Previous month:
December 2007
Next month:
February 2008

Two Day Intensive This Weekend!

A return to the Quad Cities this weekend will kick off a two-day intensive training session with students. We'll do a lot of training and practicing of internal strength, with an emphasis on whole-body movement and silk-reeling. And we'll train hard with Hsing-I and Tai Chi forms and applications.

Kicking off the two days, we'll finish the next DVD in the Hsing-I series -- Fighting Applications of the Five Fist Postures. All we have left to videotape are Pao Chuan and Heng Chuan. That will be fun. Hopefully, the DVD will be finished by the end of February. Everyone who is involved in the taping will get a free copy, of course.

The Four Tigers Perform Lajia Yilu

All the Chen Tai Chi masters that you see--even the students of a master--will perform the same form differently when they reach a certain level. It's fascinating to look at the differences. Since this is an art, these men have mastered the fundamentals and then added their own artistic flourishes.

Here are links to YouTube videos showing the "Four Tigers" of Chen Tai Chi performing Laojia Yilu.

Chen Xiaowang performs Laojia Yilu.

Zhu Tiancai performs Laojia Yilu.

Wang Xian performs Laojia Yilu.

Chen Zhenglei performs Laojia Yilu.

Looking Deeper into Martial Arts Forms/Katas

Staff I was at a tournament a few years ago and some karate black belts were competing in my empty-hand forms division. I'm always interested in forms from other styles so I watch them carefully. Three black belts from one karate school did the same form and it ended when them bringing their right foot to their left and sort of stomping it two or three times as it pulled in.

After the judging, I went up to the three, who were standing together, and told them I liked their form but wondered what the fighting application was of the little foot taps at the end.

They looked at each other, then at me, shrugged their shoulders and said they didn't know.

I know a high-level black belt in another karate style who does a powerful staff form. He wins first place in a lot of tournaments. I asked him one day if he ever practiced the fighting applications and he said he had never actually done that with the staff -- he only knew the form.

I was judging at a tournament and a young guy with an Asian background had just returned from studying for a year in China with Shaolin teachers. He was 16 and slim and did the most dazzling wushu form, flips and at one point he bent over backward, put his head on the floor, and did circles with his legs while pivoting on his head. Now, the other competitors were doing relatively simple, traditional forms, and this guy was doing acrobatics. We gave first place to a guy who did a very solid traditional karate form. The young wushu competitor and his father were angry. So I looked at him and asked, "What's the fighting application of the movement where your head is on the ground?" His face went blank and he said he didn't know. I replied, "Exactly."

I don't understand the value of doing forms without knowing what the fighting applications are. I like peeling the layers off of forms and knowing how many ways you can use one movement in self-defense. After all, isn't self-defense what all this was designed for? It's okay to do it for health or fitness or self-esteem, but if you're going to strap on a black belt, you have a responsibility to look deeper than the surface. Your teacher has a responsibility to teach you, and you should expect it.

Even more importantly, you should demand it of yourself to dig deeper into your arts. Never stop learning, and that doesn't mean learning new forms. Never stop learning deeper insights about your art. 

New Section on Website

There is so much to learn and so little time.

A few weeks ago I was planning to launch an online course, but frankly, it would take so much time, I backed away from that idea. My full-time job is pretty intense, and I have a need to maintain a balance between work and the enjoyment of life (which involves a lot of time with my main squeeze, Nancy).

On the website, there's a new section called "Free Lessons." It will soon contain many little lessons, and the exploration of different techniques and principles.

Right now you can see part 1 of lessons on Standing Stake. I begin showing Tom Revie, my training partner and a newbie at the internal arts, how to do Zhan Zhuang. Many more lessons will be added.

More Kind Words about the DVDs

Sometimes I open my email and it makes my day to see that my instruction is helping people. Here's part of an email I received today about the Internal Strength DVD:

"I am very pleased with the Internal Strength DVD.  I’ve studied Yang Tai Chi for a long time, and recently started looking at silk reeling.  I sometimes teach Tai Chi and balance classes for older folks.  I’ve heard most of what you say on the DVD, but apparently never really understood it as well as through your clear instruction and effective demonstration.  It’s not just understanding it -- it’s being quite inspired by it!  Your supportive teaching style is encouraging.  Thank you for your efforts to share your understanding and experience.

Thank you for allowing me to tell people that the Chi magical energy stuff doesn’t have to be believed literally to be useful for visualization."


Here's another message I received about the new Hsing-I Five Fist Postures DVD.

"I recieved the DVD I ordered and I must say that I'm quite pleased with the level of instruction presented. The material is extremely digestable and understandable to those with even alittle to moderate understanding of Hsing I Chuan. I look forward to more DVDs products from you."

Thanks to both of you. I've watched martial arts videos ever since the VCR hit the market around 1978 (when I bought my first VCR for nearly $1,000). I've been dissatisfied with most videos, especially the ones involving internal arts, because they mostly involve repeating movements with little real instruction on what lies beneath the movement---what makes it an "internal" art. Maybe most teachers don't want to give away the store, but what good is an instructional DVD that doesn't teach?

I plan on continuing to put what I know on DVD. I'll never be at the level of a Chen Xiaowang or Chen Xiaoxing, but you don't have to be at that level to be a teacher and to share what you know with people who may not be quite as far along. I'm having a lot of fun doing this, and it's gratifying to get messages like these.

