What Does Being "Double-Weighted" Mean in Tai Chi?

Has a Taiji teacher ever explained to you what "double-weighted" means? It's bad to be double-weighted, but if you are looking for a definition of the term, you will find a lot of them out there. Most of them are wrong.

Some will tell you that you are double-weighted when your weight is distributed 50-50 between the legs.

Others will say something else.

The video below demonstrates what I learned about being double-weighted from Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing and their students (my teachers).

 


Internal Arts Training Tips are Featured on Newest Internal Fighting Arts Podcast

Internal Fighting Arts - Ken Gullette Logo 300For the past year, I have sent out a training tip every Friday. Today, I sent the 52nd email.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary, I collected some of the training tips and created my first podcast episode of 2020.

It is also the first Internal Fighting Arts podcast episode that does not include an interview.

There is a theme that begins to weave its way through the training tips and it becomes obvious by the end.

Listen through this link or download the file to your computer.

http://internalfightingarts.audello.com/internal-fighting-arts-46-training-tips/

The podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean and other podcast distributors.

If you'd like to be on my weekly training tip email list, just drop me a note at ken@internalfightingarts.com. 


The Duality of Winning and Losing is a Mental Trap if You Love Martial Arts

Ken Gullette doing the high jump at Lafayette High School in1970
Ken Gullette doing the high jump at Lafayette High School in 1970.

When I was in high school, Paul Carter's dad used to come to our track meets. I was on the team and did the high jump. Paul's dad would always say hello and talk with me a little bit. It was Lexington, Kentucky, but he grew up in the rural part of the state. He was the type of friendly Southern guy you would expect to see in Mayberry, talking with Andy Griffith. 

One day Paul told me that his father enjoyed watching me high jump because, "He says whether you win or lose, you smile."

I enjoyed hearing that when I was 17. When I competed, I always wanted to do as well as I could, but I loved doing the high jump. I wasn't going to get a college track scholarship or anything. I wasn't a talented, gifted athlete, I just loved it.

A few years earlier in middle school, Coach Pieratt set out the high jump one day in gym class. None of us had ever seen it. He wanted each boy to try jumping 4 feet 10 inches. He explained to us how to jump doing the old Western Roll. The Fosbury Flop was so new, he didn't consider teaching it. He set the bar at four-ten and, one by one, each guy ran up and jumped, and knocked the bar off. 

My turn came. Let's see, you run up, jump off the left leg, throw your right leg over and then, when you are above the bar, kick your left leg to help propel your body over.

It seemed difficult. No other boys could actually clear the bar.

I ran to the bar, jumped, and landed on the foam rubber on the other side.

There was a gasp in the gym. I had cleared the bar by a mile.

"Well," Coach Pieratt said, "we finally found something Gullette can do."

Instantly, the Coach put me on the team. I did the high jump for the middle school track team and then for my high school, Lafayette.

Sometimes I won first place and sometimes I didn't. In the four years that I did the high jump, I never remember leaving a meet disappointed. I loved doing it, but I didn't think of winning or losing. I knew I was just an average high-jumper, and if a "natural" showed up, I wouldn't win.

When we compete in anything, we are trained to look at it in dualistic terms. If you don't win, you lose. But I never looked at it that way. I had fun. And whether I won or not, I smiled.

It's a shame we have to ruin activities we love by getting upset over winning and losing.

In 1974, I competed in my first martial arts tournament. At first, I let the macho "kick ass" attitude take over. Winning was everything. It wasn't much fun, because I didn't win first place until 1983. In 1988, at a tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, I was very upset when the judges ignored some very good points that I scored, and they gave the trophy to my opponent. It was not much fun.

By the time 1999 rolled around, I took a different approach. I started having fun. When someone would score on me, I would nod my head and say something like "Great kick," or "Good shot." If someone landed a good kick, I would look at the judges and say, "Yep, he got me." Or I would wobble back to my spot in a comical way, making the judges and spectators laugh.

I am not a naturally gifted martial artist, but I had fun. I won some, I lost some. But I became known for my skill AND my sportsmanship.

According to Zen philosophy, our intellect sets up duality of thinking -- right and wrong, pretty or ugly, hot and cold, good and evil, winning and losing.

We become trapped in a "this or that" mentality.

