An important concept in Xingyiquan is to take your opponent's ground.
Xingyi is not really a defensive art. The goal is not to take an opponent's energy and neutralize it. The purpose of Xingyi is to drive through your opponent like a bowling ball through bowling pins.
But to take ground, you need to build leg strength by practicing taking ground. Step one in that process is to "load" the rear leg.
Take a look at the three images in this post.
In the first image, I am standing tall. If I had to spring forward, it would be difficult.
In the second image, I am loaded into a Xingyi fighting stance. My energy is "sunk" and I am ready. Notice how I am compressed into the rear leg. It is like a spring, ready to release. And my energy is forward, not backward.
In the third image, I am springing forward to strike with Beng Chuan.
As soon as I land, I will load the rear leg again.
Taking ground is not just for Xingyi. Lively footwork and taking ground is important in Taiji and, of course, in Bagua. There are always movements that take ground. When you are fighting multiple opponents, and you become the wire ball that they punch into, you must be close to them.
You can practice taking ground like this:
** Mark your distance. Start from the same spot.
** Load the leg and spring out as far as you can. Mark the spot.
** Maintain your balance. Do not land with your energy over-committed forward, or leaning forward or to the side. Keep working on it until you can spring out and finish in a solid, balanced San Ti stance.
** Go back to where you started and try again. Try to get a little farther this time. Keep repeating to build strength and to increase your distance. It will build your leg strength and your explosive ability to take ground.
In the Xingyi section on the website, there is a video that shows this and another good exercise for building leg strength and "taking ground."
Psychologically, it is damaging to your attacker when you knock him off the spot where he is standing. That is one of the key goals of a Xingyi fighter.
And just as important -- if you are ever in a self-defense situation, you can really surprise someone if you can cover a lot of ground quickly.
One of my students was a police officer in Bettendorf, Iowa. He found himself in a living room, with a violent offender across the room threatening him. Before the offender knew it, my student lunged across the room with the "taking ground" principles we had practiced, and he put the criminal down with Pi Chuan (Splitting Palm).
When the criminal was cuffed, he looked at my student and said, "How did you get to me so FAST!"
My student the cop called to tell me how proud he was that he used Xingyi in a real situation. It would not be the last time.
These arts work.
Check out the highly-detailed Xingyi (Hsing-I) instructional DVDs on the right side of the blog page. Free Shipping Worldwide and a Money-Back Guarantee. Also, buy Two DVDs and receive a Third DVD FREE!
A few days ago, my daughter Shara would have celebrated her 39th birthday. She was born on September 12, 1980.
Six weeks later, on a chilly October morning, the morning after she broke into a big, toothless grin for the first time, causing me, her 3-year old sister Harmony and her mom to burst out laughing, we found her dead in her bed from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Crib death came in the night and took our little red-haired baby girl.
We were devastated, shrouded for a couple of years in grief that felt like a weight vest. Over the years, the grief diminished to a manageable state; life went on, and after being knocked into an emotional hole in the ground, I managed to lift myself up and re-balance.
The philosophical Taoism and Zen thinking that I tried to adopt in the years before Shara's death had put down roots.
This philosophy is not about not feeling. It is not about being passive. It is about feeling fully, but not letting destructive emotions take control.
It is about letting them wash through you and continue moving, opening yourself to other emotions that will come if you persist through the pain.
On Shara's birthday last week, I took my 98-year old neighbor Earl to lunch.
Earl is a World War II vet who fought in the Philippines, carrying a mortar and fighting many battles. He saw friends die, but he came through with only one scratch from a piece of rock shrapnel that a bullet from a Japanese gun kicked up next to him.
Earl returned home after his fighting was done suffering from PTSD. He received help and he recovered, living a good life with his wife, Mary, and raising three sons who all have done well in life. Earl retired many years ago from John Deere & Company.
Nancy and I bought the house across the street from Earl five years ago, about one year after Earl's wife died.
Earl and I developed a friendship that has become one of the most important things in my life.
Sitting in the booth at the family restaurant, I showed him Shara's picture and told him she would have been 39 years old that day.
We talked about Shara, and the horror of burying a child, and then we talked about the last time he saw Mary.
