The Best Part of Teaching Online is the Relationships You Build

Michael Rosch 2022
With Michael Rosch (center) and Nancy at a restaurant during his visit.

I began doing live online classes for members of my website when Covid hit in 2020. Finally, an app like Zoom made it very easy to do.

One of my favorite aspects of doing live classes is the relationships and friendships that I build with the people who attend. I am blown away by the fact that I can be in Ilinois and do a class with people who are in Germany or Sweden or anywhere, with the advantage of being able to see each other move and provide instruction and feedback.

One of the friends I have made through these classes is Michael Rosch. He lives in the German city of Essen and began attending my live classes in 2020. He has a great sense of humor, and I tend to enjoy laughter in my classes and tend to crack silly jokes, so we hit it off pretty quickly.

Michael works for Bayer, and last week he came to the U.S. for a conference in St. Louis, about a five-hour drive from my house. This past weekend, he drove up to meet me, hang out and practice.

It was a great weekend. We had meals together, practiced Chen style Taiji, and met my friend John Morrow, who lets me use his school to shoot videos for my website.On Sunday, he practiced with me and Colin Frye, who Michael had seen in many of my instructional videos.

Michael Rosch and Colin 2022-2
Michael Rosch shows Colin Frye some of the Taiji method he is studying with Falk Heinisch in Germany

A couple of years ago, after he had begun learning from me, Michael wanted to begin studying Taiji in a school in Essen, but he was unsure where to go. He said there was one school doing Chen style in the lineage of Chen Yu. I urged him to check it out. He enrolled and began studying with Falk Heinisch, whose teacher is Nabil Ranne of Berlin.

After a few weeks, Michael suggested that Nabil would be a good guest for my podcast. I contacted Nabil, we did the podcast (listen to it via this link) and I was so impressed with his humble personality that I did two private online lessons with him. I had been very curious about Chen Yu. It's clear by watching him that he is doing something different than what I have been taught, but I couldn't identify what it was. As a disciple of Chen Yu, Nabil taught the method. After the two private lessons, I enrolled in his online live Yilu class. Since that time, I have studied Yilu and Erlu with Nabil, and I am trying to improve in his method. It is giving my Taiji a new dimension.

It's amazing how things happen. Covid forced a lot of martial arts teachers online. Because of that, I met Michael Rosch and he helped me discover Nabil Ranne and begin learning the Chen Zhaokui/Chen Yu method. 

It was wonderful meeting Michael last weekend and showing him around part of the Quad Cities. Nancy enjoyed meeting him, too, even though our home is still a mess as we have our collapsed ceilings repaired.

It was a lot of fun and very informative to practice with someone who had been able to receive so much hands-on training in this Taiji method. I was honored that he would want to visit me, but in the end, I think I learned more from him during his visit than he learned from me. Keep that just between us, okay?

I started my online school because I received messages for years from people around the world asking how they could study when their were no teachers of Chen Taiji, Xingyi or Bagua in their area. I started my website many years before Zoom, and the live online capability has made the website even stronger. I love seeing people improve, often during a live online class. But in the end, it is the deep, positive friendships I have made that gives me the most satisfaction. What a great guy Michael Rosch is, and what a fun weekend! All I can say is "danke schoen," and I'm sorry we couldn't order any Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte in the restaurants we visited.

-- by Ken Gullette

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50 Years Ago Tonight the Amazing Kreskin Gave Me a Lesson in Critical Thinking

Kreskin2
The Amazing Kreskin
50 years ago tonight, on Sept. 5, 1972, the Amazing Kreskin helped me improve my critical thinking skills and become more of a person who needs real evidence before believing something. You know, a skeptic.
 
Kreskin was very famous at this point. He appeared on major TV shows doing his act as a mentalist and a "mind reader." I was on the student newspaper at Eastern Kentucky University and I arranged an interview with Kreskin after his performance.
 
I was 19 years old and believed in ESP, all kinds of psychic phenomena, channeling the dead -- I believed it all. When my buddy Eddie told me his karate teacher could slice his arm with a knife and not bleed, I believed it. But Kreskin helped change that.
 
In his performance on stage, he would read the minds of people in the audience, or so it seemed. He called people on stage and claimed to hypnotize them. He called a group of students up and I was one of them. It was really exhiliarating to be part of the show with Kreskin and about nine other students.
 
"When I clap my hands," Kreskin told us, "you are going to begin clapping and you won't be able to stop until I say stop." He then clapped his hands and we began applauding. I looked at the other students on the stage. We were all clapping our hands. This went on for about 20 seconds. The audience was laughing and enjoying it.
 
