Top 10 Chen Style Taiji Movements to Practice in the Hospital

Hospital TaijiA few months ago, I developed several blood clots in my left lung. I spent five days in the hospital and was put on blood thinners. 

I used to think that blood thinners dissolve blood clots, but they don't. Instead, they keep the clots from getting larger and then the body breaks down and absorbs the clot over time. 

So I have been on warfarin for the past five months and I went in last Thursday for a follow-up CT scan to see if they had gone away.

Instead, a clot had grown larger and it was threatening the blood flow to the left lung. Because of past bleeding issues, my doctors and I had been too conservative on the level of warfarin in my system, so the warfarin did not stop this clot from growing. It's strange because I have been teaching all along and taught two classes on Wednesday with no unusual problems. But due to the CT scan results, I was told to go to the hospital...again. It's a serious health situation.

In the past few days, I have been stuck with needles every few hours to check my blood thinner levels, and with my right arm hampered because it is tethered with an IV, I have been practicing Chen taiji in my room very carefully, working on weight shifting, spiraling in the legs, using the kua and stepping. Someone on my Facebook page, Michael Sklaroff (responsible for #9 below) inspired me to compile the Top 10 Chen Taiji Movements to Practice in the Hospital. Here is the list:

10. Buddha's Warrior Attendant Draws Blood

9.  IV Creeps Down 

8.  Six Vitals and Four Pokings

7.  White Ape Offers Hospital Food

6.  Single Jab

5.  Wave Specimen Jar Like Clouds

4.  Green Dragon Comes Out of a Coma

3.  Part the Wild Nurse's Mane

2.  Lazy About Tying the Gown

1.  Flash the Butt

 


Taking Ground is an Important Skill in Xingyiquan

One of my students around 2006 was a police officer and a member of his department's S.W.A.T. team.

During our Xingyi classes, we trained the fist postures, how to use them in self-defense, and we worked on taking ground.

In Xingyi, the goal is to drive through your opponent like a bowling ball through bowling pins, and when the attack is over, you are standing on his ground. It is physically and psychologically damaging.

So my student responded to a standoff situation one day. The perp was across the living room. At the right moment, my student lunged across the room using the same technique in this video and he took the perp down using Pi Chuan (Splitting Palm). 

While he was being cuffed, the perp looked up and asked, "How did you do that so fast?"

Nobody expects you to take ground, keep your energy down and deliver power over seven to ten feet. When I was in my forties, I could take ground over a distance of eleven feet. Now, at age 68, I can't do that. But the drill in this video is very helpful if you want to develop this skill.

You can improve your ability to take distance. If you learn to deliver power from eight to ten feet away, you will plow through somebody who is four or five feet away like hitting them with a bus.

I am wearing a hand protector in this video because, being on blood thinners after developing clots in my lung six months ago, I can't exactly risk internal bleeding in my fist when doing bare-knuckle board breaks. That's why I am wearing a pad. I leave the bare-knuckle stuff to the young guys.


Training in Xingyiquan: the Internal Fighting Art Podcast Interview with Byron Jacobs

ByronByron Jacobs has become the first martial artist to appear on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast three times. He is a teacher of Xingyiquan and Bagua Zhang living in Beijing. He is a disciple of Di Guoyong.

In this wide-ranging discussion, we cover several topics, including how the Chinese people view their own government, the meaning of Xingyiquan "Classics," and what training is like with traditional Chinese gongfu teachers. We talk about the importance of forms and whether that should be the focus of your training and several other fascinating aspects of quality training, including the value of choreographed two-person sets and why you should take a notepad and pen to your next practice.

Here is the page to the podcast episode:

https://internalfightingarts.libsyn.com/website/internal-fighting-arts-58-byron-jacobs

You can listen online or download it. The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast is also available through Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other podcast distributors.

Byron teaches online through his Mushin Martial Culture videos on Patreon. His does an excellent podcast -- the Drunken Boxing Podcast, which is available through the usual podcast distributors.


My Internal Fighting Arts Blog is 15 Years Old Today

Ken-Nancy-KF
With Nancy in 2006.

