The Best Way to Disappoint -- or Impress -- Your Martial Arts Teacher

Ken on Campus January 2016
Ken at St. Ambrose University in January, 2016.

I taught a journalism course at a local university in 2016, both the spring and fall semesters. It was my first experience teaching. I do not have a Masters, but I had enough experience in journalism (I won a few Associated Press awards during 22 years in news) that the department chair thought I would do a good job.

The students filed in on the first day of my first class. I spent a LOT of time working on an entertaining and informative PowerPoint and lecture.

A couple of students looked at me, smiled and said hello as they found a seat. Most of them walked in without acknowledging me, found a seat, and began staring at the computer screen that they each had on their desk. There was no attempt to engage by most of the students.

I have always enjoyed kids, and young people, and have always found ways of making them laugh and have fun.

But a college setting was different.

It was fascinating, watching some students trudge into the class each time, heads down, never looking my way to say "Good morning." Some of them rarely looked at me during class.

And when I gave a reading assignment, and the kids slogged in for the next class, it was surprising just how many of them had not bothered to read the assigned chapter.

I would ask a question in class and no one would answer. I sometimes stood there asking, "Bueller? Bueller?" Some of them didn't even get THAT joke.

When I was in school, I enjoyed being the class clown. I would crack jokes that would make the teacher and other students laugh. That is also how I am as a teacher.

I bought a bag of candy bars. I told the class that if anyone disrupted class with a smart-ass comment or a joke, they would get a candy bar. I was encouraging them to be engaged and crack jokes.

Peer pressure is an incredibly powerful force. I did not give out much candy.

The university cost $28,000 a year -- just for tuition. There were a handful of students who tried. I wondered why the rest of them were there. Why were they spending the money and not trying?

Some students turned in assignments and did not even know that the letter "I" is capitalized when you write, "I rode the bus."

By the time I completed my second semester, I was ready to stop teaching. I was working at least 40 hours a week to teach three times a week. I figured out that my adjunct teacher's salary amounted to less than $3.00 per hour. And that was before taxes.

It took a tremendous amount of time to prepare the classes, it took a tremendous amount of energy to deliver the classes, and it had become obvious that most of the students sat in the class scrolling through Facebook instead of listening.

I used humor and real-world examples, and I taught them news-writing concepts and principles only to see them turn in papers that loudly screamed, "I did not pay attention to one word you said in class."

I could not see what was on their computer screens, and I took the position that I was not their father. If they wanted to surf Facebook, they were all over 18 and could make that decision.

$28,000 a year is a LOT of money to spend on Facebook.

But on the days when one or two students would be involved, engaged, and speak up, it lifted me up. It felt as if I was reaching someone. Over there in the first row, there was one person who was making eye contact. That person would benefit, and would perhaps have a better start to their career because they were actually listening.

It doesn't take much to make a teacher happy. All you have to do is put in a little effort.

Ken Gullette Hippy Shirt 5-11-2016
On the last day of class, I told my students I would wear a psychedelic shirt from my college days in 1973. I made good on my promise.

The same is true in a martial arts class.

I have been teaching martial arts now for more than 21 years. My classes are very small now. I do not recruit new students very often. I am content to teach a handful, and as I do, I work on improving my own skills. I am not interested in teaching a large group unless it is a workshop.

There have been students through the years who will learn something in class and then show up the next class and I will ask, "Did you practice what we went over last time?" 

They shake their heads no. Work was too busy, or I didn't have time, they will say.

As a teacher, it is an empty feeling. 

If I spend my time and my physical and emotional energy showing up and teaching you, but you do not have the interest to carve out a little time each day to practice, it is a reflection on just how seriously you take the art, and how serious you take my time.

And then there is the student who practices, and he comes in, excited to show his own progress, get corrections and continue moving forward. He asks questions and describes any problems he is having with a movement or a technique.

In class, if you teach this student something new, and then you back off to let them practice it, they continue practicing it until you are ready to continue. He does not stop and stand around.

That is the type of student who makes a teacher happy to be alive, and excited about teaching.

