Are You Getting This Important Benefit from Your Qigong Practice?

Broadsword 1998I stepped into the ring, holding my broadsword and feeling butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to do well in my first tournament performance as a black belt.

It was February, 1998 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and at 45 years old, I had studied different martial arts for 25 years, had been in the internal arts for more than 10 years, and had practiced qigong diligently for more than a decade.

"Just get into the zone," I told myself as I calmed down and prepared to do my broadsword form.

God, there are a lot of people, I thought.

"Settle down," my inner voice said. "Detach. Rise above the pressure."

It was the worst advice I could have given myself.

A few movements into the form, I turned to my right to do a sweeping cut and noticed a young boy was walking across the ring, just a few feet from me. 

Within another movement or two, I completely spaced out and forgot where I was in my form. For a flash of a second, I was mentally Broadsword 1998-2paralyzed, then I made up some movements, wrapped up the form, and bowed out.

I did not place in weapons forms that day.

I was disappointed at myself. After using qigong in my life so effectively during the past decade, why was I so nervous and unable to hold it together when performing for the first time as a black belt in front of a jury of strangers and a gymnasium full of spectators?

Shouldn't I be a bit more "one" with the universe? Shouldn't I be able to detach my mind? 

Last night, a member of my website -- a man who is becoming a friend -- told me how he was very nervous during a recent karate test (which he also studies) and had the same thoughts about how qigong is supposed to help him remain calm in those situations.

But here is the real secret of qigong practice.

It does not prevent you from being human.

Qigong is not intended to prevent the normal human emotions that we all experience. The key to effective qigong is that you do not hold on to emotions like fear, anxiety, greed, and other negative thoughts. 

To suppress negative emotions is to give them even more power.

And that is where the mindfulness component of qigong comes into play. It is actually an important part of our quest to calm and center ourselves -- to "be in the moment."

When you are "mindful," you are completely in the moment, giving attention to the people or the situation that needs your attention. Your mind is not wandering, and if it does, you simply bring your attention back to where it needs to be.

The negative feelings, the butterflies in the stomach, the fear of failure -- it's all part of the experience. No one ever brags about doing well when nothing was at stake. We don't sit around in our golden years reminiscing about all the boring times we had. 

The best moments in life -- when you are most alive -- happen when you are testing your comfort zone and feeling every sensation.

And so I realized that calming and centering were not enough. I needed to be in it.

Over time, I developed a joy of being in the moment, whether that was a happy moment or whether I was about to perform in front of a panel of judges and a crowd at a tournament, or whether I was going to be grilled in a job interview by a panel of staffers and VPs.

When I was being interviewed by a panel at the University of South Florida in 2007 for the director of media relations position, I sat down, smiled and said, "Take your best shot."

I enjoyed every moment of that interview, fielded all their questions, was honest and let my creative mind flow. I started a month later.

I want to experience it all -- to be in the now and fully feel the experience:

  • To enjoy demonstrating my arts in a tournament and show martial artists something different.
  • To enjoy the competition of sparring without being overjoyed or upset about individual point calls by judges.
  • To enjoy the "competition" of a job interview, and display my experience and knowledge in a creative way.
  • To be in the moment in a tense personal or job situation, where I can take care of problems without exploding.

Qigong helps us relieve stress, calm our minds and body, and helps us to center ourselves. The goal then should be to recapture that calm, centered feeling in times of tension or crisis.

You should not think of qigong as a way to detach your feelings or your mind from the moment. That is not living.

A key part of qigong is mindfulness: the joy of living and being part of everything; the unpredictable nature of challenges that are thrown at you, then learning from them so perhaps the next time, you can handle them even better.

I got better at tournaments. I still got nervous occasionally, but I felt it fully, I experienced it completely, and I sure did have fun.

-- by Ken Gullette

Check Out Ken's Qigong DVD with Exercises for Stress Relief

Want a more in-depth interview on Mindfulness? Check out Ken's podcast interview with Mark W. Muesse

 


Remaining Centered in the Heat of Battle and the Three Internal Harmonies

Tourney
My opponent in this match provided an example of NOT using the Three Internal Harmonies.

He was in his twenties -- young and cocky. I was in my late forties. I could tell by the way he carried himself and the way he looked at me that he thought it was going to be easy. He thought he was going to kick my butt.

