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A New Kungfu4u website

My first website was I started it around 1998, to support my teaching and sell videos and DVDs.

I had to change it because my host was doing away with Frontpage extentions, so I switched it to Dreamweaver and trimmed it way down.

It's now primarily a place to showcase DVDs and refer people on to the online internal arts schooland this blog.

Check it out. It's a work in progress. Eventually, most of my online presence will be here on the blog and at the online school.

Download the June Issue of Internal Fighting Arts E-Zine

The June issue of my monthly e-zine, Internal Fighting Arts, is available for download. Right-click on the link below and "Save target as...." to your hard drive. Feel free to forward the e-zine on to anyone who might be interested in the internal arts.

Download InternalFightingArts-Issue5

This issue includes an article by Andreas Bogk, who attended a workshop in Berlin by Chen Ziqiang, the son of Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing. The issue also includes an editorial from Sifu Phillip Starr, founder of Yiliquan, and articles on peng jin, a fighting application for the final move in most Chen Tai Chi forms, plus more.

Past issues are available for download. Just click on the link on the right side of this page.


Old Habits Can Be Hard to Break in Tai Chi Practice

SmallArmCircle1 There is a cute home movie of my wife, Nancy, when she was just a couple of years old. She's walking down the steps of her home in Rock Island, her hands held up about shoulder-level, her wrists limp just like a girl, and her hands bouncing as she walks.

If we saw a home movie of a boy walking the same way, we would look at each other and our eyebrows would raise suspiciously. A limp-wristed boy? You know what THAT means.

Here in the U.S. particularly, young guys find out very quickly that we shouldn't let our wrists go limp at any time. As I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties, it became very clear that a limp-wristed guy was ridiculed as being SmallArmCircle2 gay. The words used back then weren't as polite.

So we grow up very consciously keeping our wrists locked in place. No limp-wristed stuff going on here!

Flash forward two or three or four decades, when the guy starts to learn tai chi, and he begins to learn that proper silk-reeling movement requires him to loosen the joints and spiral the movement from the ground through the fingers. Throughout their bodies, in fact, they hold so much tension that it's difficult for them to find the right balance.

Proper tai chi requires peng jin--combined with ground strength--and a relaxed strength that comes from SmallArmCircle3 proper body alignment and the ground path/peng jin connection. Yes, it's relaxed but strong. It's NOT limp, and yet it appears relaxed.

You can't do proper tai chi if you're too limp or too tense. There is a balance that's often referred to in Chinese as "song," a relaxed state of readiness.

Walk up to even some tai chi students who have studied for a couple of years and test them as they go through a movement by pressing on an arm. Instead of feeling the ground and the expansive peng jin, the arm often collapses under the slightest press. That's not what should happen. Instead, you should feel a buoyant, relaxed strength and the ground.

SmallArmCircle4 It really is possible to loosen up the wrists but still maintain strength. And it's possible, after enough practice, to see very clearly if someone is limp, too tense, or using the relaxed strength that's so crucial to the internal arts.

These photos show a silk-reeling exercise called "Small Arm Circle." The video lesson can be found on the online school or on the Silk-Reeling DVD. You're spiraling the arm, but the movement begins with the ground, moves through the body, guided by the dan t'ien and expressed in the hand. The wrist is flexible and the arm is moving like a whip that's being cracked--at least that's what the movement reminds me of.

Every time I begin teaching a new student, particularly men, I have to remind them that the old taboo about loosening up the wrists has to be overcome. It doesn't come easy, but with enough silk-reeling practice, even the most macho of guys understands the importance of this concept.

Interesting Biography of a Chen Tai Chi Master, Chen Zhao Pei

Chen-Zhaopi Chen Zhao Pei was the uncle of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing and was one of their teachers. He was a highly regarded master of Chen Tai Chi who taught the art even when the Chinese government tried to stop martial arts from being practiced. It's because of men like Chen Zhao Pei that the art has flourished.

Here is a great bio article written by his son.

The interesting thing about these masters is the total dedication they gave to Tai Chi. It's true that some Americans have a self-esteem problem, saying that "we'll never be as good as the masters from China."  But if we spent 8 to 10 hours a day for 30 years working at Tai Chi, we would be as good.

I have a good friend who is a really good golfer, compared to me. But put him up against Tiger Woods and he'll look like a chump. Tiger has devoted his life to his sport. Most of us don't have that option, or choose not to take it. Most people with jobs and families are lucky if they can squeeze out a half-hour per day for practice. You're extremely dedicated if you can practice an hour a day.

