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


Firing Up the Inner Gyroscope Once Again - Finding My Center in the Hospital

Ken Gullette in hospital
In my gown with my IV stand at the hospital.

I am writing a book on how the philosophies that I learned during the time I have studied martial arts have guided me through some of the storms of life. 

Last week, I found that I was living a new chapter.

After a break of a few years, I suddenly began coughing up blood on Friday, June 4. We're not talking about the type of coughing up blood that you see in the movies -- a fleck or two in a handkerchief.

When I cough up blood, it looks like someone was shotgunned in my sink. I put a picture up on a blog post around 2015. It was gross.

This began in 2009, after three laser ablation procedures on my heart, attempting to stop atrial fibrillation. Instead, the final procedure shut down my  left pulmonary veins, so no oxygenated blood goes from my left lung to the heart.

How my body has survived the past 12 years, I have no idea, but it hasn't been easy, and it has made martial arts quite a challenge -- only one lung, coughing up blood occasionally, and, to add insult to injury, I developed exercise-induced asthma.

So after three days of coughing up blood, last Monday my pulmonologist told me to get a CT scan. I walked into the hospital, got the scan, and they told me I was to be admitted because of pulmonary embolism -- multiple blood clots in the left lung.

I'm not a doctor, but I know that a blood clot in the lung is not a good thing, and multiple blood clots would be a worse thing.

I was worried that a clot could break off, go to my brain, and cause me to lose my ability to think. If that happened, I would probably start wearing a MAGA hat, or I might start believing in the no-touch knockdown, or I might try to heal you with my qi -- crazy $#!+ like that.

Nancy rushed from work and met me at the ER. I was taken to a room on the sixth floor of Genesis East in Davenport, Iowa. An IV was put into my right arm and they started a Heparin drip. Heparin is a blood thinner.

I thought blood thinners dissolved blood clots but they don't. They keep the clots from getting bigger, and the clots are absorbed into the body over a period of weeks or months. 

Hospital-2021-6
Looking out my hospital window after checking in.

When Nancy left to go home that evening, a rainbow formed outside. Now, I don't read anything supernatural into that, but it was pretty cool. I don't consider it a message from God. Bruce Lee, maybe, but not God.

For the next five days, I was in the hospital. From the start, my goal was to make the nurses laugh. I am always their easiest and most low-maintenance patient. 

But I am also a questioning patient. I don't leave my critical thinking skills at the door of the hospital. When a doctor or nurse says I need something, I ask questions.

One think I have learned over the years is this: you must be your own advocate, because doctors will make mistakes.

I don't want to give you the impression that I rolled through this without getting emotionally smacked around. It was a difficult week. I had been on a plateau for years without coughing up blood. I had a pacemaker installed a year ago and I have had other procedures, but I felt reasonably stable because I had not coughed up blood.

It was very difficult to find myself suddenly back in the hospital with a damned IV in my arm without Nancy.

But I held up pretty well, trying to remain centered and determined to get through it. Two days later, however, when I looked out my window and saw her walking across the parking lot to visit, the tears came, and when she entered the room, I hugged her and sobbed for a minute.

I am 68 years old, with one lung, an irregular heartbeat and a pacemaker, asthma, and I don't really think it gets better from here, does it? Seriously. I have survived and continued to pursue the internal martial arts for 12 years. My doctors have been amazed. And now this? 

Ken's arm after blood draws
My left arm after having blood drawn for five days.

It also didn't help that they were coming in every six or 12 hours to draw blood. You want to talk about centering yourself? If you stick me with a needle, I don't like it. One of the worst things about the hospital is that they are constantly sticking me with needles.

That evening, I tried to keep it together when Nancy said goodnight to go home, and after she left I had a talk with myself. I stood up and did Zhan Zhuang with the IV hose dangling from my arm.

Just breathe. Focus on your Dantien. Sink your energy. Establish peng. Become aware of everything around you.

