Top Ten Movements for Christian Tai Chi Form

Years ago, I saw a DVD on Christian Tai Chi and I thought it was interesting because some people have asked me in the past if they can study Tai Chi if they are Christians. I assured them there is nothing inherently religious about Tai Chi.

But it made me wonder, what if I made up a Tai Chi form for Christians? After all, I grew up in a Christian church and I am intimate with the Bible. I think I could convert some movements from a Tai Chi form into something that would satisfy the faithful. 

Instead of trying to become One with the Universe, students could become One with God's Word.

Here are some of the top movements in my Christian Tai Chi form:

One -- Grasp the Dove's Tail

Two -- Part the Red Sea

Three -- Strum the Harp

Four -- Step Back and Repulse Satan

Five -- White Minister Spreads His Word

Six -- Snake Creeps Down the Apple Tree

Seven -- Ascend Hands Into Clouds

Eight -- Single Roman Whip

Nine -- Golden Idol on One Leg

Ten -- Turn, Deflect, Parry and Pray

I think we have a new Tai Chi style here, although we should stop calling them styles. Students and teachers would be part of the Yang denomination, the Chen denomination, etc. I also think it would be easy to find some unscrupulous Tai Chi "masters" who would pretend to walk on water. Adam, I have an idea for a new YouTube video for you. :)

--by Ken Gullette


What Happens When a Martial Artist Turns 70?

Ken-Sword-2023I hit the big 7-0 last week.

They say age is just a number, but in my case, it's a BIG number.

I didn't even know how to spell septuagenarian and now I is one.

It's bad enough I've been dealing with the loss of one lung and a heart problem for the past 13 years, but now I have to be an old man, too? That's like adding insult to injury!

It's enough to make you throw sidekicks.

Okay, Ken. Stop and take a breath.

Center yourself.

Calm your mind and relax your rapidly withering, creaking body.

Worse things can happen to you than turning 70. For example, you could have died before you turned 70.

I had one grandfather who died at age 27, another who died at 69, and my dad died at age 61. I should be happy that I'm still studying, practicing, and teaching the internal arts. And I actually am very happy about that.

But it plays with your head. On the day after my birthday last week, I realized that I felt no different than I did the week before. I felt young. You know, like I was 65 again. But it still plays with your head.

I try to look ahead. In ten years I'll be 80. Just ten years. That passes pretty quickly. After all, it has been 23 years since Y2K. That went by pretty quickly, didn't it?

For most martial artists I know, after their sixties they were changing fast. Chen Fake died at age 70. Hu Yaozhen, the Taoist qigong master, passed away at age 76. One of Hu's students, Feng Zhiqiang, died at age 84, which is pretty good. He still had game in his 70s. Chen Xiaowang is 77 now. His younger brother Xiaoxing is my age. 

My wife Nancy retired from her job a month ago, just a few days after she turned 65. We have really enjoyed the past month. I have enjoyed seeing her free from the pressure of getting up at 5:40 a.m. and going to work for the Man. Suddenly, every day is Saturday and every night is Friday night. It's a wonderful thing.

But during the past month, as I thought about hitting 70, I wondered if I should begin to step back a little. I am either studying these arts or teaching these arts or practicing these arts seven days a week. Sometimes, I take a day off from practicing, but that's only to give my old body a rest, and even then I'm writing or reading or thinking of Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Qigong or philosophy. And I'm working with my students, maybe doing a live one-on-one session on Zoom.

It really helps to be doing what I love. Yes, my legs get very tired by the end of the day. I sit down at night on the couch with Nancy and we watch one of our favorite shows and enjoy a glass of wine, and after a while I'll stand up and my legs shout, "No! Don't make us do more work!"

The other night, I got up from the couch and Nancy said, "Ken, you're walking like an old man."

I said, "Well........" 

She laughed.

But when I think about stepping back a little, there is a voice in my head that says, "Who are you kidding? You love this. You study with Nabil on Mondays and Tuesdays and then you're bouncing around like a toddler, excited about what you're practicing. You're teaching on Wednesdays and sometimes Friday and Saturday and you meet during the winter with your in-person students on Sundays. You feel like something is missing if you skip a practice. Who are you kidding?"

Yeah, the voice in my head is right. I couldn't step away if I tried. I want to make more memories with Nancy while we have time, so I have pledged to myself, and I have succeeded in the past month, to take more time during weekdays to do something with her instead of being devoted to gongfu all day long. After all, isn't "balance" one of the goals we're after in Taijiquan?