Fifteen years ago today, on Oct. 15, 2006, I wrote my first blog post -- "Welcome to My Blog."

Back in those days, blogs were thought about as online diaries, but I thought it would be a great way to discuss the internal arts, both technique and philosophy.

It was a very good decision to start this blog.

At that point -- in 2006 -- I had been studying martial arts for 33 years. I had been involved in the internal arts for 19 years. I have now been involved in martial arts for 48 years, with 34 of those spent studying Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and practicing Qigong.

Early posts showed video of Chen Xiaowang and other Chen masters. I talked about the fraudulent claims being made about Qi, including the "no-touch knockdown."  I talked about MMA vs. Taiji. There was an early post explaining that the "energies" of Taiji (peng, lu, ji, an, etc.) were actually "methods of dealing with force," not actual energy coursing through your body.

I'm sure if I looked back at some posts over the years, I would want to revise them or even delete them. Your views and insights should evolve and deepen over the years, and mine certainly have. 

I have also tried to discuss what you go through as you get older and continue to study and try to improve in your skill. Three years after I launched the blog, I had a near-death experience at Cleveland Clinic. I lost the use of my left lung, and developed a heart problem that has made these arts a challenge. But I kept on pushing. 

Persistence is valuable in blogging and also in life. That's one of the messages I have tried to push.

Life-long learning is another important message in this blog. In the past year, I have learned from some outstanding teachers -- Chen Huixian, Tina Zhang, Byron Jacobs and Nabil Ranne. After studying the Chen Village version of Chen style Taiji for 22 years, I decided to see what all the fuss is about regarding the Chen Yu version. Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu.

A few people thought when I launched my blog, and released DVDs, that I was saying that I am a master. Nope. Far from it. Then, when I started my "online school," I got a few comments that basically said, "Who do you think YOU are?" 

But online training became pretty popular last year, with most teachers being forced to go online due to Covid. I was already online, but when I learned about Zoom, and how easy it had made it to do live classes, I started doing them, and those classes have connected me with students all over the world. It feels so good to develop friends. My online classes are like my in-person classes. I have fun. I am serious about the arts, but I like to laugh. I like for my students to have fun, too.

I made videos, I made VHS tapes and then DVDs, not because I think I'm better than other martial artists, but I have a life spent in radio and TV news, media relations, communications and writing. Instead of teaching at the YMCA, or in a strip mall, I was able to teach using my skills in these areas. Writing a blog was easy for me and fun. Doing videos? Nancy shoots them and I edit them. Piece of cake. Launching a podcast? Hell, I used to do radio news and interviewed everyone from the local county clerk to Ronald Reagan (before he was president).

I decided to teach my way, put the material out there, and if people found it helpful they would buy it. If not, they wouldn't.

In 2014, I launched a podcast with the goal of promoting primarily non-Asian, English-speaking internal arts teachers with ties to top masters. I wanted to give publicity to some good teachers who often get overlooked on magazine covers, but they are dedicated martial artists and do a lot for the internal arts. It was a very rare event when Tai Chi magazine put a non-Asian on the cover, so I thought I would launch a podcast to help support these overlooked teachers and also promote the idea that I am a provider of information and a teacher myself. It is a win-win situation.

As it turns out, one guest I was always hoping to have on the podcast was Chen Huixian, a very talented member of the Chen family who lives and teaches in the U.S. (Overland Park, Kansas - in the Kansas City area). Her English is very good, so that is among my favorite interviews. Check it out with this link.

I was very happy that in the wake of my podcast, some of the people who had been guests ended up starting their own podcasts because they saw the value in that project. I love it, and I listen to some of them, especially to Byron Jacobs' "The Drunken Boxing Podcast." It's excellent -- actually better than mine, I believe. Check out The Drunken Boxing Podcast" by clicking this link.

You can find my Internal Fighting Arts podcast wherever you get podcasts -- Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podbean, Google Play and other distributors. You can also go to the podcast's page through this link.