Online Flaming and Martial Arts

I picked up a book off my martial arts library bookcase the other day--a book on Hsing-I Chuan written back in the early 80's by an American who I won't name. I hadn't looked at it in a long time and when I did, I was surprised at how much work the author needed on his body mechanics and posture. I read it anyway, because I can learn from just about anyone.

It's a difficult thing to put what you know on video or in photos, especially when you put it on the web, but also when you put it in print. You open yourself up to unmerciful flaming. I try to be very careful about what I put out for public consumption because I know too well the tendency of others to be very critical.

The Internet is the worst. That's why I've disabled comments on the clips that I put on YouTube. There are thousands of armchair quarterbacks out there -- black belts in their own mind -- who criticize everyone they see online. They're almost always anonymous and pick apart everything they see. 99% of these flamers can't do anything but by criticizing others, they make themselves feel better, I suppose.

This blog is an interesting example of what happens when you make people accountable for their comments. I welcome comments from everyone, but there has to be a real name attached and a real email address, and all comments are approved before being posted. This policy keeps the flamers away, but if you notice, it also means that only a few people post comments. I've learned to avoid chat rooms online, because it's so often a waste of time, and many discussions turn to arguments and flaming. That's why I took the discussion board off my website years ago.

When I produce video, I often re-shoot something because when I look at it, I realize I didn't do it perfectly, and if you don't do it perfectly you're going to get slammed. You see, even if you're giving good information, there are people who will slam you anyway.

There is a lot of insecurity in the internal arts, that's why you find people who are so critical of others. I don't spend 10 seconds worrying about what other people are doing, where they study, how they practice, or how high their skills are. The only time I'm ever critical of someone is when they claim to be able to do supernatural things with their "chi." That has nothing to do with skill or who your teacher is--that has everything to do with fraud and dragging the internal arts down into KooKoo Land.

I've listened to Tai Chi teachers badmouth others. I've seen Tai Chi masters badmouth other people. I've heard American Tai Chi teachers criticize disciples of a particular master, saying they didn't deserve to be disciples. And of course I've been on the receiving end of badmouthing, too. I think it takes a pretty insecure and jealous person to be critical of the martial arts skill of others. If you hang around internal arts teachers like that, find a new teacher.

One of the reasons I love YouTube is because I can see so many other martial artists doing their thing. I love to see the internal artists, even if they look like they're just enthusiastic guys having fun who aren't high level -- that's okay, because I almost always pick up something I can use, or a training technique I haven't tried before. I saw one Hsing-I guy performing strikes at a speed that I've never tried before. It was really cool. I don't know how good this guy really is, but he gave me an idea that I'm going to work into my practice as soon as I get my heavybag back up. I love it.

Keep yourself open to the work of others. Even if they aren't perfect (and who among us is?), you can still learn.

Unlocking the Fighting Applications of Tai Chi

My training partner Tom is coming over in about 3 hours and we're going to begin shooting a DVD on the fighting applications of Tai Chi. I'm mentally preparing, and going through the movements and writing down the applications. I'm halfway through movement number 3 -- Lazy About Tying the Coat -- and I've already listed 30 fighting applications -- strikes, blocks, kicks, sweeps, throws, and joint-locks. I'll be pulling out the mats and demonstrating them all on the video.

Did you know that at the very beginning of Lazy About Tying the Coat there are 4 or 5 obvious applications including a throw/takedown? And this is during a move that--to most people--looks like a transition before the main movement.

When I practice the form and the applications, I often remember Yang forms that I learned, and how the movements are similar and how the applications apply to Yang, too. Both Chen and Yang tai chi come from the same source, after all.

I'm not just going to demonstrate them in slow motion, but also against more realistic attacks. It's true that this is an art, and as such, there are some movements and techniques that you learn mostly for the concept of the movement -- actual use in combat is debatable. But many of the movements from Tai Chi forms are fantastic in actual fighting, so I'll try to demonstrate them at a faster speed. As I said in an earlier post, it isn't pretty sometimes in actual combat -- the hand isn't "just so" and the foot might not point in "this direction," but it works.

This is a lot of fun, sitting in my study, thinking deeply about the movements and writing down applications. It's real study, the kind we all need to do from time to time, like taking a college course. Doing the form is always great, but sometimes you just need to think about it.

It's going to be a busy morning but a great one.

New DVD - Linking the Five Elements Form

Linkingthumbnail I just finished a new instructional DVD -- the Five Element Linking Form for Hsing-I Chuan. You can watch a few highlights on YouTube.

Hsing-I students usually start by learning the San Ti stance and five fist postures. The first form they learn links the fist postures.

This is a powerful form with a lot of information that my students have used to win many tournament competitions.

Ths video was shot at Sarasota Beach. It's just over one hour long. It includes demonstrations of the complete form at different angles, including slow motion. It also includes:

  • In-depth instruction, step-by-step, with repeated movements in slow motion.
  • A section on the internal principles behind the movements -- how to perform them in an internal way. This is instruction that is very difficult to find on any internal arts DVD.
  • A 25 minute section on the fighting applications of each movement.

We're building a library of solid, high-quality instructional DVDs. My goal is to teach in a plain English, straight-forward way with details you can't find anywhere on DVD. And as usual, if you aren't satisfied with the DVD, send it back and get an INSTANT refund. There is no shipping charge. Use a credit card or pay through PayPal by clicking on the button below.