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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Be water, my friend."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good point. 

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

 


Silk-Reeling Energy Workshop to be Held Saturday March 7 2015 in Moline

Silk-Reeling Energy, also called Chan Ssu Jin, is one of the key physical skills you need for quality internal arts. It is important especially in Tai Chi and Bagua, but it is also used in Hsing-I.

Dover-Photo-pngSilk-Reeling energy provides your techniques with "coiling leverage," adding more power to your martial techniques and allowing you to deliver relaxed strength.

It is a key skill for Internal Strength.

Join me on Saturday, March 7, 2015 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. for a Silk-Reeling Energy Workshop at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in downtown Moline, Illinois. The workshop will be recorded for a DVD and all attendees will receive a copy when it is produced.

We will work on exercises that I learned from Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, direct descendant of the creator of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen Wangting, and from his disciples.

You will learn:

1. 18 Silk-Reeling Exercises that teach you the spiraling movement required for high quality Tai Chi and Bagua.

2. How other internal body mechanics -- the ground path and peng jin, whole-body movement, Dan T'ien rotation and opening/closing the kua -- are used in these spiraling movements.

3. How to apply the movements to real-world self-defense. This is not "make believe mystical woo-woo" that doesn't work against an attacker. We will practice solid principles for self-defense demonstrating how Silk-Reeling Energy is used.

Internal Strength Workshop 2You are guaranteed to have many "Aha!" moments during this 4-hour workshop when you see how Silk-Reeling is done and how it is applied to self-defense. You will find it interesting regardless of your style of martial art, and it will deepen your knowledge and appreciation of the internal arts.

The Silk-Reeling Workshop costs only $35 and all participants will receive a copy of the current Silk-Reeling DVD on the day of the workshop, and they will receive a copy of the new DVD when it is produced (hopefully within a month of the workshop). Morrow's Academy is located at 1319 5th Avenue in downtown Moline, IL. 

For more information, contact Mr. Morrow at (309) 764-1929.

 


Internal Strength Workshop January 10 in Moline, IL -- Learn About Internal Movement and Be in a DVD

Internal-Strength-Cover1On Saturday, January 10, 2015, I will hold an Internal Strength Workshop at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in downtown Moline, Illinois. The 4-hour workshop (we might go a little long) will be held from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at 1319 5th Avenue.

The cost is only $35 and the workshop will be videotaped for a new DVD. Your participation is your agreement to appear in a DVD and video that will be shown and sold worldwide. All participants will receive a free copy of the DVD when it is edited (later in January).

This is a workshop for martial artists of all styles. It will give you a rare look at the body mechanics that make "internal" arts different from "external." 

For martial artists in "external" arts, this will be a good opportunity to explore a different way of moving and to finally understand why internal artists are said to deliver relaxed power even in self-defense applications. 

For people who have studied Tai Chi, especially if your teacher is focused primarily on health and meditation, this workshop will help you understand the body mechanics that make Tai Chi a powerful martial art, mechanics that have been lost in much of the Tai Chi instruction in the United States.

Here is what you will learn. If you do not understand any of these terms, you need this workshop:

1. How to establish and maintain the Ground Path.

2. How to maintain Peng Jin -- what is it and how it is combined with the Ground Path to make your structure one of "iron wrapped in cotton."

3. Whole-Body Movement --  How to connect your "energy" through the body during movement.

4. Silk-Reeling "Energy" -- The spiraling movement that is adds power to your technique.

5. Dan T'ien Rotation -- The "guide" for all movement, plus how to separate the movement of the hips and the waist.

6. Opening and Closing the Kua -- The "Kua" is the crease at the top of the leg at the groin. 

You will also learn how to develop a "centered" stance and why you are currently off-balance (the photo below is a hint). There will be new information and concepts beyond what was taught in my original Internal Strength DVD.

Standing-2You will learn how to put all these mechanics together for both movement and self-defense. The internal arts are complicated, but you must understand these elements to proceed. They appear simple when they are explained, but the skills take years to develop. We are not accustomed to moving this way.

Our workshop will cover these skills and we will use them in action as we practice self-defense techniques. You will learn the true meaning of "intent" in the internal arts. Here is a hint: it is not about an invisible energy running through your body.

If you have ever had an interest in the internal arts, or if you have ever been curious about them (I think people who are curious about both internal and external arts are called "bi-curious" but I'm not sure), this workshop is for you.