Remain centered, I reminded myself. Just calm down, find your center, find your determination. Let's get through this. You have been through it before, you can do it again.

Some people misunderstand the concept of being centered. They believe if you are centered, nothing bothers you. No matter what happens, you remain emotionally calm.

They are wrong. Being a human being means you will experience a range of emotions, and if you lean toward Eastern philosophies as I do, you will continue to experience a range of emotions. You can be knocked down emotionally. You can be insulted, you can be hurt, you can be angry.

It is okay to be knocked off-balance, but when you suffer a tragedy or crisis, and you look inside yourself for the tools to survive and cope, what do you find?

When you find yourself off-balance, do you look outside of yourself for help (gods, other people, drugs, alcohol) or do you cultivate the ability within yourself to get back up and regain your balance?

That is what the philosophies of the martial arts, which I first encountered while watching the "Kung Fu" TV show as a teenager, have taught me.

Standing in my room, focusing on my breathing, my Dantien, and realizing I am part of all things made me feel balanced again.  

When you lie in a hospital bed without getting up, your strength leaves the body quickly, so I was taking walks a few times a day around the sixth floor, walking the circuit back to my room, and I noticed a lot of the doors had "Fall Risk" and other signs on them notifying nurses of various predicaments the patients were in.

I created my own sign and placed it on my door. "Tai Chi Risk: Patient prone to sudden calmness."

Within a few minutes of putting it on my door, there was a shift change and my night nurse, Adam, opened the door, laughed, gave the sign a thumbs up and walked away. Two or three other employees over the next few days laughed and commented on the sign.

I took a walk around the floor and told nurses I was the floor supervisor. They laughed. I cracked one-liners to lighten the mood. Dressed in my gown and rolling my IV stand, I told them, "I'm busting out of this joint." More laughter.

Hospital-2021-2One evening on my walk, a frail, elderly woman was in her bed, looking to the hallway. I waved to her and said hello. She waved back and said, "Hi." Sometimes, the elderly are treated like pieces of meat in situations like this, but I know that, like me, they are wondering how the hell they got here. They are thinking, "I was just 18 a moment ago, it seems, and now look at this!" They deserve kindness and respect.

"I hope you get out of here soon," I told her. 

"I hope you do, too," she said.

Doctors were waiting for my Coumadin level to increase before they released me. Coumadin is a risk for me because of my history of coughing up blood since my pulmonary veins closed in 2009. With thinner blood, the risk of bleeding is a real possibility.

I practiced tai chi one day in my room, in my gown with the IV hose dangling off my arm. Do you know how hard it is to do "Lazy About Tying the Coat" without getting tangled in the hose or without pulling the needle out of your arm? I did it very, very carefully.

I kept myself in shape all my life, never took drugs and did martial arts, and all this has happened. We all have to play the hand we are dealt, and if we are lucky enough to grow old, something is going to get us in the end. How we handle it is a test of our character and a test of our belief system.

By Saturday, the doctor decided to release me because the Coumadin level was high enough and it was on the way up. It would be where we wanted it by Sunday, and he told me to go in and get checked on Monday. 

Ken-Nancy-Home-from-Hospital-2021
Home with Nancy after five days!

I got home Saturday afternoon. The entire time I was in that hospital room, I realized how we sometimes take little moments for granted. What I most wanted was to be with Nancy in our basement with the dogs, sipping wine and watching the big screen. Well, I should word that differently. The dogs won't be sipping wine and watching the big screen, Nancy and I will.

I try not to take any moments for granted. But they slip by us anyway. They are here and they are gone. The moments pass and the weeks, months and years pass. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a place where all we want is to get one of those moments back.

I do not believe we encounter anything negative after death. If you subscribe to philosophical Taoism, death is the unknown, so there is no point worrying about it. But what makes sense to me is that we return to the same place we were in before we were born; a state of complete peace. 