But an enlightened person rises above intellect; rises above duality of thinking.

Now, in 2020, the unenlightened person thinks, "You have to be training to kill someone or you're a pussy. If you can't defend against an MMA fighter, your art is useless!"

My advice is to rise above that type of chatter. It comes from people who don't understand that once you develop self-defense skills, there are many other reasons to train.

I'm 67 years old now, and so far, I have not been attacked by an MMA fighter on the street. I doubt it's going to happen. 

My favorite part of the arts is to unlock self-defense applications within the movements and to learn how to flow with a partner in creative, effective ways.

Some of the best things I have learned have happened because I "lost," when a training partner or tournament opponent landed a good shot on me. 

My attitude is, "Thank you for that. I did something wrong there, and now I can learn to do better."

Invest in loss. Even in losing, we can win especially if we learn. There is no losing because if you learn, you win.

And above all, love what you do. Don't let the duality of other peoples' thinking trap your mind. The next time someone asks, "Did you win?" you should reply, "Yes. I learned how to improve." 


Real Self-Defense Requires Fire and Fury, Not Punch and Stop

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-2-AHave you ever done any point-sparring with partners or in a tournament?
 
You score a point and the action stops while judges decide who wins the point. Then the action resumes.
 
When you think about real self-defense on the street, how do you think that will go? Do you think you will just throw a punch or a kick and it will be over?
 
Do you think your opponent will be four or five feet away, in punching or kicking range?
 
Probably not. You might not even know he is going to attack until he is on top of you.
 
And that's why your mindset, and some of your training, needs to prepare yourself for "shock and awe."
 
Instead of looking at self-defense applications as this technique or that technique, part of your training really must focus on going a little crazy.
 
I do this on my Bob training dummy. I just start raining strikes on him, flowing as fast as I can from a punch to an elbow to a palm strike to a forearm strike to another punch.
 
BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!!
 
It also helps when you get a live partner and pad up -- head gear, face masks, gloves, feet, chest protectors -- and go at it in a flowing but creative and UNORGANIZED way.
 
Ken-Gullette-Toughman-5Don't stop striking. Flow around what your partner is throwing and strike him, over and over with every weapon at your disposal. Bump him. Defend and strike at the same time by taking advantage of the openings he creates when he tries to hit you.
 
Every time your opponent moves to strike you, he gives you an opportunity.
 
Too many of us think that one technique will do it, but we need to develop the mindset that our bodies will explode and rain fire and fury upon someone who intends to do us harm "on the street."
 
Now, I am going to be 67 years old in three weeks. I do not expect to be in a fight again in my lifetime. But it is not out of the realm of possibility. It could happen, or I could see someone being harmed and I could step in to stop it.
 
Make sure you don't just practice for a "one and done" situation. You should be prepared to use your art -- Taiji, Xingyi or Bagua -- in a controlled but "furious" way if the situation demands it.
 
But it starts with practicing the right way and having the right mindset for real self-defense.
-- by Ken Gullette
 
Check out my website - www.internalfightingarts.com -- and get 900 step-by-step video lessons for TWO WEEKS FREE!

Keep it Simple for Ultimate Success in Self-Defense

Da Vinci
Leo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was not a fighter, but he knew something that can help you if or when self-defense techniques are needed.
 
There is a well-known Chen-style Taiji instructor who put a video on YouTube recently showing some fighting applications.
 
The applications looked really cool, but something did not seem right, so I decided to test them with students at the next couple of practices.
 
I very quickly discovered what was wrong with the applications. They did not work if the opponent did not cooperate completely.
 
If my student gave me the slightest resistance, or continued to fight as he would in a real-life situation, the application fell apart instantly.
 
My students and I watched the video together. We were quickly disgusted at how the student in the videos was just standing there limply even when "locked" and then allowing himself to be thrown to the ground.
 
That is not the way a real-life fight happens.
 
No wonder the internal arts have such a bad reputation for real self-defense!
 
da Vinci Knew the Secret
 
How many Bagua videos have you seen where the instructor does flowery, circular movements and three or four techniques on an opponent who appears helpless?
 
I have seen FAR too many. But when you try those flowery sequences on an opponent who is not playing along, they simply don't work.
 
Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
 
He could have been talking about martial arts.
 
