If you have been reading this blog since I began writing it in 2006, you know that I do not put teachers on pedestals.
I look at martial arts masters as people, not gods. I do not worship them. I do not want them to be a parental figure. All I want to do is learn from them and support their efforts.
And so I hope it means something to you when I tell you there is a jewel of Taijiquan that is shining here in the United States and, in my opinion, the best Taiji instructor that I have met. For most of the people who have studied Chen Taiji in America, it is an undiscovered jewel.
This past weekend, I attended another workshop by Chen Huixian, who lives and teaches with her husband Michael Chritton in Overland Park, Kansas, which is part of the greater Kansas City area. Michael met her when he was training in the Chen Village under Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. They eventually married and she moved with Michael back to Overland Park.
How lucky that was for Michael. And how lucky it was for us.
Huixian grew up in the Chen Village and is the niece of Chen Zhenglei, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.
So we have a member of the Chen family living and teaching in the United States. And she speaks English.
This means we do not have to go all the way to China, or wait for the men to visit here to get high-quality Chen taiji training. All we have to do is either go to Overland Park or sponsor Huixian for a workshop.
I have trained with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi, Chen Ziqiang and Chen Bing. Each of these teachers are outstanding, and I have enjoyed my experiences with them. But here is a little secret. Don't tell anyone, but I would rather learn from Chen Huixian than any of them.
She does not need an interpreter to explain the details, the concepts, the mechanics, the applications and the philosophy behind the movements of Taiji. She is genuinely interested in the people she meets, she is funny, and a very generous teacher, willing to answer any question.
Chen Huixian teaching "Cannon Fist."
Patrick Rogne, of Ancient Root Taijiquan in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored last weekend's workshop with Chen Huixian. It was held at Orthdx Natural Fitness. I attended one of her workshops in Madison five years ago, then again last year.
When I first attended her workshop in 2013, Huixian and Michael gave me corrections that no one else had given me, including advice on maintaining peng jin that I felt took me a step forward instantly.
She also gave me an insight into the use of the kua that illuminated this important part of internal body mechanics.
This past weekend, we did three hours on Friday night, focusing on the final few movements in Laojia Yilu that we rushed through at the end of last year's workshop.
We started with Punch the Crotch, which involves folding the arms, kicking the palm, turning and punching downward.
Huixian gave more detail in these movements than I ever received from Xiaowang or Xaoxing, and she gave it in English. As she demonstrated, coached, explained and corrected in detail, the quality of her teaching slapped me like the flat edge of a kuandao.
I am 65 now, and with one lung and a heart issue, my legs were screaming for mercy when I got to my hotel room Friday night. I was so exhausted, I wondered if I would be able to last the weekend. Eating bitter with a member of the Chen family reveals how easy we take it on ourselves in our own practice, and after only three intense hours, I was feeling it.
Chen Huixian demonstrates an application - Part 1.
On Saturday and then Sunday morning, we spent a total of nine hours on Laojia Erlu, also known as "Cannon Fist." It has been one of my favorite forms for a dozen years, but this time, I was looking at it through Huixian's perspective, which is closer to the way Chen Zhenglei does it than the way Chen Xiaowang does it.
I had to rewire my brain and do a few movements differently than I had been accustomed to doing them for so long, but at the same time, I caught nuances in the body mechanics, the turning, the movement of the hands and feet that will add depth to my form, explained in detail.
I also received good postural corrections.
Five years ago, when I first met Huixian and Michael, she was coaching us through a movement in Laojia Yilu and I was concentrating. When I do that, I sometimes look a bit downward as I ponder the body mechanics of a movement.
As I looked downward, from across the floor Huixian shouted, "Ken! The answer you seek is not on the ground."
Unbalancing the opponent and using a leg hook - Part 2.
I cracked up, and for the past five years, I have been repeating that to myself when I catch my head tilting forward or looking down. And she taught me that lesson with humor.
In fact, laughter is common in her classes. She is dead serious about the art, but she sometimes jokes, and of course, I have always enjoyed laughter in everything I do, so I tend to crack an occasional joke to lighten the atmosphere.
