements are used to defend yourself with relaxed power, you are not studying the complete art.

The book does not attempt to explain the history of the internal arts, much of which is lost in the mists of time and usually results in political squabbles among different factions within the arts, much like different denominations or sects will argue over religion.

I also do not use abstract wording that confuses more than it clarifies. 

Instead, I try to get right to the point, as I do in my teaching, writing in a straightforward way that attempts to strip away the mystical mumbo jumbo. Along the way, I try to deliver a few good heel kicks to some pillars of mythology that stand in the way of many students. 

I first heard about these body mechanics from Mike Sigman, through his online discussions and his videos. Through his online forum, I was guided to instructors Jim and Angela Criscimagna, living at the time in Rockford, Illinois, a couple of hours from my home. I became their student, and through them and another teacher I had later, the late Mark Wasson, I was able to learn from Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi and Chen Bing. I have also learned from Chen Ziqiang and Chen Huixian.

I began studying martial arts in 1973 at age 20, and I also practiced with the Iowa State University boxing team when I was 39 and 40 years old, when I was "adopted" by Coach Terry Dowd and the young boxers on the ISU team. I began studying the internal arts in 1987, and three years later, I won a gold medal performing the Yang 24 form in Tai Chi competition at the 1990 AAU Kung-Fu National Championships. I won more medals than any other competitor in the championships -- six medals in all, for Tai Chi, Xingyi, Bagua, and sparring. I thought I knew the internal arts, but years later, after learning the body mechanics I describe in this book, I realized that not only did I not understand internal body mechanics, neither did the judges. I was probably the best of a bad group of students who were doing external, muscular arts but calling them internal.

As I taught Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua beginning in 1997, as the Internet was becoming popular, I was reading Mike Sigman's online forum and realized there were holes in my knowledge. A few months later, I met Jim and Angela, and realized that what I had learned and practiced during the previous decade was empty. Over time, I identified the six key body mechanics that are basic to good internal Chinese gongfu. This book offers information on these skills that your teacher may not have taught you.

A few years ago, Kiefen Synnott wrote to me and said, "I live in Japan and study Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, but the language barrier makes me miss some of the meaning. Your training has filled in the gaps and has been responsible for most of the progress I have made so far."

Another martial artist who lives in Shanghai wrote to me that he was "amazed at how few instructors here know the body mechanics." 

The book is sold in the U.S., the UK and Europe through Amazon. It is available for Prime shipping. If you are in the UK or Europe, please go to Amazon and search for "Internal Body Mechanics." In Australia or other parts of the world, you may be able to order it through bookstores.

If you are in the U.S. you can order the book directly from me on this blog.

There is Free Shipping within the U.S. (Sorry, due to high shipping fees, Ken cannot mail the book internationally). BONUS -- If you buy this book plus a DVD from this site, you may select another DVD free of charge as a bonus (just email Ken with your selection for the bonus DVD). 

Order the Book Now with Free Shipping - U.S. Customers Only 


Chen Huixian to Teach Taiji Workshop in Madison Wisconsin Aug. 24-26 2018

Ken-Huxian-6
Chen Huixian corrects me in 2013.

It is always good news when Master Chen Huixian holds a workshop in the area. Madison, Wisconsin is only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Quad Cities, so I plan to attend her workshop on August 24, 25 & 26, 2018.

She will teach the final two sections of Laojia Yilu on Friday night, then will teach Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist) on Saturday and the first half of Sunday. Then Sunday afternoon will be devoted to push hands.

I have studied with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Bing, Chen Zigiang and Ren Guangyi.

I respect them very much, but I have walked away from Huixian's workshops with better corrections and more insights that really make me feel as if I have taken a step forward. I have practiced Cannon Fist for 12 years, but I look forward to getting more information on some of the movements from her perspective.

I hope you will join me at this workshop. Huixian is the niece of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She grew up in the Chen Village. Her uncles also include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing. Let's talk about a heritage, okay?

