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August 2007
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Practice with the Proper Mental Intent

We practice techniques in class--chin-na for example--and we do it in a way that won't hurt our training partner. If we go too far, we can snap something and our partner won't be able to train for a while.

Unfortunately, a lot of beginners who haven't developed the right self-control tend to apply too much force too quickly and can hurt the people they're training with.

The result is a watering down of techniques. Too often, an arm bar is practiced as a technique that causes pain and puts your opponent in a bent-over or on-the-ground position of vulnerability. The same happens when practicing a wrist lock such as the one we call "half-moon" against a grab. Enough pressure is applied to cause pain and that's it.

In reality, if you get into an actual fight, it's a very serious matter. Someone is likely to need a trip to the ER at the end of the fight. At this point, you certainly don't want to worry about hurting your attacker. In fact, you want to hurt him quickly before he hurts you or the people you love.

That's why you need to adopt the proper mental intent when practicing techniques in class.

Too often, I see students punching or kicking with little force and with bad technique. They stick a punch out there. There's no snap, no body mechanics that would deliver power through the technique.

Every technique you throw in class must be delivered with the same power you would use if your life was in danger. When you do a chin-na technique, the point of chin-na isn't to cause pain and force your attacker to give up. The point of chin-na is to break your opponent quickly and stop the attack.

Every martial application in our forms is designed to end the fight. Every tai chi movement is a fighting technique designed to break an opponent quickly--instantly--and leave him broken on the ground while you walk away.

That's why I encourage my students to use the proper body mechanics and to deliver force without hurting your training partner. If I do an elbow break on someone in class, I deliver it with force but I stop before I make contact with the elbow. I pull the opponent's wrist back toward my chest at the same instant that I deliver force outward toward the elbow.

I'll put a video together to show what I'm talking about. My students should already know. And when you practice with a partner, if they aren't delivering force with their techniques--if their technique isn't strong enough to break a board or two, for example--you have to call them on it and correct each other.

Interesting Story out of Los Angeles - Missing Tai Chi Teacher

Here's a good example of why you can't believe everything a martial arts "master" tells you. Read the story.

And here's another tip. If you're associated with a teacher who puts other teachers down and criticizes their skill--walk away quickly. There are so many insecure people in tai chi. There's absolutely no reason to spend 10 seconds worrying about the level of skill of another teacher. The teacher in the story at the link above was known for criticizing other teachers. He hated competition.

There's a lot of really bad tai chi out there, and when I meet tai chi people who obviously have been suckered by teachers who don't know what they're doing, I show them a few things so they can see what they're missing. But I try very hard not to badmouth the teacher personally. I've heard so much of that over the years. I hope you're not part of it, and I hope you don't tolerate it even if your teacher badmouths someone else.

The Power of Belief in Chi

Dr. Tom Morris received his Ph.D. in both Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. For more than 15 years, he was a Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame.

In one of his books, he writes about the power of belief and tells the story of when he bought a gas grill. The delivery men from Sears wouldn't hook up the propane tank because of the dangers. So Tom hooked it up, holding his breath while he worked so he wouldn't breathe any fumes. After a minute he would walk away and breathe clean air, then go back to the grill. He accidentally took a few breaths while at the grill and could smell the propane. The fumes began making him light-headed and he began feeling sick, and even when he hooked the tank up, he could still smell the gas.

He called Sears to report the problem. They asked, "Where did you fill up the tank?" He hadn't filled up the tank, and didn't realize that Sears delivers a new grill with an empty propane tank.

Tom's family got a big kick out if this, and as a philosopher, it drove home the power of belief. He thought the gas was there, he could smell it and he felt ill. "The mind is a powerful thing," he writes. "And false beliefs can have a big impact on us."

And there you have the "science" of chi. Once you believe what black belts and chi "masters" tell you without questioning, you begin to feel it, and when you feel it, you believe it's real. It's a gigantic leap of faith, and quite a leap of logic.

Years ago, I offered $5,000 to any chi "master" who could make me even wobble without touching me. There had been articles in national magazines showing people like Richard Mooney performing this miracle with his chi. Inside Kung-Fu put my offer on the front page of the magazine in 2001.

No chi "masters" ever took me up on that offer. The reason--they understand that without a willing partner, their chi doesn't work.

People say, "But Ken, chi has been around for thousands of years. What do you know?" I reply, "Astrology and voodoo have been around for thousands of years. So has witchcraft. Some people believe each of them."

Chi is a great mental visualization tool. You can use it when doing chi kung to relax the mind and get your mind off of distractions. You can use it as a mental visualization tool to align proper body mechanics in martial arts. But as far as science goes, it has never held up to real scrutiny, and no chi master has ever been able to duplicate his feats under double-blind conditions. Even Richard Mooney, when his chi powers were put to the test by the Randi Foundation, offering him one million dollars if he could move someone with his chi, couldn't make anyone budge when his subjects (around 18 to 20 of them) who were placed near him one at a time didn't know what he was trying to do. It was a true double-blind experiment and chi failed the test miserably. But the magazines will print fantastic stories and books will do the same, and people will tell stories of the long-dead master who had amazing chi powers. And people will relate personal anecdotes about how a tai chi master or chi master touched them and it felt "like an electric shock" and knocked them back 10 or 20 feet.

