How to Embarrass or Insult a Teacher When You Do Not Observe Martial Etiquette

Etiquette 2When I was growing up and got a little rowdy at the dinner table, my mother would bark, "Kenny! Mind your manners!"

I grew up in the South back in the 1950s and Sixties. We were raised to be polite and have good manners.

I have found that manners in martial arts can be a bit tricky. And depending on who you study with, you need to think from a different cultural perspective.

In a recent podcast interview, Chen Taiji instructor Nabil Ranne of Germany explained how he violated martial arts etiquette during an early conversation he had with his teacher, Chen Yu.

He asked Chen Yu how many times each day should he practice the form that some of us call Laojia Yilu but is also known as "Old Frame First Form," or "First Road."

Chen Yu replied, "Five times a day."

Nabil says he responded to Chen Yu by saying something like, "But your grandfather said you should do thirty routines per day."

Later, when Nabil understood more about martial etiquette, he realized and regretted his mistake.

By responding to Chen Yu as he did, in Chinese culture he was telling Chen Yu that either Chen Yu was wrong, or that his grandfather was wrong.

Listen to the interview with Nabil by following this link.

Nabil realized, as he became more aware of Chinese customs, that this was very impolite. Chen Yu took it well, but not all Chinese masters would. Sometimes, they give Westerners some slack because they realize Westerners do not know their culture.

Americans Are Often Unaware

We have a tradition in the United States; we think we can ask anything of anyone.

If the President of the United States stood before us, our culture says you can ask him just about anything you want to ask.

I have personally interviewed Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and more than one governor and congressman. I have interviewed celebrities such as Michael J. Fox, Barry Manilow, Pete Rose and Rick Nelson, among others.

We ask about their personal lives and their public lives. That expectation, of having free speech and asking pointed questions, and also asking about discrepancies in things they have said in the past, is part of our culture.

We have to suppress this urge when we deal with Chinese masters.

Your Teacher at the Moment is Your Only Teacher

I study with two or three different teachers currently. I recently joined a Zoom class, said good morning to the teacher on gallery view, and one of the other students said, "Ken Gullette! I'm going to buy a couple of your DVDs this week!"

My first reaction was surprise and pleasure. My second reaction was embarrassment.

When I show up to someone else's class, I am a student. I am there only to learn and improve my skills. I am there to support the teacher, not to promote myself.

The teacher was very gracious and said, "Ken does good work!" But I was mortified.

I am not there to talk about my teaching or to compare what I do to what the teacher does. I am not there to discuss the differences in what this teacher shows compared to what I have learned from someone else. I am there to absorb knowledge and improve my skills.

After the class, I sent the teacher an email and apologized, and the teacher reacted very graciously.

My Teacher Says......

If you are a teacher, you inevitably will have a new student who has studied other arts.

Often, the student will begin by explaining the different arts he has studied and the teachers he has studied with.

Some people call me about my membership website and they spend 15 minutes right off the bat telling me about their other arts and other teachers.

Perhaps they do this because they don't feel worthy. Perhaps they are trying to convince me that they will be a good student.

The best thing they can do, however, is just to begin studying and learn.

It is usually true that when someone begins listing all the arts they have studied, the longer the list, the more likely it is that they have no skills at all. I have seen it over and over during the past 23 years of teaching.

They don't realize how, in their first lesson with me, their minds are going to be blown.

Empty Your Cup

I have had students who enroll in face-to-face classes, and in their first lesson, they go on and on about how "their" school did it.

Empty CupOr you will show a principle or technique, and they will talk about how "their" teacher showed it.

Sometimes, I will stop them and say, "Okay now, it's time to empty your cup."

You know that old Zen parable, don't you?

A student wanted to learn Zen and approached a Zen master. The student talked on and on about what he knew about Zen.

The master calmly listened, then, as the student kept talking, the master gave him a teacup and began pouring some tea. As the student continued talking, the master kept filling the cup until the hot tea flowed out and spilled onto the floor. The master continued to pour until the student realized it.

