Previous month:
January 2012
Next month:
March 2012

An Important Blog Post from David Gaffney

There are a few good Tai Chi folks that I follow and enjoy their friendship on Facebook and elsewhere.

David Gaffney is one. He has co-authored some outstanding books on Chen Taiji. He also posts insightful articles on his blog.

The latest is very important to all of us. It's frustrating for all teachers when their students want to practice in an intense way before they have paid their dues on good structure and body mechanics. I guess a lot of us Westerners are guilty of trying to rush things along.

I encourage you to read David's post on "competency before intensity."

Blowing Past 500 - the Growth of an Online Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua School

BaShihApps1ThumbI began working on my website -- -- in April, 2008 to help people who wanted to learn tai chi, hsing-i or bagua online. By June of that year, I let my students join and test it. On July 4, 2008, in a bold act of independence, I launched it to the world.

I lost track of how many video lessons I have created for the site, so this morning I counted them because I wanted to know when I hit 500.

I was surprised to see that we had blown past 500 several weeks ago. There are now 552 video lessons on the site, teaching details of the internal arts, Qigong, and related techniques and concepts.

Chen-Spear-Front-Slow-250Each video lasts anywhere from 90 seconds to 15 minutes.

The latest video went up yesterday -- four minutes showing a few fighting applications of Chen Tai Chi Push Hands. Today I'm going to edit another video showing applications of the Push Hands pattern where you step and pull your partner down. That will be video number 553.

I created the website after receiving emails from people around the world asking how they could study if there weren't any teachers nearby. Since July of 2008, I've had members in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan, Maylaysia, and in almost every state of the U.S.

Ken-Gullette-Kim-Kruse-Bagua-AppsI also tried to determine what people would pay to access all this material and see the newest videos as soon as they were added. After looking around and asking people, I settled on $19.99 per month. For that price, they not only get the videos, audios, e-books, and a private discussion board, but anyone who comes to the Quad Cities can attend practices at no charge.

In fact, if I'm in another city where a member lives, I enjoy getting together to practice -- again at no charge.

I do charge for workshops, however. And if you're interested, just email me.

When I launched the website, I thought people in remote areas might want to get certified through the lessons, and through video feedback from me. It's VERY difficult to learn these arts without hands-on correction, so I don't emphasize it as much as a "school" as I do as a "resource." A lot of people use it to supplement their studies with other teachers. I think that's one ideal way of using the site -- the other is for teachers, who use the site to get new ideas and tips to incorporate into their teaching.

Weapons-Spar-2One new martial arts school is even planning to include my teaching on Internal Strength in their curriculum.

So we've come a long way in the past 3 1/2 years or so. There's more to do. Eventually I want a minimum of 1,000 video lessons on the site. I have big plans for the next few months to create new videos and e-books.

If you haven't yet checked it out and tried two weeks free, you have nothing to lose, and maybe some new insights to gain.

It has truly been a labor of love. I appreciate my students and friends Chris Miller, Kim Kruse, Colin Frye, Rich Coulter, Sean Ledig and others who have helped in the making of the videos. One of the deals I offer students is their only cost is website membership - $19.99 per month - and all practices and promotions are free but they in return help me make videos. In fact, one member from Indiana is driving over this coming weekend to join in on our practice, and I'll give him some private instruction, as well. It's a win-win situation.

Thank you, everyone -- and here's to the next 500!

I would appreciate it if you would share this by clicking some of the social media buttons below. Thanks.

The BS of Tai Chi -- That's Right - Bull Droppings

I sometimes talk about things that other Tai Chi people don't talk about publicly. But that's my nature. :)

I love Tai Chi. I love Taoist philosophy.

But in every human endeavor, someone wants you to think they're better than you. In religion, they want you to think they're holier than thou. In martial arts -- tougher than you.

Human beings can't help it. That's their nature.

And somewhere along the line, some Tai Chi people -- often those who wouldn't know the first thing of using it as a martial art -- want you to think they are Taoist priests and are much more One with the Universe than you.

In my library is a book called The Tai Chi Journey, by John Lash. An alleged Taoist, John writes, "The Tai Chi person who has reached Oneness has no need for show. In fact, it is just the opposite. The Tai Chi person disappears as he blends into the background that is the Tao."


I wonder why John needs a website, then:

In fact, if you look around, there aren't any Tai Chi masters who are apparently real Tai Chi people. They all have websites these days. And DVDs. And love being in magazines.

Yes. They love the publicity. And they love the money they make -- some of them make millions.

Tai Chi is a martial art created by a Taoist. You don't have to be a Taoist to be good at it any more than you have to be a Christian to be a good boxer. You can be a Tai Chi person and also a Baptist.

John also quotes the Tao Te Ching: "Those who talk do not know. Those who know do not talk."

His book runs 144 pages.

I'm just sayin.'

Where Traditional Martial Arts Fall Short - Unrealistic Expectations

Sparring Problem-SmallI've been involved in martial arts since 1973. I've worked on a lot of techniques and have done a lot of tournament sparring. Most of it has been "no-contact" or "light contact," although most of us who have done this know that there is a lot of contact, and it takes self-control to avoid excessive contact.

The skills that it takes to beat a black belt who is trying to punch and kick you are some of the same skills it takes to win on the street. I was in enough fights growing up to know. But at that time, I wasn't as knowledgeable as I became later. Fighting was always hard, but I always sort-of enjoyed it. I stood up to a lot of bullies over the years. Once a fight started, you never really knew what to expect. There was something I loved about that type of pressure. It was real life. And sometimes the smartest guy won, not just the toughest.