It doesn't get better than this. She lives in the Kansas City area (Overland Park, Kansas) with her husband, Michael Chritton, who is also an outstanding teacher himself.

There is an "Early Bird Special" if you register before Aug. 1st. 

Here is the link to read more about the workshop and to register.

If you live within driving distance of Madison and you study any style of Taiji, you are crazy to miss this. The workshops are physically demanding, like any good, traditional martial arts class should be, but because of her sense of humor, there is also laughter. It is an enjoyable and satisfying experience.

The workshop is hosted by Patrick Rogne, of Ancient Root Taijiquan in Madison.

 


Dusting off the Yang 24 Tai Chi Form

Yang 24 7My membership website, InternalFightingArts.com, will turn 10 years old on July 4, 2018, just under six weeks from now. When I launched it in 2008, it had around 200 video lessons on Chen Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Qigong, plus some downloadable pdf files.

It now has around 830 videos offering a step-by-step approach to learning all three internal arts.

Now it also has something different -- Yang style instruction for those who want a slower, gentler version of Tai Chi.

Yes, I know. I love the self-defense aspects of Taiji -- how each movement, how each placement of the hands and body represents a powerful self-defense technique and a principle of internal body mechanics.

But over the years, it has occurred to me that a lot of people do not know what they are missing when they just study Yang style, so I have decided, after years of resisting it, to include Yang style instruction on my site. I believe it will offer them something they want, and then expose them to more high-quality instruction on a wider range of internal principles than they are accustomed to seeing.

I resisted this for years, because of my love for Chen style Taiji, but when I polled some members, they were almost all enthusiastic to see Yang style instruction from my perspective -- especially with the body mechanics and applications -- because many of them started, as I did, with Yang style.

Yang style was the first Tai Chi style I learned, beginning in 1987, and I began teaching it in 1997.

In 1990, I won a gold medal with the Yang 24 in Tai Chi Competition at the AAU Kung-Fu National Championships, held in Omaha that year.

I gave up Yang style around 2000, after taking up Chen style in 1998, and finding it much more "alive" and powerful. Chen Taiji is still my foundational art.

Yang 24 Ken Nancy 800pxIn the past few weeks, I have dusted off the Yang 24 and I am recording the form plus instruction on individual movements. My wife Nancy Gullette is usually my videographer, but she has stepped out from behind the camera to learn the form as I teach it and correct her. And trust me, an opportunity to humiliate and correct and tease your wife on camera is something no man should pass up!!

I am still recording and editing lessons, but my goal is to very soon have the complete forms of the Yang 24, the Yang 48, and the Yang Straight Sword form on the website, plus detailed instruction on each movement, including the body mechanics, and fighting applications for each movement. 

After working on the Yang 24 again for the past few weeks, I understand why it is the most popular Tai Chi form in the world. It was created in 1956 by the China Sports Commission, with guidance from four Yang style masters. It is an easy, graceful form, perfect for an older student who is not especially looking to study a martial art. 

On my website, those who study the form for health, fitness and meditation will also have the option of learning what the movements mean in self-defense.

In the meantime, I am also doing new videos for the website drilling into other internal principles and techniques. One of them is a video on where to generate the ground path in the feet -- what point in the foot do you focus on when grounding? And I am writing a book on Internal Body Mechanics in time to publish for the 10th Anniversary of the website.

Join me on the site for two free weeks. It is the most honest site on the Internet. You can cancel anytime, and you can even get personal coaching from me.


The Importance of Fascia in Martial Arts Movement: The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Dr. Ginevra Liptan

Internal Fighting Arts - Ken Gullette Logo 300Fascia is the most important part of your body that you probably have never heard of, or at least you haven't heard very much about it.

In the past few years, as medical science has taken a closer look at part of the body that doctors typically ignored for centuries, a picture is beginning to emerge.

