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After Two Years of Being Careful, Covid Finally Finds Me

Ken Bob 5-26-2022
Bob holds Ken up during a practice while Ken has Covid.

I have been careful to avoid Covid for more than two years, masking up, avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance, and getting my vaccines and a booster.

Because I have one functioning lung, and since I developed this condition I have also developed asthma, it was not a good ldea to catch a virus that attacks the lungs.

I was successful in evading Covid, but then we take one trip to Philadelphia to attend a 4-day Chen Taiji workshop, and Covid catches up with me.

I suppose it isn't "if" but "when" we will get it. 

Only a couple of people on the planes to Philadelphia wore masks. Only one or two people at the 4-day workshop wore masks. Most people in the restaurants and historic tourist attractions around the city were unmasked. We let our guard down. We took off our masks.

Two days after we returned from Philadelphia, I got together with Colin and Justin to practice outside at the park. I felt fatigued. Usually, if I'm a little tired before a practice, just moving and practicing gets me fired up. But not this time.

The next morning, I was so fatigued, I got up but kept going back to bed to rest. I even took a short nap after lunch. I never take naps! I can nap when I'm dead. 

My nose started running and wouldn't stop.

Finally, early in the afternoon I whipped out one of our home Covid test kits the government sent us several weeks ago.

I tested positive. The next day, with the fatigue persisting, I tested again. It was positive.

We knew Nancy would not escape it. When I tested positive we started sleeping in separate bedrooms, but we knew it was too late. Within a couple of days, Nancy felt like she had a head cold. She did the home Covid test and sure enough, it was positive.

It has been 10 days now since I tested positive. My energy has mostly returned, but my lungs are still suffering a bit with a lot of phlegm and deep coughing spells. I'm not sure where Covid ends and my other lung issues take over.

Nancy feels back to normal.

I suppose the moral of this story is: if we let our guard down, Covid will catch us. But if we are vaccinated and boosted, we can stay out of the hospital and the morgue.

One of my conservative friends said, "You got Covid. That means the vaccines don't work."

No, actually that means the vaccines do work. I have one lung and asthma. I'm 69 years old. I got Covid. I didn't get sick enough to be hospitalized. I'm still alive.

This actually proves the vaccines and boosters are doing their job. Since Covid hit the world in early 2020, I have listened to the scientists, not the politicians. I listen to Dr. Fauci. I have tried to follow their lead. But like most of the country, I have been ready to unmask and get back to normal during the past several weeks. Even though I knew Covid cases were rising with new variants, I took a risk. 

I wish now that I had worn my mask at least on the airplane. It's a very small price to pay to keep from being sidelined for more than a week.

I'm hoping to resume my live classes this week. I might take it a bit slowly, but I'm hoping the worst of Covid is behind me.

-- by Ken Gullette


In the Concrete Jungle of Chicago, a Flower of Kindness Blooms

Do Good Be Kind Ken Nancy
Nancy and I wearing our "Do Good. Be Kind." shirts.

Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski of the Chicago area deserve a salute. In a city that has a reputation as a dangerous place, they showed two strangers -- Nancy and me -- kindness and generosity. Here is the story.

I rarely find myself in a situation where I have no idea what to do. It is unknown territory. I am always confident I can handle any situation. Like water, I'll find a way around an obstacle.

But when United Airlines left Nancy and me twisting in the wind in Chicago last week, I was at a loss.

We were flying home from Philadelphia, where we spent four days seeing sights and, while Nancy went shopping, I spent four hours each day at a great Taijiquan workshop by Nabil Ranné, who had flown in from Germany.

The first leg of the return flight on Monday evening, May 16 was from Philly to Chicago. Due to severe weather, we sat in the plane on the tarmac for nearly 90 minutes in Philly before taking off. We were supposed to change planes at O'Hare for the trip home to Moline, but severe weather elsewhere disrupted the system and United cancelled our connecting flight.

Around 8:30 p.m. we got off the plane in Chicago and found ourselves stranded. There would be no flight available to Moline for at least 24 hours. Our luggage was on the plane, and to make matters worse, my heart medication was on the carry-on bag that they made me check before boarding the plane. Since we were in the cheap seats (economy) the plane ran out of carry-on room before we boarded. I would need my heart medication the following morning. This presented a problem. It seemed like a slap from United. "You should have paid more for better seats!"

