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Many Similarities Exist in Applications of Hsing-I, Tai Chi and Bagua

BaShihApps-e It's a lot of fun to explore the movements, body mechanics and self-defense applications of the internal arts and see the similarities. It's particularly true between Tai Chi and Bagua because of the silk-reeling that was unique to Tai Chi when it was created by Chen Wangting 350 years ago, but was included in Bagua when that art was created relatively recently (in the 1800s).

Snake Creeps Down is a good example of a movement that you see in all three arts. The photos here show the basic movement from the intermediate Hsing-I form called Ba Shih (Eight Methods).

BaShihApps-d In photo one, the attacker throws a punch that's deflected.

In photo two, the defender dives below the opponent's center of gravity.

In photo three, you shift the weight forward, close into the kua and turn the dan t'ien to the left. In photo 4, the opponent falls to the ground. This requires relaxed strength but virtually no muscular tension.

A lot of people see this movement as an evasion and a punch to the groin. It can serve that purpose, too. I like to explore the movements in all three arts and look for the really effective, hidden BaShihAppBig applications that lie beneath the surface -- the takedowns and joint locks that aren't always obvious just by watching a move.

At the heart of the internal arts are close-up fighting arts. These aren't arts that require you to stand away from your opponent and punch and kick. You want to get up close and personal, break the opponent and put them on the ground -- particularly in Tai Chi and Bagua.

Doesn't look like "moving meditation," does it?

The same application shown here is also applicable to Push the Rider from the Saddle in Bagua. As you practice, look for other BaShihApps-f movements that use this type of diving movement.

The subtlety of the movement comes from getting below the opponent's center of gravity, using ground strength and maintaining peng, then closing the kua and turning the dan t'ien -- NOT THE HIPS. One of the biggest problems facing beginners is that they turn the hips too much. It's a bad habit acquired in other martial arts and it's a waste of energy, not to mention putting you into an unbalanced position.

I've been putting new video lessons onthe online school this week as my students and I videotape the applications of the intermediate Hsing-I form Ba Shih. The lessons focus on body mechanics, of course, to give you additional power in your techniques. We have another video shoot tomorrow, and when we finish the lessons, I'll put them all together with instruction on the form and release a new DVD.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing U.S. Workshop Schedule 2010

CXX Push 6 Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing -- brother of Chen Xiaowang and head of Chen family Tai Chi training in the Chen Village -- will hold workshops in the U.S. again this year.

Here is a schedule as it stands now, along with contact information for the hosts. Also listed are workshops scheduled for England and Russia. You can keep track of this and other information on Chen Xiaoxing's new website.

April 9 - 11 -- Chicago, IL -- Andy Loria

April 17 - 18 -- Bellmawr, NJ -- Mitch Magpiong

April 24 - 25 -- Washington D.C. -- Stephan Berwick

May 1 - 2 -- Seattle, WA -- Kim Ivy/Derryl Willis

May 8 - 9 -- San Diego, CA -- Bill and Allison Helm

May 19 - 23 -- Moscow, Russia -- INBI World

October --England -- David Gaffney/Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim

Chi Kung E-Book Available to Online Members and with DVD

 ChiKungE-book250 I finished an e-book this week to go with the newly revised and expanded Chi Kung (Qigong) DVD.

The e-book includes 51 pages and 136 photos covering every exercise from the DVD in detail. People who buy the DVD will get a free copy in a reply email. It's the perfect reference when you don't have the DVD. Just print it out and take it with you.

The new DVD includes three 5-minute routines for people with little time; two 10-minute routines; the 8 Pieces of Brocade, and all 36 exercises in the Yi Jing Ching, including the Palm Set, the Fist Set and the Moving Set.

I've been practicing these exercises since 1987 and can testify to the benefits -- primarily teaching the mind and body to remain centered, especially in tense situations at work, at home, or out in the world.

The key to Chi Kung is to practice the exercises daily, then recapture the same centered feeling when you run into a situation that would normally cause you to react with stress, anger, fear, etc.