Michael said on the podcast that when he first saw her practicing in the Chen Village, it seemed that anytime he heard laughter, she was in the middle of it.
On Saturday, late in the day, when our legs were burning and aching, she asked the class, "Are your legs hurting anywhere?"
"Everywhere," I said loudly, and she almost doubled over laughing along with the class.
It is a lot easier to eat bitter when you can cleanse the palate with humor.
Watching her do movements from Cannon Fist is a treat. Her grace, her relaxed strength, and her explosions of fajin won the admiration of everyone in the workshop.
On Saturday evening, there was a group dinner at the Nani Restaurant in Madison. Huixian talked about a wide range of subjects, including her children and life in the Chen Village. She asked about my children, and she figured out that she is three months younger than my youngest daughter. That was a profound shock to me.
The leg hook works - Part 3.
I was in good shape and energized until I landed back in my room. I sat down and posted some pictures on Facebook, then stood up. My thigh muscles clenched. "Oh, hell no," they screamed at me.
We finished Cannon Fist on Sunday morning, with a lot of fajin in the fist and elbow strikes. On Sunday afternoon, we spent the final hours of the workshop on push hands. Near the end, we got into some applications and Huixian started throwing some of the guys who were almost twice her size, showing them how a bump can unbalance your opponent, then you can step in and uproot him, then turn and throw him.
When a man is thrown by a woman, it is interesting to watch their faces when they hit the ground and begin standing up. With each one, you could see the respect and realization in their faces, each one not only impressed with the way she threw them, but you could also see the light bulbs going off after they were able to feel the way she did it.
I hated to say goodbye on Sunday afternoon.
I have studied with several teachers over the past 45 years. I do not believe I have met a better teacher than Chen Huixian.
Sometimes we get a bit tribal in the martial arts, just as we do in politics. Sometimes martial arts become political. Oh, I can't study with this teacher because I study with THAT teacher. I'm in THIS style, so I can't study THAT style.
An open-minded Wu stylist who attended this workshop from Detroit told me, "I have never seen this level of personal corrections in any workshop. She is excellent."
Before I attended my first workshop with her in 2013, my main taiji teachers and the Chen masters I had learned from had been men, and it was only natural, given our society and the culture I grew up in, that I wondered how good a woman would be, and since I adhered a bit to the Chen Xiaowang/Xiaoxing way of doing things, would it matter that her "side" of the Chen family added different flourishes to the movements? Each of the "Four Tigers" of the Chen Village (Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian, and Zhu Tiancai) add their own artistic touches to the forms.
Any reservations I had vanished quickly five years ago. The quality of her taiji and the concepts, principles and mechanics she teaches transcends style and teacher. She won my immediate respect and it has only grown since.
I still feel the same as I always have about putting teachers on pedestals, but Chen Huixian deserves every bit of respect and recognition that the men in the 20th generation of the Chen family receive, and regardless of who you "follow" in taiji, if you live in the U.S. you have a Chen family member here of tremendous value, willing and able to share -- and more importantly TEACH -- her family's art with skill, power, and an unpretentious, fun personality that makes every moment a pleasure.
I believe this is the first time that someone has tried to organize and teach, step-by-step, the fundamental body mechanics that are required for high-quality Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi. I have seen at least one book titled "Body Mechanics," but it did not discuss body mechanics. After 31 years of studying these arts and 21 years of teaching them, I decided to write a book that is clear on this topic.
Body mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi are much more than simple directions such as "turn your foot out 45 degrees and relax."
I have included 250 photos and clear, straightforward descriptions in this book. I am confident you will have several "Aha!" moments about internal body mechanics when you read it. If it does NOT teach you anything important, or give you insights that help you in your internal arts journey, send the book back to me and I will refund your money.
Basically, I wanted to write the book that I wish I had when I began studying the internal arts back in 1987. If I was able to read it back then, it would have saved me many years and thousands of dollars in class fees. Based on some of the martial artists I have met during the past 20-something years, I know there are millions of internal arts students who are not learning these skills.