Fascia is a web of connective tissue that is made of collagen, elastin, and other tissues and cells that lies under the skin and runs from our heads to our feet. It forms a continuous network that covers and connects organs, muscles, even nerves. 

Fascia allows us to move as a single unit -- a crucial aspect of tai chi, xingyi and bagua. 

It turns out that tai chi and bagua in particular are outstanding activities for stretching the fascia and keeping it healthy. 

During the past year, I have read some things by internal arts and qigong teachers that make it sound as if they knew about fascia all along. Well, they didn't. So I searched for someone at a level of medical education above a physical therapist, massage therapist or TCM provider -- someone who could tell me about fascia from a medical perspective.

Liptan
Dr. Ginevra Liptan of Portland, Oregon.

After months of searching, I found Dr. Ginevra Liptan, a medical doctor who is board certified in internal medicine and also practices a holistic approach to health that combines Western medical science with "alternative" therapies. She founded the Frida Center for Fibromyalgia, and as she has battled fibromyalgia herself, and researched treatments for her patients that involve the fascia, she has become well-versed on the topic.

Dr. Liptan is my guest in the final Internal Fighting Arts podcast for 2017. You can listen online or download the file here:

http://internalfightingarts.audello.com/internal-fighting-arts-33-2-fascia-with-dr-ginevra/

During the interview, she talks about a video called "Strolling Under the Skin." Here is a link for that video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky0BmGP5nbU&feature=youtu.be

Also, at the end of the interview, we talk briefly about "cupping," as it was done in the last Olympic games (remember Michael Phelps and his big red dots?). Here is a link to a presentation on fascia -- if you go to exactly one hour in, the discussion of cupping and fascia begins.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raCBeQ-gXfs&index=1&list=FLxi0PwWp4KesVlONtxxgb_A

The research I have done for this interview, and the interview itself, has made me look at parts of my practices and workouts in a new way, especially certain movements and moving qigong exercises, and how effective they are for maintaining healthy fascia.

Tai chi has shown to be effective in maintaining flexibility, balance, coordination, among other benefits. It turns out that fascia and tai chi work together in excellent ways.


William C.C. Chen's Daughter Says I Am Arrogant

Body MechanicsWilliam C.C. Chen's daughter called me arrogant the other day. She also mentioned "gossip," and implied that I do not understand what I was reading.

At first, I couldn't believe it. Then, I thought it was funny. But the more I thought about it, the more bizarre and creepy it became.

Here is what happened.

I pulled a book from my martial arts library this weekend: "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan," by William C.C. Chen.

Since body mechanics is something I am very interested in, and somewhat knowledgeable about, I wanted to read his take on it. 

I respect all teachers, unless they claim supernatural powers. I have always heard very good things about William C.C. Chen. His name is among the most famous of American tai chi teachers. You have to admire someone who has done so much to spread tai chi in America.

On the back of the book, he writes, "My book.....deals with the human body under the action of given forces and is based on practical physics such as body leverage and the hydraulic pressures which exist in our body."

Great! I opened the book and began to read it for his explanation of body mechanics.

The book is short. There is background on the art, including a disappointing section that attributes the origin of the art to Cheng San Feng, despite the fact that there is no evidence he existed. There seems to be a reluctance among some Yang style branches to admit that tai chi originated with the Chen family, although this book does mention Chen Changxing, who taught the family art to Yang Luchan.

I look at the "Cheng San Feng" legend to be mainly perpetuated by tai chi politics. Just admit the art originated in the Chen Village. What's the problem with that?

The book briefly discusses relaxation, tension and developing speed, but before long it goes into photos of William C.C. Chen's 60-movement form. A step-by-step approach, with instruction such as "Shift weight to left leg 100%. Turn body 45 degrees to the right. Turn left foot out on heel 90 degrees. Extend left palm forward slightly, facing down."

But there was nothing about body mechanics. 