The secret to Tai Chi success is to realize this, accept it, and take satisfaction in the "baby steps" that result in real progress over time. There are always people with egos who learn the moves to a couple of forms and then think they know Tai Chi. Many of the teachers you see around the country have done this, and their instruction is very shallow. The unfortunate thing is that their students believe they're learning Tai Chi, but they aren't.

The stories of people like Chen Zhao Pei are inspiring. Real skill, and real success in any job or any field almost requires the incredible focus that people like him bring to their job, their art, or their sport.

Moments of Vulnerability - A Key Strategy for Self-Defense

Lazy5 If you're ever in a situation that calls for you to defend yourself, it's a complex situation that calls for you to make several fast judgements before taking action.

Connecting with your opponent is essential, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to remain calm enough to do this. You need to quickly understand his mental state, his quickness, his timing, the rhythm of his movements, and when he is deciding to attack.


Lazy7 Martial arts theory can become complicated. In a self-defense situation you must quickly determine your proper distance from the opponent -- this will depend upon his speed and your speed, your reflexes or ability to reach the opponent with your techniques. You must determine your opponent's timing compared with yours, and the intervals that happen between techniques. And finally, you must assess the rhythm that your opponent is using and how you can disrupt or take advantage of that rhythm.

Lazy8 With all this going on, there are moments of vulnerability happening, and if you can take advantage of those split-second moments, you can end the situation quickly.

There are at least a dozen moments of vulnerability that you can create, or that happen naturally, in which your opponent is vulnerable to attack. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1. Talking -- When someone is talking to you, their attention is diverted and they are vulnerable if you strike quickly enough. Practice this with a partner. Have your partner hold a rubber knife to your stomach. Put both your hands up. Have your partner say something like, "Give me your money." Reply by saying, "What?" As soon as he begins saying it again, strike. You'll find that he can't react as quickly while speaking.

2. Breaking root -- When your opponent is off-balance he is vulnerable. This is a common strategy in tai chi -- to get your opponent to lose his balance while you maintain yours and take advantage of his weakness. This can happen with a simple leg sweep or even causing your opponent to extend too far or lean over too far. Often, a very brief window of opportunity happens when your opponent lunges at you, because many people will over-extend and put themselves off-balance at that moment.

3. Break timing -- This is also one of my favorites, and I use it every time I spar. My opponent throws multiple attacks. I block and deflect those attacks and--in the split-second of time between two attacks, I'll counter. After the opponent punches, for example, there is usually a split-second of time before his next punch when he's withdrawing one hand and preparing to fire the next. That's the moment to strike.

There are more than a dozen of these techniques. My advanced students practice these. Other techniques include the use of "fakes" (pretend to attack one part of the body and--when the opponent blocks in that direction, attack a different part); acting weak or frightened to boost your opponent's confidence; pretend a loss of physical balance (drunken kung-fu is a great example of this); and even attacking while your opponent inhales (it takes longer for him to react when he's inhaling).

The next time you spar or even do push hands, use some of these strategies of creating vulnerability in your opponent. Make them part of your regular practice and experiment with them so that they become part of your thinking and one more weapon in your arsenal. 

Master Po for President -- What the Kung-Fu TV Show Can Teach Us About Talking Politics

MasterPo2 I lost an old friend on Facebook this week. We had been friends for 20 years. She kept pulling me into political discussions, even though I told her that I didn't like to argue politics with friends. She hates Democrats and Obama. I happen to like Obama and I'm willing to give him a good chance at succeeding. I haven't agreed with everything he has done, but I've been giving him the benefit of the doubt early in his presidency, and I've been very impressed so far.

My old friend's messages and posts were extremely harsh -- one of those Republicans who can't see anything good about the other side and is very vocal about it. Ironically, some posts were very religious. She also wrote an online editorial accusing the press of being in love with Obama that used words like "slimy" and "national disgrace," then complained when people were critical. When I told her that she couldn't slap people with words like "slimy" without expecting them to respond in a negative way, she unfriended me.

What does this have to do with the Kung-Fu TV show?

My wife and I were devastated when we heard the news that David Carradine died this week. Nancy and I didn't know each other back when the Kung-Fu TV show as on the air. I was in college and living in Lexington, Kentucky. She was 5 years younger, living in the Quad Cities.

Last night, we watched a Kung-Fu episode that first aired on January 25, 1973--one day after I turned 20 years old, and 8 months before I was to take my first kung-fu lesson after being inspired by David Carradine and Bruce Lee. On January 25, Bruce Lee had not yet made his big splash in America. That was still a few months away. David Carradine was all we had.

The episode was about revenge. In one of the flashbacks, young Caine was talking to Master Po and asking if he should seek revenge against another student. Master Po said, "Seek justice and forgiveness. And kindness. Always kindness."

