On a Saturday morning in early 1998 I drove to their home in Rockford, Illinois, about two hours from my home, to find out what some of these "body mechanics" were that I had recently read about in an internet chat room -- terms like "ground path" and "peng jin."
Jim worked with me for an hour, explaining the difference between the Yang style Taiji I had studied up to that point and the Chen style that he was studying and teaching.
In one hour, I knew I had to start over. What I had been studying was empty. It was based on "chi cultivation" and not on body mechanics.
After 25 years in martial arts and more than a decade in the internal arts, I couldn't find my kua with both hands. This was a problem, considering I had a "black sash" and was already teaching. My students and I were already making a splash at area martial arts tournaments. Now, my style of Taiji had to change.
For the next few years, I drove regularly to Rockford to study with Jim and Angela. They introduced me to Ren Guangyi and Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, who they hosted for workshops.
My career up to that point had been in the news industry as a reporter, news director, anchor and producer. Every day, I tried to explain news stories and events in an understandable way. A complex story had to be broken down so the general public could make sense of it. As the reporter or story writer, I had to understand it, too.
That is how I approached my teaching of the internal arts. As I began learning the internal concepts, often in a roundabout way, I asked myself how I could explain it to my students and to myself in a way that made sense.
Over time, I broke the body mechanics down into six main concepts that beginning students needed to at least know about:
One -- The Ground Path -- If someone pushes against any part of your body, they must feel as if they are pushing into a steel rod that is connected to the ground. That needed to be maintained through all movements.
Two -- Peng Jin -- An expansive quality in your body and limbs that works with the Ground Path to give your relaxed movements an internal strength that is not evident on the outside.
Three -- Whole-Body Movement -- When one part moves, all parts move, and your internal strength unfolds like a ribbon from the ground through the body. All styles talk about this, but it is clear when watching even Taiji people that many do not achieve it.
Four -- Opening and Closing the Kua -- The crease at the top of the legs, along the inguinal ligament, acts as a buoy in the ocean. Used properly, it helps you adjust to incoming force and rebalance yourself.
Five -- Dantien rotation -- They say the "Dantien (sometimes spelled Dan T'ien) leads all movements," but I believe all movements start with the ground and the Dantien is part of what leads the internal strength along the ground path.
Six -- Silk-Reeling Energy -- The word "energy" can be misleading. It means "method" in this context. Silk-Reeling energy is a method of spiraling the body, from the ground through the limbs, that helps provide additional power to your movements. I teach the Silk-Reeling exercises to guide my students on the proper way to combine all six of these concepts into their movements.
When students begin learning from me, the first thing they learn are these six body mechanics, and from there, they study the art they want -- Chen style Taiji, Xingyiquan or Ba Gua Zhang. On my website, there is a section devoted to many videos breaking down these skills, and I also teach them in my Internal Strength DVD and Silk-Reeling Energy DVD.
As you continue learning, there are many other concepts and skills to be learned, but in my experience, a lot of students are just kind of thrown into classes and simply follow the teacher for a long time, as they slowly develop a sense of what they are trying to achieve.
I believe it is much more difficult to reach your destination without a road map. Understanding these six principles and how they factor into your movement and self-defense applications will be a revelation, like firing up a brand new updated GPS device.
If you read this list and do not understand how to translate these into your internal movement, save some time and check out either the DVDs above or my membership website at www.InternalFightingArts.com.
Here is a true fact about many internal arts teachers: It is a lot easier to pretend to be teaching something mystical than it is to put in the hard work required by the internal body mechanics that produce real quality.
My goal in teaching is to cut years off the time it takes someone to go from novice to skilled by providing information that I did not have for decades as I tried to feel my way through the thick jungle of misinformation, hacking through the tall weeds of mysticism and magical chi powers in search of something true. I am still learning.
Internal energy, and the relaxed power of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua comes from good body mechanics, not mysticism. If you don't fully understand the principles you should be working on, the road ahead is much longer and much more expensive.
-- by Ken Gullette