I put a photo of the book cover on my Internal Fighting Arts Facebook page and commented on how the book contains no mention of body mechanics. I did not insult Master Chen personally, it was a post about a book called "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan" that does not discuss body mechanics.

Isn't that fair? It was a very short review to let people know not to buy this book if you are looking for information on body mechanics.

Apparently, Tiffany Chen did not think it was fair. One of her friends tipped her off to the post. She wrote:

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion... however, if you're only looking for the words "body mechanics". Body Mechanics requires understanding the actual physics of movement and weight shifting of the body. Not everyone can grasp everyone's else's ideas, especially in writing. But, given the popularity of my father's book as a learning tool for those studying Tai Chi, this is just somebody's opinion with a few other people who agree and they are entitled to express that. Life is always filled with a rainbow of perspectives. People like to talk and most often people like to talk down about the accomplishments of others because it makes them feel good. We all have our own medicine. Mine is listening, learning, always finding a reason to smile and moving on. Thank you for bringing this to my attention Brian Sherman. I was raised to only speak when there was something nice to say and just to work hard, so that's what I do. Gossip always reminds me of my Father's Golden Words."

I have always heard that her father is a very nice man. Another visitor to the Facebook page mentioned that her father never said a negative word about anyone. She replied:

"Yes, this is very true... his humble, golden nature is how he approaches anything and everything in life. He has never spoken a negative word about anyone ever and he never tolerates anyone speaking negatively about anyone else, he simply says "it's ok, maybe we just don't understand, doesn't mean anyone is wrong". I just don't appreciate the arrogance of those who will very opinionatedly speak on my father and our method without ever having met any of us or visited our school... it's quite a lofty thing to wear your eyes so high on your head. Then again, maybe this how people motivate themselves to do better than others, so if that is the goal here, then great. Perhaps I just don't understand..."

I was simply astounded, and so I asked Ms. Chen to let me know which parts of the book contained information about body mechanics and I would apologize if I was wrong, but she did not respond to my request.

I read her comments again, and realized that she did not directly address me. That struck me as incredibly passive-aggressive.

Then I went onto Amazon and checked out the user reviews of the book. There were some 2-star reviews that indicated there was nothing about body mechanics in the book.

For some reason, Ms. Chen had not replied to those people to tell them how arrogant they are for spreading "gossip."

Here is how a review works. You write a book, make a DVD, record a song, produce a movie or a play, and people review it. It is even better when someone who knows the subject (body mechanics of tai chi, for example) writes a review of it. Does the book live up to its title? Does the title even apply to the contents? Should tai chi students invest in the book?

A review typically serves as a heads-up to potential customers. It did not discuss her father personally or his "method." 

I studied Yang style for more than a decade. I won a gold medal at the 1990 AAU Kung Fu National Championships performing the Yang 24 form. I have studied Chen style and its body mechanics for nearly 20 years. That is a total of 30 years studying, practicing, competing with and teaching tai chi.

So here is how Ms. Chen could have responded to my short review that included no personal criticism of her father or his art whatsoever.

She should have said something like, "I am sorry my father's book did not meet your expectations. Let me suggest a couple of other of his books or videos that will have the information you are seeking."

And then tell me which books or videos have information on body mechanics.

The honest thing to do would be to admit, "Yes, the book is a lot more about the 60-movement form than it is about body mechanics." 

Boom! That would not be difficult, would it?

But martial arts is a lot like religion. Teachers become deities. If you dare criticize their work, you are seen as attacking them personally, along with each and every student. And this is especially true if you are an "outsider." It's us versus them, don't you know? We are the best and naturally, nobody else understands what we are doing. Right?

Shame on them. That attitude does nothing positive for your art, and it certainly does not honor your instructor.

I believe in real-world discussions, martial artist to martial artist. No instructor deserves to be stroked when they are phoning it in, and that includes any instructor. By the way, I have learned face-to-face from some Chen instructors whose DVDs contain virtually no real instruction. That is why I began making DVDs. I was tired of buying videos that left me with more questions than I had before. I was tired of tai chi books that delved more into woo-woo than reality. 