I had seen many news stories about passengers having to camp out in airports because of cancelled flights. It had never happened to us.

It was roughly a three-hour drive to our home from the airport. There had to be a way to get home.

We almost walked out of the airport to see about a cab to take us to any nearby hotel that was available. Two security guards warned me I was about to leave the secure area and I would not be able to get back in, so Nancy and I sat down on the concrete floor against a wall to consider our options. People walked past, staring at us. 

My mind went blank. It was the strangest feeling. My mind is never blank. It had been a very busy five days (including travel) and I had worked hard at the workshop. After a few moments sitting on the floor against the wall, we admitted we had no plan, then trudged back to the United Customer Service desk in a different concourse. The line of people at the counter stretched 50 yards down the hallway. Connecting flights had been cancelled for a lot of people. We found the back of the line and by that time I was mulling some options:

One -- We need a place to stay. How about a hotel? But we have none of our toiletries or medicine. It was all in the luggage. As we stood in line, I checked local hotels on my phone. The cheapest room was $149. There would be taxi or Uber charges, if the hotel had a vacancy. Then there would be food costs. And no medicine. It wasn't the money that bothered me, it was the expense that would still leave us with no flight and no medicine the following day. This would not work.

Two -- I could try to get my medicine off the plane. I found out this would take a minimum of three or four hours, maybe more. That would leave us without a room at 1:30 a.m. at the earliest. 

Three -- We could wait for the medicine to come off the plane and then camp out at the airport. For 24 hours? No way.

Then I thought perhaps we could get an Uber ride to Moline. I checked and a driver was listed for $219, not including tip. That seemed reasonable. We could get home in three hours, sleep in our bed and have medicine. I would tip the driver handsomely.

I scheduled Uber to pick us up. The message from Uber said the driver would meet us at Level A. We scrambled down the hallways looking for Level A, where the driver was going to be. Walking fast down the large hallways, I was breathing like a freight train due to my silly one-lung situation, feeling a lack of oxygen and gasping for air. A few hours ago, I was sweating through the fourth day of a martial arts workshop with cramping quadraceps and dwindling energy. I was ready to stop for the day.

We walked out and saw where the cars were coming around. A couple was standing outside waiting for a car. They were strangers. It was Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski.

"Excuse me, is this Level A?" I asked. "Our flight was cancelled, we're hiring an Uber to take us to Moline. They are supposed to be at Level A."

According to my memory, Rob said yes, it was Level A. I thanked them and turned my attention back to my Uber app.

A moment later, the driver called.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Moline, Illinois," I said.

"Oh. I don't want to drive that far," he replied. "Sorry."

I couldn't blame him. A six-hour round trip that would take most of the night? Oh well. It would have been a really large tip. 

Suddenly, we were back at square one, looking at each other and wondering what to do.

As we stood there, Rob and Kathryn walked up. Rob observed that we appeared stressed and they needed to get their car situation straightened out, but he would be glad to drive us to Moline if we needed a ride.

I was floored. It was my "Do Good. Be Kind." mantra coming to life. 

"What a kind offer," I said. Surely there was something we could do that wouldn't impose such a burden, even to someone generous enough to make the offer. 

Rob asked for my cell number. He texted me his name so I would also have his number.

"If you can't find a way home," he said, "just call and I'll give you a ride."

We thanked him. As we walked away, Nancy's eyes were red and watery. She said, "That was the kindest thing."

These were people I was happy to meet. Two people who didn't know us from Adam (and Eve), extending compassion, ready to help shoulder our problem. It was awe-inspiring.

Then I thought we should check rental cars. Would they even be open this late to rent a car? Would they rent one for a one-way trip?

We made our way through the terminal to the Rental Car area, stood in line at Avis only to be told they were out of one-way cars.

"Try Hertz," the woman at the counter suggested.

We waited at the Hertz line and saw a couple of people rent cars on the spot. When it was our turn, we were told that yes, they could give us a car to drive one-way to Moline for $400.

Wow! 400 bucks? Luckily, I wear a pacemaker, so if my heart stopped for a couple of seconds it would zap me back to life.

I didn't hesitate. "Sold!"

We made the payment, got our papers, then walked into the parking garage and picked out a car, a Chevy Malibu, fired it up and began the three-hour trip West on I-88 across Illinois to Moline.