If you watch the self-defense applications of movements and forms on my website or on my DVDs, you should notice one thing -- they can all be done against an opponent, even if he is not cooperating.
 
Discard What is Useless
 
Another important artist, Bruce Lee said "discard what is useless."
 
If an application is not realistic, I throw it out.
 
It is okay to practice a theory or a principle, or a technique. But if it does not work as advertised, if you pressure-test it and it falls apart, why continue to practice it?
 
Throw it away!
 
It takes a long time to learn the body mechanics and the smooth application of those mechanics in movement. But once you learn the mechanics, and learn to move with internal strength, the fighting applications are simple.
 
Anyone who has wrestled with a friend, or sparred with fellow students, or sparred in a tournament or other competition knows that many of your best techniques don't work when you want them to work. Your opponent has the same goals you have -- to do good techniques, to avoid your techniques and to win the match.
 
Pressure-Test Your Arts
 
No one is going to stand there while you wrap an arm around their neck, step behind them, hit them and then throw them.
 
Some applications work at just the right time, in the middle of a fight, when you find yourself with the right opportunity.
 
Punch Ground 1
Punch the Ground Part 1
I'm thinking of a movement such as "Punch the Ground" in Taiji. 
 
You would have to be in a position where you could easily snake your arm underneath and around an opponent's shoulder and be in the right position to put him on the ground. See how my right leg is blocking his right leg?
 
It might happen in a grappling, clinching situation, if you are also able to get him off-balance. But if you go into a fight thinking, "I am going to do Punch the Ground on him," you are doomed to favor.
 
In the photos shown here, my partner is not fighting me. Imagine how I would have to soften him up and distract him before I could pull this off! It can be done, but it would require the element of surprise.
 
Punch Ground 2
Punch the Ground Part 2
The Holy Grail of Fighting Skill
 
A lot of applications are successful only if the opponent is distracted, punch-drunk, in pain or off-balance. When any particular opportunity occurs, the "holy grail" of fighting skill is to be able to take advantage of that opportunity without thinking about it.
 
One of my students talked for 10 years about how, the first time he and I sparred, I handled everything he gave me just using Xingyi's Pi Chuan, "Splitting Palm." No matter what he threw, that is the technique I used.
 
Pi Chuan is simple, direct and effective against many different attacks. It is not flowery or complicated. The simplest techniques always are the most effective.
 
I urge you to practice some of your favorite moves from a form against a partner who will not cooperate. Try them in a sparring situation, too. It will give you an education.
 
Try a simple application, and then a more complex one, but tell your partner not to cooperate at all. See what happens and how you need to adjust the application or "soften" your opponent up before executing it.
 
Sometimes people ask me, "What would you use if you were attacked on the street?" They ask if I would use the Taiji "energies" and methods, or some flowery Bagua circular movement.
 
I disappoint them when I say, "I will probably try to drive their heads off their shoulders with Beng Chuan and get it over with."
 
If it were a clinch situation, at that point I might use the "energies," and hopefully they will be ingrained in my subconscious enough to do so, but I will be using those energies to set my opponent up for a simple technique that will bump him away, unbalance him, break him and put him to the ground.
 
All of this requires practicing with a partner who is not playing along. Any instructor of Xingyi, Bagua and Taiji should know this. When they put videos showing these unrealistic techniques on YouTube, some viewers may go "oooh" and "aaaah," but they will be impressed only long enough to try them on a partner who does not play along and protect the teacher's ego.
 
I love complex techniques. I love the flowery, circular movements. They are good concepts to practice. Just remember that self-delusion is very common in martial arts, and in real self-defense, simple is best, and simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

The Tao of Mr. Rogers - The Secret of Being Kind and Forgiving

BeautifulWhen people hurt me I get angry. You probably do, too.

There have been times when I have carried grudges. There were three bullies who were "after" me for two or three years back in middle school. Rob Brewster, Dan Cotter and Tom Prentice always seemed to be together and always wanted to pound me into the ground.

They were older than I was by at least a year. 

One night, Rob sucker-punched me through a car window, so I had to have been around 16 and driving, but the bullying began long before that, when I was around 14.

One day when I was 14 or 15, I was fighting another bully after school in a field near the school. We were surrounded by boys as our fists were flying and we were wrestling and finally, exhausted, we called it a draw.