But the entire point of my post is very simple. If I buy a James Bond book, I expect 007 to make an appearance in the story. If I buy a book on refrigerator repair, I expect to get some pointers about how to fix my refrigerator. 

And if I buy a book called "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan," and body mechanics are not discussed, it is worth a heads-up to other potential buyers.

I still believe what I hear about William C.C. Chen being a nice man, but he should have called his book "Instruction for the 60-Movement Form" instead of "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan."

So, dear readers, would you like to learn about the body mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan?

You can learn about body mechanics in depth from Mike Sigman's videos and written materials. He was a major influence on me. And you won't find any woo-woo in his instruction.

You will also learn about body mechanics in depth in my Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs, and in every DVD that I produce. And if you don't like a purchase you make from me for any reason, even if you simply think I am ugly and my mother dresses me funny, just send it back and I will refund your money, and I will not criticize you personally. I will not call you arrogant, accuse you of gossip, or accuse you of not understanding what I am teaching.

No. When I receive negative critiques of my work, I think about it and think about how to make it better next time. And if the critique is accurate, as mine was, the honest response from someone who is secure about their art would be to say, "Yes, you might be right about that."

Wouldn't that be the type of emotional balance that would honor an art such as Tai Chi Chuan, and an instructor as accomplished as William C.C. Chen?

 


The Joy of Teaching Tai Chi to an "Older" Group of Students

Ken Gullette Tai ChiSomething happens when you start getting older, when your health begins to go South and the hair turns gray.

Suddenly, you feel differently about the old people you see in the store or on the road. You suddenly develop empathy.

Oh, I get it. That old man still thinks of himself as the strong 25-year old that he was just a few minutes ago. Wasn't it just a few minutes ago?

No, it was 40 years ago, before the losses started piling up; before his parents died, before his friends started dying, before his earning power began dropping, and before his heart began beating like a bad carburetor.

Now, when I see a healthy 25-year old, I think to myself, "It seems like just yesterday." When I was 25, life seemed endless and everything seemed to come easily.

As the years passed, I lost a daughter, I lost jobs, marriages, and eventually, my perfect health declined. There were some gains along the way, too, but the losses pile up.

As we get older, it becomes even more important to maintain our mental and physical balance as we try to ride the ups and downs of life.

Ken Gullette Tai Chi ClassLast week, I started a free Tai Chi class for people aged 40 and over. The first class was packed with more than 70 people. The oldest was 83.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach a more "mature" group.

When I first began teaching Tai Chi in 1999, I was still teaching the Yang style. My first official Tai Chi class attracted students from their twenties to their eighties.

At that time, I had already begun studying Chen style and was in the process of switching from Yang to Chen in my practice and in my kung-fu class, made up of mostly teens and young adults.

By 2001, I was teaching Chen style in the Tai Chi class, and the older students began slowly dropping out. Chen style was just too athletic for them.

Nancy and I closed our school in 2007, when I took a job in Tampa, Florida. A year later, that job ended and my health began to go South. I lost the lung and developed cardiomyopathy. For a couple of years around 2012, I was living in heart failure.

Ken Gullette-Nancy Gullette-Tai ChiStarting another Tai Chi class did not appear to be in my future.

But a few weeks ago, I decided to do it, only this time, I would not do it for money, I would do it as a labor of love. The class would be free, and it would be for anyone aged 40 and over -- a free, 6-week class in Qigong and the Chen 19 form.

The turnout was surprising. More than 70 people came in for the first class -- so many that I decided to teach two classes per week.

It is surprising how much I enjoy the class. No one is seeking perfection, and so I make it easy for them, remove the pressure, and make them laugh. My wife, Nancy is in the class, and I use her to demonstrate fighting applications, giving me an opportunity to flirt and tease her. The class really enjoys it.