When you are 53 years old, as I was when I started the blog, 15 years creates huge changes in your body, especially when you go from a very strong tournament competitor to a guy with one lung and a minor heart ailment. I don't have near the muscle mass as I did 15 years ago. My cardio is crap due to the lung thing and heart irregularity. But I can keep studying, keep understanding more deeply, and I can continue to work on the forms. I just have to stop and gasp for air more often than I used to. It isn't easy for one lung to keep up with the demands.

Bob-KenI would not have been able to do as much if not for the help and support of my amazing wife, Nancy. She is my videographer, she supports all my martial endeavors, and she is always willing to jump up and help me work on applications. The universe was in perfect harmony the day she came into my life just four years before this blog was launched.

The blog posts have slowed down in the past ten years, as Facebook has sucked a lot of the online activity away. But I plan to push forward and breathe new life into the blog in new, creative ways. Let's face it -- Facebook sucks. The blog has been much more helpful.

There have been 801 posts on this blog in 15 years. It averages 60 page views each day. There have been a total of 329,000 page views in 15 years, but it is a niche audience. If you do a Google search on certain topics, one of my blog posts will pop up on the first page of results. That is as important as the posts themselves. One thing a blog does for anyone is to widen their electronic footprint and show up in search results. That's why I also encouraged the businesses I worked for to start blogs. 

What kinds of posts would you like to see? Let me know in the comments or in private messages.

After I was in a ventilator for more than a week at Cleveland Clinic, when they tried to stent a pulmonary vein and ended up tearing the vein and piercing my heart with the wire, I did not expect to live this long. I didn't expect to see my 65th birthday, and now I'm 68. It turns out I don't have an expiration date stamped on my forehead, although it might have said "BEST by October, 2009."

Either way, I'm not the physical specimen that I was in 2006, but we can still improve our internal arts knowledge and skills. I hope you stay with me as we make our way through this wonderful journey.

Thank you for reading my blog. Let's do another 15 years.

-- by Ken Gullette

 


I Fell Short in Living My Philosophy and Ted Lasso Told Me How to Do Better

Do Good Be Kind 2We all fall short of our goals at times. It's part of what makes us humans.

We try, but we often fail. The key is to pick yourself up and try again, a bit smarter this time.

Last week, I fell short of living my philosophy of treating people with kindness and remaining centered at all times.

Nancy was driving, I was in the passenger seat and we stopped at a red light. There was a car stopped next to us in the left lane.

As the light was turning green, I heard the sound of boots scuffing on pavement. 

I looked to the left and a young man with long hair, a cowboy hat, and an open plaid shirt and jeans was walking in front of the car next to us. He was about to walk in front of us.

The light turned green and Nancy, oblivious to the pedestrian, started to gun the engine to drive forward.

"Stop!" I shouted and grabbed her shoulder. She slammed on the brakes just as the young man walked in front of our car.

"Jesus!" Nancy shouted.

Naturally, the adrenalin was flowing and we were both shocked at how close the young man had come from getting run over.

He kept walking and Nancy shouted, "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

The young man looked at us and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Who cares?"

I said to him, "No big loss, I guess, huh?" 

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. Nancy drove away, and I couldn't take it back.

It haunted me for a couple of days. Due to the shock of almost hurting someone, I lost my center. 

What I should have said to him is, "Be careful!"

That would have been the kind and centered thing to do.

Ted LassoThe next evening, we watched the latest episode of "Ted Lasso," the wonderful and funny series on Apple TV that has kindness as the basic message at the core of the show.

There was an important message in this particular episode. I took it this way:

Every person you encounter has very possibly gone through horrible things in their lives. Be kind to them.

I can't think of a better way to reflect my philosophy of life than that. I grew up as a Christian. At least, that's what my mother told me I was. But as I grew old enough to think for myself, as I got into martial arts and began reading books on philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, I saw better, kinder ways of looking at the world. Enough of the eternal punishment bullshit. Enough already. Enough of vengeance. Enough.

We are now in a social media age where people post and share memes that assume the worst about everyone and try to stoke our anger at "the other guy who isn't like us."

