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November 2006
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January 2007

Jet Li's Fearless

Maybe I'm one of the last martial artists in the country to see this movie. I never thought Jet Li lived up to his potential, and I don't really like martial arts movies that rely so heavily on special effects.

So I was surprised at how much I liked "Fearless." I especially loved the story line and the theme about self control.

The fighting sequences were fantastic, even though they sometimes broke through the bounds of reality. I really believe these movies would be even better if they presented a more realistic view of fighting.

There are only a handful of martial arts films that I would call great--at least the ones I've seen. They would include:

Enter the Dragon

The Last Samurai

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Jet Li's Fearless

Iron Monkey

This list doesn't include some of the great comedies, such as Kung Fu Hustle. I hope this isn't Jet Li's final martial arts movie. Now that he's made a movie that lives up to his potential, I'm ready for more.

Chi Kung Dangers

A young man emailed me the other day and said he wanted to study chi kung (qigong) but was worried about something a chi kung teacher told him. Apparently this teacher said that unless the guy learned chi kung properly, it could harm him, especially in a sexual way.

This young guy asked my opinion, and how he could find a good chi kung teacher so he could begin training.

First of all, I told him to avoid anyone who gave him that type of information.

Why do we perpetuate these myths? How can a breathing exercise--a mentally and physically calming exercise--create a danger to you?

The real answer is that it can't.

Like everyone, I've heard of people who felt some strange feelings and even got ill while doing chi kung. I suspect these cases involve people who either had some physical ailment going on, or they were bringing emotional baggage into the class that triggered unpleasant feelings.

I doubt that anyone can produce any clinical evidence that chi kung can be harmful. Anecdotal evidence just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

I've read--and I've been told--that when you do Hsing-I fist postures such as Pi Chuan, if you do them improperly it can harm the organs that the fist posture is related to--in the case of Pi Chuan, which is linked to the element metal, that would be the lungs and large intestines.

I was warned once that doing Pi Chuan wrong would mess up my lungs and large intestines.

Now look at this realistically. NONE of us do Pi Chuan properly when we're learning. So all new students should be suffering from lung and intestinal problems, right?

Ridiculous. And the more we present this type of bad science as fact, the more we damage the internal arts.

Now, it's common for the die-hards to tell me "What do you know? This stuff has been around for thousands of years."

I answer simply, "So has astrology, witchcraft, and voodoo. So has palm-reading. So have a lot of myths. And there are always people who'll believe them. People who might otherwise appear or behave intelligently."

As internal arts students and teachers, we need to be smarter than this. But I suspect there's another psychological element at play here. If a chi kung teacher tells someone, "If you don't learn properly you can be harmed," he's really saying that only he can teach chi kung properly, and that he knows the "ancient secrets" of chi kung.

There is so much ego involved in these myths, and the need to be viewed as someone with mystical knowledge and supernatural skill, that as a student, I would fire any teacher who didn't heavily qualify any statements related to these ancient, out-dated, bad science beliefs.

Now I must be going. I have to stand and breathe in some "green chi" for a while. :))

The Yin-Yang Formula

A good article in the latest issue of Tai Chi Magazine. It's called The Taiji Yin-Yang Formula. I especially enjoyed the quote, "If one wants to catch something, first it must be let go."

Naturally, I can't go into all of the principles included in this article, but one of the principles I'll practice with the class this week is "letting go" when force comes at you.

I remember pushing hands with Master Chen Bing in Chicago last year. There was an exercise we did--he put his hand on my shoulder and I put my hand on his. When I pushed, he would relax and move out of the way--letting go. He easily handled my force and before I knew it, I was off balance.

One of the things about Tai Chi that has always fascinated me is the idea of relaxing when force is coming at you. It's contrary to everything we've been taught to do our entire lives. And as the article in Tai Chi Magazine says, the very act of yielding creates the opportunity of attacking back.

On the website,, there are videos of various training techniques. One of them involves this principle. The attacker pushes at your shoulder, you relax and move the target out of the way. The attacker goes off-balance and then you break his elbow or throw him out of the way with an elbow lock. Check it out.

I enjoy reading articles that actually explain things clearly. Too often, the explanations leave plenty of misinterpretations to be formed in the minds of readers.

The Quest for Perfection

There's a quote that has been attributed to different people, but I believe it was first said by a Roman philosopher:

"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

When we study and practice martial arts, we work hard to be perfect. We want to have the perfect stance, throw the perfect punch, move with perfect body mechanics.

Sometimes we get so hung up on trying to be perfect that we forget to have fun, and we forget that being good just might be good enough.

I'm frequently stunned when I look at videos of some great Chen tai chi masters such as Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and others. And when I see them in person, the difference in quality is surprising.

I've been told that some Tai Chi students who travel to the Chen Village in China come back to the U.S. and give up Tai Chi, because they realize they'll never be as good as the people they see there.

