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New DVD - Tai Chi Push Hands Volume 1

PushHands200 A couple of weeks ago, we had a push hands workshop where we went over five patterns of Chen style push hands and some of the principles you need to know when practicing basic push hands.

My ace videographer, Nancy, taped the workshop (all three hours) and I've boiled it down to an hour and 24 minutes on a new DVD. The camcorder rolled while we practiced and while I coached students in the patterns and principles of basic push hands.

Push hands is a physical skill. It isn't just for developing "sensitivity," although that is part of it. Push hands requires years of practice to develop the ability to soften, change, neutralize and counter-attack when an opponent's energy comes at you. It also teaches you the weaknesses in your tai chi movements.

Push hands practice requires all the internal skill and body mechanics of good tai chi.

The DVD costs $25.00 with free shipping in the U.S. and Canada. There's a $5.00 charge for International shipping.  To order, click on the link on the right side of the page (under DVDs and Books).

I like to do DVDs that show actual instruction and corrections. I think it's easier to learn when you see people learning and making mistakes that hopefully will teach the viewer how to correct the mistakes.

Now, it's time to work on the final DVD in the series on the Laojia Yilu fighting applications, a DVD that I shot before leaving Tampa. Later, I plan to put together a push hands applications DVD that will show some of the ways an opponent will attack you, and what to do when that happens.

A Good Day at an Illinois Martial Arts Tournament

Tourney10-25-08-2 Four students and I attended a tournament in Moline, Illinois, yesterday, hosted by my friend John Morrow. I hadn't competed in over a year-and-a-half, and after two heart surgeries this summer, decided to just enter for forms and weapons and wait a little longer, maybe next spring, to enter sparring competition. Photo at left shows me, Chris Miller (standing), his daughter Roewyn, and Colin Frye. Kneeling are Kim Schaber and Kim Miller.

We had a good day. Chris Miller won first place in the brown belt empty-hand forms competition, second in sparring (he was a much better fighter but didn't get the calls), and third place in weapons. He ran a bagua form in empty-hand forms and ran the Chen straight sword in weapons.

Kim Miller won 1st place in women's sparring (under black belt) and 2nd place in brown belt forms. Kim ran the Chen 38 form.

Kim Schaber won 1st place in empty-hand forms and 1st place in weapons. She performed Hsing-I in both competitions.

Colin Frye won 1st place in empty hand forms in the under-black belt colored belt adult division, 2nd place in sparring and 2nd place in weapons. Colin also ran Hsing-I forms, including the Hsing-I straight sword form.

I took first place in black belt forms (all ages) with Laojia Erlu (Cannonfist), which was drastically different than the other competitors. I took 2nd place in black belt weapons with bagua elk horn knives.

It was fun returning to action, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. And it was a lot of fun demonstrating Cannonfist and bagua elk horn knives in front of an audience.

The Value of Solo Practice and Study in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua

I was reading an article in an ancient Tai Chi magazine about Zhu Tiancai, one of the "Four Buddha's Warriors" of the Chen Village. He was asked how masters at his level continue to learn.

He said that, since all his teachers are now dead, his progress is slow, but he continues to make progress by carefully analyzing his own movements and delving deeper into the possibilities of the movements, and the principles of tai chi.

My belief is that your best progress will come during solo practice. A lot of people go to class and get corrections, but they become too dependent on that. Some of them never go home and really analyze the movements slowly. They think too much about choreography. Sometimes, your best practice would be to spend an hour on just a couple of movements, such as Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar and Lazy About Tying the Coat, watching and slowly going through each subtlety in the body mechanics until that light bulb turns on above your head as you try to sit back before turning, try to connect the entire body, and try to feel where you aren't connected or when your peng leaves a movement. Are you using silk-reeling properly? Does it feel right?

Last week in class, it was obvious that one of the students was going through the choreography well, but I could see "emptiness" in one of the arms. Just working on details like this can elevate your skill, and you don't need a teacher to do it. You need to know WHAT you have to work on and then study as you would for a college exam -- really trying to UNDERSTAND every detail of the movement.

And once you feel progress, go to the next movement and apply the same principles.

There have been many years in which I've lived 2 hours from my teacher. There were years where I lived halfway across the nation from my teacher. I still made progress. You should take notes, and if you can learn one thing in each class (or each video lesson on the online school's website), work on it in solo practice and study so you can truly internalize it.