Dan decided at that moment, when I was exhausted from another fight and he was fresh, it was the right time to jump me. Bullies always try to pick a target that is weak or alone.

He hit me a few times but I would not fight. I was so tired, I knew I would lose the fight. I left with two other friends and I was in tears of anger and frustration as I walked home.

One day, I was riding my bicycle away from Turfland Mall and came to the top of a dirt hill at a construction site. Suddenly, the three bullies were right in front of me. I took off riding while they ran like hell to try to catch me. At one point, one of them was just three or four feet behind me as I pedaled like hell. I think it was Dan. Somehow, I managed to get away.

I spent two or three years looking over my shoulder when I was in middle school and the first year of high school. A friend told me that he overheard Rob laughing and bragging about how the guys would sneak up on me at school and hit me or spit on me.

When we were 18, Rob turned up without Dan or Tom to play baseball with a group of my friends. It was the first time I had ever seen him alone.

After the game, I walked up to him and asked, "Hey Robbie, you remember how you and your buddies used to hit me and spit on me?"

He said, "Yeah."

I punched him in the nose. Hard. 

He staggered back, his eyes watering.

"Well, your friends aren't here to protect you," I said.

Pow! Another punch to the face. 

Rob looked panic-stricken. On the ground, someone had put down some baseball bats. Rob bent over and picked one of them up.

"Nope," my buddy Ed McCaw said, and stepped between us. He told Rob, "This is going to be a fair fight."

Rob fled to his car and wouldn't get out. He left before too long. That's what bullies do when their target fights back.

Even after all this time, I am still interested in talking with Dan, Rob's bully-friend who became a doctor and practiced along the East Coast somewhere. He would be about 67 by now. It would be interesting to know if he ever reflected on what a bully he was as a teenager. I wonder if he was a bully to his staff when he grew up? Once a bully, always a bully, I believe.

Their other bully-friend, Tom, was not as much of a ring-leader as they were. He was simply a follower. 

So I guess I don't really like it, but I carry a slight bit of anger with me 50 years later -- damage done by bullies and a desire that still persists to see justice done. And justice could simply be an apology.

At the same time, I have worked for more than four decades to remain centered and follow a more Taoist philosophy about life. Carrying this tiny seed of anger means that I have not truly reached the level that I seek?

Do Good Be Kind Ken NancyDuring the past couple of years. my favorite shirts have been the two baseball jerseys that have the words "Do Good. Be Kind." on the front of the shirts.

I do my best to do good, be kind to everyone I meet, and I do Zhan Zhuang as a way to calm my mind and body and remain centered.

This doesn't mean that you can't get angry. You can, but you shouldn't hold onto it. I do a good job of that most of the time. Not all, but most.

I remembered all this as my wife Nancy and I watched the film, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" yesterday. It is the story of a journalist for Esquire, a cynical guy who was assigned to do a profile of Mr. Rogers.

The film shows how Mr. Rogers' kindness had an impact on the journalist's life.

The best quote in the film, in my opinion, was when the journalist met Mr. Rogers' wife, and they discussed what it was like to live "with a saint" who was so kind to everyone he meets.

"Oh, he's not a perfect man," Mrs. Rogers said. "He has to work hard at it. It's a practice."

The line hit me like a sidekick.

Rogers1Fred Rogers seemed like to kindest man that ever lived.

But he practiced it. He worked hard at it.

There have been many people in my life who have hurt me, both in my personal life and my professional life.

I have tried to walk on, shed these poisonous people from my life and not allow them to control my mind by making me remain angry.

I can decide what I do with the anger they stirred up. I can decide not to be angry -- to let it go and live a happy life.

For the most part, I do that very well, but it is sometimes hard work -- a work in progress, you might say. Some people think that if you are into Taoist philosophy, or Zen Buddhism, that means you should never get angry. But there is a reason monks meditate for years or decades. It is hard, hard work.

It is nice to know that even Mr. Rogers had to work at it.

And so we practice Zhan Zhuang, qigong, and work to calm the mind and body, then bring that sense of calm to conflicts that arise in our lives, from the angry spouse to the micromanaging boss and even to the person who cuts you off on the highway.