The first martial arts class I enrolled in was in 1973. I went home that night and practiced the punches, blocks and kicks that we went over in class. At the time, I was a student at Eastern Kentucky University, living in Commonwealth Hall. I spent at least an hour each day doing punches or kicks in my dorm and doing my stepping, punching and kicking down the hallway, then back to my room, then over and over again.

In 1987, when I started in the internal arts, I was the father of two daughters and I worked as a TV news producer in Omaha, Nebraska. I found an hour a day to practice when I was not in class.

And after I started teaching in 1997, I practiced up to six hours a day on weekends, working and working to get better. When I visited my teachers, I wanted them to know that I was working on the material. And since I was teaching, I felt a certain pressure to be very good.

One of the students in my journalism class paid attention, spoke up, and came up to me after class with questions. When he walked in each day, he looked at me, smiled, and said hello.

Joe worked as a bartender at my favorite local Italian restaurant, Lunardi's. Months after the spring semester ended, I walked into Lunardi's to pick up a carry-out order and Joe was behind the bar. He was glad to see me.

"I just want to tell you how much I learned in your class," he said. "What you taught me is really helping me with the advanced journalism course I'm taking now. You are one of the best teachers I have ever had."

It would be difficult to describe how his comment lifted me up. I think I was beaming with pride and joy as I left the restaurant.

Being a good student -- in high school, in college, in a martial arts class -- is not necessarily about being the most highly skilled in your class.

Being a good student is about showing up and trying, and practicing the material outside of class. And not just practicing it, but thinking about the movements, principles and techniques. Slowing them down. Feeling it.

Studying martial arts is like a college class. The work you do outside of class is more important than the class itself. 

Being a good student is about valuing your teacher's time and effort by putting in some of your own.


Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Is Now On Google Play Music

You can now listen to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast on Google Play Music. 

Here is the link:

https://play.google.com/music/m/I4inhxqfaenree4ag4b7uyv2zam?t=Internal_Fighting_Arts__Learn_Real-World_Martial_Arts_Insights_from_Top_Instructors_of_Tai_Chi_-_Xin

On this podcast, you will hear the following types of guests:

** Top English-speaking internal arts instructors, most of them with close ties to top Asian masters

** Taoist priests, Zen masters and other philosophers

** People who have inspired us in our martial arts journey

** Martial artists who can shed light on issues of interest and controversy 

The podcast is also available on iTunes (Apple Podcasts), Audello, Stitcher, Podbean, and other podcast distributors.

I hope you will subscribe. The interviews take a real-world approach. It is a Woo-Woo Free Zone.

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45 Years in Martial Arts - Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Ken7545 years ago tonight, on September 20, 1973, I entered my first martial arts class in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.

It was the start of the Bruce Lee craze. "Enter the Dragon" had only been in theaters for a little more than a month and Bruce had only been dead for two months. "Kung-Fu" was a popular TV show. I loved David Carradine's show and I had seen "Enter the Dragon" half a dozen times. 

The crowd of new students that night spilled into the parking lot. I was 20 years old, a student at Eastern Kentucky University.

I had no idea that I would still be in the arts 45 years later, and that I would be working at it full-time after more than four decades.

I stayed in my first school long enough to earn a brown belt, then I began exploring, studying Taekwondo, Tien Shan Pai kung-fu, and discovered the internal arts in 1987. In 1991, I was working as news director of the TV station on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa, and was practicing in the gym when the coach of the ISU Boxing team, Coach Terry Dowd saw me and invited me to workout with the team. I was 39 and they sort-of adopted me. I trained with the boys for two years.

Ken-Gullette-Flying-Kick-1997-blogSince 1973, martial arts and Eastern philosophy have been an important part of my life. It has become part of who I am.

I'm pondering some of the lessons I've learned over the past 45 years. The martial arts attracts people with controlling personalities sometimes, and sometimes the arts attract people who want others to see themselves as mysterious, possessing supernatural powers. There are really great, caring people and also those who will lie about their backgrounds as they take your money. It attracts some people who think critically and others who will believe almost everything their teacher says. There are people who maintain their humility and there are others who troll the internet and Facebook and slam everyone they see.