She was sitting up in her bed at the nursing home. Earl had been there all day, and it was time for him to go home and get some rest.
"I love you," he told Mary.
The next morning, he got a call and he went to the nursing home. She was still sitting up in bed, but she was gone.
As Earl told me this story, his chin was quivering and tears came to his eyes.
"A true test of character is the way we deal with loss as we get older," I said. "Losses start piling up. How do we balance ourselves and not let the ups and downs of life capsize us?"
It is a real test, Earl agreed.
I described to Earl how, when my daughter's body was in the casket at the funeral home, I took her out and held her in my arms, sitting near the casket, mourning as visitors came in. It must have been quite shocking to see. I was so grief-stricken that I could not bear the thought of her lying alone in the coffin. Wasn't I supposed to protect her? Isn't that what a father is supposed to do? It felt as if I had failed in the one job that I had.
"She is in a better place," some well-intentioned people would tell me.
"No," I would gently correct them. "The best place for her is with her daddy."
I know they meant well, but that was a stupid thing to say. All they needed to say was, "I'm sorry." Remember that the next time someone you know suffers a loss. Don't tell them its "meant to be," or "they're in a better place." Just say you are sorry and you are here if they need anything.
As I held my daughter's body in my arms, my little Zen voice in the back of my mind was saying, "You might appear as if you have lost your mind, but you haven't. Death is part of life. If you accept the joys and happiness of life, you must accept this, regardless of how unfair it is."
Earl and I talked about this at lunch, and about Mary, and losing a spouse after more than 60 years of marriage.
Is it easier to be the spouse who dies first? Earl thinks that is the easiest route. It is difficult, he said, to live without her.
We agreed that the loss of a spouse is the loss of the past. The loss of a child robs you of the future.
And so, in both cases, and in many other instances of loss in your life -- the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, the loss of money and status -- how do you find your balance again after being knocked down?
The answer for me is to enjoy the good parts of life and to put my head down and persist through the bad parts.
The yin and the yang are ever swirling and mixing and separating. In the best of times, you can enjoy the happiness life brings, but deep inside you know that something negative will happen at some point. It is the nature of things.
When something negative or tragic happens, if you try to accept it as part of life, put your head down and try your best to get through it, the wheel will turn and good things will happen again.
Some losses change you forever. The pain of losing my daughter will never be erased. Earl will feel the pain of losing Mary for the rest of his life.
But I also remember how we laughed at Shara's grin the night before she died. I remember changing her diaper, her eyes staring into mine, trying to understand this new world, and I could see intelligence in her eyes.
Earl laughs about the trips he and Mary took, and how much they loved dancing and hanging out with other couples.
A year after Shara died, Belinda was born, a very funny little girl. She turns 38 this month, and works as a public defender in Cincinnati advocating for abused and neglected children. I can't imagine life without her.
The wheel turned. I kept my head down and walked on.
These deep losses have changed us, but in this universe, change is the only thing you can depend on. Everything changes. Why should Earl or I be any different?
The art of self-defense takes many forms. Sometimes, an attack may come from a person with misguided intentions. An attack can be physical and it can be verbal or emotional.
Sometimes, self-defense requires something other than martial skill or people skills. It requires the internal, psychological strength to handle what can seem to be an attack by nature itself, even though it is not an attack; it is simply life happening, throwing us off-balance and taking us to the ground.
Earl and I have almost 165 years between us. Persistence and determination, we agreed, were keys to re-balancing. In my view, the centering skills that I have taken from my philosophy have given me the ability to realize that nothing life throws at me is personal. None of us gets out of this alive.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Because good and bad happens to all people. How you deal with it is what counts.
One of the reasons my friendship with Earl is so precious is that he and I both realize it is not going to last very long. With some of my health issues I could go first, but in all likelihood I will be the one left behind to regroup. He knows this too, and he says he is ready to go if the time comes, which he expects will happen before long. We look forward to the time we spend together having lunch, sitting outside in front of his garage, or talking in his living room.
You cannot live in the past, whether your past is happy or tragic. You can work and plan for the future, but you have to understand that nothing is guaranteed.
And so we are left with this moment; this point in time. And on this day, at this moment, I was having lunch with my 98-year old buddy, talking about our lives, both good and bad, sharing the occasional off-color joke, and just enjoying each other's company.
