Previous month:
September 2013
Next month:
November 2013

Chen Taiji 19 Form Self-Defense - Video Highlights from E-book Photo Shoots

Chen 19 Apps Ebook Cover-250During the past month, we have had photo shoots for the new ebook on Amazon Kindle. It's titled Chen Taiji Self-Defense - Fighting Applications for the Chen Tai Chi 19 Form.

The book was published yesterday. It costs $4.99 and includes 239 photos and coaching on 106 self-defense applications from this short Chen Taiji form.

Fighting applications in the form include joint locks, hand strikes, punches, knee strikes, kicks, sweeps, throws, and takedowns. The photo on the cover was taken in 2008, showing an application for the closing movement of the form against a strangle. Most of the photos were taken during the past month.

Below is a video with just a few highlights of those applications. My lovely wife Nancy, the Vice President of Cuteness at our school, is the videographer. Colin Frye is my training partner. He takes a bit of punishment but he's young. He'll survive. :) If you are interested in the ebook, click the link in the first paragraph above. 

How to Fight with Tai Chi - Self-Defense Applications from the Chen Taiji 19 Form

Chen 19 Apps Ebook Cover-250I have written an ebook with 239 photos and detailed instruction for 106 self-defense applications that are found in the short Chen Taiji 19 Form. The ebook is titled Chen Taiji Self-Defense - Fighting Applications from the Chen Family Tai Chi 19 Form. It is available on the Amazon Kindle store for $4.99 and will play on any device with the free Kindle app installed.

The Chen 19 Form was designed by Chen Xiaowang in 1995. He was asked by students around the world for a shorter form to fit into their busy daily lives. Also, in my opinion, I believe he wanted to provide a Chen family answer to the Simplified Yang 24 Form that has become the most popular Tai Chi form in the world.

The Chen 19 Form takes about 5 to 6 minutes to perform if done slowly -- less time if you do it with power and speed. It is based primarily on the longer form, Laojia Yilu. Movements are a bit conservative, with less obvious silk-reeling, than the Chen 38 or Xinjia forms. This is the first form that I teach new Taiji students. I have practiced the 19 Form since 1998, when I learned it from my teachers Jim and Angela Criscimagna, from 19-12-9Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang (who Jim and Angela hosted for workshops) and later I practiced it with another of my teachers, Mark Wasson.

Tai Chi (also spelled Taiji) is a martial art. When you understand how the movements are used in self-defense, you will better understand the true intent of each movement.

Fighting applications in the form include punches, palm strikes, knee strikes, kicks, elbow strikes, joint locks, sweeps, throws, and takedowns.

This is the second volume in my two-volume series on the Chen 19 Form. The first volume, Chen Taijiquan 19 Form, is a step-by-step instructional guide with virtually frame-by-frame photos of the movements (more than 200 photos). In 2008, I produced a DVD with instruction and self-defense applications for the Chen 19 Form.

The true intent of a Tai Chi movement is self-defense. If you do Tai Chi without knowing how the movements are used in self-defense, you are practicing without knowing the true intent of this powerful martial art. 

19-12-10The movements in the Chen 19 form can also be found in other Tai Chi forms regardless of which style you study. They might be performed in slightly different ways from a stylistic perspective, but they all originated in Chen Taiji -- movements such as the Opening of the Form, Wave Hands Like Clouds, Step Back Whirling Arms, Stepping Three Steps, and other movements.

One of my favorite applications from "Wave Hands Like Clouds" is shown here in two photos. Your opponent punches and you sweep his leg out from under him as you pull his arms across. This is an example of "Split" energy and it is one of the applications for the part of Wave Hands that involves stepping to the left as the arms sweep across your body.

Several years ago, I did a 3-volume DVD set on fighting applications of Laojia Yilu. There are more than 400 self-defense applications demonstrated on the DVDs. Even then, I didn't cover them all. With demonstrations and coaching for 106 movements in the Chen 19 Form, I hope this encourages students of Taiji to experiment on their own and use creativity and body mechanics to explore even more as you learn this amazing art.