Then I realized, "Wait a minute. I'm not hypnotized. I can stop if I want."
 
So I stopped clapping. All the other students onstage continued to clap and I realized that I was going to be the only a--hole up there who wasn't clapping. So I started clapping again, and I kept it up until he commanded us to stop.
 
It dawned on me that nobody who went onstage was hypnotized. If he called someone onstage, and suggested the person would bark like a dog when he snapped his fingers, he was giving them permission to act out. So they did. Every time. They were in the spotlight.
 
So when I realized onstage that I wasn't hypnotized, I stopped clapping but the peer pressure, all those students in the audience staring at us had an impact on me. I also didn't want Kreskin to look as if he had failed at hypnotizing me. So I began clapping again.
 
After his performance, I went backstage to his dressing room and interviewed him. It was a short interview, and when I asked if he would read my mind he said he was too tired. At one point, I cracked a joke, and he laughed and slapped my leg so hard it left a red hand imprint. It wasn't so much a brush with greatness as a slap with greatness. I walked away that night to write my story with a new perspective on belief and manipulation.
 
When I began studying the internal arts, I encountered a lot of the same type of thing. The teacher tells the class they are going to do a certain thing because of his qi power and they do it. One of my teachers stood in the middle of the room and said as we ran at him, he would drop on the floor, draw a little circle in the air to control our qi, and we would fall over him instead of being able to stop and pound him.
 
One by one, we ran toward him, and each person rolled over him when he ducked. When my turn came, and I was running at him, I knew it was another Kreskin moment. When he fell to the floor and drew his silly circle in the air with his finger, I could stop and pound him. But could I do that to my teacher? And make him look like he didn't have qi power? No way. So like all the other students, I dived over him and did a shoulder roll on the other side.
 
No martial artist wants me to be his partner when he is faking qi powers these days. It would not go well for him. Homey don't play dat anymore.
 
It was the beginning of the end for me and the teacher who did this. And when martial arts magazines began showing "qi masters" knocking down students without touching them, or making them bounce and hop away just by touching them, my $5,000 Challenge was born. All because of what Kreskin did to me 50 years ago tonight. Kreskin is still alive. I wish him the best. Thanks for such an important lesson all those years ago. As a martial artist it has been very useful.
--by Ken Gullette

Remaining Centered When the Ceiling Collapses

IMG_0135Do you know the story of the Buddha and the 84 problems?

The Buddha was passing through a village and a farmer wanted to ask some questions. The farmer asked if the Buddha could make it rain so his crops would grow. The Buddha said, "No, I cannot help you with that."

The farmer asked if the Buddha could get his son not to move away from the farm to the city, so the farmer would have someone to help him with his crops. The Buddha said, "No, I cannot help you with that."

The farmer told the Buddha that he owed money to some people, and asked the Buddha if he could get the people to stop demanding payment until the farmer could save more money. The Buddha said, "No, I cannot help you with that."

The farmer was getting angry. "What good is Buddhism if it can't help me with these problems?"

The Buddha said, "Everyone has 83 problems. I can't help you with those. I can, however, help you with the 84th problem."

The farmer thought for a moment and asked, "What the hell is the 84th problem?"

The Buddha replied, "Thinking you should not have 83 problems."

Nancy and I narrowly escaped serious injury almost two weeks ago when our living room and dining room ceiling collapsed with no warning.

We had been drinking coffee and reading the paper at the dining room table, as we do every Sunday morning. At around 9:00 a.m. I decided to go to my office to prepare for a video shoot for my website. Nancy hit the shower.

About seven minutes later, the house shook with a loud CRASH! At first, I thought Nancy fell in the shower, but then I noticed the crash lasted a bit too long for that.

I stepped out of my office, looked up the hallway and saw what you see in these pictures. 

The sheet rock and insulation came down. I tried to pick up a large piece of the sheet rock and it was heavier than I expected. That's when I realized how lucky we were. Nancy often goes to the couch to look at her laptop at that time of morning on Sunday. If she had been there, she would have been hurt (or worse).

I went to where she was and tried not to alarm her. I said, "Nancy, we have a problem."

We walked down the hall to survey the damage. We were both stunned, and immediately, my decades of training kicked in and I centered myself. 

We have our homeowners insurance through State Farm. A couple of people with State Farm told us that our policy doesn't cover ceiling collapse, especially if it was caused by "shoddy workmanship." And apparently, houses built in our area during the 1970s sometimes had ceilings that were nailed up, not secured with screws. Over time, those nails can loosen and the sheet rock can fall. 

The day after it happened, Nancy called a number for State Farm. The man on the other end said, "We don't cover ceiling collapses." Then he asked, "Do you want me to close out your claim now?"

