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Internalizing Fighting Applications of Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua

Chinnasteve Working on forms is one of the foundations of a good martial art. Forms teach many things, including proper body mechanics, posture, balance and precision.

I once read a tai chi article by a guy who said if you practice the slow Yang form for 20 years, you'll be able to fight when a self defense situation arises.

No you won't. You'll be seriously injured or killed. That's what will happen.

If your practice is only on form, you're missing the heart of any internal art, which is self-defense. You must practice fighting applications in a way that helps you internalize them so that you can react without thinking.

Sparring is one way to do it, but let's face it. Sparring the tournament way limits your techniques. And you can't really use all the techniques of these arts against classmates because you can't drive your palm through their faces, break their elbows and wrists, dislocate their shoulders, twist their necks until they snap, throw them to the ground to smash their head, etc.

However, you can practice the techniques to a point. In order to pull off a fighting application, it often takes the right entry, the right angle, and the right reaction depending upon how the opponent is stepping toward you and what they're throwing.

In my classes I sometimes like to put students into the "Circle of Death." One student gets in the middle of the circle, and I call out an attack and a defense. For example, if Chris is in the center, I'd say, "Chris, defend with Pi Chuan. Kim, attack with a lunge punch." Kim immediately attacks and Chris has to defend.

The defense has to be done with good body mechanics. The strike or take-down is softened but if the body mechanics are correct, the power will be there without driving it through the opponent.

Next, I might say, "Chris, defend with Heng Chuan. Kim, attack with a front kick."

As students go through this exercise, it helps them internalize how to use the applications. They have only a second or two to think about it. Many beginning students get a little flustered, and they don't always use proper posture or mechanics in their application, but over time they get better, especially if the teacher stops the action and shows them the mistakes their making. Perhaps they're losing peng. Perhaps they're using too much arm and shoulder muscle and losing the whole body connection. Perhaps they're not striking a good target.

You can do this drill even if you're practicing with one partner and a teacher isn't around. Have the partner call out the attack and what you should defend with. Coach each other as well as you can on proper mechanics, posture and technique.

When you are practicing alone, you can still go through this drill. Imagine an attacker, and think of different attacks with empty hands, kicks, and weapons, and try to react in your mind as your body goes through the motion. Even sitting in a chair somewhere without going through it physically, you can practice with your mind and take yourself through the defense using the proper body mechanics and power. Mental practice like this is almost as good as practice with a partner.

Now, for those silly people who say that practicing with partners like this without hurting them doesn't work---that's what heavybags and other devices are for. I work my power on the bag and other devices (the punching bag "Bob" is good for visualizing targets, for example).

I'll have a video lesson soon on how to deliver power in a fighting application with a partner while avoiding injury.

Guest Post from Rich Coulter

Greetings Sifu Gullette and all of my Kung Fu Brothers/Sisters:

I have been MIA for a few years now. In 2005 I blew my right knee out while training at my friend’s Martial Arts Studio.  I had a torn ACL, MCL, Meniscus, etc.  I was practicing the Eye of the Hurricane Straight Sword (I learned from Sifu) when I jumped up and did a 180-degree twist thrust, my feet hit the ground, and my body followed.

When I went to see the doctor to diagnose my knee, he performed the Lachman’s test.  I lay down on my back with my knee bent at a 30-degree angle.  My foot pressed flat on the table, as the gently moved my leg forward to the knee I felt pain I had never known of.  My leg would not move past a certain point.  He looked up at me and said, “Your ACL is torn.”  Two days later I found out that I’d be having surgery in four days.  I underwent two procedures.   The latter being a complete reconstructive surgery to my right knee.  After the reconstructive surgery to my knee I remember waking up in pain.  The nurse said the doctor had great news for me.  He confirmed that I would have a 90-100% recovery in time!  Surgical advancements have led to a remarkable 98% return to sports.  Such a recovery is not without price.  The price is a long and grueling recovery period.   Many that have gone through it claim it is the most difficult thing they have done.  If you ever tear your ACL, be prepared for a long recovery, but remain confident that you will make it back.  NFL scouts have a general rule say it takes a year to get back and two years to be back to full speed.  That said, each case is unique but it does take time.   