Taking Tai Chi, Hsing-I, and Bagua Workouts Up a Notch

Before I moved back to the Quad Cities from Tampa a few weeks ago, I sent a message to my core group of students. I was signalling a new approach to training, or, if not completely new, a determination to take our practices up a notch.

When Nancy and I owned a "school" that we closed when we moved to Tampa, all types of people were students--older people who only wanted the exercise type of tai chi, younger people who missed classes and obviously didn't practice--and you had to accept everyone if you wanted to pay the school's bills.

The effect was a watering down of practice. I wasn't happy about it, and the more I taught, the less satisfied I was as a martial artist.

My intent upon returning was to maintain a small group of core students who could step up and tolerate more physically demanding workouts. Although I made good friends among other students, including the older ones, my main goal has always been to be the best martial artist that I can be. I'm no longer interested in practicing tai chi by leaving out the martial aspects. And when we do the martial aspects, we have to perform techniques with power and body mechanics. We have to be taken down, thrown, and hit. Not to the point of injury, but to the point where we will walk away a little sore and probably with bruises.

We had a good 3-hour workout yesterday with a small group of students. My black sash student, Rich Coulter, joined us and we drilled on the Chen 19 form, the Chen broadsword form, and then we worked fighting applications of the 19 form. We took it up a notch and it was FUN!!! I coached students in the proper body mechanics and felt the change. For example, when the arm folds in before the step in "Stepping Three Steps" it represents a shoulder lock and a takedown. Students practiced the proper angles and closing to take an opponent down powerfully.

All of our core students are members of the online school.  Any member of the online school is welcome to attend training sessions. That's the only requirement for payment, and it's a very inexpensive way to get good training (only $19.99 a month) but they also are required to appear in videos for the online school and DVDs. It's a win-win situation. For members of the online school who live around the nation and the world (we have members in Japan, England, the Netherlands, Israel, Belgium and other nations) and can't join our practices, they'll receive the instruction in the videos that I post to the online school.

Some former students may not be happy about my change of direction. I don't like leaving students and friends behind, but a martial art is not gentle. It requires transforming your body and your mind into that of a peaceful warrior, someone who is capable of tremendous self-control but also capable of defending themselves in any situation. It requires discipline and respect, and it requires people who will study and practice on their own so they can progress in their skills. It requires people who are determined to build their physical and mental strength.

A martial art shouldn't tolerate students who won't practice and who are constantly late for practice. I'm glad that I don't have to continue to tolerate that situation just to pay the bills on a school. It's more satisfying for me and for the students who take the martial arts seriously.



Hard-Working Kung-Fu Students Receive Promotions

Promotions08 When Nancy and I moved to Tampa in June, 2007, Chris and Kim Miller stepped up to lead practice sessions with other students in the Quad Cities. Kim Schaber donated her dog kennel facility as a practice hall when needed. The three of them, along with Colin Frye, Jay Stratton, and Steve Rogers continued to train together.

When we moved back two weeks ago, it was great to see the improvement in skill that the students had achieved while I was gone.

This week, I tested Kim Schaber and Steve Rogers for their next levels and they passed. A week ago, I promoted Kim Miller to brown sash, joining her husband Chris.

The photo shows--from left to right--Steve Rogers (orange sash), Chris Miller (brown sash first level), Kim Miller (brown sash first level), and Kim Schaber (green sash).

Congratulations to all and thanks for keeping the kung-fu alive!

The Spider and the Zen Book

My office is in our basement. This morning, a spider the size of a Yugo was walking across the basement floor.

I smashed it with a Zen book.

Philosophically speaking, the spider is now one with the universe. By walking across the floor and giving me the heebie-jeebies, it stepped out of harmony with the universe. It dishonored itself with that act. It was my duty to enlighten the spider through the swift application of the Zen book.

I believe there was an episode with this moral lesson in the old Kung Fu TV show. I might be mistaken. Anyway, the pest control people will be here at 4:15.


Leading into Emptiness in Tai Chi Push Hands

One of my favorite internal arts principles is "leading into emptiness." It's a good concept not only for physical self-defense but also for emotional and verbal self-defense.