Isn't that strange? Fortunately, she said no. 

I worked in the news business for 22 years, so I know a good story when I see one. If more homes in our area have the potential for this type of disaster, I would want to know, so I contacted two TV stations and we were the lead story on KWQC-TV, the NBC affiliate in town, and on WQAD-TV, the ABC affiliate in town. Check out the story on KWQC-TV Check out the story on WQAD-TV.

After these stories were broadcast, I received a call from State Farm assuring me that a final decision had not been made, and I would receive a letter to that effect. I'm not sure what good it does me to get a letter saying a decision has not yet been made. I was in public relations for a while, so I do understand why they needed to respond that way.

But the horror stories started coming in. Friends who had been dropped by their insurance for making claims; friends who had been refused payment by their insurance company. I saw that State Farm made $3.4 billion dollars profit in a recent year. That is "billion" with a B. 

It is now almost two weeks since the collapse. We had the mess cleaned up (mostly) within four days. State Farm sent an insurance adjuster out and he explained that we would likely be covered if we had put heavy stuff in the attic and it fell through. 

I told him we didn't put anything in the attic. Apparently since we did not put anything in the attic, we wouldn't be covered if the ceiling collapsed.

IMG_0137 (2)He asked if we had water damage, because if the roof leaked and water caused the ceiling to collapse, it would be covered.

But we put a new roof on the house three years ago. We did it because we DIDN'T WANT water damage. Apparently if there was water damage and the ceiling collapsed, it would not be covered.

Someone with State Farm told us it isn't covered if it is shoddy workmanship. But our house has stood for 48 years. I'm not sure that would qualify as shoddy workmanship.

Our home was owned by one couple before us. When we bought the house, it had to undergo a home inspection. The inspector signed off on everything, including the ceilings. If the construction in Moline, Illinois was a problem for homes built in the 1970s, why didn't the inspector know it? Why didn't he warn us? Why did State Farm insure the home (even though the contract does provide a lot of exclusions for ceiling collapse)? And why didn't anyone inform us that this could potentially be a problem?

I called the man who inspected our home when we bought it. He says he never heard of a ceiling collapsing like this. But the ceiling repair guys say they see it regularly.

Who do you believe?

Sometimes, you follow the money. Who benefits if houses have this construction issue and it passes the inspector, the realtors and the insurance company, which has an exemption in the policy for ceiling collapses unless the collapse is caused by specific things. How many people make money off the sale and insuring of this home?

You are supposed to be safe in your home. Who expects their ceiling to collapse on them?

It's not easy to remain centered when you feel as if you are in a Joseph Heller novel, caught in a Catch-22. 

A family bought the home next to us last year. The husband did a lot of work for weeks to get their home ready for them to move in. I walked next door and showed him the pictures you see on this post. He said he realized the ceilings in his home were built the same way, so before they moved in, he fixed all the ceilings.

Again, it makes me wonder why Nancy and I are the last to know about this?

The investigation is still officially underway by State Farm. Today, a structural engineer came by the house, along with our insurance agent, who explained that they are looking for a reason to cover the collapse. We probably won't know for another 10 days. I am hoping they do the right thing and I will provide an update when we find out.

Meanwhile, our ceiling in the living room and dining room is a plastic sheet. A ceiling expert came over to give us an estimate and he said the ceilings through the house would need to be worked on to support them. He went into my office, where I am writing this. He stood on a step-ladder and pushed up on the ceiling. It gave and creaked a little bit. That is not what I wanted to see.

I am sitting here with the knowledge that the ceiling above me could crash down, too. You know, it isn't paranoia if your house IS actually trying to kill you.

The estimate for fixing the ceilings is $13,500, and if State Farm doesn't pay, that will come out of our pocket.

Chicken Little was right! The sky really IS falling. But if you look at it from the lesson of what Buddha was saying, why not? Some people experience this kind of disaster in their home. This time it happened to me.

Maybe that's my 83rd problem.

So I was able to remain calm and like with any crisis in life, take one step at a time, put my head down and get through it.

I will provide an update on whether State Farm is really like a good neighbor.

This has had an impact on my practice for the past couple of weeks, although I did teach two classes Wednesday. I should be back on my regular schedule by Monday.

It seems a bit ironic that you can die in your living room.

Remain centered, my friends. Don't let your 83 problems get you down.

--by Ken Gullette


25 Self-Defense Applications for One Tai Chi Movement - Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar

I study Taijiquan for several reasons, but my favorite part of this art is the way all these gentle movements can be used for self-defense.

Yesterday we explored some applications for the second movement in most Chen style Taiji forms -- "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar."