But beneath all the noise are these self-defense arts. After 45 years I still think they are cool, fascinating, and I take them seriously but I still have as much fun practicing now as I did when I was 20, even though after all these years, losing a lung and developing a heart issue has made it a little more challenging.

45 years went by quickly. I hope to keep training, learning and improving for years to come.

Thanks for being part of my journey by reading this.


Stop the Insanity of Thinking Martial Artists Have to Take On a Trained MMA Fighter to Be Ready for Self-Defense

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-2It is a B.S. argument, but it is the current fad in martial arts discussions.

"If you can't take on an MMA fighter, your martial art is useless."

Nonsense.

Nobody trains all-out. Nobody trains realistically. It is mental masturbation to think that you do.

If you did train all-out, like a "real" fight, you and your partners would not train very long.

Unless you are in a full-contact fight with no rules at all, it is very difficult to defend the way you want to.

If a shooter comes in, I want to knee them in the face and strike down on the back of their neck with my elbow. If someone clinches, I want to bite a hole in their arm.

If anyone practiced realistically, in any martial art, we would all take turns going to the hospital.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-3We were practicing clinches last week, and we laughed at one point because one of the best defenses is to just reach over and gouge out your opponent's eyes. But we were working on techniques more fitting to our art and we were not hurting each other.

At one point, I asked my partner to put me in a choke hold. He did. I faked a bite to his arm to get the point across. 

In a real fight, if someone got me on the ground and wrapped a leg around my throat, he would be screaming when I bit a hole in his thigh. You think you are tough enough to take that pain? Not likely. 

You do not have to hurt anyone or be hurt, or defend yourself against a trained young MMA fighter. You can still be a good fighter and defend yourself or others when necessary.

I was in the Toughman Contest in 1991. I was 38 and my larger opponent was 25. I won my full-contact fight, but afterwards, there was a dull ache in the center of my brain from being punched that I had never experienced and could not pinpoint. The photos on this post show highlights. I am in the blue shirt.

It convinced me that full-contact fighting is for people who don't look very far down the road.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-4That does not mean we can't learn to defend ourselves or others, as I proved in that fight.

The macho guys who now say you have to fight a trained MMA fighter or you aren't a martial artist have my permission to damage their bodies and get all the concussions they want.

I'll watch and then go practice my skills without hurting anyone, and without hurting myself.


10-Year Anniversary of My Online Internal Arts School - Internal Fighting Arts

Internal Fighting Arts Logo 25010 years ago today, I launched my kung-fu membership website -- July 4, 2008. It had around 200 video lessons on it and some pdf documents.

I wanted to teach, but I was tired of the bricks-and-mortar school business model. And I was receiving emails from people who bought my VHS tapes and DVDs, asking how they could learn when there were no teachers nearby.

So I created the membership website.

10 years later, there are 830 video lessons, dozens of pdf documents to download, and step-by-step instruction in three internal arts of Chinese kung-fu -- Chen Tai Chi, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, plus Qigong and more. All of this is taught without the mystical mumbo jumbo and chi fantasy you see in so many other places. The website is at www.internalfightingarts.com. 

I have members worldwide, from Illinois to Shanghai, to Malaysia, Japan, throughout the UK and Europe. They pay a monthly fee to study and to get feedback from me through live coaching sessions via Facetime or Skype.

Tonight at 5:00 Central, I am doing a Facebook Live to give away DVD bundles or single DVDs to 10 members whose names I will draw.

This morning, I received an email from a member in Scotland, thanking me and Nancy and telling me that I am creating a "worldwide legacy."

I still don't think most of my friends and family understand what I do, or how I earn an income. It has been a labor of love for 10 years, and I have created it while going through some serious health struggles. Sometimes, it makes me laugh. Sometimes, the health issues slow me down. But we persist.

All the skills I learned in radio and TV news, plus PR and communications, I put to work for myself, instead of for other people. It is a little overwhelming at times, being a one-man business. I do all the content creation, editing, Photoshop, writing and marketing. It is also a total creative challenge. I have no committees to overrule my creative decisions, and no one to say, "Oh, we can't do THAT." 