If you remember, on the day we were born, none of us had any complaints about where we had been.

So I don't worry about dying. However, I am not in a hurry to get there. I have too much to enjoy -- Nancy, my daughters and grandchildren, my friends, the internal martial arts and my students, Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy movies, and every single moment of this life. As long as you don't stick me with a needle. I don't care for that, but I have found that I can bear it if I focus on my breathing and my Dantien.

How can you truly appreciate the good moments of life without the bad moments? It's all part of the journey. Enjoy the journey.

Remain centered, my friends.

-- by Ken Gullette


Form is Emptiness: The Depth of Tai Chi is Easy to Ridicule for Those Who Do Not Understand

Form is EmptinessMy daughter, Harmony had a yin/yang sticker on her notebook in 7th grade. She loved it. From the day she was brought home from the hospital and put into a crib in August, 1977, Bruce Lee posters had been on her bedroom wall and she was very familiar with martial arts.

But some of the girls in her 7th grade class accused her of worshipping Satan because of the yin/yang sticker.

They didn't understand and had been influenced by their parents, most of whom were Christians living in the Midwest.

Yesterday, I came across the "Heart Sutra," an important "rule" or aphorism in Mahāyāna Buddhism. 

One of the key phrases that immediately made me think of Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Bruce Lee was this:

Form is nothing more than emptiness,

emptiness is nothing more than form.

You can say it a bit more directly: "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form."

It is a widely quoted concept that is visualized in different ways. 

Bruce Lee liked to say that we should "be water." He said, "If you put water into a cup it becomes the cup."

Others, and I believe Bruce also talked about how a cup is only a cup because of the emptiness inside the form.

It is the emptiness that makes the cup useful. Without the emptiness, a cup would merely be a block of ceramic.

The same is true of a glass, a bowl, and you can take this concept on and on.

But to me, it symbolized the practice of Tai Chi (Taiji), and even though that type of quote can be ridiculed by other martial artists who don't understand Taiji, it is actually a good description of the martial side of the art.

When I step out onto a training floor, or out in the yard or in a park, and I begin practicing a form, it is an interpretation of the concepts that provides the frame of the movements, the structure of the body, the spiraling of the limbs and the relaxed internal strength flowing like a wave.

It is all intentional, it has form. But what I am doing as I work to achieve the body mechanics that I am after is not so easy to understand.

I am practicing form to achieve emptiness.

I can hear the MMA guys laughing, but just like the 7th grade girls hurling Satanic accusations at my daughter, they don't understand.

The practice of Taiji involves mastering a structure that allows you to lead an opponent into emptiness.

Using the ground path, developing the buoyancy of peng jin, making micro-adjustments with the kua like a buoy in the ocean, using whole-body movement and Dantien rotation and spiraling to add power to the movement -- these are some of the skills that the form develops (if you have an instructor who will teach you these things). 

Any martial artist can punch and kick. Taiji includes punches and kicks, too, although the real skill in Taiji happens when someone touches you to apply force.

At that moment, all the form practice and the push hands practice and the freestyle work and takedowns with partners -- the practical application of ward-off, rollback, press, push, pluck, shoulder, elbow and other energies and methods -- should pay off in one specific way.

When an opponent puts his hands on you to use force or to put you down, he finds emptiness. You disappear beneath his force and, because the target is no longer there, he goes off-balance and your "form" (structure) and body mechanics take it from there to put him down instead.

I practice and teach Chen style Taiji, Xingyiquan and Bagua Zhang. I don't look at Taiji as a self-defense system that I would use if someone were standing three feet away and preparing to punch me. Taiji would not come into the question at this point. Xingyi would.

Once the punch is on its way toward my face and enters my power zone, Bagua would be a logical choice.

When they grab me, that's when Taiji shines, in my opinion, leading an opponent into emptiness and then lowering the boom. I maintain my mental and physical balance while my attacker loses his. I maintain my structural integrity even as I cause him, with his help, to lose his structure.

Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.

It's a shame so few Taiji students don't stay with it long enough, or have the right instruction, to realize this important concept. It has nothing to do with "cultivating chi." These are mental and physical skills that require as much practice as any fighting art requires for excellence. It's what I try to focus on in my study and my teaching. It doesn't come easily, but it does come when you eventually realize that the goal of all this form work is actually emptiness.

--by Ken Gullette

Try two weeks free in Ken's online internal arts school - live online classes, live personal coaching, and 1,000 video lessons in Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and more. Go to www.internalfightingarts.com 


New "Kung Fu" TV Series Rips the Heart Out of the Original

Kung FuThe new "Kung Fu" TV show strips the heart and morality out of the original, deciding instead of making us think, and giving us a roadmap of how to live a balanced life, it would be much better for modern audiences to appeal to 16-year-old girls and not make them think very much.
 
In the original series, the fight scenes captivated us, but the heart of the series was the morality of the monks. Their Taoist/Zen philosophy gave many of us a wake-up call that there were different ways of looking at the world than through the stained-glass windows of a church. For some of us, it pointed the way toward inner peace and the acceptance and tolerance of others.
 
The producers of the new series have hired an attractive young cast, threw in a sword with magical powers (Holy Green Destiny, Batman) which must be held by its rightful owner (shades of Thor's hammer). The plot is the same as many bad kung-fu films. "You bastard! You killed my teacher!" And they hint at a lot more magic to come.
 
Just what we need. Insert eye roll here.
 
Another thing we don't need: making it appear that you can achieve miraculous kung-fu fighting skills in three short years. Some of us who have studied martial arts for nearly 50 years see just how damaging that idea can be.
 
Kudos to the producers for using an Asian cast. A roundhouse kick to the head, however, for making it so shallow.
 
There is so much they could do. Why not bring the girl back to San Francisco and let her help people overcome their problems and see a better way to live, along with a little butt-kicking along the way?
 
There could also be some insight into the workings of a dysfunctional Chinese-American family, but it would help if, after spending three years learning the secrets of the universe, the lead character returned with a hint that she gained some wisdom along with kung-fu skills, but unfortunately, there is no hint of that wisdom in the dialogue.
 
Instead, I almost expect the second episode to show the lead character shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch.
 
And could someone tell the writers that when an attacker's arm is hideously broken the fight is over? And you know, like if you get kicked in the face five times, a sixth kick is not likely to be needed?
 
People right now are hungry for balance, kindness, and justice, not more magic and another "Tong war." And I hope the series brings more young people to martial arts schools, like the original series and Bruce Lee did. In the meantime, I can only hope the show "finds its legs" after a few episodes and becomes a little deeper. If the first episode of the new series is an indication, the producers appear to have ripped the heart out of the original "Kung Fu" series and are showing it to us beating in their hands before the audience, and the series, dies.

A Trap Door That Collapses Beneath You: An Effective Self-Defense Principle

Fifty years ago this summer, in 1971, I was working for my dad as a laborer in his ornamental iron business. I was 18 years old, had just graduated from high school and was soon to start college. My dad was very mechanical and was an artist with ornamental iron, doing everything from columns and railings to stairways in apartment complexes. I did not inherit his mechanical gene, so I was relegated to painting and helping carry materials.
 
One day, we were working on the third story of a new apartment building in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The third floor balcony had some kind of temporary sheet metal flooring, but on this day, I didn't realize the flooring did not have support under it.
 
I was daydreaming and not being mindful about what I was doing when I went up to the third floor and stepped out on the balcony.
 
As soon as I stepped on it, the flooring gave way beneath my feet -- three stories up. It was as if I had stepped onto a trap door that suddenly, without warning, opened up.
 
To this day, I'm not sure how I did it. With no warning, as I was not paying attention, there was no floor under me and I was falling. In the fraction of a second that I felt myself falling, I reacted. Somehow, I jumped to the beam on the outer edge of the balcony and grabbed hold of some iron work we had installed the week before.
 
