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May 2008
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July 2008

A Busy Week and an Online School for Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua

Draping_punch_2 I've been working for over two months on a new website and I plan to launch it this week -- on Independence Day. Through this site, anyone around the world will be able to study the Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua that I've been teaching for so many years.

The site will contain the equivalent of dozens of DVD-quality videos on it, plus e-books and audio, covering these three internal arts plus more. I've done many video shoots, and the editing and video rendering for the web, not to mention the Photoshop work for the photos, is time-consuming and sometimes tedious. At the same time, it's fun and quite amazing to see the material grow larger and larger. There is still a lot left to shoot and edit, but the site will be launched as it continues to grow.

Yesterday morning I shot over an hour of video covering silk-reeling exercises. I get frustrated watching videos of masters doing these exercises but not explaining or really teaching anything, so on this site, I'll do my best to really explain the principles and concepts to help people practice. On Saturday, I shot video of bagua tea-serving exercises and I'm finishing up those videos today. Video lessons run from 4 minutes to 15 minutes and can be viewed unlimited times by members. There are also supporting written materials and e-books for downloading.

This new website will be a membership site. For a very low monthly fee, members can study on their own or seek certification on any of the three arts. They can also choose to seek rank in the system that I've been teaching for over a decade, and join my students.

Over the years, I've received many emails from people around the world asking how they can study these arts when there are no teachers around. This will be an answer to that question. It's an exciting venture. I'll announce the website address on July 4.

Martial Arts Book Worth Reading

Our good buddy Evan Yeung suggested this book, and from what I've read about it, it's a winner. Today I ordered "Meditations on Violence" by Rory Miller. It's a real-life look at violence, and how the martial arts that we often study and practice don't really cut it in a real-life situation. Rory Miller knows violence first-hand.

A few years ago I had a dream that woke me up in a cold sweat. I was walking down the street. A car screeched to a stop next to the curb and four big guys got out and ran at me -- hard -- with the obvious purpose of violence. Just as the first one was reaching me, I woke up and realized that in a situation like that, most of the things we practiced in any of the schools I'd studied in were worthless. I considered it a wake-up call, that my inner consciousness was reminding me of something very important.

Now, I'm also one of those people who isn't about to throw away the "art" in my martial art and replace it with the type of brawling you see in mixed martial arts on TV. But it never hurts to be reminded of the fact that reality is far different than class. In fact, it might hurt NOT to be reminded.

Are You Afraid to Share Your Knowledge?

Nancy and I went to a driving range a few weeks ago to hit a bucket of golf balls. A golf pro was working there, and we found out that he charged just $25 an hour for private lessons. We took a lesson and got some pointers on driving the ball. Did it help? Not a lot -- yet. Like any sport, including tai chi, it takes practice for the body mechanics to sink in. But it was fun and I definitely learned some important points--intellectually if not physically.

I thought about this golf pro when I watched Tiger Woods win the US Open last week. Here's a guy working at a driving range in Tampa, giving golf lessons, but he probably couldn't even qualify as a caddy for Tiger Woods. If Tiger watched this golf pro swing a club, he would probably offer all kinds of advice. But the golf pro had a lot to teach me.

In the world of Tai Chi, people like Chen Xiaowang have the relative skills and position of Tiger Woods. Grandmaster Chen could look at almost anyone performing Chen tai chi and offer many "corrections." Does that mean the person being corrected shouldn't teach? Of course not.

I began developing DVDs after about 3 decades in the martial arts. I felt I had something to offer. I started with tournament sparring because I had so many years of success at it. The reaction was very positive. Then, I began putting my knowledge of the internal arts onto DVDs. I had watched and collected many internal arts DVDs and was frustrated at how little actual instruction you get. I put my TV news experience to work and my teaching experience to create DVDs that go beneath the surface. The emails I've received from martial artists around the world, and the repeat purchases by so many of them, have let me know that even though my form and movement will never be confused with Chen Xiaowang's, I have a lot to offer to people who aren't as far along as I am. This past weekend, I gulped hard and released my first Chen Tai Chi DVD -- the 19 Form. It's a lot more than just repeated movements. In one section, I spend an hour going through movement and applications with my buddy Sean, who has studied other martial arts but not Chen tai chi.

Like the golf pro down the street, don't let the fact that you aren't Tiger Woods or Chen Xiaowang stop you from helping people (and yourself). Share your knowledge. The market will tell you whether you're doing the right thing. Just never forget that you must keep learning, growing, and improving your skills. As I continue to study, practice, and put more material out on video, the market (made up of martial artists) is telling me that I'm on the right track.

Fun with Straight Swords

I've always believed that if you're going to learn a form, you should learn to fight with the movements and techniques from the form. Why, for example, should you learn a sword form if you don't learn sword-fighting?

I have Sifu Phillip Starr to thank for this philosophy. The years I spent training with him in Omaha were valuable, because we trained as hard in the sword-fighting techniques, or staff-fighting techniques, or spear or broadsword -- as we did with the form itself. I try to do that with my own students.