I like to compare my practice of the internal arts with playing other sports such as basketball. I can get together with a bunch of athletic guys and do pretty well in a basketball game. But put me up against Michael Jordan and I'm going to be humiliated. Heck, put me up against a good player from the UCLA or Kentucky, or even the local high school basketball team, and I'll be humiliated.

When Chen Xiaoxing visited my home in May, and we did push hands in my basement, every time I tried something on him I would end up flat on my back. It was astounding. Pushing hands with someone like that is a great experience, and a humbling one. It made me want to study harder.

A lot of people expect perfection. A lot of folks in Tai Chi, if they see a photo or video of another Tai Chi student or teacher, will criticize the person's form or skill. I've really never seen anything like it in any other martial art I've studied -- the unrelenting criticism of Tai Chi folks. It's quite shocking. And there's also a trend for Tai Chi people to moan about how they'll never be any good, and sometimes they'll even tell you that you'll never be any good.

You can't let these people bring you down. They practice a very self-defeating form of Tai Chi. If I had started studying Chen Tai Chi when I was 6, and worked several hours a day all my life under the instruction of the world's best, I would be as good at Tai Chi as Michael Jordan is at basketball.

But I didn't, and I'm not. So who cares?

I sure do enjoy it, though, and every year I peel back another layer of the onion, and every time I think I've gone a little deeper into the art -- just a baby step -- I see the art get deeper beneath me. It's a lifelong endeavor, and that's part of the fun.

I've had many people who have studied Tai Chi for decades come into my school, and they quickly see that they've studied very low quality Tai Chi. Their eyes are opened, and they get excited because it's so new and so deep.

It's all relative. If you have skill that another person doesn't have, pass it on while you continue to study and improve your skills. Don't be side-tracked by people who make you believe you have to be perfect, because that may never happen.

And please don't waste any mental energy criticizing someone else's skill. Worry about your own skill. Study and practice hard. Nobody's perfect, including you and me.

Being perfect is a worthy goal, but in the meantime, let's be as good as we can be, given our hectic American lives, and have more fun with these great arts.

Using Chi Kung in Daily Life

The first time I realized that chi kung was having an impact on my life was in 1988, working as the producer of the 6:00 newscast at KMTV.

On one particular day, a wall cloud was passing the station, preparing to drop a tornado. People were running around the newsroom, doing live broadcasts, rolling big studio cameras outside the door so they could show the wall cloud on the air as it passed by -- there was a lot of shouting and screaming.

It was a little after 5 p.m. and I was at my desk, putting the final touches on the rundown and script for the 6:00 news. Suddenly I heard someone laugh. I looked to my right and the sports anchor was sitting at his desk looking at me.

"Doctor Chill," he said. "Everyone's screaming and panicking and you just sit there getting the job done."

I realized that I had been centering myself as I worked. I had become the eye in the center of the storm. The chi kung I began studying under Sifu Phillip Starr at the Omaha Yili Chuan school was paying off.

The TV news business is tremendously stressful. You can be fired for making one mistake. I had seen too many stressed-out, screaming producers, anchors, and reporters in my career, and my goal was to be different. I knew that the calmer I was, the calmer everyone else was. It's true in any business that involves stress.

In my mind, this is the best reason to practice chi kung. Taoism is designed to help you ride the ups and downs of life without being capsized. Chi Kung is an essential tool in that effort. My calming your mind and body, putting part of your mind on your dan t'ien, and learning to center yourself, you then work to capture that centered feeling in times of stress and tension, whether it's at work, at home, or even driving on the highway.

It can be done, but it requires work. You have to try at first so that later, it just happens. Nothing comes easily, including inner peace.

I've found in the years since, that when I center myself during a crisis or a tense situation, relax my body and put part of my mind on my dan t'ien, I'm much better able to mentally handle the crisis.

Do you have chi kung stories to share? Has it helped you in daily life? I'd like to post them here.

Yes, Kung Fu Really Works!

I was so proud when a student told me this story. Three days ago, police were looking for a man who had kidnapped a woman and her kids. He had taken the woman and kids to a hotel near our school.

One of my students is a police officer, and he was sent to the hotel when the clerk notified police that he thought the suspect had checked in with the woman and kids.

My student (I won't use his name here for privacy purposes) was standing near the door when suddenly the woman and kids came out. The alleged kidnapper/rapist came out next, and my student took him to the ground with an arm bar that we had practiced many times in class. Read the story in the Quad-City Times.

A few posts ago, I linked to a story in which an ultimate fighter put down kung fu and implied that it isn't practical in a real fight.

I beg to differ.

I was told the story of the arrest during class on Wednesday night, by another student who had talked to the officer. As I was driving home, I realized that all the difficulties of running a school are worth it when I hear that some of my teaching has made a difference.

I'm proud of my students, and very glad to be teaching something that works when it really counts and lives are in jeopardy.