This is a quick look at 25 fighting applications within this movement. For more detailed instruction, including the body mechanics behind the techniques, visit my website and try two free weeks at www.internalfightingarts.com.

 

 


The Only Thing a Bully Really Understands

Kenny-Gullette-1966061
I didn't look very tough at 12 years old.

I went to Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky when I was a child. My mother made us attend on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and sometimes on Wednesday evening. 

There was a bully in my Sunday School class when I was around 12 years old. John made my life a living hell for several weeks, calling me names and hurling insults at me in his loud voice, causing other kids to laugh at my expense. I guess I looked a little geeky. I was scrawny and wore glasses. Sometimes the glasses had tape on them.

After several weeks of taking his loud abuse and being humiliated in front of the other kids who I had grown up with, I told him to leave me alone.

"If you wanna do something about it, meet me behind Stonewall Elementary today after church," he snarled.

"Okay," I agreed. "I'll meet you at Stonewall at 12:30.

He laughed as if he knew something I didn't. "I'm gonna kill you," John said.

Maybe he would, but the abuse had to stop. 

After church, I arrived home, changed out of the suit my mother made me wear to church, and put on some fighting clothes. I hopped on my bicycle and rode up the hill to Stonewall Elementary. Butterflies were fluttering in my stomach because John was a little bigger, densely packed, and he came off as a tough guy. I realized I might be on my way to receive a beat-down. But enough was enough, I decided.

I got to the school and rode around back behind some classrooms. Parking the bike, I climbed off and waited. In a couple of minutes John appeared on his bike.  He climbed off and the trash talk began again.

He laughed and shouted, "Oh, you are DEAD! I'm going to kill you!"

Maybe he would, I was beginning to think. 

John went into the Monkey Dance, jumping and dancing and shouting threats. He bounced up and shoved me. I stepped back and regrouped.

"Haha," he laughed. "You are so DEAD!"

Okay, I thought to myself, he might beat me up, but I need to do something here.

John jumped and shouted and laughed and danced and ran up to strike.

I punched him in the stomach with as good a punch as I could muster when I was 12 years old.

John fell back and onto the ground, clutching his belly.

"Owwwww! You sonofabitch!" He began crying on the ground, actual tears coming out of his eyes. "You hit me! You hit me! Don't hit me again!"

I took a step toward him because I wanted to hit him again. It kind of felt good.

"No!" he shouted. "Don't hit me again! Don't hit me again!" He was still crying and scrambled to his feet, clutching his stomach.

"When I see you in Sunday School," I said, "Leave me alone. Stop bothering me!"

"I will, I will," he promised, climbing onto his bike. "Don't hit me again!"

And with that, he rode off, his legs pedaling the bike as fast as he could pump them. I watched him ride away and thought, "Are you kidding? I took weeks of abuse and all it took was one punch to stop it?"

This happened in 1965. I don't remember John's last name, but I see a John on Facebook whose name rings a bell from childhood. He is from Lexington and is the kind of vicious Trump supporter who hurls the kind of insults at people who don't agree with him that you would expect from a bully.

I sometimes wonder if John learned much of a lesson from that day, but I learned a good one -- bullies pick on people who they believe won't fight back. If you do fight back, you discover the bully isn't as tough as he or she wants you to believe.

During the decades since this moment of glory, I have run into many bullies in the workplace. They insult, they make lives miserable for people in their charge, and they act innocent with their own bosses. You can't punch a bully in the workplace, but you can leave the company. I always pointed out bullying behavior to my supervisor if he or she was a bully. They didn't like it. In fact, by pointing it out, it usually causes them to double-down on their bullying because they know you can't punch them. Bully managers cause countless businesses around the nation to lose talented employees. Upper management is often clueless or lack the backbone to deal with them, or the bully knows how to make it all seem like your fault. I saw it so many times during my news and non-profit communications careers.

When my daughters were in school, and girls were beginning to learn how to bully other girls, I told Harmony and Belinda, "If a bully is mean to you at school, you have my permission to punch them. You might get in trouble at school, but you will never get in trouble at home for protecting yourself."

One day at a bus stop, Belinda was being harrassed by a group of girls. Harmony walked up and told the bullies to leave Belinda alone or she would beat them up. They left Belinda alone.

John left me alone at church after our Showdown at Stonewall. He lowered his eyes when I was around. There were no insults and no threats, and that's just the way it should be.

--by Ken Gullette 

 

 


Peering into the Void: Death and Taoism -- the Internal Fighting Arts Interview with Taoist Monk Yun Rou

Yun RouTaoist Monk Yun Rou is facing a serious health situation; a brain fungus that is usually fatal. 