So come join us, learn about the internal arts, have some fun and be in a kung-fu DVD! Call John Morrow or me for more information. Morrow's Academy phone is (309) 764-1929. 


Tai Chi Corrections - Chen Huixian and a Great Laojia Yilu Workshop

Ken-Gullette-Chen-Huixian-web
Chen Huixian gives Ken Gullette hands-on corrections for "Single Whip."
It is a humbling experience, getting corrections on your taiji form by a member of the Chen family. This past weekend, I spent two days at a workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, where Chen Huixian -- a Direct In-Chamber Disciple of her uncle, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei -- gave corrections on the Laojia Yilu form. Her husband, Michael Chritton -- a Certified Coach of the Chen Village Taiji Training Center of China -- helped provide feedback and corrections. 

Everyone needs a coach to let them know when they need a tweak to get back on track. Training as I do here in the Quad Cities, without an official "teacher" since 2006, I need occasional hands-on corrections by someone at a higher level.

I got it this weekend.

Chen Huixian did not try to take us through the complete form. She asked what we wanted, and the group asked to spend more time on corrections and less time rushing through the choreography. Most of us know the form and some of us learned it through a different branch of the Chen family (I studied with teachers and disciples of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing) so we do some of the movements in a slightly different way. Not better, just different.

I was grateful every time she gave me feedback. Once, when I was overcompensating for some instruction on a movement to sink the hips, she demonstrated how my movement was exagerrated and said, "Don't do that!" The memory makes me laugh because that's the type of thing I would say to my students. Sometimes, when I am thinking about feedback, I drop my head as I contemplate the movement. Once when I did that, she loudly said, "Ken, the answer is not written on the floor!" Hilarious. And true. I'm going to use this.

Michael made a lot of good suggestions during the 12 hours of training. One little tweak there, one suggestion there, always given with courtesy and insight.

The main problem that follows a great workshop is retention.

After both days, I went through the movements of the day in my mind, scribbling down feedback on each movement as much as I could remember. It really helps down the road.

The workshop included a little stance-holding, trying to maintain a posture as Chen Huixian worked around the pavilion, one person at a time. That type of workout will test the leg strength of the most muscular person, and often, by the time she gets to you, the legs are shaking from fatigue. This is not your YMCA taiji where you aren't supposed to break a sweat. When you are put into the correct posture, Chen Huixian will ask, "Leg burning?" Yes, the leg is burning. She will smile and indicate that it is a good thing.

When done properly, taiji training is a grueling workout. The expression they use for the required pain is "eating bitter." The skill you get from eating bitter -- eventually -- is sweet. Or so they tell me. I've had a regular diet of bitter for 15 years. I'd like an order of sweet, please. Stat!!

The Key to Taiji Progress - Baby Steps

The secret to making forward progress in the internal arts is taking one baby step at a time. That is impossible without occasional hands-on corrections from someone at a higher level. I love it, and as Nancy and I drove back home Sunday night from Madison, about three hours away, I was excited the entire drive home.

If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin area, I recommend Khiang Seow as an instructor. He hosted the workshop with Patrick Rogne.

Michael-Huixian-Ken
Michael Chritton, their son Xilong, Chen Huixian, and Ken Gullette.
And now, the hard work begins -- taking the notes and incorporating them into practice -- again and again! In November, I plan to attend the Chen Zhenglei workshop at Chen Huixian's school in Overland Park, Kansas, the largest suburb of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The goal is to improve one more baby step or two, and then get new corrections in November.

I will work on shortening my stances just a little, maintaining peng through both legs, and some other little things that I wrote down that include relaxation of the hips, spiraling, foot stability and more details about specific movements that I have not been taught before.

It is part of the lifelong journey that is taijiquan. And it's the knowledge that corrections help you get even better that make the journey so much fun.


Preparing for a Laojia Yilu Workshop this Weekend with Chen Huixian

Chen_Huixian_2
Photo courtesy of Chen Huixian.
People in the Chen Taiji community that I respect speak highly of Chen Huixian, a niece of Chen Zhenglei who now lives and teaches in the Kansas City area. If I lived in Kansas City, I'd be studying with her. I have also developed respect for her husband, Michael Chritton, through communications on Facebook. They are good people, and that means a lot in my book.

This weekend, Master Chen is holding a workshop in Madison, Wisconsin. I won't be there for the Friday evening workshop on Silk-Reeling. On Saturday and Sunday, she is giving corrections for Laojia Yilu. I've been looking forward to meeting her and Michael for a couple of years. I've never really trained, even in a weekend workshop, with anyone from the Chen Zhenglei lineage, so I am excited about the coming weekend.