It really made him mad a moment after the match started when I swept him to the ground. He hit the wooden gymnasium floor hard, and when he got back up, he was STEAMED

I always loved to spar in tournaments. It was great competition, and it refined some of the skills you need for self-defense on the street. Even in "no contact" tournaments, a lot of contact was made. Ribs were cracked, jaws were jacked, gashes were opened up sometimes. Damn, it was fun.

In a tournament match, I never lost my cool. If my opponent scored on me, I would congratulate him. 

"Good shot," I would say. The referees loved the sportsmanship. I never got angry. If my opponent was good enough to score a good shot on me, he deserved a pat on the back. And then a roundhouse kick to the head, heh heh.

This young karate guy I sparred in 2001 was one of those guys who proves the validity of the "Three Internal Harmonies" concept in the internal arts.

When you are successfully using the Three Internal Harmonies, your "heart" or "spirit" is in harmony with your "intent," or your logical mind.

If you are afraid or nervous, your spirit (Shen) is weak. If you are courageous and calm, your spirit is strong. You have the "fighting spirit."

When your logical mind (Yi) is strong, you clearly see your opponent's techniques, his strengths and weaknesses, and if your energy (Chi) is strong, you take advantage of them by applying strength (Li). In the internal arts, it is expressed this way: the Shen harmonizes with the Yi, the Yi harmonizes with the Chi, and the Chi harmonizes with the Li. 

When your "heart" and your "intent" is strong and in harmony and your "energy" is strong, you can then use your "strength" and skillfully defeat your opponent.

Ken-Eye-of-Tiger-1983
A Cincinnati tournament in 1983 - the Eye of the Tiger.

This is the best example of what the Three Internal Harmonies really means. There is nothing mystical about it.

At this tournament in 2001, this strong, cocky young man came at me hard. But when I swept him, he lost his cool. He became angry and his "intent," or logical mind became scattered with anger. His "heart," or emotional mind took over. He was no longer in harmony. He couldn't focus his strength or technique and became out of control.

I never could understand why guys would get angry in tournament matches. I met a lot of really great competitors with good attitudes, but I have to admit -- I enjoyed it when my opponents got angry. It was a good sign that I was going to win.

As the years passed, I grew to enjoy sparring so much, I stopped keeping score during the match. It didn't matter to me who won any particular point. The judges would stop us, they would rule on the point, then tell us to resume fighting.

I remained calm and centered, and took each point as it came. Sometimes, at the end of the match, I was surprised to find that I had won.

The lesson of the Three Internal Harmonies can be applied in self-defense, but also at work and even in your personal relationships. When faced with an impossible deadline at work, when faced with an angry spouse or child at home, simply understand that you have the ability and the skill to solve the problem, focus your calm attention on the problem at hand, and get to work.

The Three Internal Harmonies can really help you out when someone is trying to kick your butt. But this concept is intended to be used not just as a method of fighting, but also as a way of life.


How To Win at Martial Arts Tournament Point Sparring - Instructional DVD

Sparring250The first DVD I made was instruction on Martial Arts Tournament Point Sparring. For some reason, it was not on this blog until today (you can find it on the right side of the page in the DVD and Ebook section).

I've always believed in being a complete fighter, and that helped me win dozens of martial arts tournament competitions between 1974 and 2006. I also trained students who won dozens of competitions. By using this DVD as a training tool, you can improve your strategies and techniques.

Tournament point sparring might not be the same as real fighting, but the skills required to win are some of the same skills you need on the street:

1. The ability to remain cool under pressure

2. The ability to read an opponent quickly

3. The ability to take misdirect and take advantage of your opponent's weaknesses.

Whether you are into kung-fu sparring, karate sparring, or taekwondo sparring, you'll get something out of this instruction. As I got older, I enjoyed the competition and it forced me to stay in top condition. Any type of sparring is extremely demanding physically. It's also a lot of fun.

As an internal artist, a lot of fellow tai chi folks scoff at tournament sparring, but that never bothered me. There are a lot of good reasons to put it on the line before a jury of your peers. Tournaments are not always run fairly. Sometimes it can get political, when judges score people from their styles higher, but after a time or two you just stop supporting that particular tournament. Most of the time, people do the best they can to be friendly and fair.