It had only been a few months after my surgery and I was training again.  It was very difficult, and I often got discouraged.  Rehab was painful, distressing, and I went through some excruciating pain.  I was jogging on a treadmill in 7 weeks.  The trust factor you have with your knees change after you experience a torn ACL.  Even two years later, I’m still not 100% confident about it.  Patience is the virtue of success.       

I made a short-lived comeback with my internal martial arts training at Kung Fu Quad Cities.  I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and working full time, rehabbing by bummed out knee.   Roughly a year after my surgery I got engaged to the most amazing woman.  I relocated to my Wife’s home town and pursued a great career opportunity.  This year I completed my Bachelor’s degree, bought a home in a great neighborhood, and got married.  But, there is, and has been, one thing missing.  Kung Fu.

For any of you that do not know who I am.  I was one of Sifu’s first students and his only black sash that started as a 17 year high school boy back in October 1997.  I was very passionate about my training and the philosophical lifestyle that I had learned studying American Tao.  I learned a lot from our teacher.  He has been an unshakable source of guidance in martial arts and in my life for the last 10 years.  For me, my involvement with martial arts was to the extent that I would skip College classes just to train.  Sifu and I would go outside and train once class was over - after the fitness center closed in Bettendorf.  I practiced nearly 2-3 hours most days of the week.  I met with friends that studied other forms of martial arts.  Trained with them, learned with them, shared notes, etc.  It’s a great resource to have, and the friendship you develop is amazing.  I met one of my best buddies competing against him in a tournament.   

I’ve met some great friends over the years and look forward to the opportunity of training with some of the folks back in the Quad Cities.   I believe there is a lot we can learn from one another.  Furthermore, pursue true ability with what we practice in our system.  Chris, his wife, and I will be getting together this Sunday - bright and early - to train. 

We'll keep everyone up to date with our progress.


Rich Coulter (a.k.a. Richie)

Martial Arts Self Defense - A Tolerance for Pain

Ever since I began studying the martial arts--34 years ago--I've run into a lot of guys who think that in order to show your skill, you need to hurt someone or prove how tough you are by taking hard shots or a lot of punishment.

You see them in classes, inflicting pain on others. You see them putting their own bodies through painful ordeals from pounding on makawara boards for hours on end to breaking blocks of ice with their foreheads. You see them bragging about how they got their nose broken, or how they got hit real hard in the head (and their bragging includes how well they can take a good punch or kick).

There is an interesting psychological thing happening here. I don't know if it's insecurity, a bad self image, or they didn't get hugged enough as kids. But these guys will always tell you that you need to endure a lot of physical pain and abuse if you're going to be a "real" martial artist.

Bull crap.

Often, the Dog Brothers are held up as icons of "pure" martial arts because they go all out with contact during their stick fights. People brag about how tough they are because of this, and about the cool injuries they suffer.

The only time I could ever hit someone hard enough with a stick to cause injury is in a self-defense situation. If I hit a classmate or a student hard enough to hurt them, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

This isn't intended to put the Dog Brothers down. They're great at what they do. I also admire the MMA guys who take and inflict a lot of pain.

But don't confuse this with being a "real" martial artist. These guys are brawlers, and they're very good at some things. But artist is not the word I would use to describe it.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it here. My students have been able to successful defend themselves in real-life situations, and have damaged their attackers to the point of surgery and hospitalization--without being hurt in class or hurting others.

Good training is the key. Good principles, effective techniques, and the proper body mechanics taught in class, along with practice, practice, practice and the proper mental intent when practicing--these are necessary ingredients for being a good fighter.

I had dozens of fights growing up. I was usually picked on by bullies--all of them older than me, and I ended up being pushed to the breaking point and then I beat up the bully every time. I really enjoyed the fights when they were happening--once I decided to defend myself. I enjoyed the one-on-one competition, and the fact that often the smarter fighter won. I also enjoyed the fact that almost every bully backed down once he was on the receiving end of a good punch in the face.

But these were self-defense situations. The bully had it coming to him, and I did everything I could to avoid fighting.

As an adult, I embraced not only the fighting aspects of kung fu, but also the philosophy. I couldn't bring myself to hurt someone in class. I can't bring myself to hurt anyone in a tournament. It isn't what I'm in martial arts to do. I'm in it for personal mastery, not to master other people. I'm not in it to abuse myself or anyone else.