Life is good.
After a few minutes talking about Shara and Mary, I said, "Let's talk about something lighter so we won't start crying in our food."
He laughed. "That's a good idea," he said.
So we started talking about the battles he saw in World War II.
How's THAT for lighter conversation?
Chen Huixian Workshop Nov. 1-3 in Madison Wisconsin Will Teach Chen Taiji Straight Sword, Silk-Reeling and More
Chen Huixian will teach the Chen Taiji Straight Sword form at a workshop in Madison, Wisconsin on November 1-3, 2019. She will also review and give corrections on Zhan Zhuang, Silk-Reeling, and Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist).
I will be there and I hope you'll join me to learn from a highly-skilled member of the Chen family.
Chen Huixian is a great teacher, an "in chamber" disciple of her uncle, Chen Zhenglei. Her other uncles include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.
Her workshops are an outstanding experience. She gives a lot of personal attention to students, is actually interested in the people who attend, she answers questions, and she offers corrections and coaching that will move your skills forward. She speaks English, which means there is no need for an interpreter between what she says and what you hear.
Her workshops are traditional and serious. You will eat bitter. But she has a sense of humor that adds an element of fun that is lacking in some workshops. Laughter is not uncommon when Chen Huixian is in the room. It's a refreshing experience.
I am not bashful about my enthusiasm for Chen Huixian's teaching. Each time I have trained with her, I believe I have gotten better.
The workshop is sponsored by Patrick Rogne, owner/instructor at Ancient Root Taiji in Madison.
You can sign up for part of the weekend or, like me, sign up for all of it. Here is how the training will break down over three days:
Friday, Nov. 1 from 6:00-9:00
-- Zhan Zhuang and Silk-Reeling practice and corrections.
Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9:00 a.m. to Noon and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00
-- Chen Straight Sword form
Sunday, Nov. 3 from 9:00 a.m. to Noon
-- Chen Straight Sword form
Sunday, Nov. 3 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00
-- Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist) review and corrections
Interested in joining me in Madison? Go to this link for video and for more information on the workshop, the location, and a place to reserve your spot:
Throughout our lives, as we work and play, develop relationships, raise children and try to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, moments pass without being noticed.
One moment after another ticks by, gone forever, and most of the time we give it no thought. We are just living our lives.
There is always tomorrow. There is always next year.
And one by one, the moments slip away.
My father, Ken Gullette Sr. died 30 years ago today. He was 61 years old.
I was 36 at the time. I am now five years older than he was when he died. When I think about dying at age 61, I realize just how short his life really was.
Last night, I was in the bathroom and glanced into the mirror. I saw my dad looking back at me.
It seems the older I get, the more I see him in my face; a living reminder that his genes are a key part of me.
Fortunately, the memories are part of me, too.
The first thing I remember him saying to me was, "Kenny, are we buddies?"
He had a wonderful, goofy, Southern sense of humor. He grew up in tiny Wilmore, Kentucky during the Great Depression. Life was hard back then, but he always had a smile on his face.
He joined the Marines in 1945 at age 17 and he was told he would die during the invasion of Japan. But we dropped the bomb, ended the war, and my dad was allowed to grow up.
He had an Indian motorcycle as a young man, and would stand up on the seat and ride it down the street in Wilmore to impress the girls. He was a good-looking guy.
I remember the day I realized my father's age for the first time. I was walking down a sidewalk in Wilmore with my mother and sisters and I remember realizing and saying, "Daddy is 29 years old." That would have been 1957.
He was an entrepreneur, and he wanted to work for himself. He started ornamental iron businesses and did iron work on houses, apartment complexes and more. I can still see some of his work when I drive through my hometown of Lexington.
One time around 1967, his business ran into trouble. Contractors weren't paying him, he couldn't meet his bills, and he filed for bankruptcy.
After the bankruptcy hearing, he came home from the court with twenty dollars in his pocket. He was smiling.
The next day, he went out and started a new business.
His resilience was amazing to me even then. As years passed, I realized that I inherited it. And, of course, that sense of humor. Everyone he met was a friend, until they proved otherwise. My dad never met a stranger, and greeted everyone with a smile.