So in my newest DVD, which I just finished today, I not only teach a powerful Hsing-I straight sword form, I teach the fighting techniques you need to know to use a straight sword for self-defense. The video clip below contains a glimpse of some of the form instruction, and then some of the applications from the movements shown. The DVD also includes stances, blocking and cutting techniques, sword & scabbard techniques (how to use a scabbard for combat), one-steps to practice with a partner, and more. I also show you why you shouldn't study with anyone who claims that the empty hand in a sword form is used for "channeling chi" (you know, the two finger position of the empty hand). Enjoy the video. Sean and I are sweatin' to the oldies on a 90-degree day in my back patio studio. :)

Hsing-I Straight Sword DVD

Hsingiswordapp1 Next week, I'm releasing a Hsing-I Straight Sword form on DVD. One of the qualities that has distinguished my students from others is their understanding of fighting applications--both for empty-hand forms and techniques and weapons forms.

This DVD will include a strong Hsing-I straight sword form, plus nearly an hour of coaching on the fighting techniques from the form, various blocking and striking techniques with the straight sword, one-steps, and other instruction.

Hsingiswordapp2 Just as in empty-hand forms, every movement in this straight sword form is either a block or a strike. Every movement, no matter how small, has a fighting application, even when it appears to be just a "transition." There really are no transitions in these arts, you know. Even transitions have fighting applications.

In the two photos here, taken from the Hsing-I form, the first one is from a movement where you step forward, raising the tip of the sword up before striking (in the 2nd photo). The raising of the sword tip represents a deflecting block of an incoming thrust. It isn't just a windup for the strike.

My students and I are known for our sword work. We've all won many tournament competitions using the straight sword and broadsword. I'm excited to finally have the time to put this great form and the instruction on DVD.

All the video is also available on the new website for members. I'll be making a public announcement of this site around July 1.

Key Principles of Chin-Na and Joint Locks

Forward_turning_elbow I'm working on the new website (only my current students know the URL), putting new DVD-quality video on it every day. It's an intense job to try to put all of our curriculum onto videos, into e-books, and get it up on a teaching site. The videos teach all the techniques, forms, and practice methods of the arts that I've been teaching for the past 11 years. I'm hoping to launch it to the world by July 1. In the meantime, there's SO much to do.

Today, I'm editing more video of basic chin-na and getting ready to put a 10-minute clip on the site. As I was editing, it struck me how easy self-defense can be if you can just switch to a different mindset. It struck me because I talk about it in the video that I'm placing on the new site today. :)

A lot of us, in the early years of our training, focus on techniques. For example, if he grabs me here, I should do this specific technique. Or if he pushes me here or punches there, I should do this or that.

The key to effective chin-na or any aspect of the martial arts is to free yourself from that thinking and apply concepts to any specific situation.

If someone attacks me, he is not my target. It doesn't really matter how he punches or what technique he throws. My targets include his elbows, knees, neck -- any joint that comes close. So unlike some martial arts, I don't want to stand back and punch and kick. Chen tai chi is a close-up martial art for in-fighting. I want him to come close enough to put his wrists, elbows and knees into range.

From there, you just take that particular joint in the direction it doesn't want to go. Quickly and with fa-jing. Repeated practice in these concepts, using specific techniques, is important. Internalizing the movements and reactions by practicing in a free-style sparring situation is crucial. With enough practice, at a certain point, you lose the need to respond to this with that and you follow the concepts and principles for effective self-defense.

A World of Difference

I'm enjoying the book American Shaolin more than any book in a long time. Matthew Polly spent two years at the Shaolin Temple as one of the only Westerners living at the Temple and practicing with the monks.

The book is a lesson in the Chinese culture--and an entertaining one. Among my favorite parts is when he's watching kung fu videos with the monks. In traditional Chinese kung-fu movies the hero always dies. Matthew brought some Seagal and VanDamme movies and showed them. The youngest monk asked at one point, "When is the hero going to die?" Matthew explained that VanDamme wasn't going to die because he's the hero.

The monks were confused. How can he be a hero if he doesn't die?

Matthew asked the young monk to explain why he felt that the hero had to die. An older monk spoke up and said (paraphrasing), "It doesn't take courage to fight when you know you can win. Real courage is when you fight on even though all hope is gone."

I thought that was really cool, and also an interesting insight into the mindset of some Chinese, who strive on despite living in extreme poverty.

The living conditions of the monks is pretty tough. They believe that the poorest Americans have it better than they do. And they believe most Americans are rich, fat, loud-mouthed, and don't listen to people from other cultures.

Matthew also discusses the fantastic feats of "chi" that the monks display in performances. Those who practice "iron head kung fu" for example, and break bricks and concrete blocks with their heads, have huge knots on their heads of often speak with stutters. In other words, the monks pay a heavy price for this type of "power." Others train their hands to become like iron, and their hands are deformed, twice the size of normal hands. Nothing natural about it at all, and it has nothing to do with chi -- just people deforming parts of their bodies to withstand tremendous pain and trauma.

If you haven't read this book, I can't recommend it highly enough.