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June 2021

Get Out of the Bubble and Pressure-Test Your Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Byron Jacobs, an outstanding martial artist and teacher of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, does the Drunken Boxing Podcast. He recently interviewed Mario Napoli, another great martial artist who went to the Chen Village and won a push hands tournament there. Here is the link to the YouTube version of Byron's interview with Mario. The Drunken Boxer Podcast is also available through Spotify and other podcast distributors.

One of the interesting topics they discussed was the problem of Taiji people not wanting to test their push hands against other martial artists.

Chris Lorenzen and Ken Gullette
Ken Gullette (left) and Chris Lorenzen

One of my former students, Chris Lorenzen, has gotten into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu during the past year or two. So I invited him to stop by one of our practices a couple of weeks ago to pressure-test our arts and to exchange information. I have a lot of respect for other martial arts and I like to see them up close.

It was a lot of fun. Besides banging around a little, we asked about BJJ and he gave us a few demonstrations of techniques on the floor. 

I believe that if your arts are not effective, you are living in a bubble of fantasy. So I like for other martial artists to stop by our practices. 

Most of us are instinctively too tense when another person comes in to take us down. We expect to use muscular tension to defend and counter. But often, that tension is what your opponent uses to control you because they can connect more easily to your center.

We practice relaxing when an opponent uses force, and combining that relaxation with other body mechanics including the ground path, peng jin, using the kua and more to "empty" and then redirect the force our opponent is using.

A couple of months ago, I spent five days in the hospital with blood clots in my left lung, and I'm on blood thinners right now. It's frustrating to be more fragile than I used to be and not able to go as hard as I used to, so I think Chris took it a little easy on me. It was still a valuable experience to feel his technique and learn what I could. Justin and Colin were able to go a little harder with him.

My favorite thing is to square off with other martial artists and ask them to take me down. It isn't about punching and kicking for me anymore. My goal is to get close to them and maintain my center while I take control of theirs. Anyone can punch and kick, but can you make him go off-balance and take advantage of him at the right moment? If someone grabs you to take you down, and uses force on you, can you handle it with relaxed internal strength?

Chris Lorenzen and Justin Snow
Chris Lorenzen and Justin Snow on the ground.

I love to work on it. If they try to take me down and have a hard time because I can keep them from finding my center, that's a good thing. And if I can take them down instead, that's even better. I try to be strict with myself, avoiding the use of localized muscular tension and trying instead to use good Taijiquan principals and methods. I did a DVD on some of these methods of close-up self-defense and you can find the DVD through this link. 

One of the interesting things Mario and Byron talk about in the podcast is how some Taijiquan teachers are calling themselves "master" and yet they have never pressure-tested their skills in competition. If you don't pressure-test your martial ability, Mario Napoli says you are just "moving air" when you do a form. 

"Forms lie to you," he says, and he is right. You can do movements all day and think you can apply it in self-defense, but it's a completely different ballgame when someone is putting the pressure on you.

So get out of your bubble. Invite different people to your workouts. It should be friendly, of course. You don't have to go full-contact because getting hurt is not a good option for adults who have other responsibilities and careers, but there should be a risk of being "shown up" and taken down. Your ego might be deflated a bit, but it's a small price to pay for the truth. We can always get better, but not if we become legends in our own minds.

Let's face it, if you aren't pressure-testing your arts, you are probably not as good as you think you are.

 


Are You Part of a Martial Arts Cult? The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Louis Martin

True BelieversSome people want to become martial arts teachers or "chi masters" for the same reasons some people become ministers or politicians.

Some people want to be figures of authority. They want others to look up to them, to see them as having amazing skill, as a direct pipeline to God, as someone with Ultimate Wisdom, or as someone with supernatural powers.

Even in martial arts, there is no shortage of people who will bow down before a "master." Students might play along with their "chi master" teacher and fall down when he waves his hand. Or they will jump and hop away when their tai chi "master" touches them lightly during push hands. They will talk about their teacher as if he (it's almost always a "he") is god-like. 

Nobody wants to admit they belong to a cult. 

Louis Martin is the author of "The True Believers," a book about his experience in a martial arts school with cult-like tendencies. It is an interesting story for anyone in martial arts. Follow this link to find the book on Amazon

Louie is the guest on the latest Internal Fighting Arts Podcast. Here is the link to the podcast. You can listen online or download it to listen to later. 


Silk-Reeling Exercises Can Help You Develop Internal Body Mechanics

Dover-Photo-pngSilk-Reeling exercises are forgotten by some Chen style Taiji students after they practice forms, but I believe these exercises should be included in everyone's training routine.

I first learned Silk-Reeling exercises from Chen Xiaowang and my first Chen Taiji teachers, Jim and Angie Criscimagna. Silk-reeling is known in China as chan ssu chin. As I understand it, the exercises were created in recent decades. They are not part of the traditional training in the Chen Village. I went through a silk-reeling workshop with Chen Xiaowang back in 2000 but was already working on them at that time.

When I began teaching, I tried to organize material in easy-to-understand pieces for my students (and for me). For the past 23 years, I have taught six key principles of body mechanics to beginning students:

1.  The ground path

2.  Establishing and maintaining peng jin

3.  Opening and closing the kua

4.  Dan T'ien rotation

5.  Whole-body connected movement

6.  Silk-Reeling energy

New students who are being taught in-person or through my website (www.InternalFightingArts.com) study these concepts first. They are not difficult to understand intellectually, but it takes years to ingrain them into our body awareness and movement. That's one of the reasons you don't become highly skilled in Taiji very quickly.

The silk-reeling exercises, as I teach them, help students combine all six of these body mechanics. If you do the silk-reeling exercises well, you are doing Taiji well.

SRE-Apps-5
Working on silk-reeling applications with Colin Frye.

I also teach the self-defense applications of each exercise. There are several applications in each movement that show how the movement is used and how the mechanics give the application more power. It's a real eye-opener for new students.

Unfortunately, most students ignore these exercises after they begin working on forms. That's understandable, because forms seem more exciting. But I would urge you to pull the silk-reeling exercises out, dust them off and practice them from time to time. 

Let's face it -- every movement in a Taiji form is a silk-reeling exercise. But are you practicing the movements with that in mind?

With every movement I do, I am thinking of the body mechanics and how they are all working to create internal strength and relaxed power. 

But forms take space, and silk-reeling exercises can be done in a very small space. Sometimes, if I am relaxing at night with Nancy and watching TV, I'll jump up and do a silk-reeling exercise such as two-hand spiraling, small arm circle or up/down diagonal arms just to practice and focus on the mechanics, the peng, the ground path, the spiraling through the body, creating relaxed power that flows like a wave. Internal strength ain't mystical -- it's all about body mechanics.

SRE-Apps-6If you have never studied silk-reeling exercises, I'll be crassly commercial here and tell you that as a member of my website (check it out here) you can not only study these skills but also get direct personal feedback from me live on Zoom. But you can also learn the exercises through two of my DVDs -- Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling Energy. Click this link to check them out.

In my two live Taiji classes for website members on Zoom this Wednesday, we will be going over two silk-reeling exercises and discussing how the body mechanics work within the movement. I'll coach each person who joins in on the class. I'm also doing this tonight in the practice with my in-person students here in the Quad Cities.

You can never work on the basics enough, in my opinion. These exercises are perfect for new students because they incorporate the most important movement principles that get students off to a good start. They are important for teachers who are trying to drive home principles to new students. But even if you have been in Taiji for decades as I have, you can still find nuggets of gold if you practice and really focus on the mechanics in these great exercises, so don't neglect them. Don't forget them. That's the bottom line here.

-- by Ken Gullette