The six fundamental body mechanics for internal power include:
** Establishing and maintaining the ground path at all times.
** Using peng jin at all times along with the ground path.
** Using whole-body movement -- when one parts move, all parts move.
** Silk-Reeling "Energy" -- the spiraling movement that adds power to techniques.
** Dan T'ien rotation -- guiding the internal strength and power as the body moves.
** Using the kua properly -- opening and closing the kua, like a buoy in the ocean, helping the body stay balanced as incoming force changes.
Each of these body mechanics represents a physical skill -- NOT metaphysical. You can "imagine chi" for the rest of your life and still not be able to develop real power in your Tai Chi, Bagua or Xingyi. It takes hard work and practice -- real study -- to move with internal power in these arts. When a teacher does not know the body mechanics, it is much easier to make students think that "cultivating chi" is the goal. It is not the goal.
The intent of Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi is self-defense. You can practice for health and meditation if you want, but unless you understand the body mechanics and the way the movements are used to defend yourself with relaxed power, you are not studying the complete art.
The book does not attempt to explain the history of the internal arts, much of which is lost in the mists of time and usually results in political squabbles among different factions within the arts, much like different denominations or sects will argue over religion.
I also do not use abstract wording that confuses more than it clarifies.
Instead, I try to get right to the point, as I do in my teaching, writing in a straightforward way that attempts to strip away the mystical mumbo jumbo. Along the way, I try to deliver a few good heel kicks to some pillars of mythology that stand in the way of many students.
I first heard about these body mechanics from Mike Sigman, through his online discussions and his videos. Through his online forum, I was guided to instructors Jim and Angela Criscimagna, living at the time in Rockford, Illinois, a couple of hours from my home. I became their student, and through them and another teacher I had later, the late Mark Wasson, I was able to learn from Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi and Chen Bing. I have also learned from Chen Ziqiang and Chen Huixian.
I began studying martial arts in 1973 at age 20, and I also practiced with the Iowa State University boxing team when I was 39 and 40 years old, when I was "adopted" by Coach Terry Dowd and the young boxers on the ISU team. I began studying the internal arts in 1987, and three years later, I won a gold medal performing the Yang 24 form in Tai Chi competition at the 1990 AAU Kung-Fu National Championships. I won more medals than any other competitor in the championships -- six medals in all, for Tai Chi, Xingyi, Bagua, and sparring. I thought I knew the internal arts, but years later, after learning the body mechanics I describe in this book, I realized that not only did I not understand internal body mechanics, neither did the judges. I was probably the best of a bad group of students who were doing external, muscular arts but calling them internal.
As I taught Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua beginning in 1997, as the Internet was becoming popular, I was reading Mike Sigman's online forum and realized there were holes in my knowledge. A few months later, I met Jim and Angela, and realized that what I had learned and practiced during the previous decade was empty. Over time, I identified the six key body mechanics that are basic to good internal Chinese gongfu. This book offers information on these skills that your teacher may not have taught you.
A few years ago, Kiefen Synnott wrote to me and said, "I live in Japan and study Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, but the language barrier makes me miss some of the meaning. Your training has filled in the gaps and has been responsible for most of the progress I have made so far."
Another martial artist who lives in Shanghai wrote to me that he was "amazed at how few instructors here know the body mechanics."
The book is sold in the U.S., the UK and Europe through Amazon. It is available for Prime shipping. If you are in the UK or Europe, please go to Amazon and search for "Internal Body Mechanics." In Australia or other parts of the world, you may be able to order it through bookstores.
If you are in the U.S. you can order the book directly from me on this blog.
There is Free Shipping within the U.S. (Sorry, due to high shipping fees, Ken cannot mail the book internationally). BONUS -- If you buy this book plus a DVD from this site, you may select another DVD free of charge as a bonus (just email Ken with your selection for the bonus DVD).
Order the Book Now with Free Shipping - U.S. Customers Only
bagua, chen huixian, chen xiaowang, chen xiaoxing, how to do tai chi, how to tai chi, internal body mechanics, jim and angela criscimagna, ken gullette books, mark wasson, ren guangyi, tai chi, tai chi movement, xingyi
It is always good news when Master Chen Huixian holds a workshop in the area. Madison, Wisconsin is only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Quad Cities, so I plan to attend her workshop on August 24, 25 & 26, 2018.