"What are you doing?" the student asked. "Can't you see that my cup is full?"

The master replied, 'Exactly. You must first empty your cup in order to taste MY cup of tea."

Most teachers will cut you some slack, but if you are a student, it is something you should remember.

If you tell any teacher, "But my teacher taught me to do it another way," that teacher would be forgiven if they responded with, "Well, then go study with your other teacher, because you obviously don't need what I am teaching."

Martial arts etiquette would suggest you approach your question another way. 

I have studied with teachers who do movements differently than I see their teachers performing it. I don't generally ask them why they do the move differently than their teacher does, but I do try to understand what the intent of the movement is. As long as the explanation is good, and the application makes sense, differences are fine.

The beauty of the Chinese internal arts is that students very often look different than their teachers. Most people add their own artistic flair to movements as they progress and get older.

I recommend that you definitely remember two things:

  1. Do not compare your teacher at that moment with another teacher;
  2. Do not say, "My teacher told me....."

Rather than talking about how your other teacher taught, just talk about the movement. Ask your question. Leave other teachers out of it.

And if you see me on another teacher's Zoom class, and you want to talk about my DVDs or website, just send me a private message or email. It will "save face" for everyone.

We all have more to learn. I have made mistakes with Chinese culture, too. I have a lot to learn about it.

But we learn and grow. As I tell my wife Nancy, who happens to be my third wife, "I only make the same mistake twice."  

Mind your manners.

---by Ken Gullette

 


Treating Early-Stage Covid-19 Patients with Traditional Chinese Medicine - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Dr. Stephen Jackowicz

Covid-19Can Traditional Chinese Medicine help patients who test positive for Covid-19?

Dr. Stephen Jackowicz, the chair of the doctoral program at the University of Bridgeport's Acupuncture Institute has treated more than 90 patients in the early stages of Covid-19, all of them testing positive and some of them very ill.

None of the patients progressed to the point of hospitalization. 

It is important to note that Dr. Jackowicz does NOT claim a cure. Using over-the-counter products that anyone fighting virus symptoms needs (Tylenol, Kaopectate, Ensure or Glucerna, etc.) and courses of herbal medicine using TCM practices, he says patients recover faster than without this treatment.

He is the interview in my latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast. It will be of interest to other TCM providers, regular medical doctors and nurses, and anyone concerned about the virus that has changed all of our lives in 2020.

I am a skeptic when it comes to TCM. I think a lot of claims are made that cannot be supported with solid medical evidence. Dr. Jackowicz does not make those claims. I would not have done this interview if he did.

This is episode 52 of the podcast. Listen or download through the player below, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or other podcast distributors.

I think you will find this interesting and informative.

 


Nabil Ranne and the Art of Chen Style Taijiquan - The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Nabil Ranne 1
Nabil Ranne, instructor of Chen Style Taiji in Berlin and a disciple of Chen Yu.

The latest guest on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast is Nabil Ranne, a Chen Taijiquan instructor based in Berlin. He is a disciple of Chen Yu, the son of Chen Zhaokui who lives in Beijing.

Nabil is a co-founder of the Chen Style Taijiquan Network Germany. His website is www.ctnd.de.

We talk about the differences between Chen Yu's taiji and the taiji taught in the Chen Village, among other topics. 

You can listen online below or download the audio to play later. You can also subscribe and share this podcast (and I hope you will). Total running time is one hour 22 minutes.

 

 

 


Some People Make You Want to Be a Better Person -- the Death of a Student and a Civil Rights Icon

Two amazing people with beautiful hearts left the world during the past two weeks.

I learned about the passing of Laralyn Yee the day before I watched the service for Congressman John Lewis.

Both of these people had beautiful hearts and they both lost brave struggles with cancer.

John Lewis
President Obama presented John Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

A lot has been written about John Lewis, so I will not focus on him very much, except to mention how people remember him as always being kind.