I am the same way, and I am grateful to him for giving me that trait.
We used to talk about everything, and he shared with me his sense of wonder about the world. I remember sitting out at night, and he was looking at the stars and the moon. He would marvel at how far away they were, and how long it took the light to reach us.
"We aren't seeing that star right now," he would say. "We are seeing it as it was millions of years ago."
And he would be in awe.
That sense of wonder rubbed off on me.
He was a hopeless romantic. One of the warmest memories I have of my parents comes from 1959, when my father put a romantic record on the record player in the living room and slow-danced with my mother around the room. He would have been 30 or 31 and she would have been about 25. As a first-grader, it made me feel really good inside.
But it was his sense of humor that I loved the most. My father made me laugh my entire life. Here is a typical joke that he told.
"Kenny," he would say, "did you know that when I was young I wanted to study law?"
"No, I didn't know that," I said.
"But I didn't because I found out I was against it."
He pronounced "against" the way a hillbilly would -- "uh-GINN."
And he would laugh his head off at his own joke. I would laugh, too.
He developed congestive heart failure in the late 1980s, and finally, during a hospital stay, doctors told him he also had lung cancer, probably from chain-smoking since he was a teenager.
He was given two to four weeks to live. I rushed in from Sioux City to spend a couple of days with him and say goodbye.
When he was dying, I had been through some ups and some serious downs for several years. I was not in a happy marriage. Our second daughter, Shara, died of crib death nine years earlier and devastated me.
My dad had his first heart attack at age 50, around the time Shara was born. The first time he saw his granddaughter was when she was lying in her coffin.
I worked in TV news, which can be pretty brutal. I was still struggling to make my mark in the business and found myself in Sioux City, Iowa.
He kept seeing life slap me down, and he kept seeing me get back up and do a little better than before.
But now he was dying in August of 1989. As I sat next to his hospital bed in Louisville, trying to savor every moment, knowing it would be the last time we were together, he reached over and gripped my arm tightly.
"Rock of Gibralter," he said.
I didn't ask what he meant. I knew what he meant.
My father never gave me any advice about school. He only earned a G.E.D. He didn't give me advice about work or careers. He spent money as fast as he earned it, so he was not a good role model for financial matters.
When my father died, he did not leave his children any money. I got his U.S. Marine uniform, a beat-up Timex watch, his wallet with photos and ID in it, and a leather belt showing a hunter with his dog, and the words "Ken Gullette Coon Hunter" etched into the leather.
That is what my father left me.
But we were buddies. Sometimes, that's enough. Those memories, and that legacy, does not run out. It stays deposited in the heart. As time passes, the love compounds and continues to grow.
He was the nicest man I ever knew, and the most honest, too. I never heard one story, or witnessed one event, when he cheated someone or was dishonest in any way.
I am lucky that I had a chance to tell my father goodbye, and to tell him what a great father he was. Walking out of the hospital room to fly back to Sioux City, knowing I would never see him again, is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
In the 36 years I knew my father, we never had a cross word between us. He got mad at me when I acted out as a child. Once, he gave me a spanking after guests left because I kept playing "earthquake" with my sisters' doll house while they were setting it up with their little girlfriends. I was about seven years old. He did not give spankings very often. It was not something you forgot.
I guess I deserved it.
The day before he died, I called dad on the phone in his hospital room. We had been talking every day, but during the last couple of days, his body had begun to shut down. He didn't need any pain medication. He was not in a talkative mood.
"Well," I said, "I guess we've said it all."
"I guess so," he replied.
The next day, my cousin Larry called from the hospital.
"Kenny," he said, "your dad passed away."
We drove from Sioux City, where I was the news director of KCAU-TV, to the funeral home in Nicholasville, Kentucky. It's a long drive and we had to stop for the night.
As soon as I reached Nicholasville, I had to pull the car over. I was hyperventilating at the thought of seeing my father's body.
He was laid out at Betts & West Funeral Home, in the same room where services were held for my grandparents and for my daughter. I was overcome with emotion when I walked in. For about ten minutes I held back, unable to gather the strength to see him that way.
I lost my buddy.