As long as I am able, the website will continue to grow. It is truly a labor of love. I could not have done it without Nancy's help and support (she is also an excellent videographer). I also appreciate my local students, and all those who have been in my videos in exchange for training. Among those you see in the videos over the years -- Tom Revie, Sean Ledig, Colin Frye, Chris Miller, Kim Kruse, Justin Snow, Chris Andrews, Jay Stratton, and others.

Here's to 10 More Years!!

Try Two Weeks Free on My Website and Get Complete Access to Step-by-Step Training in Tai Chi, Xingyi, Bagua, Qigong and More Without the Mystical Mumbo Jumbo -- This Training Will Finally Teach You the Complete Arts, for Self-Defense, Fitness, and Meditation. Click Here and Get Complete Access Now!


The $5,000 Chi Challenge in 2018 and Some Emails from Richard Clear's School

Chi ChallengeI first launched the $5,000 Chi Challenge around 2002. It was published in Inside Kung-Fu magazine in 2003 (see the headline halfway down the left side of the magazine cover in the photo).

To date, no one has accepted the challenge. The most recent teacher to receive my challenge was Richard Clear, but after an initial acceptance in messages (he said he would be "happy" to take my money), when it was time to sign an agreement, it fell through. 

After it fell through, I began to receive messages and emails from his Business Manager with what I considered veiled threats to "visit" me.

Here is what happened, boiled down as simply and accurately as I can do it:

On the Fajin Project Facebook page -- I am a member of the page -- we look at videos by martial artists who appear, whether stated or not, that they possess "chi" powers that defy physics. Often, these are teachers who pretend to knock their students down without touching them, or they touch them lightly with push hands, for example, and after a light touch, the student goes hopping or falling away.

For about 17 years, I have challenged these teachers on occasion to perform their feats on me, and if they succeed, I will give them $5,000 cash.

It would require a simple, written agreement which would spell out the challenge, a description of what signifies success or failure, etc. The stakes for me would include the $5,000 reward, plus my expenses to and from the instructor's town. The stakes for the person being challenged would be, if he failed the test, he would have to pay my expenses to his town and back home. In this case, that would have been less than $1,000.

Here is how it went down:

A couple of weeks ago or so, this video was put up on the Fajin Project, showing Richard Clear, an instructor in Maryville, Tennessee, demonstrating examples of "fajin" and "energy transfer."

There are bits throughout the short video that could be questioned, but the section that I challenged begins at 44 seconds into the video. Take a look.

 

 The video received a lot of flaming on the Fajin Project page. Some people were rather profane. But Mr. Clear's Business Manager, Matthew Holker, defended it on the page.

Personally, I think videos like this lack integrity, and I said so, but when other people flamed it more harshly, I decided that the fair thing to do would be for Mr. Clear to demonstrate that last section on me, have me fall away like the third student in line, and if he were successful, I would pay him $5,000 cash. We would record it and publicize the results.

Naturally, I didn't think he could do it. But Matthew accepted. His claim was that it is simple physics that caused the student to fall away like he did. It was my opinion, however, that a student would not do that unless he was playing along.

I made it clear that this was a friendly challenge, non-physical and non-violent, and regardless of the outcome, I would be glad to go have a beer with Richard afterward. I'm sure he is charismatic, and I was pretty sure we would hit it off, other than the challenge.

Meanwhile, I did a test with three other martial artists. Between the four of us, we have 160 years experience in martial arts. Please look at this and compare my reaction in four attempts to Richard Clear's student's reaction in the video.

I sent this test video to Mr. Clear, and he replied that he would be happy to take my money if I came to do the challenge. But he said the agreement must not use the word "chi," because he claimed his test was not about chi.

My belief, and I expressed this to him, is that any martial artist with any experience knows exactly what he was implying in the video -- that he has chi abilities that are not real, and that is what the test was set up to establish; whether or not the result of his demo is true.

So I wrote up an agreement. It spelled out what I had been clearly saying all along, that we would record the test, and I would have to be knocked back "like the third student in the video." I also made clear that an "adjusting step," like the slight ones that I took in the test video, would not represent success for Mr. Clear. Only if I was knocked back like the student in the video would it be considered a success for Mr. Clear.