Follow this link to see the ebook on Amazon

One Philosophical Taoist's Perspective - Should We Fear Death?

Ken Gullette with his daughter, Shara in October, 1980.
Since I lost the function of my left lung a few years ago, and was told that my heart would wear out within three to five years, the reality of "The End" has been close in a way that can only be understood if you have been given a timetable for your own mortality. 

A few weeks ago, when I was told that I was essentially "in heart failure," reality again tapped me on the shoulder.

Also in recent weeks, I have had some interesting debates with a devout Christian friend of mine who believes, I suppose, that I will be cast in the lake of fire since I don't believe Jesus was divine. The way I feel about death is probably a foreign concept to a Christian -- just as their beliefs, the beliefs I grew up with, are now foreign to me.

After 40 years of embracing Eastern philosophies, particularly philosophical Taoism, I can only explain how I feel about death in the following paragraphs.

The moment you were born into this life you cried.

So did I. Everyone does. The doctor pulls us into the world and either massages us or slaps us and we let out a wail, already protesting the violence we’re suddenly experiencing.

Perhaps we have a sense that this isn’t going to be easy. If so, we are right. The easy stuff ended the moment we took our first breath and saw light and people around us.

Before that moment, all was peaceful and calm, unless our mothers ate burritos with hot salsa while we were in the womb. From the moment of conception, as we slowly formed inside our mothers, we could hear muffled sounds outside, but we were at peace.

Have you ever thought about the eternity of time that passed before you were born? Have you ever calmed yourself, closed your eyes, and tried to remember what it was like?

For an eternity, all we knew was perfect peace. No pain, no fear of death, no judgment of what is good and bad. No one judged us for what we believe, what we wore, or how much money we earned. We were at one with the universe because we were the universe – part of the same energy that created it all.

When we were born, we had no complaints about where we had been.

And so it must be with death. We will have no complaints when we get there. It is the only concept that makes sense.

Life and death are two sides of the same coin. Before we are born, there is an eternity in which we do not exist. Then we are born and exist for a brief number of years. Then we do not exist for another eternity.

Before birth, we are aware of nothing. It is perfect peace. When we are born, we are aware of everything around us, full of emotions – happiness, fear, love, hate – and we are full of striving and desire.

After we die, we are aware of nothing. It is as if we had never existed. It is perfect peace.

This is not what we want.

Each of us would like to see loved ones on “the other side.” Now that we have tasted life, we want it to continue. But even in the quiet moments of the most religiously devout, the gnawing realization is there, reminding us that this is it. There are no invisible beings watching us, none to take our hands and lead us to Heaven, none to punish us in a lake of fire, and none to sit on a throne and judge us for being human. These are fantasies created by men who want to control others. It is the philosophy of fear.

Eternal peace is a comforting thought, but only if you can get your ego out of the way, the ego that makes us feel that we are special over all other forms of life, that only humans live forever.

When you become enlightened, you are “born again” in a flash of illumination. All the man-made burdens of judgment and shame, guilt and invisible judges vanish. You are born again because on the day you are born, you have none of these concepts. You do not live under the shadow of a threat unless your parents tell you that you do -- the threat of believing their way or receiving eternal torture.

When we free ourselves from these mental and societal chains, we may now enjoy our lives, savoring each moment and each relationship. And when it is time for our lives to end, we have nothing to fear. We have lived good, moral lives full of love. We have done the best we could. We have failed at times, we have been petty and angry and jealous at times, but we have also soared at times. That’s life. The only tragedy is if life ends too quickly. I had a daughter, Shara, who died 33 years ago tomorrow, on October 23, 1980. She was six weeks old. She did not have a chance to experience the joy and pain of life. That is a tragedy.

The night before she died, she grinned so big that her mom and sister and I burst out laughing. A big, toothless grin as I talked to her in baby talk. So perhaps she did experience some joy in her short life.