So how does your philosophy of life serve you as you stand at the edge of the cliff looking into eternity?

Will it give you peace or will there be anxiety or uncertainty? In your philosophy or religion, does the possibility of judgment exist? Is there the chance you will be eternally punished, even tortured? Will you expect to stand before a god with a long white beard who is looking at a book with all your thoughts and actions written in it? Or will you approach the end knowing that there is nothing to fear?

For the past 13 years, I have been in a tenuous health situation, which I've written about many times. When I found out that Yun Rou, a Taoist monk, was facing a similar situation, I thought that I finally had someone I could talk with about a heavy issue that is difficult to understand until you are facing it yourself.

Monk Yun Rou is the guest on the 63rd edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. Follow the link to the podcast page where you can listen online or download the episode.  


After Two Years of Being Careful, Covid Finally Finds Me

Ken Bob 5-26-2022
Bob holds Ken up during a practice while Ken has Covid.

I have been careful to avoid Covid for more than two years, masking up, avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance, and getting my vaccines and a booster.

Because I have one functioning lung, and since I developed this condition I have also developed asthma, it was not a good ldea to catch a virus that attacks the lungs.

I was successful in evading Covid, but then we take one trip to Philadelphia to attend a 4-day Chen Taiji workshop, and Covid catches up with me.

I suppose it isn't "if" but "when" we will get it. 

Only a couple of people on the planes to Philadelphia wore masks. Only one or two people at the 4-day workshop wore masks. Most people in the restaurants and historic tourist attractions around the city were unmasked. We let our guard down. We took off our masks.

Two days after we returned from Philadelphia, I got together with Colin and Justin to practice outside at the park. I felt fatigued. Usually, if I'm a little tired before a practice, just moving and practicing gets me fired up. But not this time.

The next morning, I was so fatigued, I got up but kept going back to bed to rest. I even took a short nap after lunch. I never take naps! I can nap when I'm dead. 

My nose started running and wouldn't stop.

Finally, early in the afternoon I whipped out one of our home Covid test kits the government sent us several weeks ago.

I tested positive. The next day, with the fatigue persisting, I tested again. It was positive.

We knew Nancy would not escape it. When I tested positive we started sleeping in separate bedrooms, but we knew it was too late. Within a couple of days, Nancy felt like she had a head cold. She did the home Covid test and sure enough, it was positive.

It has been 10 days now since I tested positive. My energy has mostly returned, but my lungs are still suffering a bit with a lot of phlegm and deep coughing spells. I'm not sure where Covid ends and my other lung issues take over.

Nancy feels back to normal.

I suppose the moral of this story is: if we let our guard down, Covid will catch us. But if we are vaccinated and boosted, we can stay out of the hospital and the morgue.

One of my conservative friends said, "You got Covid. That means the vaccines don't work."

No, actually that means the vaccines do work. I have one lung and asthma. I'm 69 years old. I got Covid. I didn't get sick enough to be hospitalized. I'm still alive.

This actually proves the vaccines and boosters are doing their job. Since Covid hit the world in early 2020, I have listened to the scientists, not the politicians. I listen to Dr. Fauci. I have tried to follow their lead. But like most of the country, I have been ready to unmask and get back to normal during the past several weeks. Even though I knew Covid cases were rising with new variants, I took a risk. 

I wish now that I had worn my mask at least on the airplane. It's a very small price to pay to keep from being sidelined for more than a week.

I'm hoping to resume my live classes this week. I might take it a bit slowly, but I'm hoping the worst of Covid is behind me.

-- by Ken Gullette


In the Concrete Jungle of Chicago, a Flower of Kindness Blooms

Do Good Be Kind Ken Nancy
Nancy and I wearing our "Do Good. Be Kind." shirts.

Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski of the Chicago area deserve a salute. In a city that has a reputation as a dangerous place, they showed two strangers -- Nancy and me -- kindness and generosity. Here is the story.

I rarely find myself in a situation where I have no idea what to do. It is unknown territory. I am always confident I can handle any situation. Like water, I'll find a way around an obstacle.

But when United Airlines left Nancy and me twisting in the wind in Chicago last week, I was at a loss.

We were flying home from Philadelphia, where we spent four days seeing sights and, while Nancy went shopping, I spent four hours each day at a great Taijiquan workshop by Nabil Ranné, who had flown in from Germany.

The first leg of the return flight on Monday evening, May 16 was from Philly to Chicago. Due to severe weather, we sat in the plane on the tarmac for nearly 90 minutes in Philly before taking off. We were supposed to change planes at O'Hare for the trip home to Moline, but severe weather elsewhere disrupted the system and United cancelled our connecting flight.