Chi Kung isn't magic or mystical -- it's simply a matter of learning to ease and manage stress. When you can do that at will, you will find that many things improve, including health, relationships, and your ability to handle pressure. Chi Kung isn't going to prevent or heal a serious illness or disease, but I've had students who have used it to cope with and manage the pain of cancer and a variety of other illnesses. Some have seen their blood pressure drop, too.

I enjoy putting e-books together. A few of my DVDs have e-books that are given as a bonus. I do this because as a martial artist who has bought a lot of videos in the past twenty or thirty years, there were many times I wished I had a reference when I didn't have a way to play the video I had purchased.

The e-book is also on the online schoolfor members to download free as part of their membership.

Master Ren Guangyi and a Compact Cannon Fist Form

Master Ren Guangyi, one of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang's senior disciples, is an amazing martial artist -- very strong and athletic. I was fortunate to be introduced to him by my teachers Jim and Angela Criscimagna years ago when they hosted Master Ren for workshops in Rockford, Illinois. I learned the Chen 38 and the Broadsword form from him and refined them with Jim and Angela.

Apparently, Master Ren created his own compact Cannon Fist form for Hugh Jackman, as Jackman was preparing for a movie.

This is a beautiful and powerful example of real tai chi, and so much more difficult than it looks. His stomp at the end of "Buddha's Warrior" almost knocked my computer off the desk. :)

What is Fa-Jing in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua Pt. 2

Have you ever seen a dog shake water off itself? There is not one tense muscle in its body. The dog is totally relaxed and if you watch carefully, you'll see it grounding from its rear legs when it shakes the front half of it's body, and it will ground from the front legs when shaking the tail and rear half.

Without realizing it, the dog is practicing fa-jing.

Have you ever had something on your finger and tried to shake it off? Let's say....water. You have water on your hand and you give it a good flick -- a good shake. How tense are you? Not tense at all, are you? In fact, you relax it like a whip and snap it.

That same type of relaxation is needed for good fa-jing.

Take a look at this video of Chen Xiaowang. It's amazing -- all types of strikes using fa-jing -- elbow strikes, fist strikes, shoulder strikes, body bumps -- it's a beautiful thing. I've seen him do this in person, and you can almost feel the impact of his strike while standing several feet away.

I did some video lessons this week for the online school trying to break down some of the mechanics for fa-jing. One of the lessons attempts to demonstrate the "store and release" concept. If you watch Grandmaster Chen carefully, you can see him storing just before each strike.

Good fa-jing is a matter of connecting all of the key internal body mechanics and taking full advantage of the relaxed power that can result from these mechanics. It takes years for most of us to lose all our bad habits and tension so we can do this properly. After over a decade, I'm still trying.

What Does It Mean to be Critical in Tai Chi?

I got a Google Alert on a blog post that I found interesting. The post sort of brushed aside people like me who are skeptical and require extraordinary proof of the existence of chi. When a "chi master" does a miraculous feat with his chi, I always want to find out how he cheated. In my opinion, too many in the world of tai chi turn their heads, or say "well maybe it's true because you can't explain everything that happens in nature," or "Western science is biased against chi," or things like that. A lot of folks say, "I've felt and seen strange things I can't explain, so maybe it's true."

Today, another tai chi teacher told me that I was too critical. I admit I'm critical of people who make extraordinary claims that crumble under a test from a skeptic. I'm guilty.

Houchain A couple of weeks ago, there was a biography about Houdini (photo at left) on a cable network. He was a magician and escape artist -- one of the fascinating people of history -- and in his final years, he exposed many frauds who claimed to be able to channel spirits of dead people.

The "mediums" hated Houdini and flamed him unmercifully.