If I adjusted my stance with a step backward, as I did in my test video during two of the strikes (on two more, I did not need an adjusting step), that would not be success for Richard. But if I was knocked back like the student in the video (with a hop and two steps as he did, or with just three steps) that would be success for Richard.

The agreement also stated that I would either bring two other martial artists as volunteers to be in line with me, and said those students would not know me or Richard, or I would get two other adult volunteers, or I would use Richard's students if those options didn't happen.

Richard said that everyone in his area knew him, so the volunteer martial artists wouldn't work. I reminded him that his students knew him, too. The purpose of the volunteers was to remove the element of "playing along" that might likely exist with Richard's own students.

He said if I took an adjusting step, that would be success for him. However, that would change the basis of the challenge, which was always to demonstrate what he did in the video (knocking the student uncontrollably back). I would not accept that. He would either knock me back like the student in the video or he would not. It would be easy to see.

I also called for the test to be done at a neutral location -- Sandy Springs Park in Maryville. We could both videotape the test, but the video could not be edited in any way from the start of the test to the end.

I even offered, in the agreement, that Richard could do the test on three of his students before I stepped in. He had three attempts to knock me away as he knocked away the student in his video.

We had a few exchanges, but then Richard stopped communicating with me and his Business Manager, Matthew, began communicating again. He said I was invited to their school, not for a challenge, but to see the school and see what they were about, basically.

So the challenge was not accepted and I said so in a message to Matthew. I posted about it on the Fajin Project page and the comments were coming from around the world. 

In an email later, after some exchanges, Matthew told me that if I did not respect them, the conversation was over. He again repeated his offer for me to come visit the school and check it out, with my expenses paid. But it was clear the challenge was not accepted, even though I suppose Richard was implying, since he did not get back to me, that he did not actually turn down the challenge.

I assured Matthew that, because the challenge was not accepted, I do not respect them, and I thought that would end the conversation, as he promised.

I was prepared to simply walk away. But then I received another message from Matthew (text in blue):

He did not decline, and you do not strike me as stupid enough to really believe that. You can infer whatever you like from the video, but all that was shown is that the force did in fact transfer. The fact that the student was taken by surprise makes for good advertisement. You can begrudge us our marketing all you like, but any teacher with real integrity would be more interested in skill than ad copy. We do not need your respect. In the end, skill is the only true arbiter. We would have gladly paid for your trip here so that you could see our skill, but you refused the offer. One of these days I will find my way to your neck of the woods with a camera, and we'll see how much skill you have.

I replied: "That's funny. I thought the conversation was over. Please be my guest anytime. We will record that, too. Now you resort to threats. This is typical behavior of the evangelical."

I see chi belief as very similar to religious belief. If you ask probing questions of an evangelical, and you do not accept the "evidence" that other evangelicals will accept without question, you are often met with anger and threats, usually of eternal punishment. In martial arts, if you do not accept the "energy" abilities of a teacher, you are sometimes met with threats of violence. This is not my first time being threatened. Many students of martial arts "masters" act as devout as an evangelical, I have learned.

Matthew replied:

No threat. You have not accepted our invitation, but I will gladly accept yours. We will be in touch.

I was a little amused by the fact that he kept sending messages even though he had previously said the conversation would be over if I did not respect them. And so I replied:

"And the conversation keeps going."

To which Matthew replied with this:

😁 Done for now, but we'll pick this up again when I find my way to your school.

I blocked Matthew and Richard on Facebook, so I would receive no more Messenger communication from them, and so we would no longer be able to see each other on Facebook.

But Matthew, Richard Clear's Business Manager, was not finished. He sent this email on his account linked to Clear's school:

Hello Ken,

You can block me on Facebook, but you can't run from this. You've insulted me and my teacher just a few too many times for me to let you off the hook that easily.
 
It is interesting that you think I was threatening you when I said I would visit you with a camera and see what skill you really have. You must not think too highly of your own abilities if you are threatened by the idea of a contest with me. You were certainly quick to try to discredit my teacher, and I've been studying with him for less than three years. Little old me should be absolutely no threat to you...
 