We returned home after the funeral, a long drive back to Sioux City. On the evening we got home, I went to the local high school track and ran a couple of miles to try and clear my head. Then I sat on a hill next to the track.
In the sky, there was a bright, clear moon, and I sat in the darkness, looking at the moon, pondering the universe, and what a wonderful journey we are on. This life is finite. There is an ending.
It dawned on me, sitting on the hill and looking into the night sky as he and I had done many times, that I could live another 60 years and never see him again.
Now, 30 years has passed.
I was a little bit wrong about my prediction. I do see him. I see him in my face sometimes. I hear him in some of his silly sayings that I still repeat. And I hear him laugh occasionally when I laugh.
Life sure does throw challenges in your way, doesn't it? As I have gotten older, I have decided that a true test of character is how you deal with the losses that pile up as the decades pass.
In the years since his death, I have lost marriages, I have lost jobs, but I have gained a lot, too. Few losses are as profound as losing my daddy.
I would love to talk with him today with 66 years behind me. I would ask why he did this, why he did that, why we moved to Florida when we did, and why we moved back to Lexington. What was it like for him to marry a teenage girl and take her from the orphanage where she grew up?
My mom was a good person who was capable of sudden rage. I would love to ask him when that first surfaced, what he thought, and how he put up with it as long as he did.
But most of all, I would like to ask him where he has been during the past thirty years.
I have a feeling his answer would be, "I don't know, but it sure is peaceful and quiet."
And then I'm sure he would grin and crack a joke. And I would laugh.
For years after my father died, he would appear in dreams. They would almost always play out the same way.
In the dreams, my father would suddenly be standing there. I would run to him, hug him, and I would always wake up with tears running down my face and into my pillow.
One particular dream has haunted me for the past 20 years or more. Perhaps haunted is the wrong word. It has stayed with me. It has become a part of my outlook.
I was at the Louisville Fairgrounds in the dream, and suddenly, my dad was standing a few feet away. I ran to him, put my arms around him and whispered four words in his ear before I woke up crying again.
What I whispered, I understand now, was a message to myself -- a message everyone should realize as we live each day and as the moments pass into oblivion. It's a message that I wish I had thought about a little more when I was younger, busy with work and family, and when I had the opportunity to spend more time with my father.
We always think there will be more time. That is not always true. And sometimes the moments pass by, forever carrying away the things and the people you love.
The four words I whispered in my dad's ear in the dream, as I hugged him tight and struggling to speak through the tears, were these:
"Every moment is precious."
And then I woke up.
Learning from a Traditional Xingyi Teacher -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Jon Nicklin
There are a lot of commercial martial arts schools in China, but according to my most recent guest on the Internal Fighting Arts podcast, Jon Nicklin, the best kung-fu teachers in China are "traditional" teachers.
Most traditional teachers teach small groups of dedicated students. They teach at their homes, or in nearby fields or parks.
If you want the real goods, you have to develop a personal relationship with the teacher. Most of the large groups practicing in the public parks in the big cities are "follow me" classes, where instruction is superficial.
Jon Nicklin moved from London to Shanghai several years ago and quickly found Dai Xueqi, the leading instructor of Song style Xinqyiquan in Shanghai.
Dai Xueqi is a business owner, so most of his teaching is done at or near his home on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I love talking with dedicated martial artists who go to great lengths to study these arts. Jon Nicklin is one of those people.
You can listen to his interview -- the 44th edition of the podcast -- through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Audello, and other podcast services.
Here is a link to the podcast on Stitcher. You can listen on your computer or download the file. Please share this with others who might be interested.
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The top image shows a mistake that I see a lot. In fact, there is a good chance you are making this mistake in your forms, especially Bagua and Taiji.
I spent several years making this mistake and I was never called on it.
Then, I was training with Chen Huixian and her husband, Michael, and they pointed it out. I was doing "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar" and it was pointed out that my rear leg was collapsed.
In the top photo, my right leg is collapsing. I have lost my peng.
As you can see in the upper image, my stability and strength is far less with a collapsed leg. I cannot "defend from all directions."
It is a lot more difficult to maintain peng in the legs. It helps to relax and sit deeper into the kua, and it requires a lot of mental focus until you break the habit of collapsing.