There is a wonderful quote from Master Po in the Kung Fu TV series. He says, "Learn first how to live. Learn second how not to kill. Learn third how to live with death. Learn to die."

I am now in the "living with death" phase of this cycle, but after enduring my daughter's death, it is, in some strange way, familiar territory.

If we are lucky, we reach the end of our lives accepting the reality of death. Perhaps it is best if we live long enough to be ready to die. But regardless, there is nothing to fear and perfect peace to gain. We came into this world crying, and we should all leave this world smiling.

There is nothing to cry about.

Chen Ziqiang and Fighting Applications of Tai Chi Push Hands

Chen Ziqiang and Ken Gullette Takedown web
Chen Ziqiang demonstrates a push hands technique on me that becomes a takedown.
I've been looking for an opportunity to attend a workshop on push hands applications with Chen Ziqiang for several years. They play rough in the Chenjiagou Taiji School, where he is vice-principal and head coach, and I have heard of his reputation as a tough guy for about 9 years. The recent TV broadcasts of some of his sanshou matches were tutorials on effective Taiji fighting principals. What I appreciate most is his ability to "bump" an opponent, getting them off-balance just long enough to close the trap. 

Chen Ziqiang is a direct descendant of the creator of Taiji, Chen Wangting. His father is Chen Xiaoxing. His uncle is Chen Xiaowang. His great-grandfather was Chen Fake.

It did not look promising three weeks ago for me to attend this workshop, when my cardiologist told me that I am considered to be "in heart failure." After losing my left lung four years ago, my heart was expected to weaken -- it was beating faster and not getting enough rest. But I hadn't been feeling bad so the diagnosis surprised me. The doctor put me on a new medicine three weeks ago that made me actually feel worse and more short of breath. I have not been a happy camper, and for 24 hours after this new diagnosis, I decided not to attend the push hands workshop. I got over that feeling, and I'm glad I did.

Because of this recent revelation, it was with a little uncertainty that I went to Chicago this past weekend to finally train Push Hands Applications with Chen Ziqiang and a group of good Taiji students and teachers, including Andy Loria (host of the workshop), Brian Springmeyer, Julie Stauffer and others. I wondered if I would even make it through the first day.

Chen Ziqiang - Armbar Variation web
Chen Ziqiang demonstrates a variation on the armbar at Sunday's training session.
I did make it through, and despite working on sweeps and takedowns for two days, I made it through the entire weekend. On Saturday morning I felt better than I have in over three weeks. It lasted throughout the weekend and as I write this on Monday. Good timing. 

On Day 1, we worked 4 or 5 applications of single-hand push hands. We drilled them over and over, which is the way I like to train. It's far better to learn a few techniques well than to learn a dozen techniques poorly.

After the warmups and stretching, Saturday's training started with a simple wrist lock in single hand push hands. Chen Ziqiang demonstrated the proper way to "close" into it.

After the wrist lock, we practiced various sweeps that come straight from movements in Laojia and Xinjia. Leading the opponent's arm away and turning with the proper body mechanics. Ziqiang was sweeping the largest people in the room as he demonstrated. The first sweep was from behind the opponent's lead foot, causing him to fall backward. The second sweep was from the front of the opponent's leg, causing him to fall forward. The Taiji "energy" of Split was involved in most of the techniques -- taking your opponent in two directions at once. Our ankles and achille's tendons were pretty sore by lunch time. In the afternoon we worked on an application that involves a spin and a takedown.

As we practiced, Ziqiang would come around, watch us do the movement, and then laugh good-naturedly. It was actually funny to see him watch an application and then laugh as if he was thinking, "These silly Americans." Then he would demonstrate on us and show the proper way, correcting what we were doing. 