I believe a lot of us don't think very deeply when we see a meme that criticizes a group of people and think, "Oh, that's good," and then share it. We forget that in reality, most people have good intentions, and I know that many people we encounter every day have been wounded by events in their lives that have left them damaged. Some of them are facing tragedies that we can't see, or trying to recover from ordeals that we can't see just by looking at them.

This young man who apparently didn't care if he was hit by a car, for example. What happened to him that would make him feel that way? Was he abused? Did something happen to make him consider himself worthless? Is he suffering from addiction or mental illness? When he was growing up, did he go to bed at night wondering if the next footsteps in the hall would bring someone who was going to beat him?

I don't know.

But I do know that I can be a better person than I was when he shrugged his shoulders. I should have lived my philosophy of treating all people with kindness, with humor, with respect and empathy. That is the way of the Tao. That is what a centered person would do.

I have remained calm and centered in a lot of tense, near-violent situations, but coming so close to such a senseless accident was shocking. It taught me a lesson of how a sudden rush of adrenalin and the horror of almost hurting someone can cause you to lose your balance, but that's not really a good excuse.

We fall short of our goals. We all do. The key is the lesson we learn from it, and whether we can recognize it when we fail.

We can make the world a more positive place, but it doesn't start with the other guy. It starts with us. With me. With you.

I'm going to do better next time. 

--by Ken Gullette

 


48 Years in Martial Arts - The Journey is Now the Goal

Road to Happiness 2

Forty-eight years ago this week -- on September 20, 1973 -- I walked into my first martial arts class at Grandmaster Sin The's "Shaolin-Do Karate" school in Lexington, Kentucky, my hometown.

Ken75I was a 20-year old student at Eastern Kentucky University. Asian martial arts were foreign to my generation. They were mysterious, and everyone said they were very deadly. The room was packed with new students inspired by Bruce Lee to check out the class.

At the time, I thought it would be really cool if I could become a "Master" of kung-fu, like Bruce Lee or the character Kwai Chang Caine in the Kung-Fu TV show.

But how long would it take me to reach my destination? How long would it take to become a "Master?"

Now, 48 years later, I have a different goal. I am 68 years old, not as physically strong as I was when I was younger, and when I think about my goal of being a master, I smile.

I was too young 48 years ago to realize that the journey I began that night was the goal. 

There is a Vietnamese proverb that goes something like this: "There is no road to happiness; happiness is the road."

During the past two years alone, I have studied Baguazhang with Tina Zhang (disciple of Liu Jingru), I have studied Chen Taijiquan with Chen Huixian, and right now I am studying Chen Taijiquan with Nabil Ranne and studying Xingyiquan and Baguazhang with Byron Jacobs.

I keep finding teachers who know more about these arts than I do. It's exciting to discover these people, because I continue to learn. I continue to improve my skills.

And that, I have found, is the road to happiness. 

What happens when you achieve the title of Master? Anyone can slap that title on themselves. Anyone can find an organization that will easily promote you to a belt-level that is considered "Master." And if you don't have silly things like ethics standing in your way, you could always start your own style and promote yourself to Grandmaster. I've known teachers who did that.

Ken Practicing 9-26-2018I see people on Facebook who actually put the title "Master" in front of their name. On Facebook! What kind of ego issues does it take to do that sort of thing and have that kind of need for recognition?

It is not someone I would want to study with. That is one thing I've learned in nearly five decades.

When I walked into my first class 48 years ago, I thought anyone with a black belt was a Master, a deadly fighting machine.

Now, I look at a black belt as only the beginning. Earning a black belt does not mean anything about your skill at self-defense. It does not mean anything about your knowledge of martial arts. I know a girl who got a black belt in Taekwondo at age eleven. She didn't know how to throw a good punch. You have a sixth degree black belt? An eighth degree black belt? Congratulations. Now get over yourself and keep learning.

From 1973 to 2021, the most glorious moments have come when I have gained another small insight into a movement, an application, or the body mechanics that make a movement powerful in self-defense. I continue to study, searching for those insights, and I get them each time I study with my teachers.

Sheer happiness comes from gaining one of those insights, practicing it and trying to work it into my movements. It is not easy, but it is my idea of happiness. It is satisfying to take one little baby-step at a time.