It's a lot like an empty propane tank, if you believe the gas is there.

Chaucer wrote, "many have died from mere imagination."

And people will always believe if they choose to believe.

Internal Arts Balance Exercise

Good balance is crucial in any martial art, but especially the internal arts. Here is a balance exercise you can do at the gym. It works core muscles and forces every muscle in the legs to work at balancing and stabilizing yourself.

Stand on one leg on a Bosu ball and do the switching move from bagua. Turn the waist and change hand positions while balancing on one leg. If you begin to lose your balance, try to save it and don't fall off the Bosu ball. If your core muscles are strong, you'll be able to avoid falling. Switch legs after a minute or so.

My personal trainer introduced me to the Bosu ball and I've seen an improvement in balance as my leg and core muscles have grown stronger.

One Bagua Technique vs. Jab

I love the internal arts. They're deceptively strong while appearing to be relaxed and smooth. Dong Hai-Chuan is the creator of Baguazhang. He was born in 1797 and died in 1882, so bagua is a relatively young martial art. Many people believe that he must have had some training in Chen tai chi, because silk-reeling, which isn't seen much outside of Chen tai chi, is a crucial part of bagua.

One of the initial basic exercises in bagua is the "switching" move with the arms. In our forms, this is often part of the movement called "Green Dragon Turns its Body."

Last week my daughter Harmony, who has studied kung fu and Jeet Kune Do (she's trained with people connected to Bruce Lee's nucleus) helped me show how this bagua technique can be used against an opponent who throws a jab.

Today in Kung Fu

Here's a roundup for all you kung fu news junkies.

It looks like the new movie version of the old Kung Fu TV show is still in the works. Check out this update.

Meanwhile, David Carradine, who inspired many of us in the early 70's even before we saw Bruce Lee, is continuing a successful film career. Here's a good feature story about him.

I bought all three seasons of the Kung Fu TV show on DVD. Those shows were ahead of their time, and watching them now, it's hard to believe that such a spiritual program that explored Eastern philosophy was even considered for primetime American TV back in the early 70's. Every show offers a philosophical insight. Outstanding, and it holds up very well.

TV Story on Chi Kung Gets It Half Right

Here's a TV news feature on chi kung that gets it almost right. Chi kung really does improve your health through a reduction of stress. That's a no-brainer. The reporter does a much better job than most reporters, who buy the mystical, ancient unproven science without any critical thinking at all. One comment that seems to border on silliness is when the person says that chi kung affects all the organs. Well......okay, if you mean by reducing stress your body is able to heal better or function better. But if you mean that chi kung "builds chi in your organs" and you literally mean it, that's a statement that has absolutely no basis in scientific fact.

Most reporters accept silly statements about chi without balancing the report with comments from actual scientists. It's bad reporting and bad science.

I've taught chi kung to cancer patients who have used it to get their mind off of their pain, and they've told me that their pain lessened. I've seen older students improve their blood pressure. Most of us don't have any practice in calming our minds and taking our thoughts away from ourselves and our problems. Chi kung helps do that, and for most people who try it, it's the first time they've actually worked at really detaching from everyday problems.

Chi kung works because by calming your mind and body, you learn to manage stress, allowing your body to work as the healing machine that it truly is. But you can't really stand there and breathe in "kidney chi" or "spleen chi" or that sort of nonsense, as some so-called "chi masters" will tell you.

In the end, it's just common sense. Chi kung, yoga, meditation, prayer -- all of these things work toward the same goal with slightly different techniques. None is magic, yet all can be effective to a certain extent.

Pi Chuan vs. Jab in Sparring

Hsing-I works in sparring and in combat. I've used many of the techniques, and here is a video showing an excellent Pi Chuan (splitting palm) technique that you can use against an opponent who throws a jab. I've used this against sparring partners of various styles, including those with boxing experience.

The key to using Hsing-I in sparring is to experiment and see which techniques feel comfortable to you. I'm often able to anticipate what an opponent is going to do after reading his first few moves. That's one of the things I like about sparring -- that challenge of quickly sizing up someone's strengths, weaknesses, and patterns, then taking advantage of them.

I shot this video with my daughter Harmony, who has years of martial arts training. Her husband Matt is the videographer.

Good Chen Tai Chi Videos

I haven't done much to my official website in a while. It's sort of being neglected. Blogs are so much easier to update and add new information. But if you haven't been to the website in a while, there are some good Chen tai chi videos, including an interesting demo by Chen Xiaowang in Washington, D.C. a few years ago. He begins very slowly and then bursts into fa-jing to close the form out. I put it in three separate installments on the website at the time because it was in Windows Media.

To see the videos, and get a deeper glimpse into Chen Tai Chi, go to the website.