And Lewis fought all his life for the rights of others. He put himself in harm's way on that bridge to Selma, knowing he was going to be hurt by the racist officers waiting for the marchers. 

Later in life, he put his beliefs into action, and he put his heart into the task of helping others through legislation.

Lara Yee joined my website a few years ago and sent me a couple of emails on different topics. I did not realize she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her messages were always kind. She lived in California and had studied with some good teachers. She asked questions about the internal arts and I tried to answer them. She seemed genuinely pleased that I took the time to reply to her questions.

Then, last year, she contacted me to let me know that she only had five more months to live.

Laralyn Yee 2
Laralyn Yee being instructed by Tony Wong.

Before she died, she wanted to express to me her gratitude for my teaching. Her email was so wonderful that it filled my heart. The first paragraph of her message said:

"I've admired you so much, ever since I came across your online school a while back. Following a second cancer diagnosis in 2017, I became fascinated by and driven to study Chen style taijiquan, and was astonished by the depth and breadth of material available on your membership site! Your video lessons are incredible resources. Additionally, I was inspired from the beginning to model my practice on your example of overcoming tremendous health challenges in pursuit of kung fu excellence."

Then she told me she was dying, but was determined to continue studying as much as she could.

We exchanged several emails, discussing life, death, and our approach to our health challenges. I assured her there was absolutely nothing to fear about death.

But it struck me as the act of a beautiful heart for her to reach out to compliment me at a time when she was facing such a profound diagnosis.

With each message, her kindness and gentle spirit was evident. I discovered that I knew a couple of people who knew Lara, and they confirmed that she was, indeed, a compassionate and wonderful person.

After receiving her email, the kindness of her intent was in my own heart for days, and when I heard this week of her death, it sat heavy within me, and before I realized it, tears were in my eyes and rolling down my face.

Laralyn Yee 1
An example of the joy Lara brought to her taiji practice.

Someone I had never met in person had touched me, and I felt their loss deeply. One of the other students in one of her California classes said that Lara was truly a good person, and brought a joy and insatiable curiosity to taiji class.

One of Lara's taiji "sisters," Angela Ng-Quinn, says that Lara asked her to come up with a Chinese name for her. Angela chose a name that means "an intelligent and beautiful lotus." 

Isn't that nice?

The day after learning of her death, I watched some of the service for John Lewis. I listened as former president Barack Obama said that Lewis reminded us that, "In every one of us, there is the potential for courage."

We lost two courageous and kind people during the past two weeks. As I contemplated this loss, it made me realize that I still have work to do on myself. 

How will I be remembered? Will people mourn a little and then move on with their lives, or will my loss leave a void that is difficult to fill in their own hearts?

Everything we do each day, and every encounter we have with other people, builds this legacy. 

Isn't this what the internal arts should help us do? Isn't a connection to all things one of our goals?

It should be. We all fall short of our goals, but it's the attempt that counts.

John and Lara have found perfect peace now, and they have left behind feelings of warmth and kindness. John also leaves behind a legacy of someone who would put his life on the line for justice.

Is this the "meaning" of life? Did John and Lara live successful lives, even though one was famous and one was not?

I think they both definitely lived successful lives. 

I would write that we should all be so lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it. It is the way we treat others that builds that legacy. It is the actions we take on behalf of others, and the acts of reaching out to let others know they are valued.

In 2020, with so much negativity in the world, with our own friends fighting each other with words on social media over politics and race as we all try to survive a pandemic, there has never been a better time to learn from people like John and Lara.

Their courageous and kind lights have been extinguished, but we can be better people and carry the light forward. We can live successful lives, too.

If only we will.

-- by Ken Gullette


Yes You Can Learn the Internal Arts -- Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua -- Online

Zoom Session 1-2All of us think we look like Chen Xiaowang or Jet Li when we are doing forms and martial arts movements.

Often, we look like Charlie Chaplin instead.

