I have been sending out weekly training tips to members of my website and other people on my email list. If you would like to join the list and receive weekly emails, use the form at the bottom of this post.
This week's training tip is short and sweet.
The next time you work on a form and you come to a stepping movement, put the energy in your knees when you step.
If you think about it, most of the time you probably are just moving the leg, or stepping with the foot on movements such as "Stepping Three Steps" or "Whirling Upper Arms" (performed by stepping backward).
If you put your mind and your energy into the knee, and use the lifting of the knee as the focal point of your stepping, you will find that your steps will become more light and lively (as long as you don't stomp down as you land).
So don't lift the foot when you step, and don't lift the leg -- lift the knee. Think of having your "energy in the knee."
It will keep you from shuffling your feet, which is never a good thing, and it will make your steps more lively.
Also, when doing moving push hands or otherwise engaging with a partner to practice close-up fighting techniques and methods, the livelier you step, the more you can defend against foot sweeps or other disruptions of your structure if the opponent uses his legs and feet to try to unbalance you.
Let me know if you have any questions on any of the material the site or on the DVDs.
The blog you are on right now was created in 2006. It served its purpose very well.
My online "school" launched two years later, and until now, I have kept the blog and the membership site separate.
Now, I have started publishing my blog posts on that site.
For my latest posts, please go to www.internalfightingarts.com/blog
The older posts will remain on this site.
I have never interviewed someone who has studied tai chi directly with the Yang family until now.
The new edition of the podcast features an interview with Holly Sweeney-Hillman.
She is a student of Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun, and she teaches Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan in the Bedminster area of New Jersey.
Her website is www.taichistrong.com.
In this interview, we talk (among other things) about balance, her love of the science of movement, what it is like to study with Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun, and the upcoming International Tai Chi Chuan Symposium, to be held next month in Italy.
If you like this podcast, please send the link to your friends in the arts. It is also available on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, Audello, and other podcast platforms.
I met Derryl Willis at a Chen Xiaoxing workshop in Chicago several years ago. He is a disciple of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and the instructor at the Seattle School of Chen Style Taijiquan. He has made many trips to China to study in the Chen Village. And on his first visit, he stopped traffic just by walking down the street.
In this Internal Fighting Arts podcast interview, I talk with Derryl about the meaning of being a disciple, the importance of practicing the basics, and a valuable technique that one of his teachers, Madame Gao Fu, used to drive home the body mechanics of Taiji.
David Roth-Lindberg has a good Tai Chi blog called "Thoughts on Tai Chi."
He recently asked me to do a Q&A and I was happy to do it.
The interview was published today.
Bruce Lee inspired us when we were young and sparked our interest in studying martial arts.
We have remained Bruce Lee fanboys even as we have grown up.
We both went into journalism.
I discovered Matthew's work when I bought "American Shaolin" a few years ago, a book he wrote after spending two years living, training and performing with Shaolin monks in China. It was a real-world look inside this mysterious world, and I loved it.
A couple of months ago, I was in Barnes & Noble and decided to look at the martial arts section. Once upon a time, it took an entire bookcase to hold the martial arts books. Now, the books about traditional arts don't even stretch across one shelf. It's depressing.
But I saw a new, big biography of Bruce Lee on the shelf, titled "Bruce Lee: A Life."
When I saw Matthew Polly had written it, I bought it.
It is such an exhaustively researched, wonderfully written book that I had to ask him to be on the podcast. I was very happy that he agreed.
At the same time, I saw that he had spent two years training in the MMA and wrote a book called "Tapped Out." I ordered the book and began reading.
I couldn't put it down.
Another thing we have in common is that neither of us take ourselves too seriously. The books he wrote about his experiences are full of self-deprecating humor. He's a funny guy.
In this interview, we talk about "Bruce Lee: A Life," his experience in the MMA, his experience with the Shaolin monks, and the lessons we can learn from each of these fascinating subjects.
Every martial artist should read Matthew Polly's books. Here is a link to the podcast. It is also available on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast distributors.
-- by Ken Gullette
I am reading "Bruce Lee: A Life," by Matthew Polly. Bruce possessed one quality that he had in common with almost all successful people.
Bruce Lee believed in himself, had a goal, and worked hard to reach his goal.
