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Congratulations to a new Brown Sash Student--Chris Miller!

ChampionsCongratulations are in order for Chris Miller, shown in this photo on the far right (standing next to his wife Kim, with Kim Schaber on the left). Chris was promoted last night to brown sash level 1 in our system.

The three in this photo have been among my students that have shown tenacity, staying with it and practicing together since Nancy and I left the Quad Cities over a year ago. Chris stepped up and has been leading the practice sessions. In video exchanges, I've watched his technique and offered video replies. He was also the first to join the online school and has obviously studied the video instruction very carefully.

I've been teaching for 11 years and only two students have reached brown sash level. Rich Coulter made it to black sash. Now Chris Miller has reached brown, and I have no doubt he'll earn his black sash. Chris has not only stepped up in leadership, he's also making a name for himself on the tournament circuit. And with the great attitude and sportsmanship that my students are known for.

Many students have started studying with me, but various pressures in life get in the way--school, jobs, car payments, relationships--not everyone has the persistence or the determination to remain on this martial arts journey.

The internal arts are difficult. You don't take a test every two or three months whether you're ready or not. You have to know the material and be able to show real progress. I've started many tests during the past 11 years and--right in the middle of the test--stopped and turned it into a regular class because it was obvious the people taking their test weren't ready. As a rule, I don't hand out sashes just for showing up. And it becomes more difficult as you progress up the ranks. I get pickier, and I expect more the closer a student gets to black sash.

Reaching brown sash level is a real accomplishment. So congratulations, Chris. I'm proud of you. I expect others will follow you in the coming months if they're ready. So now it's time to dive ahead into bagua. I can't wait to get back to the Quad Cities and work out together again.

A Visit from Rich Coulter

Kenrichweb2_2 Rich Coulter and his family--wife Shawna, son Izaiah and step-daughter Mallory--spent the last two days and nights with me and Nancy at our home in Tampa. It was a great time. Our pool needed a couple of kids under the age of 11 to give it the workout it needed. :)

Rich was in high school when he became one of my first kung fu students in 1997. He was a natural and became a legend on the Midwest tournament circuit, winning first place in nearly every competition he entered for several years. The man was a maniac! Anyone who has purchased the Tournament Sparring DVD has seen many clips of him kicking some major boo-tay.

This weekend we took some time to train and focused on some basics--silk-reeling and whole-body movement. It was great to work together. At theKenrichweb1  end of our workout today, we videotaped some 2-person Hsing-I exercises for the online school. I'll edit those and put the videos on the site for members in the next couple of days. The photo at left is from the video we shot. Rich got a taste of what it's like to do an outdoor workout during the most humid and warm time of year in Florida.

It's an amazing thing to see a high school kid come in to check out a martial arts class one evening, and over time he becomes part of your family. I could list several students, current and former, who have become much more than students to me. But Rich is the one who has persisted in the arts for 11 years, and I imagine we'll be training together for many years to come.

New DVD - Chen Tai Chi Broadsword Form

Chenbsword200 My newest DVD covers the Chen Broadsword Form in detail. Multiple angles, many done slowly, step-by-step instruction with an emphasis on body mechanics, and there are two sections on fighting applications from the form and general broadsword stances, blocking techniques and cutting techniques.

I fell in love with the broadsword in 1987, when I began studying Yi Li Chuan with Sifu Pete Starr. My weapon of choice was the broadsword, and I enjoyed sparring with it and competing in tournaments with broadsword forms. For many years, when I showed up at tournaments in the weapons division, everyone was using the staff and I had my broadsword. I worked hard and won many first-place decisions.

I learned this form from Master Ren Guangyi when I was a student of Jim and Angela Criscimagna's. None of the DVDs I've seen on the market do much in the way of actual instruction -- they mostly show just repeated movements -- so I believe this DVD will add to the insight of people who are practicing this form. It runs a little more than an hour and I think you'll enjoy the fighting applications and the broadsword techniques.

My advice would be to get some wooden broadswords and a partner and practice the applications and fighting techniques--the parries, deflections and cutting techniques--so that you can become familiar with WHY you're doing these movements in the form.

