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Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and the Science of Stretching

Ken-Bill-2001 Nancy and I were invited to our friend John Morrow's house last night to have dinner with Bill "Superfoot" Wallace -- undefeated world full contact karate champion and trainer of both Elvis and John Belushi. I didn't realize until last night that Wallace is the person who found John Belushi dead, when he showed up at Belushi's room at an L.A. hotel for a morning workout.

Today, John hosted Wallace for a workshop at his Moline kung-fu school. It was a great workout -- stretching, kicking, punching, and combinations. I've gone over all this material with Wallace before, but refreshers are always a good idea.

Almost two months ago, I attended a Bill Wallace workshop in Las Vegas. It was the third or fourth time I've trained with him (if you Google Bill Superfoot Wallace, and click on the link that shows photos, the photo above of me and him in 2001 is among the photos that are shown). After discussing his stretching exercises on the online school, I was looking forward to asking him a question:

What do you think of the new research that indicates stretching causes you to lose strength in your muscles?

I asked him during dinner last night, and he explained it this way:

When you do stretching exercises like his, you are helping the muscles to relax. You aren't actually stretching them because that tears them. In the exercises I've been doing for years (some of them learned from Wallace), I'll stretch and hold it until the muscle relaxes, then go a little more and hold it until the muscle relaxes.

This builds flexibility, according to Wallace. When a muscle is stressed, it contracts. When you relax it, you're more flexible and fast. Muscles were made to pull. The biceps pull your arm in for a curl. The triceps pull it back out.

So what you need to have are muscles that relax, and that requires some work. 

The best time to stretch, he says, is just before bed, because you get the muscles to relax and then you go to bed, where the muscles continue to relax all night (especially if you're my age -- when I was younger I might not have "relaxed" in bed as much as I do now). :))

Bill Wallace is funny and an expert at what he does. Besides flexibility, what he teaches is what I've used in sparring for almost 37 years -- misdirection. Make your opponent think you're going somewhere, and go somewhere else. It works.

It was good to see him and work out with him this weekend. He isn't internal, but he's a lot of fun.


An Email from the United Kingdom

I get nice emails every week from people who have purchased DVDs and are surprised by what they receive. I'm certainly not the highest level martial artist out there, but I try to teach specifics and principles that other teachers either don't teach or take a long time to get there.

I'm not identifying the author of this email but I was extremely gratified by his comments. He purchased 7 or 8 DVDs in the past three days. He had purchased a DVD earlier and I had given him two weeks free in my online school. I do this for everyone who buys a DVD for the first time. This was his message to me this morning:

"Your web site and your lessons are of extremely high caliber, better than anything I've found anywhere else on the web. Your DVDs are just incredible, you get to the very foundations of these internal arts. Your teaching method is truly inspirational and a delight to follow. if I lived near by I would sign up to your classes in an instant.

I have been studying Chen taiji for a number of years here in the UK and now being on the wrong side of 50 years of age, I hope my journey is still going to continue to be long, enjoyable, and fruitful. These DVDs in conjunction with the classes I attend here at present are more than enough to keep me busy. I have already spent many fascinating hours working with your DVDs and for the first time I'm beginning to get an understanding of the internal arts. This is down to you, so thank you very much for pointing the are indeed a true teacher."

Every now and then, a message like this makes me realize why I started making DVDs and why I created the online school. There are so many people learning the arts that aren't learning the principles and the foundation -- for whatever reason. I knew that I could get to the point on video and help people. I don't pass very many emails on like this. It made my day. 


Stretching the Truth -- Is Stretching Before Exercise Good or Bad?

I've almost always done some type of stretching before doing martial arts, or any other sport for that matter. I always believed that I felt better and was more physically prepared after stretching and loosening up.

Recent reports have suggested, however, that stretching isn't good for you -- in fact, some have suggested it can rob you of strength.