With age comes, hopefully, wisdom. I am not a Master and I will never be one. What once appeared to be the road to happiness turned out to be the wrong path. The Road to Happiness is the road itself -- the journey of learning, growing, and improving my martial arts skills. 

--by Ken Gullette

Travel the Road with me and study with me through my online school -- with nearly 1,000 video lessons plus live Zoom classes where you get personal coaching. Check it out at www.InternalFightingArts.com.


Get Out of the Bubble and Pressure-Test Your Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Byron Jacobs, an outstanding martial artist and teacher of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, does the Drunken Boxing Podcast. He recently interviewed Mario Napoli, another great martial artist who went to the Chen Village and won a push hands tournament there. Here is the link to the YouTube version of Byron's interview with Mario. The Drunken Boxer Podcast is also available through Spotify and other podcast distributors.

One of the interesting topics they discussed was the problem of Taiji people not wanting to test their push hands against other martial artists.

Chris Lorenzen and Ken Gullette
Ken Gullette (left) and Chris Lorenzen

One of my former students, Chris Lorenzen, has gotten into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu during the past year or two. So I invited him to stop by one of our practices a couple of weeks ago to pressure-test our arts and to exchange information. I have a lot of respect for other martial arts and I like to see them up close.

It was a lot of fun. Besides banging around a little, we asked about BJJ and he gave us a few demonstrations of techniques on the floor. 

I believe that if your arts are not effective, you are living in a bubble of fantasy. So I like for other martial artists to stop by our practices. 

Most of us are instinctively too tense when another person comes in to take us down. We expect to use muscular tension to defend and counter. But often, that tension is what your opponent uses to control you because they can connect more easily to your center.

We practice relaxing when an opponent uses force, and combining that relaxation with other body mechanics including the ground path, peng jin, using the kua and more to "empty" and then redirect the force our opponent is using.

A couple of months ago, I spent five days in the hospital with blood clots in my left lung, and I'm on blood thinners right now. It's frustrating to be more fragile than I used to be and not able to go as hard as I used to, so I think Chris took it a little easy on me. It was still a valuable experience to feel his technique and learn what I could. Justin and Colin were able to go a little harder with him.

My favorite thing is to square off with other martial artists and ask them to take me down. It isn't about punching and kicking for me anymore. My goal is to get close to them and maintain my center while I take control of theirs. Anyone can punch and kick, but can you make him go off-balance and take advantage of him at the right moment? If someone grabs you to take you down, and uses force on you, can you handle it with relaxed internal strength?

Chris Lorenzen and Justin Snow
Chris Lorenzen and Justin Snow on the ground.

I love to work on it. If they try to take me down and have a hard time because I can keep them from finding my center, that's a good thing. And if I can take them down instead, that's even better. I try to be strict with myself, avoiding the use of localized muscular tension and trying instead to use good Taijiquan principals and methods. I did a DVD on some of these methods of close-up self-defense and you can find the DVD through this link. 

One of the interesting things Mario and Byron talk about in the podcast is how some Taijiquan teachers are calling themselves "master" and yet they have never pressure-tested their skills in competition. If you don't pressure-test your martial ability, Mario Napoli says you are just "moving air" when you do a form. 

"Forms lie to you," he says, and he is right. You can do movements all day and think you can apply it in self-defense, but it's a completely different ballgame when someone is putting the pressure on you.

So get out of your bubble. Invite different people to your workouts. It should be friendly, of course. You don't have to go full-contact because getting hurt is not a good option for adults who have other responsibilities and careers, but there should be a risk of being "shown up" and taken down. Your ego might be deflated a bit, but it's a small price to pay for the truth. We can always get better, but not if we become legends in our own minds.

Let's face it, if you aren't pressure-testing your arts, you are probably not as good as you think you are.

 


Are You Part of a Martial Arts Cult? The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Louis Martin

True BelieversSome people want to become martial arts teachers or "chi masters" for the same reasons some people become ministers or politicians.

Some people want to be figures of authority. They want others to look up to them, to see them as having amazing skill, as a direct pipeline to God, as someone with Ultimate Wisdom, or as someone with supernatural powers.