So age is just a number. A terrifying number, maybe, but let's just remain centered and push forward. There are skills, movements and mechanics I want to develop, a dragon body to pursue, and goals yet to achieve. I don't have the stamina I used to have. If I'm a student in a class or workshop, I take more breaks than the younger guys. But I'm still moving pretty well. I can still kick a 6-foot tall guy in the head. I want to do what seemed impossible when the lung went South when I was 57. I want to improve in my 70s and still be practicing and teaching at 80.

I have a goal that can be summed up in a true story. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals practiced his instrument for hours each day, and when he was 90 years old, someone asked, "Why are you continuing to practice at age 90?"

Casals said, "Because I think I'm making progress."

So the title of this blog post, What Happens When a Martial Artist Turns 70, can be answered this way:

He practices.

--by Ken Gullette

 

 


Colin Frye and Justin Snow Earn the Black Sash

Colin Frye Black Sash 1-15-23
I present Colin Frye with his black sash as Kim Kruse looks on.

On Sunday, January 15, 2023, I awarded black sashes to two long-time students, Colin Frye and Justin Snow. It was an event that I have been looking forward to for several years.

Colin began studying with me when he was a student at Augustana College around 2004. Justin started not long after, when he was 16-years old. 

Our curriculum is so extensive, covering the basics of Xingyiquan, Chen style Taijiquan, and Baguazhang, it can take four or five years of heavy-duty, nearly nonstop practice to earn a black sash. It can take a lot longer if you are a normal human being. That's why since 1997, when I first began teaching, Colin and Justin possess only the fourth and fifth black sashes I have awarded. Colin and Justin now join the ranks of Rich Coulter, Chris Miller, Kim Kruse, and Marilyn Hackett (who was awarded an honorary black sash). Kim was at the presentation of the sashes to Colin and Justin.

Anyone who has seen my videos has seen Colin and Justin. I have depended on Colin since he was 22 to be the one who shows up when everyone else is busy, and when both of these guys are there, our practices are full of creativity and growth. Justin was the teenager who peppered me with questions during class like, "What if someone did this?" He has added a great deal to our practices due to his size and strength. As I continue to study and try to get better, I depend on them to help me, and they do. 

Justin Snow Black Sash 1-15-23
Justin Snow receives his black sash with Kim Kruse and Colin standing in support.

When I began teaching, I taught a system in which a student could earn a colored sash for each rank up to black sash. During the first three sash levels, students studied the basics of Xingyi. During the middle three levels, they learned the basics of Chen Taiji. During the final three levels before black sash, they learned the basics of Bagua. After they got through nine levels, they spent a couple of years practicing the entire curriculum.

When I earned my black sash almost 26 years ago, it was an important milestone. I worked my butt off to get there, but I didn't feel great about the system I was in, so I hit the tournament circuit to find out if I could compete with the best of other styles. I found out that I could, but I knew there were holes in my curriculum, so I sought out information, videos, and in 1998 I met my first Chen Taiji teacher, Jim Criscimagna, who taught along with his wife Angela in Rockford, Illinois.

So my black sash actually signalled the beginning of my real studies. A black sash is like achieving a Bachelor's Degree in college. It's an honorable achievement. It takes hard work and determination. But after you get a B.A. you are ready for higher levels of learning. Now, the real learning begins. We can help each other improve our skills.

We don't wear sashes to our practices. We only wear uniforms when shooting "official" videos. They are probably the last students I will take through a colored-sash curriculum. We have been evolving out of that and the evolution continues. But for this moment, we reward hard work, persistence, dependability and loyalty. In our thinking, after you reach black sash, you become known by what you know and what you can do. It's up to each person how they want to travel that path. Some stop when they reach black sash, some go forward very slowly, and for some of us, we couldn't stop if we wanted to. It's part of our DNA.

Congratulations, Colin and Justin. Your black sash is well-deserved. Insert a deep bow here. Now let's go!

--by Ken Gullette


Swordsmanship with Scott M. Rodell -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Scott-M-Rodell-Jian
Scott M. Rodell, Taiji instructor and swordsman.

My last act of 2022 was to put this podcast episode together. I interviewed Scott M. Rodell about swordsmanship last week.