That one bit of advice changed a lot of my stances. And now, I see people collapsing their legs a lot; even some people who are called masters.
Sometimes, there is no one to tell a master that he has gotten lazy, or perhaps his teacher did not teach him this particular thing.
Don't have "noodle legs."
Try to find a mirror so you can watch to see if your legs are collapsing. Watch for it in all movements. In Bagua, I see it a lot in movements such as "Sweep the Rider from the Horse" and similar movements.
It happens often when you are shifting weight -- the knee on the non-weight-bearing leg will collapse.
Remember to maintain peng throughout the entire body at all times.
The photos are taken from my book, "Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi." If you don't have it, you can click the link and buy it through my website or through Amazon.
--by Ken Gullette
The photo shows a practice tip that is on my Bagua Basic Skills DVD and in the Bagua section of my website. It shows me walking the circle with dumbbells in my hands.
One of the traditional training methods for old school Bagua students was to do this with a brick or a stone in each hand. Now, we have dumbbells, so we can use those.
This not only helps develop circle-walking, but it is a weight-training exercise to help build your arm and shoulder strength, not to mention leg strength from circle-walking with the extra weight.
A Huge Fallacy in the Internal Arts
I have heard many people in the internal arts say that weight-training is a violation of internal principles. Even doing push-ups is a violation. They believe you should only do Taijiquan, for instance, and nothing more.
If you practice an internal art like Taiji, the argument goes, it is all the fitness training that you need.
One guy who claims to be a "master" instructor of Tai Chi told me that he went to China and saw masters pulling tires full of rocks, but not with muscular force. He said they were "soft as a baby."
I expected him to sell me a time-share in Florida after that.
I think this type of belief is one of the problems in the internal arts. I am going to use the ground and peng and proper mechanics to pull a tire full of rocks, but I am also going to need some healthy muscle tissue, too.
Simply doing an act like that is the same as weight-training, isn't it?
I'll bet that the martial artists who are dragging tires filled with rocks began with tires that only had a few rocks, and kept building up more and more as they got stronger and stronger.
Weight-training, my friends. But the public doesn't see the training - only the results.
There have always been myths and superstitions in physical activities. Sports are full of superstitions.
Coaches used to tell players to avoid sex the night before a game. "It will sap your strength," they would say.
Remember that a lot of these old beliefs came from a culture that believed if a man had sex with a LOT of women every night and did not ejaculate, he could absorb the energy of the women and achieve immortality.
But if he ejaculated, his chi would be lost.
You will have to forgive me for being skeptical about this type of thing. I hope you are skeptical, too.
Besides, I couldn't do that if I tried. Nancy would really be steamed if I absorbed another woman's energy. :)
Strength Training Helps You Live Longer
It is certainly true that Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua are great physical activities. They get you moving and they have been proven in clinical trials to improve leg strength, balance, flexibility and more.
Physical exercise can also reduce blood pressure and helps prevent many diseases. The internal arts are physical activities. It is common sense that the same benefits apply, and clinical trials have confirmed it.
But according to the Harvard Medical School, strength training is crucial to maintaining a high quality of life, especially as you get older.
You will lose at least a quarter of your muscular strength between the ages of 30 and 70. You will lose half of your muscular strength by the age of 90.
I have always done cross-training. Doing Taiji, or Xingyi, or Bagua, or all three is simply not enough for overall conditioning and strength.
What Happens As We Age
Here is how it works. The less weight-training you do, the less muscle you have. As you age, your muscle mass diminishes.
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you are at rest. When you burn more calories at rest, you gain less fat.
If you lose muscle mass, as we all do as we age, you burn fewer calories at rest. You get flabbier as you burn fewer calories.
It becomes a vicious cycle -- less muscle means you burn fewer calories and build more fat. You can do less and less and your strength declines.
Cross-Training is Common Sense
You can do Taiji for two hours a day and you will STILL not be in shape to play a pick-up basketball game.
You can practice forms every day and then try to go three rounds of sparring and see how far you get.
Doing any of the three internal arts is a leg workout. Zhan Zhuan (Standing Stake) is great for the legs. The thighs of the Chen family are like tree trunks. That really helps longevity.
But the upper body strength is the issue here. Doing an internal martial art does not work the upper body enough to help maintain the strength you need for a better quality of life.
