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February 2007
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A Chi Experience

Last year, a student joined our tai chi class who has been involved in the art for decades. He even teaches now, even though he really shouldn't, based on his knowledge of body mechanics.

One night in class we had a discussion of chi, and I explained my views. I said that no one could use chi to make a person move without touching them.

"I can," he said.

"Really? You can make me move without touching me?" I asked.

"Yes, I've done it many times."

"Well, all I can tell you is one, no you haven't, and two, you certainly can't make me move without touching me," I said.

So, with several students watching, he walked up close to me. Very close. His face was inches away from mine, and he held his hands up just a centimeter or two from my face.

Now, the natural human reaction when someone moves so close is to back away, but that's what he expected me to do. Instead, I relaxed and decided that I wasn't going to let the fact that he had violated my space bother me. He kept his hands in front of my face, then moved them to just centimeters away from my chest. He concentrated hard. I just relaxed and held my ground.

A moment or two later, he stepped back and shook his head, perplexed.

"Well, it didn't work," he said.

"Of course not," I replied. "That's because it can't work. It doesn't work. And it will never work unless someone plays along or wants it to work so badly that they cause themselves to move, or unless you make them so uncomfortable that they move."

In 2001, I offered a $5,000 reward to any "chi master" who could make me move or knock me down without touching me, like some of them do to their students. This offer was printed in Inside Kung-Fu magazine. It was headlined on the cover. No one took me up on this offer, despite the fact that they have no problem accepting money from people who attend their seminars and classes.

The reason I've had no offers is because these guys all know that it doesn't work unless you have an interest in it working.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Why so many internal artists waste time on the mystical is beyond me. Some of them are pretty intelligent people otherwise. Then again, a lot of intelligent people also believe in astrology and witchcraft and UFOs, too. It's just human nature to want to believe in super powers.

Ten Important Bagua Tips

I'm not sure where these tips came from, but I thought I'd pass them on because they're good ones for the practice of Baguazhang.

1. Keep the head upright and neck straight (but not tense) with spirit and intention.

2. Keep the back rounded, stretched and natural, not stiff.

3. Keep the shoulders relaxed and dropped (so power can reach the hands).

4. Keep the arms closed inward -- front arm bent and extended; rear arm protects the body.

5. Drop the elbows. The role of elbows is to protect within attack.

6. Palms - the thumb is spread outward, fingers extended and fanned as if holding a teacup. The tiger's mouth is round and separated.

7. Waist is like an axle - hardness and softness exist together. There is twisting and turning with strength and agility.

8. Keep the hips under the body - don't let them protrude. Relax the lower back.

9. The front thigh leads the way and the rear thigh supports. Knees are kept together and both thighs protect the crotch.

10. The inner foot (the one closest to the center of the circle) goes along straight lines. The outer foot turns slightly inward as you walk.

Kim and Chris Earn Blue Sashes

Kimchrisblog Kim and Chris Miller recently were promoted to blue sash in our kung fu school -- they're halfway to black sash. The husband-and-wife team are truly dedicated and it's gratifying to see their skill increase month by month. Kim hasn't even let pregnancy slow her down and has shown up for nearly every class since they found out the good news. To this point, they've learned the basics of Hsing-I Chuan, solid Chen Tai Chi skills and forms, and they've just begun getting into the basics of Baguazhang. They've also represented us well at tournaments. Congratulations and great job! Now the hardest part is ahead -- the stretch between now and black sash, but I have a feeling you'll do it!

Ken - Sunday, March 18, 2007

The First Step to a Centered Life

"Standing stake" is one of the fundamental exercises in Chen tai chi, and it's also, in my humble opinion, the best chi kung exercise you can do. If you spend a few minutes a day doing this, you can begin the journey to use the internal arts to create a more healthy and positive life.

A centered life.

Here's a very basic guide -- stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be parallel. Relax the knees--don't lock them out. Keep the head up and the chin slightly tucked in (slightly). Relax the lower back by slightly tucking the hips under. Raise your hands so that it appears you're embracing a tree. Your palms should face your body, your fingers are pointing toward each other.