It struck me about how little justice or kindness there is in our political discussion these days. You're either on one side or another (usually) and nothing will change your opinion. No facts to the contrary will cause you to change your point of view. It's very dishonest, but that's the way Americans are these days. How much kindness do you hear on the Rush Limbaugh program? When it comes to the "other side," you hear precious little.

No one is all bad, and no one is all good. To be extreme one way or another violates my sense of balance. And to be so totally against conservatives or liberals so that you can't honestly listen and decide that the "other side" just might be right on a particular issue -- that just violates my sense of justice or fairness. Perhaps it violates my sense of intellectual honesty. And it also disrupts my quest for balance.

The truth is, we've become so intolerant of other political or religious views that we can't see when the other side is right and we're wrong. There is only justice if "our side" wins. There are no shades of gray in our black-and-white world, and we all suffer for it. Tolerance for other viewpoints is harder and harder to find.

So when Master Po spoke those words on the Kung-Fu episode we were watching, it represented not just a good philosophy about seeking revenge, it's also a good philosophy for politics.

"Seek justice and forgiveness. And kindness. Always kindness."

We just went through eight years, in which one party wouldn't tolerate any dissention against the president. Now, the same party won't tolerate any goodwill toward the president.

I grew up in the South in the Fifties and Sixties. I was raised to think that bigotry was okay. I changed my attitudes after going to college and as I got older, I began to realize that other views were okay. I was a Republican for a long time and then found that I had grown more tolerant and accepting of people who were different. When Pat Buchanan got up at the 1992 GOP Convention and blasted everyone who was different, and when folks like Pat Robertson (who talks to God, by the way) became more active in the party, I had to leave it. In the years since, the stranglehold of people like them (and Frist and Newt and Boehner) has only served to separate their party from people who prefer a bit more kindness and tolerance in their politics.

Unfortunately, I know people who were bigots as youngsters and are bigots now -- who were intolerant as kids and are intolerant now. They haven't learned. They haven't grown.

And they don't get it. Ironically, these same people claim to have a copyright on "Christian values."

Whether it's Christian values or Taoist values or Zen values, Master Po's words are true. When dealing with anyone--a criminal, a person with a different political view, or a person with a different lifestyle--I believe that the moral thing to do is to seek "justice, forgiveness, and kindness. Always kindness."

Look at the issue of water-boarding. There is evidence that torture doesn't work. There is evidence that kindness works instead, by letting the enemy see that we're not the devils he was led to believe we are. And yet, the party of Christian values wants to torture. What would Jesus say? In my opinion, Jesus would side with Master Po.

The closing of the American mind is a terrible thing to witness. It has happened before our very eyes. I would urge everyone--before you engage in another political debate with your friends--to heed Master Po's words. Everyone has a point of view. Sometimes they are right, and yes, sometimes they are very wrong. Unless you can step back and allow new information to--at times--change your opinion, you are probably part of the problem. And if your opinions are completely on one side or the other, you have violated one of the principles of the universe, and you should seek balance.

Push Hands in the Chen Village

This is a clip of Chen Ziqiang practicing push hands with students in the Chen Village, birthplace of tai chi.

Chen Ziqiang is a young master who is the son of Chen Xiaoxing, head of tai chi training in the Chen Village and younger brother of Chen Xiaowang. 

Chen Ziqiang is the push hands trainer. He's been trying to come to the U.S. to give workshops but has had some visa problems. Let's hope he can come soon.

Also talking on this clip is Chen Bing, another great young master from the Chen family.

If you think tai chi is for health and meditation, and push hands is a sensitivity exercise, this clip should show you what the people who created tai chi can do. The Chens don't mess around. This is a martial art.

One of My Major Early Influences - David Carradine - Found Dead at Age 72

Carradine Well this is bad news. David Carradine influenced me strongly, as a teenager fascinated by the martial arts and the philosophy of the Kung Fu TV show. It was because of this show, and the emergence of Bruce Lee, that I began my kung-fu journey nearly 36 years ago.

Read the Associated Press account of Carradine's death. Speculation is suicide. Read the A.P. story here.

Chen Xiaowang Performing the Chen 38 Form

He's a direct descendant of the creator of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen Wangting. Descendant of the man who taught Yang Lu-ch'an (who later created the Yang style), Chen ChangXing. Yes, it's true. The creator of the Yang style learned Tai Chi from the Chen family.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang is also the grandson of the great master Chen Fake. What an amazing family history.

This is video of Chen Xiaowang, the standard-bearer of Chen Tai Chi for the 19th Generation (Chen Wangting was the 9th Generation) doing the complete Chen 38 form.

This video is very recent.