Weapons Training Can Substitute
Have you ever used a combat steel straight sword or broadsword? How about a combat-strength kuandao? Have you ever used double broadswords made of combat steel?
Those are serious weapons, and they are heavy.
Doing a weapons form is a weight-training exercise if you have the right weapon.
But in the modern age, most of us practice with lighter weapons -- practice weapons -- if we practice weapon forms at all. A lot of people don't do weapons forms.
The Bottom Line - There Is Nothing Soft About the "Soft" Arts
See that photo at the top of the post? It should tell you all you need to know about strength-training and martial arts.
In the old days, if you were going to defend your village from bandits, or if you were going to be hired by another village to train their young men to fight, I will bet you a dollar to a donut that you would not be "soft as a baby."
You would be hard as a rock. And tough as nails.
And you would do everything to make your body as strong as possible.
The Chen family men were hired out as guards. When things hit the fan, I don't think they worried very much about using the proper energy with the proper amount of softness.
My common sense, and my experience defending myself, tells me that all they really thought about was breaking the opponent as quickly as possible.
That sort of fighting ability requires not only strong legs but the type of upper body strength and overall conditioning that comes from cross-training -- from running, from hard work, from chopping wood, from lifting weights, from jumping rope, from doing push-ups and chin-ups and leg lifts and crunches.
The old school internal arts masters and students in China did not have gymnasiums or weight benches or racks of dumbbells or running tracks.
They worked the fields, the chopped wood, they lifted things, they were very, very active. And they practiced their arts. These were people who were accustomed to pain, hunger and very hard work.
There was nothing soft about them. And there was nothing soft about their fighting.
When I was near death at the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, and doctors tore a pulmonary vein and pierced my heart accidentally with a wire, some top doctors told me that the only reason I survived was the physical shape I was in.
I weighed 206 before I got sick. I weighed 156 by the time I left the hospital. I lost a lot of muscle mass and have never gained it back. But I survived.
I know the value of strength training from a variety of perspectives. Do not neglect it. It may have saved my life and it can save yours.
Having strong, healthy muscles does not, in any way, prevent you from achieving the relaxed power of the internal arts. All you need are the proper body mechanics and the ability to avoid tension. You gain that skill by practicing and training your body, not by avoiding strength training.
A person with weak muscles has the same problems learning these arts as anyone. They are tense, too. They just aren't as strong.
My ideal body shape was always Bruce Lee, not Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always have weight-trained with lighter weights and did more repetitions. That way, my muscles weren't bulky, they were toned and ready for action.
So I recommend a full range of conditioning, including all types of cardio plus push-ups, crunches, chin-ups, and weight training -- not for bulk, but for toning and for health.
It is a much more balanced approach, and isn't balance what the internal arts is all about?
My favorite Zen joke is this one:
How many Zen masters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
The answer: A green tree in a quiet forest.
I love telling that joke to people who don't know Eastern philosophy, just to see the puzzled looks on their faces.
A Quiet Mind is a Difficult Goal
The chaos that our minds endure each day is no joke.
We are all on the move every day. We are bombarded with messages, texts, emails, photos and social media posts, advertising and calls. If you watch the news or see online news headlines, the negativity can really disrupt your mental tranquility, if you have any to begin with.
When we take time to practice our martial arts -- which is too little time for most people -- our minds are still jumbled with activities at work, deadlines, what to pick up at the store, what our spouses and partners need, or what our children are up to.
Or, we just dive into our practice and start working on a form or techniques.
But if you are going to get the most out of your internal practice, you must quiet your mind.
A quiet mind is at the center of internal arts practice.
A quiet mind does not mean a blank mind.
It does not mean a mind that is detached and "meditating."
A quiet mind is a state of calmness and attentiveness, when you are able to "get in the zone" and focus on one thing.
To get to a state of mental quietness, you often need to spend some time meditating and calming yourself, mentally and physically.
A Quiet Mind is Important Even in Self-Defense
You learn a lot by competing in tournaments. I learned the importance of a quiet mind when I competed in sparring.
A lot of guys would face off with me and appear angry. If I got a good shot in on them, they would often act angry.