If interested, look to the right of this page and click on the Chen Broadsword Form DVD link for ordering information.

Two Real Kung Fu Masters Battle!

This is video of a real challenge match in China from 1954. A White Crane master versus a Wu tai chi master. They signed agreements before the match that would prevent anyone from being held liable in the event a death resulted from the match.

This is one of the sorriest examples of "kung fu" I've ever seen. It makes you wonder that if these guys were masters of their day, more than 50 years ago, just how inflated are the tales of old masters that have become legends? I believe many of these tales have been embellished over time. People, after all, are people, and we tend to hold our idols up to ridiculous heights. This video might bring us down to earth a little bit.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Trophiesweb I'm throwing my trophies away. I've been carrying trophies around everywhere I've moved since 1974. This past move, from the Quad Cities to Tampa, included several boxes, some of them quite large, of trophies from martial arts tournaments. Some of the trophies are as tall as I am. Some are taller.

It's with mixed feelings that I do this. The trophies represent many years of hard work, realized by putting my skills on the line in front of a jury of black belts.

Although I competed in tournaments as far back as 1974, I didn't really get into the scene until 1988, and then I really began competing in earnest around 1996. Around the Midwest circuit at that time, no one knew who I was. First place wins were scarce. The longer I competed and the harder I practiced, the first place trophies began piling up.

My favorite accomplishments came in Chicago, where the competition was very tough. A lot of talented people in forms, and in black belt sparring injury was common and you couldn't even score a point unless you belted your opponent. "Point sparring" is pretty rough there, so those trophies meant a lot, both for forms and sparring.

I've always loved tournaments--both for the friends I've made and the sheer adrenalin rush of the competition. It also provides a good incentive to keep in shape.

But it's silly to cart around all these trophies, and as Nancy and I contemplate a move back to the Quad Cities from Tampa, I know that I don't want to move the trophies again. I threw dozens away when we moved here, when we closed down our school. Now, I'm getting rid of my final 56 first-place trophies. This morning I rounded them all up for a photo before they go.

Hey, I'm only 55. I still have a few more tournaments in me. Maybe I can pile up a few more. AFTER we move.

90 Lessons in 30 Days

Chenbswordbig I'm working on the new website between 8 and 11 hours a day. It's going well and every day I'm putting up to 45 minutes of video lessons on the site. It takes a tremendous amount of time to practice and shoot the lessons, and even more time to edit, render the video for the web, and actually place it into the site. There's also the time with Photoshop, taking thumbnail photos from the video lessons to identify the lesson on the site.

To save costs, and because I can, I do it all myself, with Nancy videotaping me (and training partners if needed). It would cost many thousands of dollars to hire this out.

I got the idea for the site 3 months ago this week. Actually, I had the idea some time before that, but didn't have the opportunity to spend time on it until mid-April. Since that time, I've been working full-blast. And I've promised members of the site that there will be 90 new lessons on the site in the next 30 days.

It's pretty gratifying to see people join from Japan, France, the Netherlands, and across the U.S. The feedback has been excellent.

Another positive result -- all the material I'm shooting will end up very soon on new DVDs. Meanwhile, the old website is still up, but it's mostly for selling DVDs and hosting the Flash video files that are running on the new site. 

Pizza Clerk Knocks Out Robber

Speaking of real-life violence, here's a video of a pizza clerk who decided to fight back when a robber slapped him. A couple of punches and the robber is knocked out cold.

I saw the pizza clerk interviewed on the Today Show this morning. He's 17 and has no martial arts experience. Imagine what would have happened to the robber if a trained martial artist had treated his face like a couple of boards to break.

As Bugs Bunny, famous martial artist, might say, "What a maroon!"

Respect - A Question of Character?

A young man walked into my kung fu class one evening and wanted to take lessons. A couple of the guys knew him from high school so naturally, I welcomed him like any other student.

He claimed to have had other martial arts experience. He was slender, short, and very fast. He had a lot of potential.

But he had no respect.