Traditional martial arts taught me a lot. In the beginning, I had the false confidence of a beginner, thinking I knew more than I did. As I got older, I knew how dangerous a self-defense situation could be as an adult. I learned how to avoid dangerous situations and to be ready for anything. And as I have evolved in the internal arts, I've seen the value they hold, but only if you approach them realistically.

I came across a book on One-Step Sparring from 1978 that illustrates one of the reasons traditional martial arts have fallen out of favor in place of MMA. This series of photos (above) shows a partner stepping and punching -- what we would call a "lunge punch." The instructor blocks from WAY outside, pulls back and does a knifehand, pulls back again and does an elbow to the chest, all while the attacker stands frozen like a statue. 

Bull droppings.

This is fantasy. A motivated attacker is going to take you out -- or take you down -- as soon as you pull back after the block.

Practicing one-steps is a good method of training, but the one-steps have to be realistic. We practice fighting techniques and applications from Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua. We begin by walking through it slowly, getting the angles right, the footwork, the body mechanics -- then we work them faster against a partner who is using multiple attacks without a pre-arranged choreography. And you keep doing it free-style. Then you pad up and do it with a little more force -- not enough to hurt your partner, of course, but enough to get the idea of how to use it against someone who isn't going to make it easy.

I did a point sparring DVD years ago that showed techniques and how they work in real tournament action. It was different from most sparring videos.

One-steps that involve multiple techniques should be a two-way street -- maybe we should call them "two-steps." If the defender is going to throw multiple techniques, the attacker should throw multiple realistic techniques.

A fight is always changing. Your opponent is going to surprise you and try to pull off techniques to take advantage of your weaknesses. Or he's going to overwhelm you and take you down. He's not going to stand there while you pull off two or three techniques.

I think a lot of us who do traditional martial arts have gotten a little more realistic over time. I hope so for your art's sake. 

How to Use Intent in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua

Bagua-Unbalance-300I received an interesting email from a member of the online internal arts school last week asking what does it mean to use intent in Taiji. Like a lot of members, he's using the online material to supplement training under another teacher. It became apparent that an instructor had made intent appear mystical.

He asked if, when establishing the ground path, if it's physical or if you are using Mind Intent?

After giving him my take on the subject, I then did some research to see what other instructors say. As I expected, the term Intent is shrouded in abstract terms and descriptions, in Taoism and Buddhism. One well-known "master" writes about it in such an abstract way that you'd need a Ph.D in Philosophy to understand it, then he asks for nearly a hundred bucks.

Let me put it simply -- the question is "what is intent when doing any internal movement?"

You can make it as flowery and abstract as you want, but the bottom line is this: the intent of the movement depends upon the martial application of the movement. When I am completing the movement Single Whip, as I open and move the left hand across, what is the intent? One application would be to pull on an opponent's wrist with the right hand and strike his face with the left.

So how do I work on the intent here? By being mindful of the body mechanics required to generate balance, strength and power throughout the movement. By doing it slowly, I seek to internalize the body mechanics and develop the relaxed strength that comes from the body mechanics and spiraling. Later, I can try speeding it up -- "putting on the gas" as Chen Xiaowang might put it -- and using fajing at a more realistic speed. But I can only do this with quality when I have a grasp of the body mechanics, which are developed at slower speeds.

If the application I'm envisioning as I do the same movement involves pulling the arm closer and expanding the chest to hyperextend or break his elbow, my intent will be slightly different.

Although the internal arts can be used for detachment and meditation, if you do a form and detach mentally, you're not going to be doing the art -- unless you've already practiced so many times with intent that it happens automatically, but even then, if the mind isn't engaged in the actual purpose of the movement, it's a bit empty.

The internal arts are complex. They require subtleties of movement and mechanics, of neutralizing force and applying force -- and you can get very abstract, especially when you bring in Taoism, Buddhism, karma, and the many interpretations of chi flow and chi cultivation into it.

But at the heart of it all -- it's about neutralizing force and using force.

The Yi leads the Chi and the Chi leads the Li. The mind knows what it must do and it generates both Intent and Spirit. If the Spirit is scared or weak, the technique will be ineffective. If the Intent and Spirit are strong, and the body mechanics are right, the Chi will "flow" and the Strength of the body will follow (Li).

It really isn't mysterious. You can show this physically in any classroom. Just have someone stand with their arms folded but out in front and away from their bodies. Tell them you're going to push them and move your hands close. You'll see them shift, preparing for the push. Their mind was focusing on intent, their energy and strength were following.

Here's an interpretation looked at another way: when establishing and maintaining the ground path and peng (and other mechanics), these are physical skills that combine and change in relation to the always-changing intent of the movement (always changing because an opponent's attack is constantly changing). Rarely will an attacker punch and then go away. Generally the punch will evolve into a grab, which may evolve into a clench, and may evolve into an attempted takedown. Your intent is constantly shifting with the situation. 

You can bring yin and yang into this and get as complex as you want. In fact, it's fun and interesting to get more complex. But you can never lose sight of the fact that these are martial arts. And if you have a teacher who isn't teaching this aspect, there are some supplemental materials I could recommend. :)

Follow Me on Pinterest