I encourage heckling in my classes, and always enjoy it when someone cracks a joke. 

On the first night, we do some very light warmups, working down from shoulder circles to side stretches and hip circles. Then, I say, "Touch your fingers to the floor," and I bend over, touching my fingers to the floor. There is usually some giggling, and comments such as, "Yeah, right."

"Okay," I say, "Keep your legs straight and touch your head to the floor." 

That gets a big laugh. Then I say, "If you can touch your head to the floor, you get a black belt."

More laughter.

So here are my tips for teaching Tai Chi to a mature group of students:

** Teach them Qigong exercises and tell them how to use it in their daily lives.

** Lighten up. None of these students wants to be Chen Xiaowang. Don't take it too seriously.

** Go over movements slowly, with a lot of repetition and corrections.

** Encourage laughter. They need it and they want to have fun.

** Have patience. Many older people have little experience with athletics, and as they mirror your movements, their arms and legs will often be in drastically different positions than yours. Give them gentle coaching and expect to go over it several times.

** Ask for questions regularly.

** If you put yourself up on a "teacher pedestal," climb down and be a real human being. Show an interest in them personally.

When I taught the class back from 1999 to 2007, we would occasionally have parties at my house. Sometimes, if a new kung-fu movie was coming out, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, we would pick a showing at the theater and meet there, sitting as a group. It was a lot of fun.

I believe one of the best reasons to teach a class like this is to make new friends. Mature people make great friends. You can add value to their lives, and they can add value to yours.

It is a win-win situation, and nothing is better than that! 

 

 


Internal "Energies" and Takedowns -- The Holy Grail of Tai Chi Self-Defense

Ken Gullette using tai chi to break opponent's structure
Breaking my opponent's structure and controlling his center.

The Holy Grail of Tai Chi self-defense -- in my opinion -- is when you can "feel" an opponent's energy when you are in a clinch and you can break his structure and use Tai Chi "energies" to take him down.

On Saturday, about a dozen martial artists of different styles gathered at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in Moline, Illinois and we practiced some of the basic concepts and energies. We recorded the workshop and the video is already going up on my website -- www.internalfightingarts.com -- and I am putting it together for a DVD.

Anyone can use muscular force to pick someone up and throw them to the ground.

But can you use Tai Chi energies to unbalance, uproot, and control your opponent's center so you can take them down?

You have to be able to do a few things:

** Determine how your opponent's center is turning

** Break his structure to unbalance him

** Have your hands and legs in place to help his center turn

** Then turn his center and take it where it wants to go.

The term "energies" has been misinterpreted. Peng, Lu, Ji, An and the other energies are actually "methods" of dealing with an opponent's force. When force comes in, you can roll it back and then press him to unbalance him. That is one example of how energies are used.

You learn to maintain your balance as your opponent loses his, and then you counter.

Colin Frye, in blue, works with a student at the Internal Energies and Takedowns workshop.
Colin Frye, in blue, works with a young student on takedowns.

You can't learn all this in a three-hour workshop, but it is fun to see people from other styles of tai chi and martial arts as their faces light up and they realize they are experiencing something really different.

It is also refreshing to meet people who put aside their "style" for an afternoon, empty their cups and try something else. One of the reasons I do it this way is to educate others on the internal arts, show them that these arts are not as "soft" as the popular image would have them believe, and to add training partners to the videos.

Push hands starts with the basic patterns, working on form and sensitivity. Gradually, you work into applications, then moving, freestyle, and in the end, learning to take your opponent to the ground while using the various energies of Tai Chi to do it. Chen push hands is the bridge between form and fighting. 

I have been working on these principles for a long time. To my knowledge, no other Tai Chi instructor has actually put this information on video in a step-by-step way. It is not really an "ancient Chinese secret," but it is a place that few Tai Chi students get to on their journey. 

This is my mission for the rest of 2017.