It is interesting to me, as I see videos of internal artists and train with some, how they each have their own stylistic approach to the same form. It seems to drive some of my karate friends a little crazy. Uniformity is important in some arts, apparently. In Taiji, and as I've seen in Bagua and Xingyi, learning the movements of a form is step one -- learning the principles behind the movement is step two -- practicing and becoming proficient is step three -- and step four is adding your own stylistic flourishes, like an artist going beyond the basic brush strokes with an oil painting.

I found a video of Chen Huixian doing the first half of the form on YouTube this morning and watched it. Here is the video of Laojia Yilu part 1.

I definitely see influences of Chen Zhenglei in this demonstration. Chen Huixian and Michael are hosting him for a workshop in Kansas City this November. I plan to be there.

So I've spent a little more time than usual during the past couple of weeks practicing Laojia Yilu to prepare for the workshop. Is my posture good, is my internal strength connected when I move? And a dozen more things on the internal checklist that I ask as I move through the form.

I look forward to emptying my cup and tasting their cup of tea, learning new things, asking a couple of questions about stylistic differences, making new friends, and hopefully taking another baby step forward on this taiji journey.

Stay tuned for further updates along the way, including this weekend from Madison. There is still time to register by going to this page. And my thanks in advance for the sponsor of this weekend, Khiang Seow.


Chen Huixian Workshop July 19-21 in Madison, Wisconsin

Chen-Huixian-Madison
Photo courtesy of Khiang Seow.
Chen Huixian, a member of the Chen family living in the Kansas City area, will conduct a three-day workshop in Madison, Wisconsin on July 19 through the 21st (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The workshop is hosted by Khiang Seow, instructor at Madison Chen Style Taijiquan. 

Chen Huixian is a niece of Chen Zhenglei, one of the top taiji masters of his generation.

I have never trained with anyone from Chen Zhenglei's lineage, but I've been wanting to meet Chen Huixian for some time, along with her husband Michael Chritton, so I am planning to attend the Saturday and Sunday sessions, when Chen Huixian will offer corrections for the Laojia Yilu form.

Go to Khiang Seow's website for more details and to download the flyer. My wife Nancy's parents were born in Madison. It's a cool town and we're looking forward to spending the weekend there. Nancy will shop till she drops and I will do Laojia Yilu till I drop!

Join me in Madison and let's support Chen Huixian and Khiang Seow in their efforts to keep high quality tai chi going in the Midwest!! 


How Much Would You Pay for Quality Tai Chi, Hsing-I or Bagua Instruction?

Chen-sword-instruct-move20-250An interesting discussion took place recently online with some of my martial arts friends. How much is too much for a private lesson from a master?

Some of the Chinese masters are now charging up to $500 an hour for private instruction. Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang is one of those. The cost of seminars is rising, too. One of the younger masters in the Chen family -- Chen Ziqiang -- is charging at least $60 for a 3-hour workshop and a little less for a 2-hour workshop.

You can't learn very much about Xinjia Yilu or the Chen straight sword form in two or three hours. And you certainly can't go beneath the surface. You can't learn a lot about push hands when you spend two hours training with some people attending who are rank beginners.

That's one of the problems that veterans are beginning to see with this "top level" instruction from Chinese masters. It isn't always very deep at all -- the same beginner stuff year after year. But they are paid big bucks because we want to be close to the Source.

I've spent thousands of dollars and traveled thousands of miles to study these arts. I've flown across the country more than once, driven two or three hundred miles up to twice a week, and paid good money to try to peel back another layer and take one more baby-step.

I put everything I've learned on video and for nearly four years, I've been building an online membership website where it's all available -- not for $500, not for $200, not even for $100. Nope. Members are able to wade through nearly 600 video lessons for $19.99. And if they get a lot of value out of it, they stay for another month and another $19.99. I have a handful of people who have been members from the very beginning. They see all the new videos that pop up. I put one on today for the Chen Straight Sword form that includes an outstanding lesson that every internal artist needs to practice.

When I put the latest video online today, it hit me again how people can save years -- and thousands of dollars -- by watching these videos instead of waiting for an instructor to teach them these principles, skills and techniques. And if you're studying with a Chinese "master," he or she may never teach them to you.