When I started my online internal arts "school" in 2008, I thought certification would be part of the package. If you could show that you have learned the internal principles and movement, and do the forms and techniques well, you could receive certifications.

It turned out to be a lot harder than I expected.

It is really difficult to learn through video only, because most people do not have enough body awareness to translate what they are seeing on a screen into what their body should be doing.

Everyone needs a teacher to correct them, over and over again, until their muscle memory takes over.

For 12 years, I tried to solve this problem by having members do videos and either put them up privately on YouTube or send them to me. I would watch and I would shoot videos correcting their mistakes. 

I could see some progress in some people, but it was a labor-intensive process and it took a long time.

And then online video progressed, and Zoom, Skype and FaceTime got better and better as computer and phone speeds progressed.

And then Covid-19 hit, forcing a lot of us to do classes on Zoom.

I do a Xingyi class on Monday, a Taiji class on Wednesday and a Bagua class on Friday -- all live on Zoom, with website members from California to Texas to Sweden, Germany and Romania.

Member Coaching
Coaching a member of the website in a one-on-one Skype video session.

Besides the live Zoom classes, I also do live one-on-one coaching sessions with members of my website.

We have fun, we learn, and I see more improvement in members than I have since I began teaching online.

I am starting to send out certifications, and I am learning that this type of environment can produce quality results.

Achieving quality still takes a lot of work. I don't give certifications lightly. You don't "buy" a certificate just by joining. You must show you have achieved what you are after at that level, whether it is the five fist postures and Linking form of Xingyi, the Chen 19 form in Taiji, the Eight Main Palms form of Bagua., or whatever you are working on.

But I have seen that it can be done by people like Nikolaus in Sweden, Michael in Germany, Amir in Canada, Robert in Romania, or Michael in New Jersey.

A certificate of completion does not mean mastery. It is like a belt promotion in any martial arts school. It signifies that you have worked hard and shown basic competence. From there, it is the student's job to continue working to improve the form or technique, and it is the instructor's job to continue to guide the student toward improvement.

By the way, there are no fees for certifications on my website. And no additional cost for the live classes or one-on-one sessions. It is all included in the monthly website fee of $19.99 per month. Yes, I know, it seems very low. But my goal isn't to gouge anyone, it is to teach. I love it, and I am very happy that technology has finally allowed it to be a better opportunity for everyone, regardless of where they live on the planet.

--by Ken Gullette

Try Two Weeks Free of my website -- More than 900 Video Lessons PLUS Live Classes -- Cancel Anytime -- Click Here for More Info


Born a Chen -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Chen Huixian

CHX_CWTIf you were able to have a conversation with a member of the Chen family, what would you ask?

On the 50th edition of my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, I have a nearly two-hour conversation with Chen Huixian.

Among the topics we discuss:

What was it like growing up in the Chen Village?

What is it like being a woman teaching in a martial art long dominated by men?

Does the Chen family hold back information from outsiders?

What was it like moving to the United States when you had never been here before?

As the milestone approached for the 50th edition, I have hoped for months that she would do an interview. I'm very happy that she did.

Chen Huixian is the only Chen family member living and teaching Taijiquan in the United States.

She lives with her husband, Michael Chritton, in Overland Park, Kansas, part of the Kansas City area. Michael was the guest on my very first podcast. It is really cool, in my humble opinion, that Huixian would be the guest on the 50th. These are good people, as you can hear if you go back and listen to the first podcast and also this one.

Chen Huixian was born in 1981 in the Chen Village and her uncles include Grandmasters Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and Chen Zhenglei. Her father was Grandmaster Chen Chunlei. Her grandfather was Chen Zhaopi.

You can listen to the podcast or download it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Podbean and other distributors. Here is a link to the Stitcher page:

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/internal-fighting-arts/e/73897646?autoplay=true

-- by Ken Gullette


Tai Chi Instructors Should Not Throw Their Pants in the Fire

 

James-Davenport
James Davenport, 1716-1757

Nancy and I watch the TV series "Billions," and last night one of the characters told the story of James Davenport, an evangelist preacher back in the 1700s in the American colonies. He traveled and held revivals and preached fire and brimstone, hell and damnation.