Around 8:30 p.m. we got off the plane in Chicago and found ourselves stranded. There would be no flight available to Moline for at least 24 hours. Our luggage was on the plane, and to make matters worse, my heart medication was on the carry-on bag that they made me check before boarding the plane. Since we were in the cheap seats (economy) the plane ran out of carry-on room before we boarded. I would need my heart medication the following morning. This presented a problem. It seemed like a slap from United. "You should have paid more for better seats!"

I had seen many news stories about passengers having to camp out in airports because of cancelled flights. It had never happened to us.

It was roughly a three-hour drive to our home from the airport. There had to be a way to get home.

We almost walked out of the airport to see about a cab to take us to any nearby hotel that was available. Two security guards warned me I was about to leave the secure area and I would not be able to get back in, so Nancy and I sat down on the concrete floor against a wall to consider our options. People walked past, staring at us. 

My mind went blank. It was the strangest feeling. My mind is never blank. It had been a very busy five days (including travel) and I had worked hard at the workshop. After a few moments sitting on the floor against the wall, we admitted we had no plan, then trudged back to the United Customer Service desk in a different concourse. The line of people at the counter stretched 50 yards down the hallway. Connecting flights had been cancelled for a lot of people. We found the back of the line and by that time I was mulling some options:

One -- We need a place to stay. How about a hotel? But we have none of our toiletries or medicine. It was all in the luggage. As we stood in line, I checked local hotels on my phone. The cheapest room was $149. There would be taxi or Uber charges, if the hotel had a vacancy. Then there would be food costs. And no medicine. It wasn't the money that bothered me, it was the expense that would still leave us with no flight and no medicine the following day. This would not work.

Two -- I could try to get my medicine off the plane. I found out this would take a minimum of three or four hours, maybe more. That would leave us without a room at 1:30 a.m. at the earliest. 

Three -- We could wait for the medicine to come off the plane and then camp out at the airport. For 24 hours? No way.

Then I thought perhaps we could get an Uber ride to Moline. I checked and a driver was listed for $219, not including tip. That seemed reasonable. We could get home in three hours, sleep in our bed and have medicine. I would tip the driver handsomely.

I scheduled Uber to pick us up. The message from Uber said the driver would meet us at Level A. We scrambled down the hallways looking for Level A, where the driver was going to be. Walking fast down the large hallways, I was breathing like a freight train due to my silly one-lung situation, feeling a lack of oxygen and gasping for air. A few hours ago, I was sweating through the fourth day of a martial arts workshop with cramping quadraceps and dwindling energy. I was ready to stop for the day.

We walked out and saw where the cars were coming around. A couple was standing outside waiting for a car. They were strangers. It was Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski.

"Excuse me, is this Level A?" I asked. "Our flight was cancelled, we're hiring an Uber to take us to Moline. They are supposed to be at Level A."

According to my memory, Rob said yes, it was Level A. I thanked them and turned my attention back to my Uber app.

A moment later, the driver called.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Moline, Illinois," I said.

"Oh. I don't want to drive that far," he replied. "Sorry."

I couldn't blame him. A six-hour round trip that would take most of the night? Oh well. It would have been a really large tip. 

Suddenly, we were back at square one, looking at each other and wondering what to do.

As we stood there, Rob and Kathryn walked up. Rob observed that we appeared stressed and they needed to get their car situation straightened out, but he would be glad to drive us to Moline if we needed a ride.

I was floored. It was my "Do Good. Be Kind." mantra coming to life. 

"What a kind offer," I said. Surely there was something we could do that wouldn't impose such a burden, even to someone generous enough to make the offer. 

Rob asked for my cell number. He texted me his name so I would also have his number.

"If you can't find a way home," he said, "just call and I'll give you a ride."

We thanked him. As we walked away, Nancy's eyes were red and watery. She said, "That was the kindest thing."

These were people I was happy to meet. Two people who didn't know us from Adam (and Eve), extending compassion, ready to help shoulder our problem. It was awe-inspiring.

Then I thought we should check rental cars. Would they even be open this late to rent a car? Would they rent one for a one-way trip?

We made our way through the terminal to the Rental Car area, stood in line at Avis only to be told they were out of one-way cars.

"Try Hertz," the woman at the counter suggested.

We waited at the Hertz line and saw a couple of people rent cars on the spot. When it was our turn, we were told that yes, they could give us a car to drive one-way to Moline for $400.

Wow! 400 bucks? Luckily, I wear a pacemaker, so if my heart stopped for a couple of seconds it would zap me back to life.

I didn't hesitate. "Sold!"