My idea of a good martial artist is someone who doesn't get hit. When I spar someone, I want to score on my opponent without getting hit. Believe me, even in "point" sparring, your opponents slip often, and you get tagged hard enough to know if you can take a good punch. But isn't it sort of dumb to think that you have to get hit hard just to prove you can take a punch?

No thanks. I'm not into self-abuse. I like and respect myself and I like and respect other people, and there is nothing more degrading than a punch or kick or slap to the face. There is nothing more disrespectful than kicking someone hard enough to crack a rib.

That's why, in my classes, when I began working with new students and they flinched, I assured them that when they worked with me, they would not be hurt. Once they saw that, they were able to learn better.

I know for a fact that it isn't necessary to be hurt or to hurt someone to be an excellent martial artist.

Looking for a Few Good Students

I'm looking for four or five people in the Tampa, Florida area, preferably with some martial arts experience, who want to study the internal arts -- Chen tai chi, Hsing-I, and Bagua.

Lessons will be free of charge and will be heavily slanted toward fighting with the internal arts. You'll learn the forms and techniques but each lesson will involve in-depth training in the martial applications of these arts, and how they are used in practical self-defense situations. Students will become excellent tai chi, Hsing-i and bagua fighters.

Students that I choose to take on will have to be very serious. I"m looking for people who will be my training partners. In exchange for free instruction and training, the students will agree to appear in videos for this blog, the website, and instructional DVDs and the e-books created from the DVDs.

If you are in the Tampa area and you're interested, or if you know someone who might be interested, email me.

Why would I teach for free? Running the school in Bettendorf made me realize that too many sacrifices are made when you run a school. You have to accept students who don't take it seriously, just so you can pay the school's expenses (building payment, utilities, insurance, equipment, etc.). I'll never do that again. I earn a good living in my job, so I don't need to teach internal arts for money. Only serious martial artists who can give and take a thumping need inquire about this, and anyone who becomes a student and doesn't take it seriously shouldn't be surprised if they're told not to come back.

The Further Dumbing Down of America?

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, a new show will debut on NBC involving Uri Geller, who claims to be able to bend things (like spoons) with his mind. He's teaming up with magician Criss Angel for a new show called Phenomenon.

Geller became famous in the Sixties and Seventies with his famous bending trick, and everyone assumed he could actually bend spoons with his mind, because Americans can be easily fooled (ummm, like when they believe in chi masters and chi "healing"). Johnny Carson was a magician and with the help of James Randi, he exposed Geller to be a fraud on national TV.

Geller has survived because there are a lot of people who believe this type of garbage no matter what the facts show (ummm, see the above comment about chi masters), and in this new show, he and Angel will be searching for people who possess miraculous and supernatural powers.

This will be very interesting.

James Randi is still around. He exposes frauds all the time (like chi masters who claim to knock people down without touching them but fail in actual double-blind testing conditions). He has a one million dollar reward in escrow waiting for anyone to claim if they can prove their super powers in double blind clinical trials. No one has been able to do this because people don't possess psychic or supernatural powers, including the power of chi.

But there are plenty of folks who are ready to believe. It will be interesting to see the ratings, which I expect to be tremendous, and it will be very interesting to see how the producers set up the "tests."  Will they use double blind clinical trial conditions? Somehow, I doubt it, but I anticipate that they'll try to fool us, just as Geller has been trying for decades.

Students Bring Home Tournament Hardware

Dubuquetrophies_1 Three of my students competed in a couple of tournaments during the past two weekends and brought home some hardware. This weekend, Kim Schabler, Kim Miller and Chris Miller went to Dubuque, Iowa, to one of the largest tournaments in the Midwest--the Midwest Tang Soo Do Open Karate Championship.

Chris won 1st place in forms with the Chen 38 (against a group of mostly karate competitors). He also won 1st place in sparring. Kim Miller won 2nd in forms and 3rd in weapons. Kim Schabler won 1st in sparring and 2nd in forms. An outstanding showing. Congratulations for keeping our reputation for quality martial arts growing.

Chris Miller -- 1st place in a karate tournament using Chen tai chi. Now THAT's what I'm talkin' about.