In Chicago tournaments, even though they were technically "point" tournaments, there was a LOT of contact. Gashes were opened up, ribs broken, and I even had a throat injury when an opponent punched me in the throat. He was not penalized and the match went on. It was often brutal.
It got to the point that I realized the angrier and more frustrated they became, the easier it was for me to win.
And that is when I began intentionally calming my mind during competition. I got to the point where I did not even keep score in my head.
Every time the judge told us to get ready, I relaxed my mind. The goal was to simply deal with my opponent at that time, whatever he did.
A quiet mind that is not concerned about winning or losing can focus a lot better on the flow of the situation.
Whoever scored a point did not matter as much. When my opponent scored, I would say, "Nice kick," or "Great punch."
And then I would deal with the next point.
I enjoyed the matches a lot more when I let it flow, and not having thoughts careening and bouncing through my mind, and the desire of winning, allowed me to quiet my mind.
My Advice for the Start of Your Practice
At the start of your practice, take five minutes for Standing Stake (Zhan Zhuang) or any of the Qigong exercises in the Qigong section of the website (or DVD).
I generally choose Standing. I put part of my mind on my Dantien and I focus on energy coming into my body and to my Dantien as I inhale.
When I exhale, I imagine the energy gathering and growing warmer in my Dantien.
Any stray thoughts or concerns that pop into my head are allowed to streak through and leave, as I calm the mind. If I find other thoughts intruding, I don't criticize myself, I just re-focus on my breathing and the mental visualization of the energy coming in and storing at the Dantien, getting warmer.
Sometimes, after a couple of minutes, I change, and when I exhale I imagine a ball of energy going from my Dantien up and through my right arm, across the space between my hands, into my left hand and through the arm, returning to the Dantien. All this is done while exhaling.
On inhalation, I imagine more energy coming to the Dantien.
After a while, other thoughts might stop entering and your mind feels more calm.
At that point, launch into a form and remain mindful to the calmness and the body mechanics of the movement. Stay focused on the "intent" of each movement and the proper mechanics of the body.
Study the Internal Arts Like a College Course
If you are taking a history course in college, and you sit down at your desk to read the next chapter, you will not make much progress if your mind cannot focus on the material. Your comprehension of what you are reading will be limited.
The same is true of the internal arts.
It is my opinion that the health benefits of the internal arts come from:
** Exercise that boosts your cardio, flexibility and muscle strength,
** Mindfulness, calming and centering that reduces physical and mental stress.
Some of your best progress and insights will be gained not during a class, but during your own personal practice. But it will only come if you quiet the mind and focus thoughtfully and deeply on the material you are practicing.
Let Me Know How it Goes
If you do not currently focus on quieting the mind at the start of your practice, try it the next few times and let me know how it feels.
We can lose sight of this in our hectic modern lives. The internal arts are intended to help you bring it back.
by Ken Gullette
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We do exercises with a partner to learn how to establish and maintain the ground path and combine it with peng jin.
But some people who see a photo like the one here make the mistake of thinking, "That's useless. You can't use that in a fight."
In this photo, Colin is pushing into my right elbow and I am grounding the push into the ground through my left foot.
Colin is not supposed to push with too much force, although as you can see in the picture, this particular drill is used to show that you can, in fact, set up a pretty strong structure using the ground.
The ground path is generally practiced without too much force because the idea is not to make you Superman, to meet force with force.
The idea is to provide internal strength to your body structure, but as you hold that strength in, for example, a self-defense situation, your goal will not be to meet force with force, you will learn to maintain your structure as you adapt to incoming force, neutralize it and overcome it.
The beach ball situation in the Internal Strength DVD is the answer. When I jump on the ball in the pool, it gives, but it maintains its structural integrity, the pressure builds and there is a point when the ball springs back and spins me into the water. It doesn't meet force with force but it wins, anyway.
So by practicing the ground path exercises, the goal is to learn to maintain that structural integrity when force comes in. Maintaining that structure through all the movements of the form is the next goal, and then you apply it to push hands and other self-defense concepts and applications.
On my website, www.internalfightingarts.com, I take you step-by-step through internal skills from basic to advanced in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua. Try two weeks free and start (or continue) your journey in these fascinating and complex arts.