That's okay. We'll find out. Unlike you, I'm not making an empty promise. I'll be coming through Moline in August with a camera, at your invitation.

I thought this was really becoming creepy, so I replied with this email (in dark red):

Matthew,

So now, are you going to be a cyber stalker? Is that really the way you plan to play this?
 
You don't need my invitation to come through Moline. And "we'll find you?" I'm not hiding. Are you in third grade?
 
This is getting really weird. I printed off your threats. At any time when you plan to act them out, you will easily find me. 
 
For some reason, you think this is scary or something? 
 
There is retaliation for cyber stalking, you know. It can be reported.
 
You are cyber stalking me through Richard Clear's company email. I am taking notice. And I am printing this email, too.
 
Adults don't behave this way legally. Now, I am officially asking you to stop contacting me. You want to "come through Moline?" I wouldn't even want to stop you. It's a free country.
 
And, despite my request for him to stop contacting me, he could not resist one more email (again from the Clear school account):
 
I am not cyberstalking you, Ken.
 
I got your contact info off of your website, where you posted it publicly.
 
It seems you are excellent at one thing: false accusations. I'm willing to bet that you are full of false claims where your skill is concerned too. We'll find out. (Not find you, find out.) I won't email you again, so don't worry about it. The next time we talk it will be in person.

I sent Matthew a link to some guidelines on the fact that it is a federal crime to cross state lines with the intention of injuring someone.

I thought he was finished with his messages. I was wrong (see below).

I challenged a Master Wong back around 2001. He was also in Tennessee. He stood on a stage, surrounded by more than a dozen students, who were all pushing on him from different directions. He barely shook his body and all the students went falling back across the stage floor.

I told him I did not believe he could do that, and if he did it to me, I would give him $5,000. It was not a challenge to fight, it was a challenge for a demonstration.

I received email threats from his students. One said, "if you are going to get to our teacher, you must go through us first."

One of the first challenges I made was to Richard Mooney, who held "Empty Force" workshops and had an article published in a national martial arts magazine, showing him knocking his students down without touching them. They ran at him and he pointed toward them with his palms, and they crumbled to the ground.

I challenged him to do the same to me and offered him the $5,000 reward if he succeeded.

Richard Mooney replied to me with insults, and later, one of his students taunted me and said that Mooney drove a better car than I did. 

Well, if I took money from people by implying I would teach them this ability, I might drive a better car, but that's the price you pay sometimes for integrity.

At the time I thought, "You have tapped into a Universal source of power and you reply with insults to a skeptic, instead of a demonstration?" A power like that would make you one of the most famous people in history, and instead of holding little workshops for money, you could make millions.

None of it makes sense, but what makes even less sense is that people actually believe it.

I have received threatening emails at other times, mostly when I more actively challenged "chi masters" back in the early 2000s. Sometimes, they said they were going to show up at my school on particular nights. I always let them know the address, and the times that we would be there. 

They never showed up. It's a lot easier to believe in fantasy than to develop real internal skill.

Some people ask why I do this; why I challenge people. Here is my answer: I think the internal arts have been seriously damaged by people who pretend that you gain mystical powers from it -- particularly Tai Chi. It was created as a martial art, but it has been corrupted, in my opinion, by people who need to believe in chi, and who need for others to believe they have abilities beyond most humans.

Isn't that such a human trait? 

I believe the only way for Tai Chi to regain its reputation is to call out people who demonstrate things that violate the laws of physics. I felt that, while of course there is energy transferred when you have three students standing with stiff arms stretched out as in the above videos, and you deliver force into the first student's hands, of course as the first two students recoil backward, some force will enter the third student. But the force of the strike in the video, and the recoil of the first two students, was not enough by a long shot to send the third student hopping and falling back as he did. To pretend it does makes the internal arts look bad, in my opinion.

When the video began being flamed on the Fajin Project, I tried to take it to a higher level. I put my money where my mouth is. 

The moral of this story is clear (no pun intended): Don't put videos online that you cannot back up with people who do not study with you, or with people who do not believe you can do what you demonstrate. It makes life so much easier. It makes you appear more credible, and your students don't have to issue veiled threats to anyone.