Don't beat yourself up for getting angry. The point of following most philosophies is not to be perfect. That is unattainable.

The point is to reach the point when you don't let the anger linger, you recognize it and deal with it, then walk on. You control the anger, it does not control you.

Sometimes, you simply have to confront people who have hurt you and let them know how you feel. I have found that it usually starts a very satisfying discussion, even if I don't punctuate the discussion with two punches to the face. Sorry, Robbie. 

This is a lesson we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

It is the Tao of Mr. Rogers.

I will remember that if I ever run into Dan Cotter again.

Remain centered, my friends. Mr. Rogers would want it that way. So let's get to work.

-- by Ken Gullette 


Chen Style Taijiquan Collected Masterworks - The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Mark Chen

Chen Style TaijiquanThe newest edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast features an interview with Mark Chen about his new book, "Chen Style Taijiquan Collected Masterworks: The History of a Martial Art."

In this valuable book, Mark, who was a formal rumen disciple of the late Grandmaster Chen Qingzhou, translates key sections of Chen Zhaopi's book, published in 1935.

We talk about many issues during an hour and 37 minutes, including the challenges of translating Chinese to English, the origin of Taijiquan, the life of Chen Zhaopi, and how he helped boost the reputation of Chen Taiji during 17 days in Beijing, when he stood on a platform and took on all challengers.

That would be a great kung-fu film -- "17 Days in Beijing" -- the story of the rise of Chen Taijiquan, based on Chen Zhaopi on the platform.

Zhaopi was born three years before my own grandfather, and in China, Taiji fighters like Zhaopi were still battling revolutionaries with swords. That is part of my interview with Mark.

We also explore the idea that in an age when we no longer fight revolutionaries with swords, martial arts take on a more academic, theoretical nature.

This is the 45th edition of my podcast. You can listen online or download the file through this link. It will also be available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podbean and anywhere you find podcasts.

The book is available on Amazon. Here is a link to the U.S. page for the book.

 


Join Me in Madison This Weekend for Chen Huixian Workshop Nov. 1-3

Huixian Form 7I will be in Madison, Wisconsin starting this Friday, Nov. 1 through Sunday, Nov. 3 to study with Chen Huixian. If you live within driving distance, I hope you'll join me and train with one of the best.

Chen Huixian is an in-door disciple of her uncle, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. Other uncles include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.

She grew up in the Chen Village and is highly skilled. Each time I train with her, I come away with deeper insights because of the personal corrections and coaching that she gives me.

She is teaching a workshop that will include the following:

Friday Night 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

** Zhan Zhuang (Standing Stake)

** Silk-Reeling

Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (with a 2-hour lunch break)

** Chen Straight Sword Form (1st half)

Sunday 9:00 a.m. to Noon

** Chen Straight Sword Form (1st half)

Sunday 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Laojia Erlu ("Cannon Fist") Review and Corrections

Chen Huixian's workshops are punctuated with laughter. It is very refreshing to have an instructor of her caliber -- a Chen family member -- who brings a healthy sense of humor to classes, and an interest in the people who attend. She gives a lot of personal feedback to each person. She speaks English, so you get the information directly from her, not through an interpreter.

If you live within driving distance of Madison, I hope you'll join me this next weekend. Here is a link for more information and to sign up. Click the "SAVE ME A SPACE" button on the page to get the fees, etc.

And check out this video to see Chen Huixian in action.

 

 

 


Loading the Rear Leg - An Important Skill in Xingyiquan

An important concept in Xingyiquan is to take your opponent's ground.
 
Xingyi is not really a defensive art. The goal is not to take an opponent's energy and neutralize it. The purpose of Xingyi is to drive through your opponent like a bowling ball through bowling pins.
 
Loaded Stance 1Xingyi is aggressive. It takes no prisoners.
 
But to take ground, you need to build leg strength by practicing taking ground. Step one in that process is to "load" the rear leg.
 
Take a look at the three images in this post.
 
In the first image, I am standing tall. If I had to spring forward, it would be difficult.
 
In the second image, I am loaded into a Xingyi fighting stance. My energy is "sunk" and I am ready. Notice how I am compressed into the rear leg. It is like a spring, ready to release. And my energy is forward, not backward.
 
In the third image, I am springing forward to strike with Beng Chuan.
 