Relax your shoulders. Working your way down your body, focus on relaxing every muscle.

Calm your mind and place part of your awareness on your dan t'ien (the fist-sized area about 1.5 inches below the navel and an inch or two inside the body).

When I do this exercise, I use mental imagery. I imagine energy coming into my body as I inhale, and I follow that energy down to the dan t'ien. When I exhale, I imagine the energy staying in the dan t'ien and growing warm.

I try to focus on my dan t'ien, my relaxation, and my breathing. I try to feel my weight melting into the floor. And I focus on the energy coming into the body and warming the dan t'ien.

If I start thinking about work, or bills, or things I need to do, I turn my mind back to the relaxation, the breathing, the energy, and the dan t'ien. I keep my mind and body relaxed.

If you start with just a few minutes of this, you'll feel refreshed, as if you've taken a quick nap. If you work up to half an hour, your leg strength will grow.

If you practice this daily, you'll learn to calm your mind and body and achieve a state of mental and physical balance. Your goal then is to recreate that feeling when you find yourself in a situation that would normally make you tense or angry. Say your boss gives you an unreasonable demand or deadline--you get cut off on the highway--your spouse gets angry unexpectedly--any tense situation. Your goal is to train yourself to react to those things with the same sense of calm that you achieve when doing standing stake. Calm the mind, relax the body, put part of your awareness on your dan t'ien.

Then take care of the problem rationally.

I've been doing this since 1987 and I can tell you that it works. My wife Nancy remarked recently that she's never really seen me get angry, and she's never heard me yell in anger. That doesn't mean I'm not a joyful, passionate person -- it means that in a tense situation that could create anger I've learned to calm myself.

I am the eye in the center of the hurricane.

It's my belief that chi kung's healing "powers" are the result not of chi (which I don't believe in) but in the stress management skills that you can develop by doing chi kung. Stress is a killer, and if you learn to manage it, your body will naturally function more efficiently. It's simply a matter of calming the mind and body. It's a trainable skill and it's a skill you can teach yourself with just a little guidance.

All it takes is a little concentration and work, and then you have to deliberately use the techniques when you find yourself in a stressful or tense situation. This little tutorial could be step one in your journey to a centered life.

Connecting Drills

In class Wednesday night we did some "connecting" drills. I first encountered this concept when I trained in Yi Li Chuan kung fu (Yiliquan) in Omaha under Sifu Phillip Starr. It was the first time any martial arts teacher made philosophy a key part of the art, and it spoke to me.

Remaining centered and connected to the people and the world around you is a noble pursuit--one that we naturally fall short of at times because of human nature, but that's true with any philosophical or religious pursuit, isn't it? We can really try to be good, but there's always the occasional slip-up.

The practice of kung fu, at its core, is about mastering ourselves. Let's face it--I hope I'm never in another real fight. I haven't been in a real fight since high school. I've managed to calm down potentially violent situations several times as an adult, and I've always felt good about that. The reason we practice the martial art is to gain control over our minds and bodies.

But if we fail to control ourselves in daily life, our martial arts training isn't very effective.

I've told this story before, but the first time I realized I was incorporating the philosophy and the centering skills into my life was when I worked at KMTV in Omaha as the producer of the 6:00 news. One night, a wall cloud was passing the station, ready to drop a tornado into the city. People were running around, frantic, screaming, rolling studio cameras out the station doors to carry the wall cloud live. It was around 4:50 and I was in charge of the 6:00 news. I was at my typewriter banging out some copy when I heard someone laughing.

I looked over and a sports guy was looking at me, laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked.

He pointed at me. "Doctor Chill," he said. "Everyone's going crazy and you sit there just getting the job done."

I realized at that moment that I'd been centering myself, keeping part of my awareness on my dan t'ien, and relaxing my body while I focused on the job at hand. Also, when I produced the news, I never yelled at people and threw temper tantrums like some producers did. I was much more likely to crack a joke when the going got tough.

I had kung fu training and chi kung training to thank for it.