One of my favorite comments have come from my online members and DVD customers. One black sash instructor said as he watched my videos, he wondered why "no one every told me this before now." He studied for years with a "master."

Another member said he was "impressed that you hold nothing back."

How much is that worth? What would you pay? Some of my martial artist friends say the costs of the Chinese masters' workshops have exceeded their ability to pay, especially considering how little you get in return. Is a photo op worth it?

Every time I sell an instructional DVD, I know that the buyer will return for a few more -- because I lay it all out there in easy-to-understand terms. It doesn't cost $1,000 for a round trip to San Francisco (which I've done more than once). It doesn't cost years of studying. You don't have to wait for a master from another country to decide if he wants to give you "the secrets."

I'm considering attending a workshop or two this year. I might even take a private lesson from a master. I'll ask questions and try to get answers that take me another step in my quest to build skill.

And then I'll pass along what I learn, as I always do. I'd like to invite you along on the journey.


A Fun but Hard Four Hour Workshop on the Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form

Chen-Sword-3-250Last Saturday in Moline, Illinois, I conducted a four-hour workshop on the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword Form. The form has 49 movements, so it was a challenge to teach each movement and include quality information about body mechanics and the applications for the movements. But with a hard-working group, we did it.

The sword form is a great Taiji form -- smooth and powerful, it can be done slowly or fast with fa-jing. Always, the internal body mechanics should be present:

  • Establishing and maintaining the ground path
  • Maintaining peng at all times
  • Using whole-body movement
  • Silk-Reeling energy
  • Opening/closing the kua properly
  • Dan T'ien rotation

Chen-Sword-1-250I've heard instructors in the past talk about "extending your chi to the end of the sword." And for those who have their heads in fantasy, that confuses things.

The "intent" of each movement in a Tai Chi form is its fighting application and how you are using the body mechanics against an opponent. By utilizing the body mechanics listed above, you make the sword an extension of the body and you are able to use proper movement. In an abstract way, you could say you are "extending chi" through the sword, as long as you understand that there really isn't some mystical energy flowing out of your hands and across 4 feet of steel.

We videotaped the workshop and individual video lessons will be showing up this weekend on the online school. In a few weeks, it will become a DVD (and will be listed on the right side of this page with other DVDs).

One of the most satisfying things about doing a workshop like this is working with people from other styles of martial arts. Attendees had studied karate, Shaolin, and even some Filipino arts. The body mechanics of the internal arts were foreign, and it was fun seeing some of their reactions as it dawned on them. Most people don't understand internal body mechanics, even if they've studied arts such as Yang style Tai Chi. Seeing the light bulb turn on above their heads, and their eyes light up as they suddenly connect physically with concepts they've only heard about is satisfying as a teacher.

We had to rush just a bit to finish all the movements in four hours -- and there was a lot of sweating, groaning, and effort. It was an outstanding workout with an outstanding form.


Workshop - Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form Seminar This Saturday, March 24, in Moline, Illinois

Ken-ChadSwordsThis Saturday, March 24, 2012, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., I'll teach the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword form at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts on Fifth Avenue in downtown Moline, IL.

If you plan to attend, contact Mr. Morrow at (309) 764-1929.

The fee is only $45 and attendees will agree to be videotaped as we shoot the workshop for an instructional DVD. Each person will get credit on the DVD and will receive a free copy when it's edited next month.

It will be a challenging four hours. We will explore all 49 of the movements in this form -- the only straight sword form in traditional Chen family Tai Chi.

The sword form is done fast and slow, with smoothness, good internal body mechanics, and fa-jing. The way you handle the sword in each movement, and the intent or "energy" you put into the sword depends on the fighting application of each movement. We will explore this as we learn the form, but we will especially drill into the body mechanics.

It's a difficult form to learn in four hours, which is why each attendee will receive a DVD. We'll try to memorize the choreography as I also drive home details on body mechanics and applications, then you can piece it back together through the DVD instruction.

Please contact John or reply to me at my email (ken@internalfightingarts.com) if you plan to attend. 


Chen Master Jan Silberstorff in California This Week for Workshops

Jan Silberstorff is one of the few Westerners who deserves the title of Chen Taiji Master. He is from Germany and was Chen Xiaowang's first Western indoor disciple.

He is in Seattle this week at Kim Ivy's school. Here's a pdf schedule. You still have time to attend tomorrow if you're in the area.

Next week he'll do a workshop in San Diego at the Taoist Sanctuary.

I've heard that he is someone you want to experience if possible.