Once or twice, my partners and I would either disagree over what we had witnessed when watching Ziqiang demonstrate an application, or we would need more clarification. We would ask him to demonstrate on us and he willingly obliged. This is one of the greatest benefits of a workshop with a teacher of his caliber. If you are wondering if you are doing it correctly, just ask and you can feel him do it to you and your partners. At that point, you know what you are working to achieve. It's all in the body mechanics.

I was lucky to be paired Sunday afternoon with an eager, tall 19-year old, Daniel Frohman. I did not intend to throw him as hard as I did a few times, but after working on the mechanics, it just happened. Fortunately, the floor on Day 2 was carpeted. I would apologize and help him up off the floor and he would laugh and say, "Don't apologize, that makes me happy!" What a great young man. It made me happy when Chen Ziqiang saw a couple of my takedowns and laughed (in a pleased way this time) and he said, "Good." That's always worth the price of admission. 

Day 2 began double-hand push hands and takedowns that you find in movements such as "Part the Wild Horse's Mane" and other movements from Laojia and Xinjia. Sweeping from the front and the back while controlling the upper body. Zhou and Kao energy were used. It is crazy to feel the sudden violent explosion when your "energy" is taken in one direction and then suddenly in another. In the afternoon, we continued double-hand applications, including wrist locks, armbars, and particularly nasty variation that involves stepping over your opponent's arm after you have taken him down, then sitting and turning into the joint, creating intense pain and potentially breaking the elbow.

Ken Gullette and Chen Ziqiang - web
I love the opportunity to work with teachers of Chen Ziqiang's skill level.
It was great to see some of the people who support and further the art of Chen Taiji in the Chicago area. I realized yesterday that I first met some of them back in 1998, when I was studying with my first Chen Taiji teachers, Jim and Angela Criscimagna. If not for Jim and Angela, and their efforts to bring in masters such as Chen Xiaowang and Ren Guangyi, the workshop this weekend would probably never have happened. I was lucky to find them back then, and lucky to have the opportunity to continue to learn. 

During the weekend training, my recent medical diagnosis was never far from my mind. It's quite shocking to realize that it would be a medical marvel if I am alive in 10 years. The reality is hitting me that my window of opportunity for training this way is brief, but my intention is to keep going and learning as long as I can, and passing along what I learn. I must have been swept 75 to 100 times during the weekend, and swept my partners as many times as they swept me. It was FUN, and I only wish I had another 40 years to study this amazing art.

Each day, I finished by writing notes on the applications. Guess what I'll be doing with my students this week? 

Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing-I - The Difference Between Fighting and Art

Black-Dragon-1I received an interesting email from a website member in the United Kingdom. It started as a discussion about Hsing-I and the relationship of the Five Fist Postures to the 12 Animals. It went on from there to discuss the evolution of fighting movements into art.

In our 21st Century, MMA-obsessed culture, traditional arts are often criticized or brushed off as ineffective. That's pure B.S. of course, another one of those "my style is better than your style" type of arguments.

These are called martial "arts" for a reason. The styles that I study are internal martial "arts." The movements in Hsing-I, Tai Chi and Bagua can be used for fighting, but the word "art" is part of the name. Over the past 40 years of practicing, the reason has become more clear to me.

Black-Dragon-2Let's look at a movement in the Bagua Swimming Body form called "Black Dragon Slashes Its Tail." It's part of the 3rd section of the form. I just put a long video lesson up on the website last week with detailed instruction. This movement involves a sideways step and a coiling of the right arm, then a cross-step and a coiling of the left, then a coiling of the right arm and a strike with the left in a cross-step.

You don't have to perform the movement artfully in order to pull off some fighting moves. The self-defense applications can be practiced without looking real good. In fact, applications are never as "pretty" as a form.