Ken's Note: I wrote this post and hesitated to put it on. I started this blog in 2006 to discuss my experiences in martial arts and philosophy. But did I want to trigger more emails by publishing my experience with Richard Clear and his student/Business Manager? Then, I received another email from Matthew on July 2, 2018, even after all the earlier communications (I didn't even go into all of our communications). I decided that documenting this experience here on the blog was important. You see, cult-like behavior is fairly common in martial arts. It begins when you put your teacher on a pedestal, and that's why I always tell people not to do that. It is also why I have not pursued being a disciple of any master. 

The $5,000 Chi Challenges will keep coming. Perhaps I should raise it to $10,000 next time. Why not? It's the easiest bet I will ever make.

 


A Blow to the Ego: the Price of Progress When Studying the Internal Martial Arts

Ken-CXW-Private
Being corrected by Chen Xiaowang, 2001.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang was teaching us the proper way to do fajin ("issuing energy") with the Hidden Hand Punch movement from Laojia Yilu. He had each person stand in front of him and do the movement.

I had really been practicing, and I was particularly proud of the way I was able to close into the kua before firing the punch. I had been studying Chen Taiji for over five years, practicing and practicing. I knew I was going to get a "good" from the Grandmaster.

He stood and watched as I assumed the position, legs wide, and I closed into the kua.

He shook his head. "Too much," he said.

"Too much?" I asked.

There was a bit of a language barrier, but it was clear that he did not like what he saw.

"Too much."

He showed me, and he settled into the kua the way I had done. "Too much," he repeated. Then he did it again, closing into the kua in a much more subtle way.

"Just enough," he said.

Ahhh, just enough.

I tried to copy him, and closed much softer. Then I fired the punch.

He nodded, said, "Okay," and moved on to the next student.

Laurel-Hardy Handshake
A laurel and hardy handshake?

Okay? Just okay? I didn't even deserve a laurel, and hardy handshake?

When you are a student of the internal arts under traditional teachers, do not expect a medal just for showing up. In fact, regardless of the number of years you have practiced, you should expect to be corrected as if you are a beginner.

Studying the traditional martial arts is not for those with fragile egos. Your ego needs to strap on a cup, because it's going to be kicked in the psychological groin for a few decades.

I have students who have achieved black sashes, and some that have studied 13 or more years and have not achieve a black sash. Others are just starting. When I see them perform, from beginner to advanced, I see different things that need to be corrected.

A week ago, I was correcting Colin, a student who has been with me for quite a while, and he seemed frustrated that he had not yet gotten a certain skill.

"Do you know what a special kind of person you are?" I asked him. "It takes a lot of strength to keep being corrected year after year. Not many can do it."

He had not considered the value of possessing this very great quality: persistence. It requires a lot of determination.

Over the years, you teach all kinds of students. Some can't handle criticism at all. Some decide as they become more advanced that they are not interested in being coached by you, and others take correction in stride, knowing it is intended to help them develop.

Occasionally, a student will quit very quickly, as soon as he or she realizes that it is very difficult, and the coaching can be picky. 

Ken-Gullette-Chen-Huixian-web
Chen Huixian corrects me in 2013.

This August, I hope to attend a workshop with Master Chen Huixian and Michael Chritton. A few years ago, I was training with them, and they reminded me not to collapse my legs, a habit I picked up training in the Chen Xiaowang lineage. If you look at videos from some folks, even some who are called master, you will often see a collapsed leg. 

"Maintain peng in the legs," Huixian said.

Instead of resenting the correction, it had a huge impact on the strength of my stances.

Another time, we were doing a movement, and Huixian said, "Relax the hip." 

I realized she was talking about closing the kua. Suddenly, what Chen Xiaowang could not properly describe to me in 2003 became clear. By relaxing the hip, your kua closes in a much more subtle way.

Ahhh. Okay. Now I can make progress.

I have seen my teachers corrected by Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and Ren Guangyi. Being corrected in front of others is not a bad thing. You see, you will never be as good as you can be until you set aside your ego and realize that all good players -- in any physical activity -- need a coach to watch them and make corrections. The top golfers have coaches, basketball, baseball and football stars have coaches, and martial artists need coaches, too.