Scott teaches the Yang style Taijiquan that he learned from his principal teacher, Wang Yen-Nien, at the Great River Taoist Center in Annandale, Virginia. He is best known, however, for his swordsmanship. 

I've used swords in my martial arts for 35 years but even though I know and can use all the fighting applications from the sword forms I know, I don't consider myself a swordsman since it is not something I focus on any more than I focus on empty-hand techniques, staff, broadsword (dao) or spear.

I learned from this interview, and I bought Scott's cutting jian this past weekend from his website. Enjoy the program. The podcast runs one hour 15 minutes. Please send the link to any friend who might enjoy it.

https://internalfightingarts.libsyn.com/internal-fighting-arts-66-scott-m-rodell

Scott's website is www.grtc.org


A Different Look at the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword Form - Through Fighting Applications

I had an idea. Instead of demonstrating a form just showing the movements, how about doing the form from start to finish using fighting applications?

I have never seen this done, and since I love exploring the self-defense meaning and mechanics behind each movement I do, I figured I'm just the man for the job. The sword has been part of my practice since 1987, and I feel strongly that if you are going to learn a weapons form, your art is empty if you don't know how to use it.

So here is the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword (Jian) form, shown through applications. If you know the form, you'll recognize the moves. If you don't know the form, you can learn it through my DVDs on the Chen Straight Sword Form, or you can become a member of my website and study it with me. In the meantime, I hope this video helps you understand the form better. My student Colin Frye is helping me, and since we are using metal swords, we are being careful. This is not a "cutting" video, but it should give you plenty of ideas to work with -- deflections, angles, and cuts, including a variety of targets, both thrusting and cutting.

--by Ken Gullette

 


Top 10 Tai Chi Movements to Practice During the Holiday Season

Kung-Fu SantaThe holiday season can be a stressful time. Beween buying gifts, going to work parties, and reuniting with family, it can knock you out of harmony with the universe.

In fact, compared with the summer months, statistics show that Tai Chi practitioners at this time of year are 37% more likely to rip out an irritating family member's heart and show it to them before they die.

That's why I recommend stopping for a few moments to breathe, calm your mind and center yourself by doing a short Tai Chi form designed to relieve your holiday stress and prevent your hand from striking out with five fingers of death.

Whether you're dealing with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus, this form will help you remain One with the Universe during the hectic days between now and the first of the new year.

Here are the Top 10 Tai Chi Movements for the Holidays:

  1. Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Egg Nog
  2. Grasp the Elf’s Tail
  3. Part the Wild Reindeer’s Mane
  4. Hidden Spiked Punch
  5. Fair Maiden Works in the Kitchen
  6. White Ape Offers Cranberry Sauce
  7. Lazy About Wrapping the Gift
  8. Wave Gift Receipt Like Clouds
  9. Golden Turkey Loses Two Legs
  10. Step Back and Repulse the Fruitcake

Happy Holidays!

--by Ken (and Nancy, who came up with #7) Gullette


Running Your Own Martial Arts School - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Kimberly Ivy and Michael Celeste

Kim Ivy does Taiji in the Chen Village
Kimberly Ivy in China at the Chen Village, the birthplace of Taijiquan.

On my latest edition of the podcast -- Number 65 -- I wanted to talk with a couple of different people who own bricks-and-mortar martial arts schools. It is the dream of a lot of martial artists -- to own your own school and teach martial arts for a living. It can be very satisfying, but there are challenges that everyone should realize, and skills you need to have to achieve success. The physical demands can be very great, at least early on, the expenses range from rent or building payments to utilities, mirrors and mats, marketing costs, including website, video and social media, martial arts equipment, and possibly costs for a staff. Other challenges arise when you feel as if you have to accept virtually everyone in order to pay your bills, even if non-serious students take up class time.

Kimberly Ivy, who teaches Chen Taijiquan and Qigong in Seattle, was one of the first who came to mind when I thought about this episode. She has been teaching in her school for three decades. Like everyone who has a school in a big city, she has faced challenges with rising rents and, of course, Covid. Kim has appeared in two earlier podcasts several years ago.

Michael Celeste teaches on World Tai Chi Day
Michael Celeste demonstrating on World Tai Chi Day.

Michael Celeste works full time at Pfizer and teaches Yang Taijiquan and Wing Chun in Mt. Arlington, New Jersey. He has owned his school for six years.