But to do the movement well in a form requires a flowing, connected energy from the ground, spiraling through the body, turned by the Dan T'ien and flowing through the legs, body, shoulders, elbows and hands. How well am I using silk-reeling through the body? How well am I connecting the ground with whole-body movement? Am I spiraling from the leg through the body, shoulders, elbows and hands in a flowing, connected way? Learning and practicing the body mechanics to do the movement in a beautiful, connected way is the art. It also makes your application more powerful. Building skill takes hard work and time (the very definition of "Kung-Fu"). It also takes time to learn the self-defense applications well, but you don't have to look good to do that. You just have to be effective.

Black-Dragon-3I was watching a video online of the founder of Aikido. It reminded me how unrealistic a lot of fighting applications are when they are dependent on students who are playing along. Demonstrating these movements helps explain concepts, but where we go astray is when we think that even what O'Sensei (or any teacher) uses in a demonstration is effective against a motivated adult who is attacking you to do violence. A lot of fights can be ended with one good punch. The simplest techniques are often the best. But concepts such as  the sphere of power or the capturing of an opponent's center are important and must be shown.

In my own videos, I try to make the applications realistic. I'll admit when an application would be difficult to use in a real fight, but I will teach it if the concept is solid. Sometimes, an application is more "art" than fighting. It's okay as long as you understand that. There are some Bagua videos that I see where a student punches and the teacher deflects the punch, snakes his arm around the student's neck, and then gets him into a choke or a throwing position with very little reality-based response from the student. Naturally, they're not going to make it difficult for the teacher as a real opponent will. But the video is useful in showing you concepts of the art.

For those of us who have been in real fights, we know that some of these moves are extremely difficult against a motivated adult. At the very least, you would have to soften them up with other techniques (punches, knees, elbows, kicks) to employ the element of surprise in pulling off the more complex movements. So you have to keep this in mind when watching movements and demonstrations of fighting applications. In fact, at your next practice you should put on some pads and tell your partner not to play along. Then try to do some of the more complex moves of your art. I guarantee a big difference if your partner is not cooperating.

I never expect to be in another real fight. I am prepared if that happens, but over time, your focus shifts. When I began studying in 1973, I wanted to learn self-defense and philosophy. As I learned self-defense, my confidence grew. Now, I love to improve my internal mechanics to smooth out my movements so they flow with relaxed power. It involves self-discipline and self-mastery, the same benefits you receive when you excel at anything, from gymnastics to basketball, from golf to being really good at your job. Those who do anything well are artists. They have "kung-fu."

The usefulness of a painting is the message it conveys and how it blends with its surroundings. The usefulness of a martial arts move is in the self-defense application.

A painting that is low quality to the eye of an art critic can go very well with a room's decor, and if you don't know what good art is, it might seem great to you. Remember the black velvet Elvis and the dogs playing poker?

An internal technique done poorly can still be effective in self-defense. But the skill of the painter in the brush strokes, the application of color and capturing the message he intends to convey -- that is the art, just as the connected, coordinated, flowing strength, and fajing of Bagua, Tai Chi and Hsing-I movements represent a more complete expression of skill.


Try two weeks of my website free and get access to over 600 video lessons, ebooks, and a private discussion board. Click the link to learn more.

Martial Arts Tournaments Reflect Changes in Society and Traditional Martial Arts

Morrows 40th BlackBelt Championship 2013 212-web
John Morrow on the left with Ken Gullette on the right, judging a sparring match at Morrow's tournament on Oct. 12, 2013.
I was a judge at John Morrow's 40th Semi-Annual Karate & Kung-Fu Tournament last Saturday, held on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. 

John always puts on one of the best tournaments in the area, drawing mostly friendly martial artists who are fair in their judging and talented in their technique. But over the years, the tournament has shrunk in size.

If any of you were involved in martial arts back in the 1970s, you remember how the stands were packed with spectators and there were hundreds of competitors, including kids, adults, men and women -- the Bruce Lee craze fueled the flames and there were martial arts schools on every corner, it seemed.