You can learn a lot about yourself at tournaments. How do you respond when people are watching (in forms or sparring)? How do you respond when a trained martial artist is trying to punch and kick you. It's not just a game of tag. People get injured in every tournament I attend. You can learn about your own weaknesses, your mental strength, and your ability to deal with defeat.

I made a lot of friends at tournaments, too.

This DVD runs an hour, and I demonstrate techniques with my friend Hector Lareau, then I show actual tournament video that we taped over the years showing the techniques being used in real action. Most of the video was shot between 1998 and 2003.

The clip below shows a couple of strategies to use against kickers. If, after watching the clip you are interested in learning more, click this link to go to the DVD page and order. 


Martial Arts Tournaments Reflect Changes in Society and Traditional Martial Arts

Morrows 40th BlackBelt Championship 2013 212-web
John Morrow on the left with Ken Gullette on the right, judging a sparring match at Morrow's tournament on Oct. 12, 2013.
I was a judge at John Morrow's 40th Semi-Annual Karate & Kung-Fu Tournament last Saturday, held on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. 

John always puts on one of the best tournaments in the area, drawing mostly friendly martial artists who are fair in their judging and talented in their technique. But over the years, the tournament has shrunk in size.

If any of you were involved in martial arts back in the 1970s, you remember how the stands were packed with spectators and there were hundreds of competitors, including kids, adults, men and women -- the Bruce Lee craze fueled the flames and there were martial arts schools on every corner, it seemed.

Even in the 1990s and around 2000, the tournament scene was thriving. I was in the black belt competitions at Morrow's tournaments and others in Chicago, Keokuk, and Dubuque. Sometimes 15 or 20 black belts -- men, women and seniors -- would compete in forms and sparring. On Saturday, only one young black belt showed up to compete. The rest of the competitors were under black belt. Several prominent local teachers who have their own schools didn't support the tournament and didn't send students, or attend to help judge the events. I'm very disappointed in them.

It's easy for people to dismiss tournaments. Even some martial artists look down their noses and complain that "it isn't real." The sparring matches are "low contact." They are supposed to be "no contact" but that's virtually impossible. If someone isn't hurt, judges generally allow it. I've always loved tournaments. You train for it, practice your forms and techniques, then put it on the line in front of a jury of your peers and mentors.

You can learn a lot about yourself in tournaments. How do you respond to pressure? Can you detach from the eyes staring at you and perform with precision and power? In sparring, can you size up the weaknesses of your opponent and score? Do you freeze up? 

I still think this is one of the greatest sports, and find it hard to believe more teens and adults don't take it up. The skills you learn are not only helpful in self-defense, they build confidence, which carries over into all areas of life.

In the old days, a school owner could earn a living with a school. Now, a lot of martial arts school owners have full-time jobs to supplement their income. Children are involved in several activities throughout the year but martial arts isn't usually one of them. Young adults seem to be involved in other things. Adults 35 and over think they are too old (they're not). MMA has drawn some young guys who think they want more realism, but the truth is that when these young guys see how difficult it is, and how hard you have to work, they drop out of MMA, too.

Some outstanding traditional arts are being taught. You can learn without worrying about getting a concussion. You can learn self confidence, get in shape, and learn to control your mind and body in ways that will surprise you. And you can learn to defend yourself and the people you love. That's an ability that is always good to have tucked inside in case you need it. 

I started for self-defense and philosophy. After I learned self-defense, I became interested in developing my skill. I am particularly interested in how beautiful movements can be powerful fighting techniques. Arts such as Tai Chi and Bagua just get deeper the more you study them. They are arts that keep on giving.

There have been many changes in society and technology during the past 40 years. In 1973, Kung-Fu and Karate were mysterious and amazing. It was all so new. In 2013, even 20 and 30-year-olds have never known a world where martial arts schools were not around. It is no longer something cool and new. It's nothing special. Except to those of us who remember just how new and cool it was. For us, it's still cool.

I would love to see comments on this topic. Do you still study? Why do you study and what do you get out of it? If you don't study in a school, why not?


One of the Best Reasons to Study Martial Arts - the Friends You Make

I've made some outstanding friends because of the martial arts. One of them is a high-ranking black belt in the Shinkyudo Karate Association. His name is Dan Gray.