The photo above shows--from left to right--Kim S., Kim and Chris Miller.

Last week they went to South Beloit, Illinois, not realizing the tournament was run using TKD rules. It's open to all styles, but very few outside of TKD enter because of the sparring rules that allow no punches to the head.

Despite a frustrating day there were bright spots. Chris, Kim and Kim met one 4th degree TKD black belt who praised and asked questions about their forms. He commented that they really seemed to be fighting in their forms. When they explained that we don't do forms without understanding the fighting applications of each move, he was fascinated. He admitted that at his school, they didn't teach the fighting applications of a lot of moves.

At this TKD tournament, Kim S. won 1st in weapons, 2nd in forms and 2nd in sparring. Kim M. won 2nd in weapons and 3rd in forms. Chris won 1st in weapons, 2nd in forms and 3rd in sparring.

I'm proud of you guys!! 

Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

I remember the first week I started teaching, ten years ago this month. My class was held in a fitness center in Muscatine, Iowa. Some young guys came in who wanted to learn kung fu. There were four or five of them, ranging in age from 16 to 24.

They lined up and we began warming up, stretching, doing pushups and crunches, and then I demonstrated a form and some techniques that they would be learning, in an effort to excite them about things to come.

And then it hit me. I had to be perfect.

The pressure was immediate. Every move I made in class had to be teacher quality. I couldn't make a mistake. If I did, I would lose credibility with my students. It was a feeling I hadn't expected. These guys were looking at me as if I was the expert, and I needed to prove it every class.

My reaction to this? I trained every day--hard. On weekends, I would train four or five hours a day, refining my technique, working on forms, studying applications and chin-na deeper. In one way I was fortunate (or maybe not so fortunate in other ways). I was married to someone at the time who didn't make spending time together a priority. That freed me up to train and train and train.

I read an article a couple of years ago about Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang. Being the grandson of Chen Fake, and the standard-bearer for the Chen family in his generation, was a weight that he feels. He commented that he had to work harder because of the legacy he carries. People expect him to be great.

It isn't always easy--even for someone with his skill--to be under that microscope every time he performs or demonstrates something.

I've always wondered why Americans are so eager to have the title of "master." Seems to me that places you on a pedestal where you can easily be knocked off. I've competed against people who call themselves masters and defeated them in both forms and fighting. What does that make me?

A student, that's what it makes me. When you look at the skill of the top masters out of China--the people who have trained all their lives--you realize that mastery is something that most of us Americans who spend most of our time working for a living and raising families will never achieve. It's impossible for us to reach that level of skill. We can be good. We can certainly be effective in a self-defense situation. But mastery will likely elude us.

Lucky us. In the martial arts I really believe that the journey is much more satisfying than the pressure you find if you ever reach the level of master. 

Hsing-I E-book is Now Available- Free with DVD Purchase

I've received some very nice comments from people who have purchased the DVD "Hsing-I Class Vol. 1: The 5 Fist Postures." It really is one of the most detailed instructional videos ever produced on an internal art.

Now, the e-book is available, and it will be given FREE to anyone who Tsuan_7 purchases the Hsing-I DVD. The e-book is 42 pages long and contains 122 photos, along with detailed practice tips that will help you break down the fine points of the five fist postures of Hsing-I Chuan.

If you have purchased the DVD, send me an email and you'll receive the e-book in the reply. If you purchase the DVD today or in the future, you'll receive the e-book before the DVD arrives.

The e-book is great to print out and use as a reference when you don't have the ability to practice with the DVD.

Next, I plan on doing these e-books for my other videos, and I'll do this for future DVDs, too. The next DVD will explore fighting applications of the fist postures in great detail. There may be two DVDs, there is so much to show!!

Power in Tai Chi Applications

It applies to Hsing-I and Bagua too, but you can generate a lot of power with what appear to be relatively relaxed movements. Using the strength of the ground and peng, beginning at the feet, transmitted through the legs, directed by the dan t'ien and expressed in the hands--power is generated.

Here's a short clip showing one application from the beginning of the movement "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar." This type of movement is seen throughout the form. The first couple of demonstrations show the application. The final one shows, by using a rebreakable board, how easily you could snap someone's elbow when using this application.