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Taoism and the Martial Arts -- Why Taoism is Not Passive

Taoism is not passive.

To follow the Way does not mean you allow yourself to be abused, and it certainly doesn't mean that you stand by and allow others to be abused.

There is a story that I love:

Two elderly Chinese gentlemen are sitting on a park bench, enjoying the day. One follows Taoism, the other Confucianism. A soldier comes into the park and, being filled up with his own power and self-importance, he begins scolding the old men and shouting for them to leave.

To drive home his rage, the soldier strikes the old Confucian, who apologizes, gets up, and quickly walks away. Those who follow Confucianism are guided by duty, and see themselves as subservient to the government and authority figures.

Seeing the Taoist still sitting on the bench, the soldier raises his hand to strike.

The Taoist gentleman deflects the blow and with one quick movement, breaks the soldier's arm. The soldier scampers away in pain, while the old man remains seated on the bench, enjoying the day.

To follow the Way means that you try to "go with the flow." You seek balance, and you seek to ride the ups and downs of life in a centered way.

Those who step out of harmony with the Tao see themselves as separate. They see themselves as special.

In this story, the soldier stepped out of harmony. It's important to know that when something is out of harmony, nature works to bring it back into harmony. Sometimes, we have to act to bring someone or something back into harmony with nature.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a store -- the Camera Corner in Davenport, Iowa. A manager type was treating one of the employees very rudely. Then he walked to the second floor with the employee, his voice rising louder and louder. Even when they went out of range, I could hear every word as he shouted angrily at this poor guy, who couldn't have been earning much more than minimum wage and appeared to be near 50 years old.

I asked two employees behind the counter, "Is he yelling at that employee in front of the customers?" They said yes, and one employee said, "Someone needs to rein him in."

I paid for my items as the employee came downstairs, smiling sheepishly. I walked up the steps and told the manager that he shouldn't shout at employees in front of customers.

"But he has made this mistake several times," he said. "He's done it twice this month."

"You didn't hear me," I explained. "If someone needs to be corrected, do it behind closed doors, not in front of the customers."

"But I'm concerned about quality for customers like you," he said.

I raised my voice loud enough for the employees downstairs to hear. "You don't get it," I said. "No justification! I've never worked with a jerk who thought he was a jerk. That was jerky behavior. Stop it! No argument!"

He put his head down, closed his mouth, and I walked out and returned to work.

Now, I could have just walked away and been passive. I didn't have to become involved. But I knew the employee was powerless, and as the person behind the cash register said, someone needed to rein the manager in. I was in the right place at the right time.

I could also keep my mouth shut, like most people in tai chi do when an instructor claims to be able to do miracles with his chi, healing people with their aura or knocking them down without touching them.

But these folks have stepped out of harmony with nature, just the same as someone who pulls a gun and steps into a bank. They perceive themselves as special, and they want everyone to treat them that way.

Taoism is not passive. That's why monks created kung-fu.

Alignment of the Hip in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua

One of the mistakes I see beginners constantly make is putting themselves off-balance by either leaning backward when the stand or sticking the hip out of alignment when they pull or push.

Tai-Chi-Hip-1 It takes a lot of leg strength and proper use of the kua (the crease at the groin, or the top of the leg) to keep the hip properly aligned. I took two photos to illustrate the concept.

In the first photo, you see the white line showing how the line of the hip extends out much farther than the edge of the foot. When we aren't paying attention, we have a tendency to let this happen.

If you sink more into the kua and bring the hip into alignment, the edge of the hip is more in line with the edge of the foot (photo 2). In a posture such as the two-hand push, where you are on the toe of the Tai-Chi-Hip-2 left foot, it takes a lot more leg strength to pull off this proper alignment. If you hold this stance for any length of time, and your hip is aligned, you're leg will become quickly fatigued.

When you attend a workshop or a private lesson from someone like Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, he'll ask if you want soup or pizza. If you say soup, he'll put you in an easier stance that your muscles can tolerate a little better. If you say pizza, he'll put you in a proper stance, and your muscles will quiver and burn and let you know very quickly that they're feeling it.

Good Tai Chi is painful. It takes tremendous leg strength to do it right. No pain, no gain.