My own teaching history involves renting space, buying a building, then selling the building because of a change in full-time jobs. For the past 15 years I have primarily taught in a park, but I clearly remember the challenges and pleasures of owning my own school.

In the current economy, and as we have come out of Covid, I think, I wondered if someone who is thinking about starting a school should do it or run from it. I hope you enjoy these conversations. Listen online or download the podcast through this link.

https://internalfightingarts.libsyn.com/website/internal-fighting-arts-65-running-your-own-school-with-kimberly-ivy-and-michael-celeste


A Warrior in the Garden -- Why Peaceful People Learn Martial Arts

Lucky Smile 2
My dog Lucky smiling as he greets my wife. His smile says, "I am not aggressive."

My dog Lucky smiles when Nancy or I get home from work or other errands. He is a strong, 55-pound Labrador/Pit Bull mix who could tear one of us apart if he wanted, but instead, he smiles at us when he greets us.

I didn't know why he does this, so I looked it up because someone who doesn't know Lucky might think he is baring his teeth, ready to eat them alive.

When dogs do this, it is called a "Submissive Smile." It is their way of communicating, "I am not aggressive."

I found out about this "Submissive Smile" and realized I do the same thing. When I encounter a stranger, I smile, nod or say hello, even when I just pass someone in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, among the boxes of Cocoa Puffs and Honey Smacks.

I am always quick with a joke or a light comment to put people at ease. I like for people around me to relax and have fun.

Perhaps I'm communicating, "I am not aggressive" in my own friendly way.

I once told someone, "I am a man of peace." The person replied, "Then why do you study violent martial arts?"

It's a fair question.

There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes like this:

"It is better to be a warrior in the garden than a gardener in the war."

So why have I been obsessed with learning martial arts for nearly 50 years? Punches, kicks, blocks and deflections, joint locks, takedowns -- the art of self-defense is fun for me.

A man of peace?  

In truth, I never want to fight again. My last fight was at age 18 in 1971, when I finally confronted a bully -- Rob Brewster -- who had tried to terrorize me with a couple of bully buddies -- Dan Cotter and Tom Prentiss -- for years. It didn't go well for Robby. He ran away after a couple of punches in the nose. It is now 51 years later, and other than tournament matches, I have not had a violent encounter with anyone.

Something interesting happened in my mind when I was a kid and had to fight a bully. I enjoyed it. I tried to avoid a fight, but if I could not peacefully walk away, there was something about fighting a bully that felt like important things were being tested within me -- my inner strength, my determination, my fighting skill, and also my self-confidence.

I never lost a fight..

If you study martial arts like I do, and you push your body to learn how to creatively and effectively apply the techniques against another person, it doesn't make you a violent person. I almost consider martial arts to be like a puzzle. When a bully attacks you, it is a problem that has a solution.

When I competed in sparring at tournaments, or in the full-contact Toughman Contest, my goal was to size up my opponent as quickly as I could, figure out his strengths and weaknesses, and then avoid his strengths and exploit his weaknesses. It was a puzzle, a mystery I had to solve very quickly or I would lose the match.

I don't compete anymore. I would love to compete, but as I approach the age of 70 in three months, I am forced to realize those days are behind me. I still work with my students on the puzzle -- the mystery -- because it is fun to build and maintain these skills, and to see how all the movements and techniques in our arts can work if you need them for self-defense.

And so I become the warrior in the garden. I have the ability and the skills to fight, but I focus on living a good life, cultivating my relationships and my own personal fulfillment, spiritual nourishment, and enjoyment of life. My writing and teaching and my wonderful marriage became my garden.

A garden is peaceful, pleasant and without stress. We want everyone to enjoy the garden with us.

But don't make the mistake of thinking we are simply gardeners.

If the moment arises when we need to protect ourselves or our loved ones, the warrior steps out of the garden, ready to help.

--by Ken Gullette


A Beginner's Lesson in Tai Chi Silk-Reeling - Video

If you have a half-hour to invest, try to work through this video -- it's a live class I did last weekend on Zoom teaching the first of Chen Taiji's Silk-Reeling exercises -- "Single-Hand Reeling."

This is helpful to all internal martial artists, but particularly if you practice Taijiquan and Baguazhang.

I have to say that most of the videos I've seen on silk-reeling don't teach it at all. But that should be no surprise. The first teacher who taught me silk-reeling had no clue what silk-reeling is, so I was sent down a blind alley thinking that to achieve silk-reeling, we "imagine" our Qi spiraling through our body. It's part of "Qi cultivation," he said.