Dan was a college student when I met him in the mid-90's. I was in my 40's and we met while competing against each other. The first time we met, he seemed like a nice young guy and when we sparred, he kicked me with a surprising stop kick to the solar plexus that had me gasping for air for a moment. He beat me in that match but we kept congratulating each other when the other would score a point, slapping each other on the arm between points in a friendly way -- it was a very positive match.

The next time we competed against each other, we talked more and again, we fought for first place. In fact, we've probably sparred a dozen or more times for first place in tournaments around the area.

Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight2 By the third tournament, we started joking around and having a lot of fun. We were very serious about our sparring, but we enjoyed each other just as much, and we began making the judges and the audience laugh by taking "kung fu" poses as if we were in a bad Chinese movie.

I've posted four pictures here from a tournament about 10 years ago -- probably 2000 or 2001. In the first photo, I'm striking a pose like in the Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight3 Karate Kid movie as the center referee tells us to resume fighting.

In the next photo, Dan actually rolls across the mat like a kung-fu action hero. You can see me and the corner referee smiling. He hopped up and we resumed sparring.

The third photo shows me getting him with a hook kick, and the final photo shows the hug at Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight1 the end of the match. I had to show me scoring on him. After all, it's my blog. :))

I barely won that one, and it could have gone either way. Usually, it depends on what the judges are able to see as much or more than the points that are actually scored. The fourth photo shows the end of the match -- no matter who wins, the friendship is intact.

We went to a Chicago tournament together around 2000 and had a great time. We've competed against each other many times since -- Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight4 he would win one, I'd win one, and we'd go back and forth. His skill and speed, and outstanding techniques, forced me to practice harder so I could compete as I entered my 50's. We has shown that it's possible to be friends and have a lot of fun even during the heat of competition, and I believe it has been appreciated by the judges and by the audience.

Earlier this year, after encountering serious health issues in 2009, I wasn't able to spar at John Morrow's tournament in May. It was frustrating watching my friends spar and having to serve as a corner ref. I don't like the thought that I may never again be able to step in the ring with Dan.

Dan is one of the people who make the martial arts a positive experience. His brother, Aaron Leisinger, sister Chelsea, and others in the art, including Frank Martinez and Samantha Roach and Craig Schaul, are examples of the type of martial artist everyone should know and aspire to be.

I don't respect the martial artist who wants to be a tough guy and wants the world to know it. I respect the martial artist who is a tough guy and has the balance to also be a very nice, respectful person -- and who brings a sense of seriousness but also fun to the arts.

I just wanted to use this post to salute the folks in the Shinkyuko Karate Association, and especially my friend Daniel Gray.


Congratulations to Kim Kruse for Tournament Win

Ken-Kim-Trophies-3-10-Web One of my students, Kim Kruse, won first place at a big karate tournament in Dubuque a couple of weeks ago. She was competing in the brown belt division with the Chen 38 form (she's not yet a brown sash, either).

We enjoy performing Chen tai chi among martial artists of different styles, to drive home the fact that tai chi is a powerful martial art.

The beauty of the 38 is that it combines fluid, spiraling movements with fa-jing, and for a tournament like this, we put fa-jing throughout the form to emphasis the martial aspects.

Everyone else was busy that weekend, so Kim was our lone representative. She took third in sparring in her division.

Congratulations, Kim!


Congratulations to Student Kim Kruse

Kim-Keokuk09web Kim Kruse showed a bit of spunk this weekend when she was the only one of our little core group to travel South to Keokuk, Iowa, for a great annual tournament that attracts martial artists from several states -- Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Georgia, and more. It's always a great tournament with a lot of talent, and it's hosted by my friend Frank Pennington.

Kim has a blue sash in our system, and she won first place in empty-hand forms with a Hsing-I form called "Five Element Mountain Storm." She also won first place in weapons with a tai chi form. She competed against karate and TKD folks. She also won 3rd place in sparring.

Kim started in 2006 when Nancy and I had our school in Bettendorf. We closed it in 2007 to move to Tampa but Kim and a few other students kept practicing and improving. She's living proof that if you have a passion for these arts and keep advancing forward, step by step, you can begin developing a reputation for your skill.

Congratulations, Kim. Hopefully, I'll be back in shape by October and can enter at least one tournament with you before the end of the year!!