As soon as I land, I will load the rear leg again.
 
Loaded Stance 2Taking ground is not just for Xingyi. Lively footwork and taking ground is important in Taiji and, of course, in Bagua. There are always movements that take ground. When you are fighting multiple opponents, and you become the wire ball that they punch into, you must be close to them.
 
You can practice taking ground like this:
 
** Mark your distance. Start from the same spot.
 
** Load the leg and spring out as far as you can. Mark the spot.
 
** Maintain your balance. Do not land with your energy over-committed forward, or leaning forward or to the side. Keep working on it until you can spring out and finish in a solid, balanced San Ti stance.
 
** Go back to where you started and try again. Try to get a little farther this time. Keep repeating to build strength and to increase your distance. It will build your leg strength and your explosive ability to take ground.
 
Loaded Stance 3In the Xingyi section on the website, there is a video that shows this and another good exercise for building leg strength and "taking ground."
 
Psychologically, it is damaging to your attacker when you knock him off the spot where he is standing. That is one of the key goals of a Xingyi fighter.
 
And just as important -- if you are ever in a self-defense situation, you can really surprise someone if you can cover a lot of ground quickly.
 
One of my students was a police officer in Bettendorf, Iowa. He found himself in a living room, with a violent offender across the room threatening him. Before the offender knew it, my student lunged across the room with the "taking ground" principles we had practiced, and he put the criminal down with Pi Chuan (Splitting Palm).
 
When the criminal was cuffed, he looked at my student and said, "How did you get to me so FAST!"
 
My student the cop called to tell me how proud he was that he used Xingyi in a real situation. It would not be the last time.
 
These arts work. 
 
Check out the highly-detailed Xingyi (Hsing-I) instructional DVDs on the right side of the blog page. Free Shipping Worldwide and a Money-Back Guarantee. Also, buy Two DVDs and receive a Third DVD FREE!

The Death of a Child and the Death of a Spouse Offer Tests of Internal Strength and Character

Shara-at-33
Ken Gullette with Shara in Oct. 1980.

A few days ago, my daughter Shara would have celebrated her 39th birthday. She was born on September 12, 1980.

Six weeks later, on a chilly October morning, the morning after she broke into a big, toothless grin for the first time, causing me, her 3-year old sister Harmony and her mom to burst out laughing, we found her dead in her bed from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. 

Crib death came in the night and took our little red-haired baby girl.

We were devastated, shrouded for a couple of years in grief that felt like a weight vest. Over the years, the grief diminished to a manageable state; life went on, and after being knocked into an emotional hole in the ground, I managed to lift myself up and re-balance.

The philosophical Taoism and Zen thinking that I tried to adopt in the years before Shara's death had put down roots.

This philosophy is not about not feeling. It is not about being passive. It is about feeling fully, but not letting destructive emotions take control.

It is about letting them wash through you and continue moving, opening yourself to other emotions that will come if you persist through the pain.

On Shara's birthday last week, I took my 98-year old neighbor Earl to lunch.

Earl is a World War II vet who fought in the Philippines, carrying a mortar and fighting many battles. He saw friends die, but he came through with only one scratch from a piece of rock shrapnel that a bullet from a Japanese gun kicked up next to him.

Earl returned home after his fighting was done suffering from PTSD. He received help and he recovered, living a good life with his wife, Mary, and raising three sons who all have done well in life. Earl retired many years ago from John Deere & Company.

Nancy and I bought the house across the street from Earl five years ago, about one year after Earl's wife died. 

Earl and I developed a friendship that has become one of the most important things in my life. 

Sitting in the booth at the family restaurant, I showed him Shara's picture and told him she would have been 39 years old that day. 

We talked about Shara, and the horror of burying a child, and then we talked about the last time he saw Mary.

Earl and Mary 2
Earl and Mary Hansen of Moline, IL.

She was sitting up in her bed at the nursing home. Earl had been there all day, and it was time for him to go home and get some rest.

"I love you," he told Mary. 

The next morning, he got a call and he went to the nursing home. She was still sitting up in bed, but she was gone.

As Earl told me this story, his chin was quivering and tears came to his eyes.

"A true test of character is the way we deal with loss as we get older," I said. "Losses start piling up. How do we balance ourselves and not let the ups and downs of life capsize us?"