As usual, the claims are overblown. There are a couple of good articles online that go into the debate from a research point of view. Here they are:


After reading both of these articles, I have concluded the following:

  • I'm going to continue stretching and warming up before exercise. Warmups with some resistance seem to be more effective than static stretching to prepare for a major sports event.
  • Most of our practices are not major sports events and don't always require maximum strength, so stretching has no negative impact on most of us. If we were going for a bench press record, perhaps we would want to skip the static stretching just before the event.
  • You should incorporate different types of stretching and warming up into your routine.
  • Static stretching can help flexibility but it should be done regularly and not necessarily before a major sporting event. In other words, if you're competing tomorrow, do your static stretching today and the day after the event.

A lot of stretching exercises, including ones I have recently put in video on the online school, can be done every day.

Research shows that as we age, we lose flexibility. Exercise and appropriate stretching can help you maintain flexibility.

So go ahead -- if you're about to have a workout, stretch and warm up. Get the muscles ready. Read the articles in those links and you'll be a little more prepared to choose the right stretch at the right time.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang Workshops in the U.S. 2010

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, the standard-bearer for Chen Tai Chi, will do a series of workshops in the U.S. this year -- some stops in San Diego (Bill & Allison Helm's school), Seattle (Kim Ivy's school), Chicago (Andy Loria's school), among others.

I plan to attend at least part of the Chicago workshop (Oct. 1-3), where he'll be teaching silk-reeling and the straight sword form. For more information on all of Chen Xiaowang's workshops, including the contact information of the hosts, go to

Here is an older video of Chen Xiaowang demonstrating the Chen straight sword form.

Another Reason Tai Chi in America is So Weak - A "Tai Chi Life"

There is a letter to the editor in the most recent T'ai Chi magazine that points out one reason there is so much bad and weak Tai Chi in America.

A guy wrote a letter in response to an earlier article that talked about how Tai Chi has been "dumbed down" for a lot of people.

It's true. It has been dumbed down. The article was correct.

So this fellow writes a letter in response to the article saying that if you truly lead "a Tai Chi life," you don't judge people or put them down in any way. If someone is doing bad Tai Chi that's okay because it is "his" Tai Chi. There is no right. There is no wrong.

The letter states that even if someone is doing bad Tai Chi, "In their eye, it is Tai Chi, so it is."

Let's apply this logic to other human endeavors:

** You should never criticize a play or piece, a work of art or a piece of music. Whoever created it thinks it is art, and so it is. All works of art should be treated the same. My granddaughter's drawings are the same as Picasso. The music of Britney Spears is on the same level as The Beatles.

** I can get my daughter to represent me if I ever go to court. It doesn't matter that she has never studied law. She might think she is practicing law, and so she is. No problem.

** I think I'll decide to start practicing medicine on people. It doesn't matter that I've only taken a course in acupuncture. I can diagnose their illnesses, relate them to the elements and meridians and points, and begin a treatment. Don't tell me it isn't practicing medicine. If I say it's medicine, it is.

When you train with a true Chinese tai chi master, you will find out very quickly that there is good tai chi and bad tai chi -- and you are practicing bad tai chi. :) A good tai chi master -- a real master -- is very quick to show you the mistakes you are making. Training with a real tai chi master is a very humbling experience, because you get to see -- and you are told first-hand -- how much you suck.

Yes. Suck.

The problem with people who have studied "dumbed down" tai chi is that they believe they have the real thing. And it's an incredibly easy cop-out to say "there is no bad tai chi." In fact, it excuses your own weak version of the art. I've seen tai chi masters watching a DVD of another tai chi master (both from the Chen Village) and the master watching the DVD starts angrily denouncing the master's technique in the video.

I suppose this master doesn't lead a tai chi life.

And what does that mean -- a "tai chi life?" When you study tai chi, you're supposed to zone out and forget about quality in anything? I suppose so. How convenient.

It's complete B.S. that people have applied some ridiculous standard of thinking to a martial art such as Tai Chi Chuan. This is an art that enables you to break an attacker and put them down -- right now. If you can't do this, and use the proper body mechanics, you are, in fact, not practicing tai chi.

I would hate to see this guy's students (I'm intentionally not revealing his name), and I have a feeling he practices pretty weak tai chi. I just hope he is enjoying his "tai chi life." Personally, like so many in these arts, he's living in a "tai chi bubble."