I discovered Houdini when I was 11 and saw the movie with Tony Curtis. I read every book I could find on Houdini. I studied magic, put on magic shows for neighborhood kids, and challenged all my friends -- even my dad -- to tie me up with ropes so that I couldn't escape. I always escaped, although I think one of my teachers thought I was a little pervert when she found me on the playground, escaping from some ropes after being tied up by my fellow 6th graders. :)

As an adult, after studying the internal arts for several years, studying acupuncture, training in Iron Palm -- I began to suspect that things weren't all they were cracked up to be, and I began requiring more proof. I never connected my skepticism with Houdini's influence on me until I saw the documentary a couple of weeks ago. Then it made sense. Houdini made me look for proof when people make miraculous claims, whether it's about religion or the martial arts.

Kreskin When I was in college, the Amazing Kreskin (photo at left) came to the school for a performance. I went onstage with a group of students and he "hypnotized" us so we would clap our hands. Now, I loved Kreskin and had seen him a lot on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. I really wanted to believe Kreskin was psychic. But as we stood there clapping, I thought, "Wait a second, I can stop if I want to." So I stopped clapping, then the peer pressure of being the only person onstage not clapping got to me, and I began clapping again. But Kreskin's cover had been blown. What he did was not hypnotize people. He gave them permission to act out onstage.

I was a journalist for the student newspaper, and after the performance I interviewed Kreskin. I didn't ask him any tough questions because I was young and I liked the guy. I made him laugh once and he slapped my leg so hard it left a red mark.

When a "chi master" performs, the same thing happens that happened in Kreskin's performance. Students play along. They don't want the teacher to look bad, and they don't want to be left out of the miraculous feat of chi. Take a look at this video showing a self-proclaimed "tai chi, chi kung, and nei kung master" moving a student with his chi.

Now, you can see how the "master" is moving his hands to match the student's movements, and then positioning himself so that the student can see how his hands are moving (ironically the student's movements more closely match the hands when he can see them). If you believe this demonstration is honest then move along. There's nothing more for you to see here.

Then there's the "chi master" who could easily demonstrate on his willing students, but he claimed a 200-0 fighting record and offered $5,000 to any fighter who could put his chi skills to the test. This video shows the student demos and then shows the master getting beaten silly by an MMA fighter.

Then there is the Randi Foundation. It has one million dollars in escrow, to be given to the first person who can demonstrate psychic or chi or other powers in a double-blind, clinical trial (in other words, they take away the ability to cheat). Richard Mooney, who has taken a LOT of money from martial arts suckers who want to believe in the supernatural, tried to get the million bucks. He was profiled in magazines showing him knocking his own students down without touching them, and he has hosted many seminars where he "teaches" this empty force art (amazing how few of his students can do it).

You can read about the test here. Mooney failed miserably. The reason -- none of the people who were put in front of him knew what he was trying to do. The test took away the ability for anyone to manipulate the results. This failure didn't stop Mooney from taking money from suckers willing to attend his seminars.

Finally, take a look at this news report from Chicago, showing a "master" doing the same type of crap that George Dillman claims. This time, the TV reporter brought in outsiders. Watch this very well-done news story.

Despite all this, believers will not be swayed.

A lot of folks believe that you can condition your body to withstand terrible punishment. Iron Shirt chi kung is one of the training methods. All you have to do is look at Muhammad Ali and a lot of other boxers to see what abusing your body does over time. When you're young, you bounce back over and over, but it takes a toll that you can't always see immediately. You see it later. If you want to develop callouses on your hands from beating them on rocks for years, you can do that, and you can desensitize yourself to pain. But wait until you get older and try to use your hands to tie a tie or shake someone's hand without the pain of arthritis making you want to scream.

One of my favorite quotes from Chen Xiaowang is about Iron Shirt chi kung. He said, "Iron Shirt good for demonstration, not for fighting." The Chen family doesn't practice Iron Shirt. They can fight, though. How well can an Iron Shirt guy take a good punch to the nose, I wonder? Does his chi protect his eyes? How about his knee? Can it take a good sidekick?

In the fantastic book, American Shaolin, Matthew goes to live and train with the monks in the Shaolin Temple for two years. It's a true story, and he sees what happens to the monks who put on the demonstrations for the public. The monks who break concrete or ice blocks with their heads end up talking in stutters from the damage to their brains. Other injuries are common to the monks.

