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In Sparring, Misdirection is Key

Ken_80_hook_kick Yeah, that's me nailing this poor guy in the face with a hook kick. It was only 27 years ago at a tournament sponsored by my first teacher, Grandmaster Sin The. I still use the hook kick in tournaments, even at my advanced age, because as one judge laughed a couple of years ago after I nailed a guy with it -- "that's sneaky."

As anyone who has purchased my sparring DVD knows, I believe in being a well-rounded fighter, using both hands and feet. I can score with either, and I use both to misdirect my opponent.

Whether in tournaments or in a self-defense situation, you should try to put your opponent at a disadvantage by making him think you're going somewhere you aren't. In the photo above, I had only been kicking at waist level. I'd thrown several side kicks at this guy and he had blocked them. He was very good at the reverse punch and had already scored.

But he was holding his hands down and leaving his head open. It happens all the time. So, as he expected another side kick, I waited for him to rush me. The split second that he began coming toward me, I threw the hook kick. He was thinking waist-high, but the kick sailed over his hands.

That slapping sound is a beautiful thing.

Everyone has a different style. Some people like to charge in, throwing combinations until something lands. I've always preferred to size up weaknesses and use misdirection to fake out my opponents.

Sometimes I misdirect with the hands, faking a punch to the stomach and going to the head. Sometimes I fake a jab at the head and deliver a roundhouse kick to the stomach. It has to be done just right -- the timing is crucial.

One thing beginners should notice in the photo above -- I didn't take my eyes off my target. You need to keep your eyes open and watch your opponent all the way through your techniques.

American Tao Podcast

I've had a passion for Taoism and Zen Buddhism since the early 1970's. I've written about it, I've made it part of my martial arts, and more importantly, I've made it part of my daily life.

My writing slowed down during the past year and a half after I started teaching in the new school. The pace of trying to make a school successful caused me to put other things on the shelf as I sought balance.

Now that I'm not teaching, I'm able to turn back to scholarly pursuits. Here is the first of what I hope will be a long series of regular podcasts exploring how to use Taoism to help calm the hectic pace of daily life in the United States.

Click on the link to play American Tao Podcast #1. To download it to your computer (you can put it on your iPod) just right-click and "Save target as..." to your hard drive.

Play or download at_podcast172207.mp3

34 Years Ago Today

The world was shocked 34 years ago today to learn that Bruce Lee had died. He was only 32, in what appeared to be perfect shape, and was dead.

My best friend Ed lived on a farm right across the road from a drive-in theater. One night that summer, we decided to sneak into the drive-in and watch a couple of kung fu movies. One of them was "The Chinese Connection" with Bruce Lee. We sat at the speaker and watched, laughing at the bad Chinese dialogue and acting, but mesmerized by Bruce Lee and his movements.

A week or so later, Bruce Lee was dead. I saw a very short article in the newspaper. A month later, Enter the Dragon hit the theaters. I was so impressed, I began studying kung fu. The martial arts schools were packed with students that year because of Bruce Lee. In fact, the first class I attended was so large, it spilled over into the driveway outside the building.

At my new office at the university, hanging above my desk, is a huge original movie poster from "Fists of Fury." The Ph.Ds that come into my office are surprised to see it. I don't have a diploma on my wall from Cornell or Duke but I do have a Bruce Lee poster.

Yeah, I'm still as big a fan as I was when I was 20. Those of us who began on our martial arts journey because of Bruce Lee (and David Carradine) owe a lot to Bruce for the inspiration he provided.

What Is A "Black Sash" Worth?

In December 2000, a kung fu teacher from China named Master Wang held a seminar at my friend John Morrow's school in Moline. Several students showed up to study a variety of kung fu and tai chi techniques. I enjoyed meeting him, and it was obvious he had studied a while. Being a skeptic, I doubted that he was a real master. Anyone can come over from China with a little experience and fool us Americans. Many do.

But I still enjoyed the seminar. Master Wang had us practice different techniques with a partner, and he kept watching me. He said something to his interpreter, and the interpreter came over to me and said, "Master Wang says that you have kung fu."

Well, I was flattered. At the end of class, the interpreter told me that Master Wang was in town helping to build a Chinese restaurant for a friend, and he would like to train with me while he was there. He and the interpreter came over to my school twice a week for a few weeks. It was an interesting experience, and I learned as much as I could. Master Wang couldn't have weighed more than 140 pounds, and yet he was the first person I met who could relax when I attacked and push me--a 195 pound guy--around with little effort. It was clear that Master Wang had "kung fu."

I read something interesting last year. It asked the question, "How much would you take for your black sash? How much money would you take to give up the sash and the hard work and the achievements that it represents?"

Now I've never really been impressed by a sash color. I treat white white students with equal respect to black sash instructors. That's just the way I am. At work, I treat the custodian with the same respect as the CEO.

But the person posing the question asked if I would take $50,000 for my black sash. I thought about it and realized that I wouldn't. It was way too little money for the hard work and enjoyment that kung fu had brought to my life.

Okay, the article went on, anticipating the reaction--would you take $100,000?

No, I wouldn't. When I think of the countless hours, weeks, months, years that I've spent working on my skills since the first class I took on September 20, 1973, I realize that it represents a lot of very hard work. The trophies I've won, starting in 1974, represent a nod by my peers for that hard work. The students I've met, who often talk about what the lessons have meant to them--it's priceless. What kung fu has meant to me personally, philsophically, and the way I've tried to use it to remain centered through some very difficult times--it's worth much more than $100,000. There couldn't be a price high enough to erase 34 years of martial arts experience and skill.

Then why, the article asked, are so many people reluctant to spend $50 a month to gain the knowledge that you have? And why are you so willing to sell your services so cheap?

A golf pro can charge $60 an hour or more for a private lesson. People will pay it. I've paid $165 for a one-hour private lesson with Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang. I've lost thousands of dollars sponsoring seminars, including the one by Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, who spent a week in my home last year.

I didn't really consider it a loss, though. I considered it a gain.

I feel sorry for people who dabble in the martial arts, spending a little time in karate, a little time in TKD, a little time in tai chi, but they never spend the time really training hard enough and long enough in one thing to be considered good. So many people over the years have called me and bragged about all the arts they've studied, and they show up for a free introductory lesson and they can't throw a punch. Talking about being a martial artist is a lot easier than digging in and studying.

It's called "kung fu" because it's a skill gained through time and hard practice. What's it worth to you? Unless you put in the time and the hard practice, you'll never know the answer.

New Hsing-I DVD Available Now!

The problem with most internal arts videos is this: they show repeated movements at different angles but very little real instruction.

I believe instructional videos should teach the fine points. With that principle in mind, I've produced the first in a series of internal arts DVDs -- "Hsing-I Class Volume 1--The 5 Fist Postures."

I've won many forms competitions with Hsing-I, including a gold medal at an international kung fu/wushu tournament in Chicago in 2003 (with all Chinese judges including some Hsing-I teachers). My students have also won many forms competitions. But Hsing-I is very difficult, and it's impossible to learn it from books because of the intricate body mechanics.

In this DVD, each of the fist postures is demonstrated, then you watch students perform the movement, and watch as I coach them through the fine points and correct some of their mistakes. You will learn the fist postures if you practice along with the class.

The DVD is one hour long. To order (it has a money-back guarantee like all my DVDs) go to the website.

Here's a short clip of two students being led through Pao Chuan (pounding fist). With each fist posture, I went through it with students, then watched as they performed it and then coached more specifically.

Download HsingiClip_NEW.m4v