In push hands practice, one of your primary goals is to soften, change, and counter when force is coming at you. By leading the force into emptiness, you set up your opponent for a counter.

So when force is coming straight in toward you, roll it to the side. If the attack is low, keep it moving lower. If it's a high attack, move it higher. If it is aimed at your chest, "pocket" it. Lead it into emptiness. Move it to where it won't find a target.

This certainly sounds easier than it is. So many skills come into play when doing push hands. Sensitivity, the ability to adhere to your partner, and most difficult of all--the ability to soften when an attack comes at you. Our natural tendency, and what we've been trained to do all our lives, is to tense up when force comes. It can be easily shown that becoming tense puts you in a vulnerable position. I demonstrate this in one of the new push hands videos on the online school's website

Patience in practice is equally difficult. Working on these skills--over and over and over -- without rushing it, without using muscular force, and developing the skills slowly -- that is the most difficult challenge. In other words, disciplining yourself to slow down and focus on the long-term, not expecting to "get it" immediately. 

Push Hands Workshop Part 1

Push Hands 1Big   We had a great push hands workshop on Saturday in Davenport, Iowa. About 7 or 8 members of the online internal arts school were there. The workshop was videotaped for other members. I started putting it on the school's website today.

We went over 6 patterns of Chen tai chi push hands, starting with single hand push hands.

Push hands has several benefits; it helps develop sensitivity, it shows you the weaknesses in your form, and it teaches you to change in response to an opponent. It involves joint locks, strikes, and takedowns.

According to Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, push hands can help you discover the weaknesses in your movement that put you in a vulnerable position. You learn how to soften and deflect and how to exert force at the right opportunity. You learn how to remain in a strong position relative to your opponent.

All of the internal strength skills apply to push hands -- using the ground path, maintaining peng jin, using whole-body movement and silk-reeling. Push hands is a physical skill that requires years of practice to become proficient.

We went through 6 patterns in about 3 hours. It was a free workshop for members of the online school, and each attendee will receive a free DVD of the workshop.

Now that I'm back in the Quad Cities, I plan to hold regular workshops, free for members of the online school. Their only fee is to appear in the video of the workshop, which will be edited into lessons for the online school and produced into DVDs.

The next workshop will likely cover the Hsing-I staff form, but a workshop on push hands fighting applications is coming soon. We covered a few applications and counters during Saturday's workshop, but I'll give the attendees time to practice the patterns before we move more seriously into applications.

Why I'm Skeptical about Kung-Fu Legends

I'm reading an interesting book, Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals, by Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo. One chapter discusses a martial arts historian named Matsuda Ryuchi. He once described the "thousands of books written on the Chinese martial arts" and said that "ninety percent of them are not accurate."

According to this book, Ryuchi learned karate and other Japanese arts when he was young, then later studied Chen tai chi, Baji, Mantis, Bagua, and Yen Ching Boxing. He became a Buddhist monk, doing research and writing about both Buddhism and martial arts. His books include An Illustrated History of Chinese Martial Arts, which was published in 1979.

According to Ryuchi, authors of martial arts books want to make their teacher and their style look good. Stories are embellished and even completely made up. Some authors created founders for their styles and made up fantastic tales of the founder's abilities. It's a practice that continues to this day.

When I hear of a master who lived a hundred years ago or more, and could strike an opponent and "send him flying twenty feet through the air," or touch him and cause him to hit the ceiling, I'm very skeptical.

We're much larger and physically stronger now than people were 100 years ago. I don't know any human who could throw me 20 feet through the air. Can you imagine what it would take for someone to touch you and cause you to hit the ceiling? Perhaps in prison, if you bent over for the soap. Perhaps during a prostate exam. I can't think of another valid example.

There's a prominent internal artist who has a book that shows him launching a student into the air, apparently with his chi. I've seen the video of this and it's very clear that the student locks his arms before the teacher--very physically--pushes him into the air. The book cover makes it appear mystical. The reality is far different, but I would imagine 40 years from now, after the author is dead, students who remember him will tell the story of how he could launch someone into the air with his internal energy.

I'm fascinated with the need that some people have to make the arts out to be something that they're not. They're perfectly wonderful--and amazing--just as they are. So the next time you read a fantastic old tale of a great master that defeated a crowd of attackers single-handedly, realize that the kernel of truth in that story might be very small indeed.