He said he could tell if someone was "saved" or not just by looking at them.

James Davenport became known for his "Bonfire of the Vanities." He would urge his followers to throw books and other material goods into the fire. He was once charged with disorderly conduct because of his behavior and was convicted in a Hartford, Connecticut court. His punishment was simply to be sent back to his hometown.

Davenport kept preaching and holding his bonfires, and he began encouraging his followers to also throw their fancy clothes into the fire. Fancy clothes, he said, was a false god, it symbolized their vanity and kept them away from God.

One night, in front of a group of followers, he took his own pants off and threw them into the fire.

A woman in the congregation grabbed the pants, pulled them from the fire, gave them back to Davenport and told him to get hold of himself.

This act by the woman broke the spell Davenport had over his followers, and they walked away. His behavior was simply too bizarre. He died in 1757 at the age of 41.

What does this have to do with Tai Chi and internal arts instructors?

I studied with an instructor that I really liked. and I tried to ignore some of the things he said about chi. He said we could read a person's aura and we could direct an opponent's chi over us so they could not attack us.

Okay, maybe you can and maybe you can't, I remember thinking. I'll just go with it and keep an open mind.

Then one night in class, he told us how he created his style. A disembodied Voice spoke to him in his room. He spoke with the Voice for three days and the Voice outlined his entire system of internal kung-fu.

I stood there, around 35 years old, and his words had the same impact as if he had thrown his pants into the fire.

Suddenly, I looked at him in an entirely new way. Why would someone insult the intelligence of these students, and me, a 35-year old professional journalist, by making this type of claim?

A few years ago, I was talking with another Tai Chi instructor who told me that all of the senior citizens in his class had their hair color change from grey to black by doing Tai Chi. 

He actually said this. And he was serious.

He might as well have thrown his pants in the fire.

You have to keep it real. There are people who are motivated to believe and to say very unusual things. Who knows what the motive is? It could be to build a reputation, or they honestly believe their stories, or they have an issue that you can't explain.

Keep a clear head and do not check your brains at the door of any martial arts school. Keep your wits about you when you read martial arts books, or watch videos. 

Question authority. And that includes martial arts instructors. That especially includes people who claim to have been "healed" by the internal arts, or claim to be able to heal others, or claim to have witnessed and felt supernatural things.

You don't have to be rude. Just ask a follow-up question or two. Make sure you understood them correctly, and then make a decision on just how fast you need to depart.

And if you are teaching, understand that there is a line you cross when you begin spewing fantasy. Some people will fall for it. Some people will give you a little slack for a while, but for a lot of us, your delusion lights a raging bonfire.

Keep your pants on.

--- by Ken Gullette

 

 


Review of "Be Water" -- the Bruce Lee Documentary on ESPN

Bruce Lee Be WaterThe Bruce Lee documentary that aired this week on ESPN, titled "Be Water," is a must-see for any Bruce Lee fan. The film aired on June 7 but is being repeated on ESPN and you can stream it on the ESPN Plus app.

It contains photos and old film footage that I have never seen before, and I have collected and devoured Bruce Lee material since 1973.

"Be Water" is a very timely film, especially in light of the George Floyd murder and the protests against racism during the past three weeks.

Bruce Lee was the victim of racism, and he fought hard to overcome the prejudice that white Americans -- and Hollywood -- had against Asians. He refused to play a stereotype, especially the old-style "chop chop" pig-tailed Oriental image that was the butt of humor in American culture.

It is an eye-opening film. I grew up in the racist South in the Fifties and Sixties, but when I was 13 I watched "The Green Hornet" every week, and I thought nothing of the fact that Bruce Lee, as Kato, was Chinese. In fact, it was mysterious and cool to see his kung-fu in the TV show.