So in class Wednesday, we did a connecting drill in which one student stands with his hands together in front of him, and his partner stands with his hands at his sides and tries to slap or touch the first student's hands before they can be snatched away. The student that's holding his hands out has to connect with his partner, trying to know when he's about to try to slap his hands, and move them before they can be slapped. It's also a great reflex drill and one that teaches you to relax (you can't move out of the way very easily or slap someone's hands when you're tense).

These drills represent something very deep, however. From a martial perspective, when you connect with a partner during sparring and you know when he's going to attack, you have a distinct advantage. From a personal perspective, learning to connect can improve every relationship in your life. Practicing chi kung and learning to calm your mind and put part of your awareness on your dan t'ien takes time. The goal is to take that same calm feeling and recreate it when you find yourself in a stressful, tense or angry situation. When you can react to stress, tension, or an angry person by calming your mind and body and focusing rationally on the task at hand, you'll gain the true benefits of the internal arts.

As Ringo Starr said, however, it don't come easy. It takes work--it takes practice--but it's worth it in the long run.

The Sparring Lecture

About once a year, as new students come in, I have to give the sparring lecture. As a school owner, the amount of contact to allow when students spar is always a tricky subject.

For one thing, most insurance policies for martial arts schools don't allow much contact, and you have to make your policies clear or else you can be in big trouble if someone gets hurt.

But some other variables come into play when you're a student:

1. Students can't train if they're hurt. If you spar someone and you don't care how hard you kick or hit them, you can put them out of class with one stupid move. Too many people come in and swing for the fences. Even some black belts enjoy showing beginning students who's boss. Once, I saw a black belt crack a beginner's rib the very first time this new guy sparred. The new student dropped out of class very quickly. The black belt didn't really do it maliciously--he just wasn't thinking. I know a black belt who once dropped out of another school because he was "tired of being a punching bag" for the more experienced students. Any teacher that allows advanced students to hurt less experienced students is crazy, irresponsible, or just not paying attention to the needs of his students.

2. Higher-ranked, or more experienced students, have a responsibility to help lower-ranked or less experienced students. What good does it do a higher-ranked student to beat the heck out of a less experienced student? It only fuels the ego. It's often a testosterone thing. We want to be top dog. We want to show who can pee the highest on the tree. But a higher-ranked student who has his head together (and a little self-esteem) will help teach less experienced students. When sparring, you'll score your points, you can pressure your partner and give them a taste of the type of skill they're aspiring to attain, and then you'll allow your partner to score points, work on techniques, and acquire confidence. If all you want to do is show them who's better, nobody improves. You must be a coach; you must motivate and inspire, and you don't do that by mopping up the floor with someone.

3. Some students don't understand that REAL SKILL involves using power without contact. To throw a technique that comes real close and has power requires more skill than throwing a power technique that hurts someone. It involves practice and self-control, and that's something that's lacking in a lot of new students (or students with some emotional baggage).

When I give this lecture, I usually tell students that if they want to hurt someone, there are other schools that are into that. Pat Militech trains the best ultimate fighters in the world just about 5 blocks from my school. He's the best at what he does. When you go there, you almost expect to be hurt. It draws people who are looking for something different than what I teach. I think ultimate fighting is cool, and if I were 20 again I might be training with Pat, but that's not what I'm into at age 54.

At my school, students learn an art, and they also learn to fight. Some of my students have had to use what they've learned in real self-defense or police situations, and it works. You don't have to hurt someone in class, or be hurt, to be a great fighter.

In the end, it boils down to respect--for yourself and others. It also is a matter of inner strength. As the old Zen/Taoist saying goes--it takes force to master someone else, but it takes strength to master yourself.  In my view, anyone can use force. A skilled martial artist exhibits strength of character and self-control.

Zhu Tiancai Coming to U.S.

From C.P. Ong:

Grandmaster Zhu Tiancai is a renowned 19th generation successor of Chen Style Taijiquan, and is one of the "FOUR GREAT JINGANG’S (GEMS)." He is known for his hands-on and down-to-earth approach in teaching, which cuts through the complexity that surrounds taiji. He is a must-see for any taiji enthusiast


Open to anyone who wants to deepen the knowledge of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan). Beginners and advanced students will benefit equally from Master Zhu’s enthusiasm and boundless energy in the workshop that will motivate and inspire your practice.