She will teach the final two sections of Laojia Yilu on Friday night, then will teach Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist) on Saturday and the first half of Sunday. Then Sunday afternoon will be devoted to push hands.
I have studied with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Bing, Chen Zigiang and Ren Guangyi.
I respect them very much, but I have walked away from Huixian's workshops with better corrections and more insights that really make me feel as if I have taken a step forward. I have practiced Cannon Fist for 12 years, but I look forward to getting more information on some of the movements from her perspective.
I hope you will join me at this workshop. Huixian is the niece of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She grew up in the Chen Village. Her uncles also include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing. Let's talk about a heritage, okay?
It doesn't get better than this. She lives in the Kansas City area (Overland Park, Kansas) with her husband, Michael Chritton, who is also an outstanding teacher himself.
There is an "Early Bird Special" if you register before Aug. 1st.
If you live within driving distance of Madison and you study any style of Taiji, you are crazy to miss this. The workshops are physically demanding, like any good, traditional martial arts class should be, but because of her sense of humor, there is also laughter. It is an enjoyable and satisfying experience.
The workshop is hosted by Patrick Rogne, of Ancient Root Taijiquan in Madison.
10 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!
I 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.
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:
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My membership website, InternalFightingArts.com, will turn 10 years old on July 4, 2018, just under six weeks from now. When I launched it in 2008, it had around 200 video lessons on Chen Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Qigong, plus some downloadable pdf files.
It now has around 830 videos offering a step-by-step approach to learning all three internal arts.
Now it also has something different -- Yang style instruction for those who want a slower, gentler version of Tai Chi.
Yes, I know. I love the self-defense aspects of Taiji -- how each movement, how each placement of the hands and body represents a powerful self-defense technique and a principle of internal body mechanics.
But over the years, it has occurred to me that a lot of people do not know what they are missing when they just study Yang style, so I have decided, after years of resisting it, to include Yang style instruction on my site. I believe it will offer them something they want, and then expose them to more high-quality instruction on a wider range of internal principles than they are accustomed to seeing.
I resisted this for years, because of my love for Chen style Taiji, but when I polled some members, they were almost all enthusiastic to see Yang style instruction from my perspective -- especially with the body mechanics and applications -- because many of them started, as I did, with Yang style.
Yang style was the first Tai Chi style I learned, beginning in 1987, and I began teaching it in 1997.
In 1990, I won a gold medal with the Yang 24 in Tai Chi Competition at the AAU Kung-Fu National Championships, held in Omaha that year.
I gave up Yang style around 2000, after taking up Chen style in 1998, and finding it much more "alive" and powerful. Chen Taiji is still my foundational art.
In the past few weeks, I have dusted off the Yang 24 and I am recording the form plus instruction on individual movements. My wife Nancy Gullette is usually my videographer, but she has stepped out from behind the camera to learn the form as I teach it and correct her. And trust me, an opportunity to humiliate and correct and tease your wife on camera is something no man should pass up!!
I am still recording and editing lessons, but my goal is to very soon have the complete forms of the Yang 24, the Yang 48, and the Yang Straight Sword form on the website, plus detailed instruction on each movement, including the body mechanics, and fighting applications for each movement.
After working on the Yang 24 again for the past few weeks, I understand why it is the most popular Tai Chi form in the world. It was created in 1956 by the China Sports Commission, with guidance from four Yang style masters. It is an easy, graceful form, perfect for an older student who is not especially looking to study a martial art.
On my website, those who study the form for health, fitness and meditation will also have the option of learning what the movements mean in self-defense.
In the meantime, I am also doing new videos for the website drilling into other internal principles and techniques. One of them is a video on where to generate the ground path in the feet -- what point in the foot do you focus on when grounding? And I am writing a book on Internal Body Mechanics in time to publish for the 10th Anniversary of the website.
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.
It 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!