Sima Nan was a reporter in China who tried to investigate the claims of chi masters. The chi masters didn't want their fraud revealed, so he was beaten and tortured for questioning the claims of these masters. Read about him here.

Here is the bottom line for this post -- you can't abuse your body for very long and you can't use chi to protect you or to move (or knock down) other people. You can't heal people by laying your hands on them. There is plenty of evidence to show that it doesn't work, and very little to prove otherwise. Until we embrace this fact in the internal arts and move away from the supernatural, we will always attract flakes and nuts to our classes and we will continue to be called the "soft" arts.

If we believe it or even say "it might be true," we do a disservice to ourselves and our students.

What is Fa-Jing and How Do You Do It in Tai Chi, Hsing-I, and Bagua?

Vitos - CXWI'm often stunned by the literal-mindedness of some internal arts folks (that's no secret, is it?). The subject of fa-jing is one example of how a simple concept is misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Fa-jing means "issuing energy." Unfortunately, the people who desperately need to believe in the supernatural think that in doing fa-jing, you are shooting chi out of your hands or body. They take it literally.

It's not magical or mystical. It's a matter of physics. 

If you are a boxer, you're issuing energy when you deliver a jab, a cross, or a good left hook. If you're into kali, you're issuing energy when you hit someone with a stick (or even when you block another stick with yours), and if you're into karate, you issue energy when you break a board with your foot.

In the internal arts, fa-jing -- issuing energy -- is more complex, but the end result is the same. You knock the hell out of something or someone.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang (shown in the photo above working with students on fa-jing at a workshop I attended in D.C.) says fa-jing is a matter of proper structure and internal movement. From there, he says you simply "step on the gas." He likes using automobile metaphors.

This week I shot a video lesson for the online school demonstrating the basics of fa-jing. This weekend, I'll shoot a second video on the "store and release" aspects of fa-jing, using a heavybag to help demonstrate.

Fa-jing is a matter of good posture and internal body mechanics. This means you must maintain ground strength, peng jin, whole-body movement, silk-reeling, dan t'ien rotation and opening/closing the kua. You must connect all of these skills through the body as you deliver the strike with speed, power, and relaxation.

It does take a long time to learn how to do this from an internal perspective, because we all bring bad habits to the internal arts and it takes years to learn the above-mentioned skills and learn to maintain the whole-body connection as you move.

When Grandmaster Chen worked with me on the punch, he told me to completely relax. He took one of my hands in each of his and he violently pulled on one and pushed on the other. I was as limp as a rag doll and my hands were punching out in an alternating way, with him "pulling the strings." It was his way of showing you the proper degree of relaxation your body should have during fa-jing. Then he coached me on closing the kua and moving into the punch, spiraling the movement through the body. The first few times I didn't have it. Then the lightbulb went on and I connected the power.

"Ahh!" he said, his face lighting up. "Good."

Nothing feels much better than getting a "good" from Chen Xiaowang. :)

Later, he did a fa-jing demonstration. With each strike, it seemed his uniform was exploding in all directions. It comes from being connected and relaxing -- and from a lifetime of practice. You can stand a few feet away from him and almost feel the energy when he does fa-jing. It reminded me of being on the floor right behind the basketball hoop during a University of Iowa game. When the big players were slamming into each other beneath the hoop, you could feel the body heat and almost feel the energy as they collided. I'll never forget it, and being close to Chen Xiaowang when he does fa-jing is very similar.

So put aside the myth of shooting energy out of your body. Focus on proper posture and mechanics and you'll be closer to developing the relaxed power of fa-jing.

There is No Such Thing as Easy Tai Chi

Ken-CXW-Private Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang was teaching a workshop in the U.S. when one of the students commented about how difficult tai chi is.

If you've ever attended a workshop by a member of the Chen family, you understand why the comment would be made. Students hold postures while the instructor walks around the room, correcting each student individually. By the time he gets to you, your legs are often shaking with fatigue, and if he puts you into the correct posture, you may just collapse to the floor (photo at left shows Chen Xiaowang correcting me during a private lesson a few years ago).