Sat 9:00 to 12 noon: Fajin (Explosive power) Training

Sat 2:00 to 5:00 pm: Qinna (Joints seizing/locking techniques)

Sun 9:00 to 12 noon: Push hands I (Fixed steps)

Sun 2:00 to 5:00 pm: Push hands II (Moving steps)

Date: Sat May 28 – Sun May 29

Fees: $225.00 for both days/$125 for one day


Late Registration Fee: $25.00 if not paid by Apr 16, 2007

Place: Bretton Woods Clubhouse, 15700 River Rd, Germantown, Md, 20874


Tel: 240-447-8134 or 301-299-8116



Make checks/payments to: C.P.Ong, 10111 Norton Rd, Potomac, Md, 20854 Hotel Accommodation:

Holiday Inn Hotel, 2 Montgomery Village Ave, Gaithersburg, Md.

Tel: 800-HOLIDAY or 301-948-8900

SPECIAL RATE: $79.00/ROOM (up to four occupants)


Video as a Training Tool

You have to occasionally videotape yourself doing forms. When I'm practicing Tai Chi, in my mind I'm positive that I look like Chen Xiaowang. When I videotape myself and watch it, I more closely resemble Harpo Marx.

Video is an amazing tool. Imagine the treasure we would have if someone had videotaped Chen Fake or other great masters? Imagine being able to break down their movements, watch in slow motion, frame by frame, and freeze the video at certain points to examine body positioning?

We've all heard the old stories of a master demonstrating a form one time to a student, then saying, "I'll be back in one year." The student was expected to learn the form by that time. Naturally, that was probably impossible even a hundred years ago, when the attention span was a little greater.

Now, we have the ability to watch great masters on tape and DVD and study them--masters such as Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and up-and-coming masters such as Chen Bing. This would be virtually impossible before the VCR and camcorder were invented.

But watching and studying great masters isn't enough. You need to have someone videotape your form, then carefully examine your posture and body mechanics and be honest with yourself.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the class in which my teacher noticed that I had lost peng during a movement, and I wondered how he could tell. That teacher was Jim Criscimagna in Rockford. I learned many great principles in his classes. One night, he told the class, "Almost all of you are carrying your chi in your chest." He explained what that meant, that our weight wasn't sunk, our root wasn't solid as we moved. It was an enlightening comment. No one had ever said that to me before. Now, I see almost all new (and even some experienced) students carrying their chi in their chest. And occasionally, I catch myself doing it.

When I'm practicing, and even when I'm teaching, I'm monitoring myself and I'm usually my own biggest critic. I can feel when peng leaves my movement. I can feel when I'm not sinking my energy. All the things that teachers like Jim have told me go through my mind.

But it's when I videotape myself and watch that I get the best insight into how I'm really doing, because I can see it from a distance, and sometimes I think it looks pretty good, but a LOT of times it makes me realize just how much practicing and how much more instruction I need. One thing that video can't duplicate is hands-on correction. We all need that.

As Jim and others have said, we're all capable of self-delusion. Use videotape to burst your little bubble and see if you're really putting the principles of Tai Chi into your form. Then go see a teacher.

Congratulations Kim Kruse!

Ken_kim_kruseweb Kim Kruse started in kung fu just a couple of months ago and is already showing the traits of a champion. As part of her novice training, she learned a basic kung fu form, practiced hard, and competed at John Morrow's tournament in Moline on Feb. 24th, 2007. The week before the tournament she demonstrated the form in class and I told her, "That is a first place form." It was sharp and precise.

At the tournament, she won 1st place in forms and 2nd place in sparring in the white/yellow/orange sash division.

Kim enrolled in both the tai chi and kung fu classes and has been a regular ever since. I'm lucky to have several outstanding students--some of them couldn't make it to the tournament due to an ice storm that day. But the Dubuque tournament is coming up on March 24 so hopefully more will make it, put it on the line, cheer each other on, and carry the banner.