It would still be six or seven years before a buddy and I sneaked into a drive-in theater to see "The Chinese Connection" in the summer of 1973. A couple of weeks later, I saw a very short article in the newspaper that reported Bruce Lee had died.

I was surprised by the news. That strong young guy in "Chinese Connection" was dead. My buddy and I thought the movie was horrible, but I kept saying, "That Bruce Lee guy is really good."

A month later, I went to see "Enter the Dragon" and everything changed. I enrolled that September in my first martial arts class, and it has been part of my life ever since.

There are photos and film footage of Bruce in "Be Water" that show him throughout his life, and I particularly enjoyed the film of him dancing as a young man.

The documentary traces his life and his sudden death. There are no talking heads, but Bruce's family and friends speak over the photos and videos.

The title, "Be Water," came from part of Bruce Lee's Taoist philosophy. He is shown in the now-famous interview that he did in Hong Kong in 1971, when he says, "Water is shapeless, formless. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Put water into a kettle, it becomes the kettle. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

And this is my complaint about the movie. This is where it falls short.

Bruce Lee's fighting philosophy was to adapt to, and flow around obstacles thrown at you by an opponent.

I practice this in my Tai Chi push hands and in self-defense. When an opponent touches me, when he gets close and grabs me, I have practiced to the point where I relax, like water, and I don't let him get a firm grasp.

It is like grabbing a handful of water, as Bruce Lee describes it in the film. But what we are working on is to relax, while maintaining internal strength and correct body mechanics, and we don't let our opponent find our center.

We find our opponent's center, however. We flow around his strength like water and we find his weakness. Like water, we find a way to go where we want to go.

If a stream of water encounters a rock, it flows around the rock. If an opponent punches at me or grabs me, I neutralize his force, go with it, and flow around it until I hit him or take him to the ground. At least, that is my goal.

That is the self-defense philosophy of "Be Water."

That same self-defense philosophy can be applied to your life. 

It is illustrated by Bruce Lee's reaction to the racism he faced in Hollywood. He wanted to be the star of the "Kung-Fu" TV show, but studio executives did not think Americans would accept an Asian star. They also thought Bruce's personality was more geared to fighting, not to the peaceful nature of Kwai Chang Caine. So, in a racist move, Warner Brothers hired David Carradine, and they made him half American and half Chinese.

It was the ultimate obstacle in Bruce's life, and what did he do?

He flowed around it, like water. He went to Hong Kong and he made the movies he wanted to make, culminating in "The Way of the Dragon." By this time, Hollywood paid attention, and cast him in "Enter the Dragon."

By adapting and going with the flow, Bruce became the biggest action star in the world. Unfortunately, he was dead before he was able to realize his full success.

Bruce Lee a Life"Be Water" should have hammered home the lesson that the "Be Water" philosophy promotes -- not only for self-defense but also for life.

What obstacles are you running into in your life? How can you flow around them, adapt and change, to achieve your goals and dreams?

I have used this philosophy in my personal life many times, not only in self-defense, but in adapting to and flowing around the loss of jobs, the loss of a daughter, the loss of marriages, the loss of a lung, a heart problem, and now a pacemaker. I will keep flowing, and changing, and growing, and I will continue to improve and understand more deeply because it is part of who I am.

Bruce Lee would understand this very well. THAT is the lesson of his fighting art and philosophy. It is a philosophy that you can use every day.

"Find what is worthwhile about yourself and express it," his wife Linda says in the movie, as if that is the message to be taken from his life.

Yes, that is one lesson, but it is not the lesson implied by the title.

"Be Water" is an excellent documentary about Bruce Lee -- a must-see for fans. But it should have been much more inspirational. It should have done a better job of teaching viewers this key lesson; to be water and to adapt and flow around obstacles that impede your progress. Do not let anything stop you, my friend.

My daughter Belinda made a great observation about this film. She said it was as if the producers "concentrated on the finger, and missed all that heavenly glory." 