This is one of the reasons I get annoyed when I see online ads that promise "easy tai chi." I'm sorry, my friends, there is no such thing. Fake tai chi might be easy. The health type of tai chi for "moving meditation" might be easy. Tai Chi for senior citizens might be easy.

Real tai chi is very difficult and takes years of practice to even begin to see proper body mechanics.

So when the comment was made at the workshop about how difficult tai chi is, Grandmaster Chen smiled and said, "If it was easy, everyone be master."

The pursuit of the title of master is a mental disease in America. Open the phone book of any American city, look at the ads in the martial arts section of the yellow pages, and there are more masters than you can shake a staff at. Sorry to burst your bubble, but real mastery of the martial arts requires more than most of these people have had to endure. It also requires skill that most of these people don't have. Almost any American who claims to be a master of tai chi would be laughed at by the people who are considered to be masters in China.

Several years ago I was in Chicago for two or three days and I stopped by a tai chi school in the city. A woman who may have been in her thirties or forties walked up to me, dressed in a tai chi uniform. She introduced herself as "Master" something-or-other and I immediately left the building. Anyone who introduces themselves as a master is definitely not a master.  

In America, we expect to see results immediately. We want instant gratification. We're a "take it now, pay for it later" culture, not willing to sacrifice and wait for the payoff. We want it now.

In the martial arts, that has resulted in a lot of schools around the country that promote you to the next belt in three months, whether you're ready or not. They sell you memberships to their "Black Belt Club" and guarantee that you'll receive a black belt. For the next promotion you might need to know a few extra techniques and maybe a form. The quality is negotiable.

Some of these schools are making good money.

When I began studying Chen tai chi, I had already studied Yang style for over a decade. I was pretty good. My teacher said I was the best he had seen for an under black-belt student. I won a national title in tai chi forms at the AAU Kung-Fu National Championships in 1990.

Then, in 1998, I met Jim and Angela Criscimagna (now disciples of Chen Xiaowang) and I began seeing how difficult it is to achieve good tai chi body mechanics. Month after month I studied, drove a 4-hour round trip to go to classes -- sometimes twice a week -- and learned weekly lessons in humility. Week after week, month after month, my bad habits were corrected. Class after class, I left and made the long drive home realizing just how much I had to learn, but energized by the fact that what I was learning was high-quality.

It's too much for some people. I've had students come to me after studying other styles of martial arts. Most of them don't last long. They see how difficult it is, and they can't adjust to the fact that THIS TAKES YEARS, not months or weeks. Quality martial arts is a long-term commitment. When your experience in martial arts is in a taekwondo school or whatever, and a punch is simply a matter of maintaining muscle tension and balance -- and twisting the hips into the punch -- it's a rude awakening when you're faced with the internal arts. Establishing ground path, maintaining peng, rotating the dan t'ien (NOT the hips) and other physical skills are so foreign that most students run screaming back to the schools that make you feel like you've really achieved by accomplishing far less.

When I was faced with this, I realized that as long as I could take baby steps forward and see even a little progress every few months, I would be learning something of real value, something of a higher quality than I had ever learned. There was no real choice to be made. It was either tackle something very difficult or continue to live in a bubble.

I still work very hard to learn the skills of tai chi, hsing-i and bagua. I know the principles and I know what I'm trying to achieve. In a few weeks I'll be 57 years old, and I understand that this takes so long, I'll never be as good as I want to be at these amazing arts. I teach, and try to pass these principles on, and I know that my students sometimes think I'm too picky. It's true that I don't congratulate them when their body mechanics are bad. If I wanted to run a McDojo everyone would be promoted and everyone's ego would be stroked, but that's not the path to quality.

I hope you'll make a vow to yourself to pursue quality no matter how long it takes. It may feel good to strap on a black belt that took you only two years to earn, and you might fool a lot of friends and family into thinking that you're a deadly weapon, but when you look in the mirror, don't fool yourself. If this stuff was easy, everyone would be a master.