Since he had experience, when the sparring part of the class began, I asked him to spar with me so I could see how advanced he was. This young kid began dancing around and trash-talking me, moving in and trying to hit me, taunting me. It was laughable, since he had no skill but plenty of speed. I was able to hit him at will, but I was astounded by the fact that he would taunt a teacher. I had never run into that type of attitude in a student.

Within a couple of classes, this lack of respect translated into behavior throughout the class. I pulled him into another room and told him to either show a little respect to the art and to the teacher or don't come back. He settled down a little bit, but over the next couple of months his disrespect was obvious. I warned him again.

He only lasted another class or two and then he was gone forever. I never liked to see students leave, but in his case, I was relieved.

A week ago, he was sent to prison for 18 years for masterminding an ecstacy ring in the Quad Cities.

The moral of this story? I'm not yet sure. Most of the students who enrolled in my classes were fantastic people. To my knowledge, this person is the only one who ended up in trouble with the law. Based on the attitude he showed toward me and to the arts I taught, I can't say I'm surprised.

Learning the Internal Arts through Video

The martial arts are full of legends--tales of masters who could fling a larger opponent across a room with the flick of a finger, or masters who could defeat a crowd of martial artists without being injured.

One legend tells of a young student who wanted to learn a form from a master. According to the legend, the master performed the sequence of movements one time, turned to the student and said, "I will be back in one year. You master this form!"

One year later, according to the legend, the master returned and the student had, in fact, mastered the movements. And he didn't even have a DVD player!

I'm a visual learner and I've studied martial arts since 1973, but I still can't memorize more than two or three moves in a row by just watching a performance once. In 1978, however, when I bought my first VCR, it opened up a new world of martial arts training for visual learners like me.

Imagine if you had videos of some of the great martial arts masters of the 19th Century. Imagine if you could watch the creator of Tai Chi, Chen Wangting, perform his movements in the 1600's in the Chen Village. Legendary Hsing-I master Sun Lu Tang, the creator of Sun Tai Chi, lived until the 1930s but sadly, not long enough for camcorders and VCRs to be invented. Chen Fake, Chen Xiaowang's legendary grandfather, lived until 1957. What a shame we have so little on video to see how they moved.

Since the early 1980s, martial artists around the world have been recording themselves on video. The rise of the VCR and DVD gave us the chance to stop a master in his tracks or slo-mo the movements like never before.

The body mechanics for these arts are incredibly complicated. It takes years of study to do them correctly. I've learned in person from folks like Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and his brother, Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, their students Master Ren Guangyi and Chen Bing, and American students and disciples.
I've also purchased their videos and have found them lacking in true instruction. Not all great masters are great teachers. My best teachers have been Americans--students of these masters like Jim and Angela Criscimagna (disciples of Chen Xiaowang)--who questioned beneath the surface and explained, in plain English, the mechanics behind the movements.

It takes someone with years of face-to-face instruction to be able to decipher the body mechanics that the masters show on video but don't teach on video. And that's the problem.

If you try to learn martial arts through video, the challenge is to find someone who can actually teach visually. Most masters only do repeated movements at different angles with very little instruction on body mechanics. Without proper body mechanics, you can't do the internal arts properly. Some of the best videos I've seen have been by martial artists who were not considered masters, but they were good teachers and knew how to use video.

If you try to learn martial arts on video, find a way to get feedback on your techniques and movements from a qualified teacher. We all believe we look like a great master when we perform, but the reality is usually different from the self-image in our heads.

Use a camcorder to record your movements and then compare them to the video you're studying. Be brutally honest with yourself. Get a friend to look at both videos and tell you where you're making a mistake. Is your body really doing what the instructor is doing?

Some of my students who live in other parts of the world put private videos on YouTube for me to watch and critique. Sometimes I make video replies to show them the mistakes they're making. I've done this for my students back in Iowa. I now have students as far away as Japan.

Nothing can replace face-to-face teaching and hands-on corrections, but if you live in an area without people who teach the arts you want to learn, and you're a visual learner, the development of video and the Internet has given anyone a chance to explore the arts like no other time in history.