On my phone, a text message had appeared from Rob, repeating his offer: if we couldn't find a way home, let him know and he would drive us.

Blown away. That's what I was. I didn't respond at that moment. I was a man on a mission. Nancy and I were hungry, tired, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed. 

Around halfway, my plan was to stop at the Dekalb Oasis, a popular place for travelers that included a gas station, convenience store, restrooms and a McDonald's. We needed dinner, and I thought a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese sounded good.

We pulled off into the Oasis at around 11:30 p.m. and discovered the McDonald's closed at 11:00.

"Okay, that does it," I told Nancy. "After all we've gone through today, the McDonald's is closed? How can I be centered? I'm going to lose my $#!+." 

She laughed. We got drinks and some Chex Mix in the gas station and continued on our way. We arrived home at 1:30 in the morning. It was luxurious to stand in my own shower and crawl into my own bed. I think I was out when my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, I drove the rental car to the Quad Cities airport, which is less than 10 minutes from our house, dropped off the car to Hertz, went to the United desk and was told our baggage was on a flight that was arriving in 40 minutes. We had not been offered this flight because it was fully booked.

I stayed, ate breakfast, and got our luggage when it arrived, then went to the parking lot, found our car in long-term parking, and drove home.

As our headlights cut through the night on I-88 the night before, Nancy and I kept bringing up Rob and Kathryn, and how stunned we were that we ran across two good people like that at the moment we were at a loss; two people who were ready to help strangers.

I contacted Rob this morning by text before writing this blog post. He let me know that today is their 36th wedding anniversary.

There are a lot of good people like Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski in the world. Yes, even in Chicago. They don't always get as much publicity in the media as the people who do bad things, but they deserve to be recognized and saluted. This is my way of doing that and also saying "Happy Anniversary." In just a couple of minutes, Rob and Kathryn made an impression on us that we won't forget.

As you go about your day, I hope you will do what I am going to do, fueled by their inspiration. I will look for opportunities to be kind to people in ways that will brighten their world, too.

-- by Ken Gullette


Hands-On Instruction and a Positive Atmosphere at a Chen Taijiquan Workshop with Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia

Ken-Gullette-Nabil-Ranne-2022
Ken Gullette (left) with Nabil Ranné in Philadelphia, 2022.

I spent four days this past week studying Chen Taiji with Nabil Ranné in Philadelphia. The workshop was hosted by Ryan Craig of Philly Chen Taiji

Nabil came to the U.S. from Berlin for the workshop. I have been studying in his online classes for almost two years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. He is friendly and humble; one of those people you instantly like.

During the past two years, Covid virtually destroyed the ability to hold workshops. Just getting together with a group of taiji folks was reason enough to celebrate.

I have attended many martial arts workshops during the past 35 years. Depending on who is hosting the event, you can either feel a spirit of camaraderie or it can feel like people gather in cliques.

In Philly, there was a lot of laughter. Nabil brings a sense of humor to his classes and Ryan joined in. That's all I needed -- to be serious about the art but to have fun training. Those are ideal conditions for me.

We trained four hours a day for four days -- Friday through Monday, May 13 through 16, focusing primarily on the first three sections of the "First Road," or "Yilu" form.

Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu of Beijing, the grandson of Chen Fake and the son of Chen Zhaokui. Chen Fake is also the grandfather of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Yu is their cousin), but there are differences in the way Chen Yu moves compared with the Chen Village masters. 

I had Nabil on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast nearly two years ago (listen to the interview here) and I had been curious about Chen Yu's taiji for several years. Most of my training has been with Chen Village masters and their students. I did a couple of private online classes with Nabil and was fascinated by what I learned, especially the details in his instruction. Not long after this, I enrolled in his regular online classes. We have gone through the Yilu and Erlu forms during the past couple of years. The Philly workshop focused on Yilu and the body method of the Chen Zhaokui/Chen Yu version of Chen taiji.

Ken-Gullette-Nabil-Ranne-Hands-On-2022
Ken Gullette in a "hands on" moment with Nabil Ranné to feel the internal movement.