Do you have a martial arts goal? Do you want to learn Bagua, or Taiji, or Xingyi?
It is a good idea not to write down a goal that is overwhelming. Do you want to learn Chen Taiji? Then start with the silk-reeling exercises. Set a goal of learning one every two days, and set a time to study. It may only be ten or twenty minutes, but that is okay.
Perhaps your goal is to learn a form. You can have a big goal such as "Learn Xingyi," but then have smaller goals that help you achieve the big goal.
Do you want to learn the Five Fist Postures? Then write down your goal, set a day to complete it, and then plan out the time to study and practice and get feedback.
Maybe your next goal is the Bagua Swimming Body form. Set a time to complete it, then make a plan to take it movement by movement. Study part of one section each day. Before you know it, you will reach the end.
Do you want to manage the stress in your life? Then set a goal to do that, and begin studying and practicing qigong every day. Even just five minutes a day can make a difference in your life if you work at it.
On my website -- www.internalfightingarts.com -- members find step-by-step instruction in the skills they need, from basic to advanced, in these arts. Plus, they have the opportunity to get personal feedback on their movement, mechanics, techniques and their progress.
But they have to set their own goals and work at them.
Success in anything does not happen just by thinking about it or watching free YouTube videos.
What are you going to do about it today? How much time will you spend setting your goal and planning the steps and the time you will take to get there?
An instructor can only point the way. The rest is up to you.
Bruce Lee didn't let anything stop him from achieving his goal. At one point, he was earning less than $200 a month teaching gongfu. His first school closed because students moved away or had to quit for various reasons. He faced discrimination in Hollywood and the cancellation of his first TV show, "The Green Hornet," left him unemployed.
But he had the vision. He knew what he wanted and he did not let anything stop him. Unfortunately, he did not live to see just how well he achieved his goal, but he did achieve it. So can you.
What is stopping you?
-- by Ken Gullette
I came across Graham Barlow's blog, the Tai Chi Notebook, a few months ago and saw that he would be a good guest for my podcast.
Graham has studied Tai Chi for 25 years and began studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at age 39. He now has his black belt in BJJ.
So do the skills for self-defense in Tai Chi transfer to jiu jitsu, or does BJJ simply give you more tools for your arsenal?
Here are links to the podcast. Listen online or download it for listening on the go. It is also available to subscribe in iTunes (Apple Podcasts).
I taught a journalism course at a local university in 2016, both the spring and fall semesters. It was my first experience teaching. I do not have a Masters, but I had enough experience in journalism (I won a few Associated Press awards during 22 years in news) that the department chair thought I would do a good job.
The students filed in on the first day of my first class. I spent a LOT of time working on an entertaining and informative PowerPoint and lecture.
A couple of students looked at me, smiled and said hello as they found a seat. Most of them walked in without acknowledging me, found a seat, and began staring at the computer screen that they each had on their desk. There was no attempt to engage by most of the students.
I have always enjoyed kids, and young people, and have always found ways of making them laugh and have fun.
But a college setting was different.
It was fascinating, watching some students trudge into the class each time, heads down, never looking my way to say "Good morning." Some of them rarely looked at me during class.
And when I gave a reading assignment, and the kids slogged in for the next class, it was surprising just how many of them had not bothered to read the assigned chapter.
I would ask a question in class and no one would answer. I sometimes stood there asking, "Bueller? Bueller?" Some of them didn't even get THAT joke.
When I was in school, I enjoyed being the class clown. I would crack jokes that would make the teacher and other students laugh. That is also how I am as a teacher.
I bought a bag of candy bars. I told the class that if anyone disrupted class with a smart-ass comment or a joke, they would get a candy bar. I was encouraging them to be engaged and crack jokes.
Peer pressure is an incredibly powerful force. I did not give out much candy.
The university cost $28,000 a year -- just for tuition. There were a handful of students who tried. I wondered why the rest of them were there. Why were they spending the money and not trying?
Some students turned in assignments and did not even know that the letter "I" is capitalized when you write, "I rode the bus."
By the time I completed my second semester, I was ready to stop teaching. I was working at least 40 hours a week to teach three times a week. I figured out that my adjunct teacher's salary amounted to less than $3.00 per hour. And that was before taxes.