Without a coach telling you where you are screwing up, and what you are doing well, improvement takes a LOT longer.

We also tend to slip into bad habits. A coach can spot a bad habit and correct us. When I see some masters collapse their legs, for example, I realize they have no one correcting them, so a bad habit persists, and their students then pick it up.

So the next time your teacher corrects you, thank him or her. You have just been given a gift -- time. And if you are like me, you will drive away absolutely fired up over taking one baby-step further down the road on your internal arts journey.

If you can't handle criticism, perhaps you should do something else for fun, like stamp or comic book collecting, hobbies that don't require a teacher to slap you upside the head with the Dim Mak of a critique.

-- by Ken Gullette

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Charles Neville: The Death of a Kung-Fu Brother, Brilliant Musician and Member of My Website

Charles Neville
Charles Neville

We lost a kung-fu brother this week.

I was very sorry to read in the New York Times about the death of Charles Neville, one of the Neville Brothers, one of the greatest bands to come out of New Orleans. Aaron Neville is one of his brothers.

Charles bought several of my DVDs and joined my website when it launched, 10 years ago this July. Each month, I would get a notice that he had paid his monthly fee, but I never really connected his name to Aaron Neville and the Neville Brothers. He remained a member until less than two years ago, and I wondered if he was in poor health. I knew he was in his 70s.

He called me on the phone a couple of times over the years, before I realized who he was. I talked to him like I do all of my website members.

The last time he called, he had forgotten his password to the website, so I created a new one for him. He said, "I haven't been on the website in a couple of months because I've been traveling, playing music."

Almost as a joke I asked, "Are you related to the famous Neville Brothers?" He replied, "Yes, I'm one of the Neville Brothers."

I almost fell out of my chair.

Charles Neville played the sax for B.B. King, Bobby (Blue) Bland, Johnny Ace and more. He overcame a drug addiction and eventually studied taiji and meditation, and that brought him to my DVDs and website.

He was 79 years old. I hope his internal arts and qigong helped him ride through the ordeal of pancreatic cancer a little bit. I was honored to think that he and I were connected, and that he supported my efforts and studied my material. In the video below, from 1994, Charles is in the white shirt with the saxophone.

Rest in peace, my man.

 
 

My Interview on the Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio Podcast

Sifu Ken Gullette WhistlekickIt is strange to be on the other side of the microphone. I am accustomed to doing interviews for my podcast, so it was a different feeling to be interviewed by Jeremy Lesniak for his Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio podcast. I was honored to be asked. My friend Jonathan Bluestein, who was interviewed a few weeks ago, recommended me to Jeremy.

Here is a link to the show. I almost postponed it because I had been battling a lung issue for almost two weeks, and with only one lung, I could hardly speak without coughing for several days. The heavy breathing is very obvious, and the microphone picks up every bit of it!

Here is a link to the show:

https://player.fm/series/whistlekick-martial-arts-radio-podcast-shifu-ken-gullette


Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interviews with Tai Chi Instructor Ian Sinclair

Ian Sinclair2
Ian Sinclair

Ian Sinclair is a tai chi instructor in Orillia, Ontario who studied with Grandmaster Shouyu Liang and Sam Masich.

I interviewed him almost two months ago for the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. It was a long conversation, so I broke it up into two parts. 

He tells stories about training the Grandmaster Liang, we talk about fighting applications of tai chi, and the importance of practicing basics. We also talk about the controversial "fight" between MMA fighter Xu Xaodong and Tai Chi "master" Wei Lei last year, when Wei Lei was defeated in just seconds.

Here are parts one and two of the podcast interview with Ian Sinclair. You can listen online or download the mp3 file to your computer. It is also available on iTunes.

Part One of the interview with Ian Sinclair:

http://internalfightingarts.audello.com/internal-fighting-arts-35-ian-sinclair-part-one/

Part Two of the interview with Ian Sinclair:

http://internalfightingarts.audello.com/internal-fighting-arts-36-ian-sinclair-part-2/

I enjoyed the interview. He is a nice guy and a dedicated martial artist. His websites are sinclairmartialarts.com and relaxharder.com