The flooring crashed to the ground. I looked down and began shaking inside. I could have been seriously injured or killed if I hadn't reacted without thinking, as soon as the flooring collapsed. But how did I jump when the floor was giving way beneath me? There was nothing to jump from, just sheet metal falling under my feet.
 
It's still a mystery, but maybe it explains why the concept of "empty" is one of my favorite "energies" in Taiji, but this concept is not limited to just Taiji.
 
"Empty force" is called "Kong Jin" in Taiji. It does not mean knocking someone down without touching them, as some less-than-honest people will tell you.
 
Empty 1Empty force means that when an opponent tries to push you or seize you and apply force to you, whatever he is pushing on gives way like the flooring I stepped on, leaving him off-balance and vulnerable to a counter.
 
Sometimes, you can offer your opponent stiffness when they grab you. When you resist, he thinks you are going to continue using muscle-on-muscle, so he continues to use muscular force. Suddenly, you "empty," and he goes off-balance.
 
In the old "Kung-Fu" TV show, they said, "A Shaolin monk, when reached for, cannot be felt." 
 
When an opponent reaches for you, when he exerts force, the target dissolves.
 
There is a popular saying in Taiji; "Leading Into Emptiness."
 
Empty 2What does it mean? It can be self-defense for a physical, verbal or emotional attack.
 
For example, someone hurls an insult at you, wanting to "push your buttons" and make you react. You don't react negatively. You lead their verbal attack into emptiness. It is very good verbal self-defense. It is also a very good social media technique when you encounter someone spewing negativity on Facebook or Twitter to trigger reactions. Don't react with negativity. Lead them into emptiness.
 
Here is a physical example. A boxer like Muhammad Ali would lead his opponents into emptiness by sticking his face out toward the opponent, anticipate the opponent's punch, and when the glove came toward his face, Ali would lean back or slip to the side or go under, leading the punch into emptiness. Ali would use that split-second when the opponent was slightly off-balance to counter-punch.
 
But a third way to lead someone into emptiness is when they grab you to take you down. They always use muscular force, and very often, just emptying and not using force against force will put them off-balance just long enough to take advantage and put them down instead.
 
Empty 3In Photo 1, I'm demonstrating this concept on a larger partner. He is pressing in on me, giving me force.
 
In Photo 2, I take all the tension out of my arm muscles and I step back, causing the support he had in my arms to collapse like the flooring I stepped on 50 years ago.
 
In Photo 3, he has fallen into the emptiness, losing his balance, and I am in position to come down on his neck or head with an elbow.
 
There is more about this on my website for members to watch in the Close-Up Self-Defense video (in the Push Hands section). It is also on the "Close-Up Self-Defense" DVD. 
 
It takes practice to "empty" completely and suddenly so your partner falls into the emptiness. Even though I am "emptying" in the photos here, you can see that I am maintaining my structure and balance. The key is to let the "floor" (the part of the body he is pushing on) collapse under him, putting him off-balance just long enough for you to counter.
 
Practice by having a partner grab you and apply force, as if they want to take you down. Give them resistance for a moment and then completely relax and see what happens. When you collapse that part of your body, maintain your ground, peng, and structure. You can even do it with just one side of your body. Someone pushes on one side, you give that side to them. Empty it and let it go. It often sets them up for a good counter.
 
I still think of that day in 1971 when I do push hands. My goal is to have -- at all times -- the sensitivity that I showed on that morning, when I reacted without thinking, in the blink of an eye, as I took a step and suddenly there was nothing beneath my feet. If I had taken even enough time to think, "Oh crap!" it would have been too late to react.
 
In the meantime, I'm also working to provide my push hands partners with that "Oh, crap!" experience. They usually don't react as quickly as I did, but that's the idea, isn't it?
--by Ken Gullette