It took a tremendous amount of time to prepare the classes, it took a tremendous amount of energy to deliver the classes, and it had become obvious that most of the students sat in the class scrolling through Facebook instead of listening.
I used humor and real-world examples, and I taught them news-writing concepts and principles only to see them turn in papers that loudly screamed, "I did not pay attention to one word you said in class."
I could not see what was on their computer screens, and I took the position that I was not their father. If they wanted to surf Facebook, they were all over 18 and could make that decision.
$28,000 a year is a LOT of money to spend on Facebook.
But on the days when one or two students would be involved, engaged, and speak up, it lifted me up. It felt as if I was reaching someone. Over there in the first row, there was one person who was making eye contact. That person would benefit, and would perhaps have a better start to their career because they were actually listening.
It doesn't take much to make a teacher happy. All you have to do is put in a little effort.
The same is true in a martial arts class.
I have been teaching martial arts now for more than 21 years. My classes are very small now. I do not recruit new students very often. I am content to teach a handful, and as I do, I work on improving my own skills. I am not interested in teaching a large group unless it is a workshop.
There have been students through the years who will learn something in class and then show up the next class and I will ask, "Did you practice what we went over last time?"
They shake their heads no. Work was too busy, or I didn't have time, they will say.
As a teacher, it is an empty feeling.
If I spend my time and my physical and emotional energy showing up and teaching you, but you do not have the interest to carve out a little time each day to practice, it is a reflection on just how seriously you take the art, and how serious you take my time.
And then there is the student who practices, and he comes in, excited to show his own progress, get corrections and continue moving forward. He asks questions and describes any problems he is having with a movement or a technique.
In class, if you teach this student something new, and then you back off to let them practice it, they continue practicing it until you are ready to continue. He does not stop and stand around.
That is the type of student who makes a teacher happy to be alive, and excited about teaching.
The first martial arts class I enrolled in was in 1973. I went home that night and practiced the punches, blocks and kicks that we went over in class. At the time, I was a student at Eastern Kentucky University, living in Commonwealth Hall. I spent at least an hour each day doing punches or kicks in my dorm and doing my stepping, punching and kicking down the hallway, then back to my room, then over and over again.
In 1987, when I started in the internal arts, I was the father of two daughters and I worked as a TV news producer in Omaha, Nebraska. I found an hour a day to practice when I was not in class.
And after I started teaching in 1997, I practiced up to six hours a day on weekends, working and working to get better. When I visited my teachers, I wanted them to know that I was working on the material. And since I was teaching, I felt a certain pressure to be very good.
One of the students in my journalism class paid attention, spoke up, and came up to me after class with questions. When he walked in each day, he looked at me, smiled, and said hello.
Joe worked as a bartender at my favorite local Italian restaurant, Lunardi's. Months after the spring semester ended, I walked into Lunardi's to pick up a carry-out order and Joe was behind the bar. He was glad to see me.
"I just want to tell you how much I learned in your class," he said. "What you taught me is really helping me with the advanced journalism course I'm taking now. You are one of the best teachers I have ever had."
It would be difficult to describe how his comment lifted me up. I think I was beaming with pride and joy as I left the restaurant.
Being a good student -- in high school, in college, in a martial arts class -- is not necessarily about being the most highly skilled in your class.
Being a good student is about showing up and trying, and practicing the material outside of class. And not just practicing it, but thinking about the movements, principles and techniques. Slowing them down. Feeling it.
Studying martial arts is like a college class. The work you do outside of class is more important than the class itself.
Being a good student is about valuing your teacher's time and effort by putting in some of your own.
You can now listen to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast on Google Play Music.
Here is the link:
On this podcast, you will hear the following types of guests:
** Top English-speaking internal arts instructors, most of them with close ties to top Asian masters
** Taoist priests, Zen masters and other philosophers
** People who have inspired us in our martial arts journey
** Martial artists who can shed light on issues of interest and controversy
The podcast is also available on iTunes (Apple Podcasts), Audello, Stitcher, Podbean, and other podcast distributors.
I hope you will subscribe. The interviews take a real-world approach. It is a Woo-Woo Free Zone.