One of the Best Reasons to Study Martial Arts - the Friends You Make

I've made some outstanding friends because of the martial arts. One of them is a high-ranking black belt in the Shinkyudo Karate Association. His name is Dan Gray.

Dan was a college student when I met him in the mid-90's. I was in my 40's and we met while competing against each other. The first time we met, he seemed like a nice young guy and when we sparred, he kicked me with a surprising stop kick to the solar plexus that had me gasping for air for a moment. He beat me in that match but we kept congratulating each other when the other would score a point, slapping each other on the arm between points in a friendly way -- it was a very positive match.

The next time we competed against each other, we talked more and again, we fought for first place. In fact, we've probably sparred a dozen or more times for first place in tournaments around the area.

Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight2 By the third tournament, we started joking around and having a lot of fun. We were very serious about our sparring, but we enjoyed each other just as much, and we began making the judges and the audience laugh by taking "kung fu" poses as if we were in a bad Chinese movie.

I've posted four pictures here from a tournament about 10 years ago -- probably 2000 or 2001. In the first photo, I'm striking a pose like in the Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight3 Karate Kid movie as the center referee tells us to resume fighting.

In the next photo, Dan actually rolls across the mat like a kung-fu action hero. You can see me and the corner referee smiling. He hopped up and we resumed sparring.

The third photo shows me getting him with a hook kick, and the final photo shows the hug at Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight1 the end of the match. I had to show me scoring on him. After all, it's my blog. :))

I barely won that one, and it could have gone either way. Usually, it depends on what the judges are able to see as much or more than the points that are actually scored. The fourth photo shows the end of the match -- no matter who wins, the friendship is intact.

We went to a Chicago tournament together around 2000 and had a great time. We've competed against each other many times since -- Ken-Gullette-Dan-Gray-Fight4 he would win one, I'd win one, and we'd go back and forth. His skill and speed, and outstanding techniques, forced me to practice harder so I could compete as I entered my 50's. We has shown that it's possible to be friends and have a lot of fun even during the heat of competition, and I believe it has been appreciated by the judges and by the audience.

Earlier this year, after encountering serious health issues in 2009, I wasn't able to spar at John Morrow's tournament in May. It was frustrating watching my friends spar and having to serve as a corner ref. I don't like the thought that I may never again be able to step in the ring with Dan.

Dan is one of the people who make the martial arts a positive experience. His brother, Aaron Leisinger, sister Chelsea, and others in the art, including Frank Martinez and Samantha Roach and Craig Schaul, are examples of the type of martial artist everyone should know and aspire to be.

I don't respect the martial artist who wants to be a tough guy and wants the world to know it. I respect the martial artist who is a tough guy and has the balance to also be a very nice, respectful person -- and who brings a sense of seriousness but also fun to the arts.

I just wanted to use this post to salute the folks in the Shinkyuko Karate Association, and especially my friend Daniel Gray.

A Kung-Fu Quickie - Short Video on a Tai Chi Fighting Application

I'm beginning a series of short videos called a "Kung-Fu Quickie." They aren't quite as polished as my DVD videos, or most of the videos on my online school. These quickies are shot when we practice something that I think I haven't shown on other videos and that I think people can use to gain insight or add fighting applications to their art.

This video shows a quick fighting application for a movement that is seen in different arts and different forms. It involves a fast opening of the arms and elbows.


Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee -- the Latest News

Chuck-Norris I love Chuck Norris jokes. A new one I heard -- Chuck Norris is the only man in history who has beaten the odds. With his fists.

Chuck is in some new TV commercials -- in Czechoslovakia -- where he drives his new image home without speaking a word.

Take a look at the Chuck Norris TV commercials here.

Chuck got his big break in the movies through Bruce Lee. Their fight scene in the Rome Coliseum in "Way of the Dragon" was classic. It was a few years later that Chuck made Chuck-Norris-Bruce-Lee his first starring role (I think his first movie as a leading man was "Breaker Breaker").

Bruce's daughter, Shannon, is keeping her father's legacy alive now, and jealously guarding it, as she should.

She has a great website devoted to Bruce. Visit the official Bruce Lee website here.