By all means, see this film. But for a much better experience in learning about Bruce Lee, I recommend Matthew Polly's amazing book, "Bruce Lee: A Life."

-- by Ken Gullette


Flowing Around Another Kung-Fu Obstacle -- a Pacemaker

The image in this post (below) might be disturbing and is a bit personal. -- FYI.

Two weeks ago, a cardiologist put a pacemaker the size of a matchbox into my chest and ran wires down into my heart.

You have to go with the flow, right? 

Be water, my friend, right? Flow around obstacles and find your way.

I try to remain centered and be water, but this took me by surprise. My cardiologist and I had been talking about it for years, but the decision to do it was not made until about five days before we put the pacemaker in.

I still suffer from atrial fibrillation, also known as a-fib, and that causes my heart to beat erratically. Just sitting at my desk, or on the couch, my heart will suddenly jump from 60 beats per minute to 155 bpm, as if I am running the 100-yard dash. Then, after a few seconds it will drop to 70 beats per minute, and a couple of seconds later it will jump to 140 bpm. 

This can go on for hours. It makes me tired, and if I bend over, it makes me have to breathe heavy.

A-fib has been the number one obstacle in my life. When doctors tried to fix it three times in 2008, it cost me the use of my left lung.

But my heart has been beating in crazy, dangerous ways for the past two or three months, so the time came.

A pacemaker does not fix the erratic heartbeats, but it allows me to take medication to slow my heart rate and try to cut down on the rapid beating.

The pacemaker is there in case my heart beats too slowly as a result of the medication. If it beats too slowly, the pacemaker kicks in and provides a burst of electrical current to make the heart beat at the right pace.

In my hospital room before the surgery, I asked, "When can I practice Tai Chi again?"

"Today," he said. "We want you to move your left arm so you don't get a frozen shoulder."

I had no fear of getting a frozen shoulder. Then the rep from the pacemaker company came in to see me. Yes, the pacemaker company sends a rep in to talk with patients before the procedure. That must add to the cost of the machine!!

"When they put it under the muscle, the recovery is more painful," she said. "We want you to move your arm, but you will be surprised by how little you will want to move it."

She was right. 

They wheeled me into the operating room and kept me awake during the procedure, but they put a hood over my face and pumped me with enough goofy juice so that I could hear everything, and feel some things through the numbness, but I didn't care. I was in la-la-land, and that was just fine with me. 

A lot of pacemakers are placed under the skin. My doctor cut the muscle and placed it under the muscle. I could feel him poking and pushing and prodding it, pushing it down closer to my heart. I did not feel him running the wires, called "leads," down into the heart chambers.

The surgery lasted about an hour, then I was wheeled back to my room to shake off the grogginess.

Because of the coronavirus, Nancy was not allowed in the hospital with me, but she picked me up at the door.

It is surprising just how much your upper chest muscles work when you move your arms. After the procedure, they sent me home within a couple of hours. Moving my left arm caused the upper chest muscles to fire, and it was very painful for days.

So I took it easy and decided to let it heal as quickly as possible and not stress it. 

Nancy helped me tremendously, as she always does.

Ken Pacemaker Bruises 2020The bruising was surprising. It looked like someone had drawn a tattoo in a half-circle on my left pec, looking like someone had poured blood inside and filled it half to the top.

You can see the slice near the shoulder. That's where they put the pacemaker under the muscle. Below that, you see the red smudge closer to the heart. That's where they pushed the device. The bruising on the arm is just part of what happens when they cut into the muscle in the chest.

I now have a hump on that part of the chest. When I do heavy push hands and grappling-type throws with partners, I'll have to wear chest protection and make sure I don't take any hard hits or kicks to the pacemaker. Just one more adjustment to make as I get older. 

I taught my first class six days later, a live Zoom Xingyi class with members of my website from Texas to Sweden and Germany. 

I have taught my regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday Zoom classes since. 

After a little more than two weeks, I can now move my arm normally with no pain, and I'll do my live Bagua class at Noon today. 