Even in martial arts, there is no shortage of people who will bow down before a "master." Students might play along with their "chi master" teacher and fall down when he waves his hand. Or they will jump and hop away when their tai chi "master" touches them lightly during push hands. They will talk about their teacher as if he (it's almost always a "he") is god-like. 

Nobody wants to admit they belong to a cult. 

Louis Martin is the author of "The True Believers," a book about his experience in a martial arts school with cult-like tendencies. It is an interesting story for anyone in martial arts. Follow this link to find the book on Amazon

Louie is the guest on the latest Internal Fighting Arts Podcast. Here is the link to the podcast. You can listen online or download it to listen to later. 


Silk-Reeling Exercises Can Help You Develop Internal Body Mechanics

Dover-Photo-pngSilk-Reeling exercises are forgotten by some Chen style Taiji students after they practice forms, but I believe these exercises should be included in everyone's training routine.

I first learned Silk-Reeling exercises from Chen Xiaowang and my first Chen Taiji teachers, Jim and Angie Criscimagna. Silk-reeling is known in China as chan ssu chin. As I understand it, the exercises were created in recent decades. They are not part of the traditional training in the Chen Village. I went through a silk-reeling workshop with Chen Xiaowang back in 2000 but was already working on them at that time.

When I began teaching, I tried to organize material in easy-to-understand pieces for my students (and for me). For the past 23 years, I have taught six key principles of body mechanics to beginning students:

1.  The ground path

2.  Establishing and maintaining peng jin

3.  Opening and closing the kua

4.  Dan T'ien rotation

5.  Whole-body connected movement

6.  Silk-Reeling energy

New students who are being taught in-person or through my website (www.InternalFightingArts.com) study these concepts first. They are not difficult to understand intellectually, but it takes years to ingrain them into our body awareness and movement. That's one of the reasons you don't become highly skilled in Taiji very quickly.

The silk-reeling exercises, as I teach them, help students combine all six of these body mechanics. If you do the silk-reeling exercises well, you are doing Taiji well.

SRE-Apps-5
Working on silk-reeling applications with Colin Frye.

I also teach the self-defense applications of each exercise. There are several applications in each movement that show how the movement is used and how the mechanics give the application more power. It's a real eye-opener for new students.

Unfortunately, most students ignore these exercises after they begin working on forms. That's understandable, because forms seem more exciting. But I would urge you to pull the silk-reeling exercises out, dust them off and practice them from time to time. 

Let's face it -- every movement in a Taiji form is a silk-reeling exercise. But are you practicing the movements with that in mind?

With every movement I do, I am thinking of the body mechanics and how they are all working to create internal strength and relaxed power. 

But forms take space, and silk-reeling exercises can be done in a very small space. Sometimes, if I am relaxing at night with Nancy and watching TV, I'll jump up and do a silk-reeling exercise such as two-hand spiraling, small arm circle or up/down diagonal arms just to practice and focus on the mechanics, the peng, the ground path, the spiraling through the body, creating relaxed power that flows like a wave. Internal strength ain't mystical -- it's all about body mechanics.

SRE-Apps-6If you have never studied silk-reeling exercises, I'll be crassly commercial here and tell you that as a member of my website (check it out here) you can not only study these skills but also get direct personal feedback from me live on Zoom. But you can also learn the exercises through two of my DVDs -- Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling Energy. Click this link to check them out.

In my two live Taiji classes for website members on Zoom this Wednesday, we will be going over two silk-reeling exercises and discussing how the body mechanics work within the movement. I'll coach each person who joins in on the class. I'm also doing this tonight in the practice with my in-person students here in the Quad Cities.

You can never work on the basics enough, in my opinion. These exercises are perfect for new students because they incorporate the most important movement principles that get students off to a good start. They are important for teachers who are trying to drive home principles to new students. But even if you have been in Taiji for decades as I have, you can still find nuggets of gold if you practice and really focus on the mechanics in these great exercises, so don't neglect them. Don't forget them. That's the bottom line here.

-- by Ken Gullette