We made the payment, got our papers, then walked into the parking garage and picked out a car, a Chevy Malibu, fired it up and began the three-hour trip West on I-88 across Illinois to Moline.

On my phone, a text message had appeared from Rob, repeating his offer: if we couldn't find a way home, let him know and he would drive us.

Blown away. That's what I was. I didn't respond at that moment. I was a man on a mission. Nancy and I were hungry, tired, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed. 

Around halfway, my plan was to stop at the Dekalb Oasis, a popular place for travelers that included a gas station, convenience store, restrooms and a McDonald's. We needed dinner, and I thought a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese sounded good.

We pulled off into the Oasis at around 11:30 p.m. and discovered the McDonald's closed at 11:00.

"Okay, that does it," I told Nancy. "After all we've gone through today, the McDonald's is closed? How can I be centered? I'm going to lose my $#!+." 

She laughed. We got drinks and some Chex Mix in the gas station and continued on our way. We arrived home at 1:30 in the morning. It was luxurious to stand in my own shower and crawl into my own bed. I think I was out when my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, I drove the rental car to the Quad Cities airport, which is less than 10 minutes from our house, dropped off the car to Hertz, went to the United desk and was told our baggage was on a flight that was arriving in 40 minutes. We had not been offered this flight because it was fully booked.

I stayed, ate breakfast, and got our luggage when it arrived, then went to the parking lot, found our car in long-term parking, and drove home.

As our headlights cut through the night on I-88 the night before, Nancy and I kept bringing up Rob and Kathryn, and how stunned we were that we ran across two good people like that at the moment we were at a loss; two people who were ready to help strangers.

I contacted Rob this morning by text before writing this blog post. He let me know that today is their 36th wedding anniversary.

There are a lot of good people like Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski in the world. Yes, even in Chicago. They don't always get as much publicity in the media as the people who do bad things, but they deserve to be recognized and saluted. This is my way of doing that and also saying "Happy Anniversary." In just a couple of minutes, Rob and Kathryn made an impression on us that we won't forget.

As you go about your day, I hope you will do what I am going to do, fueled by their inspiration. I will look for opportunities to be kind to people in ways that will brighten their world, too.

-- by Ken Gullette


Hands-On Instruction and a Positive Atmosphere at a Chen Taijiquan Workshop with Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia

Ken-Gullette-Nabil-Ranne-2022
Ken Gullette (left) with Nabil Ranné in Philadelphia, 2022.

I spent four days this past week studying Chen Taiji with Nabil Ranné in Philadelphia. The workshop was hosted by Ryan Craig of Philly Chen Taiji

Nabil came to the U.S. from Berlin for the workshop. I have been studying in his online classes for almost two years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. He is friendly and humble; one of those people you instantly like.

During the past two years, Covid virtually destroyed the ability to hold workshops. Just getting together with a group of taiji folks was reason enough to celebrate.

I have attended many martial arts workshops during the past 35 years. Depending on who is hosting the event, you can either feel a spirit of camaraderie or it can feel like people gather in cliques.

In Philly, there was a lot of laughter. Nabil brings a sense of humor to his classes and Ryan joined in. That's all I needed -- to be serious about the art but to have fun training. Those are ideal conditions for me.

We trained four hours a day for four days -- Friday through Monday, May 13 through 16, focusing primarily on the first three sections of the "First Road," or "Yilu" form.

Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu of Beijing, the grandson of Chen Fake and the son of Chen Zhaokui. Chen Fake is also the grandfather of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Yu is their cousin), but there are differences in the way Chen Yu moves compared with the Chen Village masters. 

I had Nabil on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast nearly two years ago (listen to the interview here) and I had been curious about Chen Yu's taiji for several years. Most of my training has been with Chen Village masters and their students. I did a couple of private online classes with Nabil and was fascinated by what I learned, especially the details in his instruction. Not long after this, I enrolled in his regular online classes. We have gone through the Yilu and Erlu forms during the past couple of years. The Philly workshop focused on Yilu and the body method of the Chen Zhaokui/Chen Yu version of Chen taiji.

Ken-Gullette-Nabil-Ranne-Hands-On-2022
Ken Gullette in a "hands on" moment with Nabil Ranné to feel the internal movement.

As he led us through the first movements of the form, Nabil focused on proper stances, relaxing the hip joints, and establishing peng jin throughout the body. One of the many helpful tips I received was maintaining a connection with the Baihui point as my body is sinking, as in part of "Buddha's Warrior" when the fist prepares for the raising of the knee before the stomp. I also need to work more on extending peng and maintaining it through the shoulders, too.

