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Internal Fighting Arts Logo 250Each week on Friday I send an email with a valuable training tip that can transform your practice of Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, or Qigong.

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Say No to Noodle Legs -- Do Not Collapse Your Legs in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Collapsed Leg 4-BestSee the two images here in this post?
 
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.
 
Collapsed Leg 2In the lower image, I am maintaining peng through the legs.
 
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.
 

Can You Lift Weights and Do Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua?

Bagua Pole 3The 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?

A Quiet Mind is Crucial for the Practice of Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua

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
 
Ken-Gullette-Toughman-3
Ken Gullette (blue shirt) in a full-contact match.
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
 
Standing 3At 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
 
Try TWO WEEKS FREE on my membership website and have instant access to more than 850 video lessons teaching you Chen Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Qigong Step-by-Step with No Mystical Mumbo Jumbo! Click this link to find out more!
 

The Ground Path is Step One in Building a Strong Body Structure for Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Internal Strength CoverThe first concept I introduce new students to is the ground path.

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.

PengThe 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.


Is Your Mind Quiet Enough for Tai Chi? An Interview with Instructor Michael Dorgan

Michael Dorgan
Michael Dorgan

Is your mind quiet enough to do Tai Chi?

In the latest edition of my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, I interview Michael Dorgan, a Hunyuan Taijiquan instuctor and owner of Hunyuan Martial Arts Academy of San Jose in California.

Michael is a disciple of the late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang. He has also studied with Wong Jack Man, George Xu, Zhang Xue Xin, Feng Xiuqian and Chen Xiang.

Michael was a correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers stationed in Beijing in 1999 when he met Feng Zhiqiang.

In 1980, Michael wrote the article about the Bruce Lee/Wong Jack Man fight that eventually sparked the movie "Birth of the Dragon."

Michael talks with me about training with Wong Jack Man, Michael's opinion about the fight, his training in Chen Hunyuan Taiji, and the importance of a quiet mind and a virtuous character if someone is to attain high-level skill in this art.

Michael's website is www.taichisanjose.com

Here is a link to the podcast on Audello. Listen online or download the file:

http://internalfightingarts.audello.com/internal-fighting-arts-43-michael-dorgan/

You can also play it here (below) or find it on other podcast distributors, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

 

Practice Tip -- You Kneed to Read This

Chen Taiji SteppingI 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.

Connecting with the Yang Family -- an Interview with Holly Sweeney-Hillman

Holly-Sweeney-Hillman-Sword1One of my favorite reasons to do my Internal Fighting Arts Podcast is the enjoyment I get when I talk with dedicated martial artists.

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.

 

 

 


Seattle Taiji Instructor Derryl Willis - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

DerrylI 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.