It is a real test, Earl agreed. 

I described to Earl how, when my daughter's body was in the casket at the funeral home, I took her out and held her in my arms, sitting near the casket, mourning as visitors came in. It must have been quite shocking to see. I was so grief-stricken that I could not bear the thought of her lying alone in the coffin. Wasn't I supposed to protect her? Isn't that what a father is supposed to do? It felt as if I had failed in the one job that I had.

"She is in a better place," some well-intentioned people would tell me.

"No," I would gently correct them. "The best place for her is with her daddy."

I know they meant well, but that was a stupid thing to say. All they needed to say was, "I'm sorry." Remember that the next time someone you know suffers a loss. Don't tell them its "meant to be," or "they're in a better place." Just say you are sorry and you are here if they need anything. 

As I held my daughter's body in my arms, my little Zen voice in the back of my mind was saying, "You might appear as if you have lost your mind, but you haven't. Death is part of life. If you accept the joys and happiness of life, you must accept this, regardless of how unfair it is."

Earl and I talked about this at lunch, and about Mary, and losing a spouse after more than 60 years of marriage.

Is it easier to be the spouse who dies first? Earl thinks that is the easiest route. It is difficult, he said, to live without her.

We agreed that the loss of a spouse is the loss of the past. The loss of a child robs you of the future.

And so, in both cases, and in many other instances of loss in your life -- the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, the loss of money and status -- how do you find your balance again after being knocked down?

The answer for me is to enjoy the good parts of life and to put my head down and persist through the bad parts.

The yin and the yang are ever swirling and mixing and separating. In the best of times, you can enjoy the happiness life brings, but deep inside you know that something negative will happen at some point. It is the nature of things.

When something negative or tragic happens, if you try to accept it as part of life, put your head down and try your best to get through it, the wheel will turn and good things will happen again.

Some losses change you forever. The pain of losing my daughter will never be erased. Earl will feel the pain of losing Mary for the rest of his life. 

But I also remember how we laughed at Shara's grin the night before she died. I remember changing her diaper, her eyes staring into mine, trying to understand this new world, and I could see intelligence in her eyes. 

Earl laughs about the trips he and Mary took, and how much they loved dancing and hanging out with other couples. 

A year after Shara died, Belinda was born, a very funny little girl. She turns 38 this month, and works as a public defender in Cincinnati advocating for abused and neglected children. I can't imagine life without her.

The wheel turned. I kept my head down and walked on.

These deep losses have changed us, but in this universe, change is the only thing you can depend on. Everything changes. Why should Earl or I be any different?

The art of self-defense takes many forms. Sometimes, an attack may come from a person with misguided intentions. An attack can be physical and it can be verbal or emotional. 

Sometimes, self-defense requires something other than martial skill or people skills. It requires the internal, psychological strength to handle what can seem to be an attack by nature itself, even though it is not an attack; it is simply life happening, throwing us off-balance and taking us to the ground.

Earl and I have almost 165 years between us. Persistence and determination, we agreed, were keys to re-balancing. In my view, the centering skills that I have taken from my philosophy have given me the ability to realize that nothing life throws at me is personal. None of us gets out of this alive.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Because good and bad happens to all people. How you deal with it is what counts.

One of the reasons my friendship with Earl is so precious is that he and I both realize it is not going to last very long. With some of my health issues I could go first, but in all likelihood I will be the one left behind to regroup. He knows this too, and he says he is ready to go if the time comes, which he expects will happen before long. We look forward to the time we spend together having lunch, sitting outside in front of his garage, or talking in his living room.

You cannot live in the past, whether your past is happy or tragic. You can work and plan for the future, but you have to understand that nothing is guaranteed.

Earl-Ken-Village-Inn-5-24-2018
Ken and Earl having lunch at Village Inn.

And so we are left with this moment; this point in time. And on this day, at this moment, I was having lunch with my 98-year old buddy, talking about our lives, both good and bad, sharing the occasional off-color joke, and just enjoying each other's company.

Life is good.

After a few minutes talking about Shara and Mary, I said, "Let's talk about something lighter so we won't start crying in our food."

He laughed. "That's a good idea," he said.

So we started talking about the battles he saw in World War II.

How's THAT for lighter conversation?