During the weekend, I wanted to write about what we practiced, but I had a hard time putting it into words. I was processing the information. Even as I read what I write here about the workshop, I'm not satisfied. It's difficult to describe in words. It has to be shown. 

Online classes are great. You can improve a lot by studying with a teacher online, especially if that teacher gives you personal corrections, as I do with my website members and as Nabil does. But nothing is as good as being in person. Nabil was able to put his hands on me to make corrections, and when I put my hands on him, I felt internal movement in the chest, back, Dantien and Mingmen that was very informative. I will be processing this information and working it into my movement for a while.

We worked on principles of movement, including the shifting of weight, the relaxing in the crease at the hip to maintain mobility, and to keep the knees from swimming -- to "stay in the frame."

We worked on applications, especially some good joint locks. It was interesting to see how "Six Sealings and Four Closings" can be used as wrist locks against an opponent who has grabbed your arms. But almost every application we practiced contained elements that drove home once again how powerful Chen taiji is as a martial art. There are subtleties in the way you can connect to an opponent's wrist, elbow and shoulder during a joint lock, depending on the position of your opponent's arm. Just moving your little finger can help connect a wrist lock to the elbow, making it more effective if your opponent is trying to escape the lock.

Monday, May 16th was the final day of the workshop. As we trained that day, I became very grateful for the opportunity to learn and try to improve in my internal skills. Battling a huge blood clot that has cut off all blood flow to the left lung, it was a gamble making arrangements to fly to Philly for this, but I was in good shape and toughed it out through the four days. The blood clot (or blockage) is still there, but what the hell. I don't think about it much and certainly don't let it slow me down any more than I have to. By the fourth day, however, my quadraceps were painfully locking up at times. If you do a Chen taiji workshop and your legs aren't fried, you haven't worked hard enough.

We didn't spend a lot of time holding stances, but we did hold them at times. During one of those moments on the third day, we were struggling through the pain and fatigue as Nabil went from one student to another making corrections. There were groans and grunts and heavy breathing as the attendees tried to maintain the posture. I'm pretty sure I was the oldest student there, so I cracked, "This was a lot easier back when I was sixty!" I can still hear the laughter, as if a relief valve had been opened. I love laughter in class.

I got a bit emotional as I said goodbye to Nabil on Monday afternoon. I like the man. And I want to see him again in person. My thanks to Ryan for hosting. I think everyone hopes it happens again next year.

As time passes, it is not lost on me that I have a lot less time to enjoy training like this than I used to. Every moment is precious. Now let's go. There's a lot to do. Let's practice.

--by Ken Gullette 


Prepping for My First Workshop in Almost Three Years -- Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia This Weekend

Ken Practicing 2022I'm practicing for a workshop that is happening in Philadelphia starting Friday, May 13. The Chen style Taiji teacher I have been studying with for nearly two years, Nabil Ranne, is coming to the U.S. for a workshop on the First Road (Yilu) form.

Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu, so his Chen Taiji reflects the version of the Chen family art handed from Chen Fake to his son, Chen Zhaokui, who taught his son Chen Yu. Nabil lives in Berlin.

The workshop will be four hours a day for four days. It's a daunting task, given my health issues, but I plan to pace myself. At this point in my life, I am more a coach than a player, so I want to soak up the knowledge and try to improve my own internal movement.

The Chen Yu First Road form has 83 movements. I have been working on the movements and the body method, but I have a long way to go on this form before I'm satisfied with it. I haven't even totally memorized the choreography. I keep telling myself, "You are not in a race. You are not in a race." 

Maybe I don't learn as easily as I used to, or else it is difficult to learn the Beijing way when you teach the Chen Village way. It has been a very challenging couple of years, but a very satisfying time. It's fun at my age to still be excited and learning new things, pushing forward in the quest for quality.

When you are preparing for a Chen Taiji workshop, getting the legs ready is always top on the list. The body method is tough on the legs and can have your thighs burning pretty quickly. I never feel ready before a workshop, although I don't think we will hold stances in this one like I have done in some workshops in the past, when your legs are shaking and burning within the first hour. As I have been practicing the form, I have tried to pay close attention to closing power in the legs and the connected movement, the opening and closing of the back and chest, and Dantien rotation. This is not Taiji for "health," although it certainly can help your health. This is gongfu, the kind of Taiji that is a martial art -- my favorite kind.

Covid knocked the hell out of martial arts workshops, so this is the first one I have attended since the autumn of 2019. Cases of Covid are rising again due to new variants, but I'm going anyway. I can't miss this opportunity. It's a lot easier than going to Germany. Nabil's workshop is being hosted by Ryan Craig of Philly Chen Taiji.

-- by Ken Gullette