I went in the week after it was installed. A technician with an iPad said, "Okay, I'm going to test your leads. You may feel your heart race when I hit this button."

She touched the screen of her iPad and I felt my heart race for a few seconds. It made me take an extra breath or two.

Damn! 

Then she hit another button and the heart raced again for a couple of seconds.

So they can control my heart with an iPad??

I hope Nancy doesn't get that app on her tablet. She might get a lot more out of me around the house.

In the end, this pacemaker may be a good thing and hopefully, I'll be able to practice more and teach even more. One of the reasons I haven't done more workshops in the past few years is the unpredictable nature of my health. Hopefully, this will help smooth things out a bit.

So we flow around the obstacles and find our way, like water.

At 67 years old, now with a pacemaker to catch my heart if it falls too low, it is time to keep pushing forward in these amazing arts. I don't think I'll be able to quit practicing until the heart completely stops. Hopefully, that is a few years away. 

--by Ken Gullette


Coronavirus Dangers Are All Around Us but It Is the Best Moment of Our Lives

Ken-Nancy-9-17-2017Nancy and I were sitting out on our screened-in porch a week ago, after watching more bad news about rising death tolls, infections and the economic toll of Covid-19. 

Nancy had been in tears several times over the past week or two, worried that she was going to bring the virus home from work and kill me. I am in a high-risk category -- 67 years old, one lung, a heart issue (a-fib) and asthma that has developed since I lost the lung. If I caught the Coronavirus, I would probably be toast within a few days. 

I have been watching a lot of network news and reading the Washington Post and New York Times because, as a former news guy, I want to keep up with it all.

So it was a mild spring evening and we were sitting on our porch with a glass of wine.

I turned to Nancy, looked her in the eyes and said, "This is the best moment of my life."

And I felt it.

You see, the question we should ask ourselves is not "What is the meaning of life?"

The question should be, "How can I make each moment of my life meaningful?"

My personal philosophy, based on philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, is that in every moment, no matter how horrible, there is always something to be treasured, to be enjoyed, and to give us pleasure if we will only find it and be open to it.

During the past 11 years, since my strong, muscular body decided that a lifetime of clean living wasn't enough to stop it from self-destructing, helped along the way by medical malpractice, pursuing my passion has been a challenge.

I have continued to improve in the internal arts. My movement is better and I understand more deeply than I did in 2009.

Physically, I have to stop and gasp for air quite often when I do athletic forms or movement or strenuous push hands or sparring for a couple of minutes.

But there are nights when I get ready for bed, look in the mirror and laugh. No, not for the reason you're thinking.

I laugh because despite the challenges, I'm still pushing forward.

Some days, my heart will go from 60 beats per minute to 155 beats per minute within a couple of seconds. A few seconds later, it will drop from 155 to 70 BPM, then back up to 140, then down to 65, then up to 150 -- and this will go on sometimes for hours.

But I love my life. I absolutely love it. I wouldn't trade it with anyone.

And so, even though my life is in serious danger with this invisible enemy floating around infecting us, I have felt very little stress. I try to live my philosophy every day.

It is not a philosophy that depends on another being or person to save me or to bring me happiness. I guess you could say it's a philosophy of personal responsibility. The farther you get outside of yourself, the farther you are from the answer you seek.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not ready to go. I am sheltering in place and I am washing my hands and avoiding touching my face. I'm centered, not stupid. 

Remaining centered is not just something I talk about when I discuss philosophy.

It is a crucial part of my mindset and my outlook on life. I have been through some serious stuff in my life. 

I give fear and stress no place to enter.

What is your personal philosophy? Can it help you ride through this storm without leaving you capsized in the waves?

Do you know how to live?

I love this part of the Tao Te Ching:

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers can find no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so? Because he has no place for death to enter.

This is not just philosophy. It is not just something to read in a book. It is a tutorial on how to truly live, even when danger, physically and economically, is all around you.

Don't you love this life?

-- by Ken Gullette