Nope.

Silk-Reeling "energy" -- the Chinese term is chan ssu jin -- is a physical skill requiring a spiraling through the body in a connected way.

Some say the spiraling movements add power to your Taiji. I believe the most practical purpose of silk-reeling is the neutralizing and redirecting of your opponent's force. You know the Dawn dish detergent slogan: "Dawn takes grease out of my way!" Silk-reeling helps do that to your opponent's force.

If you are ready to spend 30 minutes studying this video, schedule a time to do it. I set my camcorder up to record me as I taught a Zoom class on Silk-Reeling exercise #1 -- "Single Hand Reeling." There is gold here that can help you develop your internal movement, especially in Taiji and Bagua.

 

There is a lot more instruction on spiraling and silk-reeling on my website. Try two weeks and have immediate access to every video I have ever made at www.internalfightingarts.com


Happy Birthday as This Blog Turns Sweet 16 Years Old

SixteenSixteen years ago today, on October 15, 2006, I put up my first blog post. 

The first post was a "Welcome to My Blog" kind of post. The second post included two videos of Chen Xiaowang, one of them doing a performance that included fajin, and another was a demonstration -- a bit silly perhaps -- of rooting and grounding.

From there, I have posted on all types of issues and events as a student and teacher, and I have discussed philosophy and life. I have discussed my $5,000 offer for Qi "masters" to do their tricks on me, and I have documented some of the medical struggles you have as you grow older and try to continue as a martial artist.

By the time I launched my "online school" two years later, and as I made videos and DVDs, the blog helped me establish an audience for those efforts.

In short, the blog was a way for me to discuss martial arts from my perspective and develop a reputation. At the time I launched the blog, I not only owned a martial arts school, I was also the director of media relations for ACT, the college test company. I left ACT a year later and worked for the University of South Florida in Tampa, then returned to the Quad Cities to battle heart and lung issues, work for a couple of nonprofits, and continue studying and teaching martial arts. The blog continued.

One thing I've observed during the past 16 years is an evolving marketplace for martial arts. The MMA culture has changed traditional arts, and Covid certainly didn't do any favors for teachers trying to maintain bricks-and-mortar schools. It did help drag a lot of teachers kicking and screaming into online instruction. That is a good thing because it opens up quality instruction to a lot of people who normally wouldn't have access.

MMA culture, along with fighters like Xu Xiaodong, have helped show us some of the weaknesses in the traditional arts, the way we practice, and the number of "masters" who actually don't have any fighting skill. It has pushed the rest of us to step up our game and be more realistic about teaching. 

Nowadays, I don't post on the blog as often as I did 16 years ago, but I try to make the posts mean something. I try to express the truth, and I try to educate people about what the internal arts really are -- martial arts with unique body mechanics. There is nothing mystical about them. Since the blog began, I have learned from Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Bing, Chen Ziqiang, Chen Huixian, Tina Zhang, Nabil Ranne, and I have studied some material of Byron Jacobs. My thirst for knowledge continues even as I am about to reach the age of 70 and consider scaling back just a bit on my efforts. Those thoughts will be explored during the next three months. Ironically, at age 69 I find myself studying, practicing and teaching more than ever. I love what I do.

I appreciate everyone who has read my blog in the past and especially the folks who still read it. You don't hear blogs mentioned often anymore when people talk about social media marketing -- it's all about TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube (YouTube is the King, in my opinion). But blogs are still important, and this one will continue as long as I do.  :)

In the past 16 years, I think I've become even more realistic about the internal arts and their limits. I don't put masters up on pedestals, and I do realize they make mistakes and develop sloppy habits, too. They are also prone to mistakes in their marketing (a dumb video of Chen Xiaowang with a strongman is an example, a poorly conceived attempt at a demo of grounding and rooting). But there are a lot of good people out there doing their best and going to great pain and expense to seek out and study with great teachers. Often, they become great teachers themselves, and those are the folks I talk to in my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, which launched almost eight years ago.

And now, let's bring back the first video I showed in one of my first posts 16 years ago. It shows Chen Xiaowang doing a demo at a tournament in the Washington, D.C. area back in 2003, on an evening after he taught a workshop on Laojia Yilu that I attended. Thank you for coming along for the ride and here's to another 16 years!

--by Ken Gullette