Even in the 1990s and around 2000, the tournament scene was thriving. I was in the black belt competitions at Morrow's tournaments and others in Chicago, Keokuk, and Dubuque. Sometimes 15 or 20 black belts -- men, women and seniors -- would compete in forms and sparring. On Saturday, only one young black belt showed up to compete. The rest of the competitors were under black belt. Several prominent local teachers who have their own schools didn't support the tournament and didn't send students, or attend to help judge the events. I'm very disappointed in them.

It's easy for people to dismiss tournaments. Even some martial artists look down their noses and complain that "it isn't real." The sparring matches are "low contact." They are supposed to be "no contact" but that's virtually impossible. If someone isn't hurt, judges generally allow it. I've always loved tournaments. You train for it, practice your forms and techniques, then put it on the line in front of a jury of your peers and mentors.

You can learn a lot about yourself in tournaments. How do you respond to pressure? Can you detach from the eyes staring at you and perform with precision and power? In sparring, can you size up the weaknesses of your opponent and score? Do you freeze up? 

I still think this is one of the greatest sports, and find it hard to believe more teens and adults don't take it up. The skills you learn are not only helpful in self-defense, they build confidence, which carries over into all areas of life.

In the old days, a school owner could earn a living with a school. Now, a lot of martial arts school owners have full-time jobs to supplement their income. Children are involved in several activities throughout the year but martial arts isn't usually one of them. Young adults seem to be involved in other things. Adults 35 and over think they are too old (they're not). MMA has drawn some young guys who think they want more realism, but the truth is that when these young guys see how difficult it is, and how hard you have to work, they drop out of MMA, too.

Some outstanding traditional arts are being taught. You can learn without worrying about getting a concussion. You can learn self confidence, get in shape, and learn to control your mind and body in ways that will surprise you. And you can learn to defend yourself and the people you love. That's an ability that is always good to have tucked inside in case you need it. 

I started for self-defense and philosophy. After I learned self-defense, I became interested in developing my skill. I am particularly interested in how beautiful movements can be powerful fighting techniques. Arts such as Tai Chi and Bagua just get deeper the more you study them. They are arts that keep on giving.

There have been many changes in society and technology during the past 40 years. In 1973, Kung-Fu and Karate were mysterious and amazing. It was all so new. In 2013, even 20 and 30-year-olds have never known a world where martial arts schools were not around. It is no longer something cool and new. It's nothing special. Except to those of us who remember just how new and cool it was. For us, it's still cool.

I would love to see comments on this topic. Do you still study? Why do you study and what do you get out of it? If you don't study in a school, why not?

The Eight Energies of Tai Chi -- One of the Meanings of Press Energy in Tai Chi and Bagua

Press-1When I first studied Tai Chi, I learned about Ward Off (Peng), Roll Back (Lu), Press (Gi, pronounced "jee"), and Push (An, pronounced "On"). 

We were told there are eight primary "energies" in Tai Chi.

On the rare times we did fighting applications, we thought of Press as a pressing outward type of movement, as in the top photo on the left.

But Press has a different quality. With this "energy," you crowd your opponent. One way this is done in Bagua and Taiji is to deflect incoming force and position yourself close enough to your opponent that he Press-2is unable to defend. At this point, you are set up to do what you need to do.

In the middle photo, I am doing a movement from the Bagua Swimming Body form called "Black Dragon Slashes Its Tail." My partner has punched and I have moved in as the punch was deflected. I am now close enough to do a palm strike, a shoulder bump, a leg technique, and more.

In Taiji you can do this while pushing hands, too. During the double hand routines, you can get closer to your opponent as you spiral him so he doesn't realize he's in trouble until it's too late. Before he realizes, you have pressed into his space so he is unable to defend. At Press-3this point, you've got him.

Press shows up in subtle ways in the forms.

It also shows up in Hsing-I, although it isn't very subtle. One of the key goals of Hsing-I is to take your opponent's ground. The concept of Press shows up in a lot of fighting applications.

As you practice fighting applications or push hands, look for ways of closing the distance and putting your partner into a moment of vulnerability.