As he led us through the first movements of the form, Nabil focused on proper stances, relaxing the hip joints, and establishing peng jin throughout the body. One of the many helpful tips I received was maintaining a connection with the Baihui point as my body is sinking, as in part of "Buddha's Warrior" when the fist prepares for the raising of the knee before the stomp. I also need to work more on extending peng and maintaining it through the shoulders, too.

During the weekend, I wanted to write about what we practiced, but I had a hard time putting it into words. I was processing the information. Even as I read what I write here about the workshop, I'm not satisfied. It's difficult to describe in words. It has to be shown. 

Online classes are great. You can improve a lot by studying with a teacher online, especially if that teacher gives you personal corrections, as I do with my website members and as Nabil does. But nothing is as good as being in person. Nabil was able to put his hands on me to make corrections, and when I put my hands on him, I felt internal movement in the chest, back, Dantien and Mingmen that was very informative. I will be processing this information and working it into my movement for a while.

We worked on principles of movement, including the shifting of weight, the relaxing in the crease at the hip to maintain mobility, and to keep the knees from swimming -- to "stay in the frame."

We worked on applications, especially some good joint locks. It was interesting to see how "Six Sealings and Four Closings" can be used as wrist locks against an opponent who has grabbed your arms. But almost every application we practiced contained elements that drove home once again how powerful Chen taiji is as a martial art. There are subtleties in the way you can connect to an opponent's wrist, elbow and shoulder during a joint lock, depending on the position of your opponent's arm. Just moving your little finger can help connect a wrist lock to the elbow, making it more effective if your opponent is trying to escape the lock.

Monday, May 16th was the final day of the workshop. As we trained that day, I became very grateful for the opportunity to learn and try to improve in my internal skills. Battling a huge blood clot that has cut off all blood flow to the left lung, it was a gamble making arrangements to fly to Philly for this, but I was in good shape and toughed it out through the four days. The blood clot (or blockage) is still there, but what the hell. I don't think about it much and certainly don't let it slow me down any more than I have to. By the fourth day, however, my quadraceps were painfully locking up at times. If you do a Chen taiji workshop and your legs aren't fried, you haven't worked hard enough.

We didn't spend a lot of time holding stances, but we did hold them at times. During one of those moments on the third day, we were struggling through the pain and fatigue as Nabil went from one student to another making corrections. There were groans and grunts and heavy breathing as the attendees tried to maintain the posture. I'm pretty sure I was the oldest student there, so I cracked, "This was a lot easier back when I was sixty!" I can still hear the laughter, as if a relief valve had been opened. I love laughter in class.

I got a bit emotional as I said goodbye to Nabil on Monday afternoon. I like the man. And I want to see him again in person. My thanks to Ryan for hosting. I think everyone hopes it happens again next year.

As time passes, it is not lost on me that I have a lot less time to enjoy training like this than I used to. Every moment is precious. Now let's go. There's a lot to do. Let's practice.

--by Ken Gullette 


Prepping for My First Workshop in Almost Three Years -- Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia This Weekend

Ken Practicing 2022I'm practicing for a workshop that is happening in Philadelphia starting Friday, May 13. The Chen style Taiji teacher I have been studying with for nearly two years, Nabil Ranne, is coming to the U.S. for a workshop on the First Road (Yilu) form.

Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu, so his Chen Taiji reflects the version of the Chen family art handed from Chen Fake to his son, Chen Zhaokui, who taught his son Chen Yu. Nabil lives in Berlin.

The workshop will be four hours a day for four days. It's a daunting task, given my health issues, but I plan to pace myself. At this point in my life, I am more a coach than a player, so I want to soak up the knowledge and try to improve my own internal movement.

The Chen Yu First Road form has 83 movements. I have been working on the movements and the body method, but I have a long way to go on this form before I'm satisfied with it. I haven't even totally memorized the choreography. I keep telling myself, "You are not in a race. You are not in a race." 

Maybe I don't learn as easily as I used to, or else it is difficult to learn the Beijing way when you teach the Chen Village way. It has been a very challenging couple of years, but a very satisfying time. It's fun at my age to still be excited and learning new things, pushing forward in the quest for quality.

When you are preparing for a Chen Taiji workshop, getting the legs ready is always top on the list. The body method is tough on the legs and can have your thighs burning pretty quickly. I never feel ready before a workshop, although I don't think we will hold stances in this one like I have done in some workshops in the past, when your legs are shaking and burning within the first hour. As I have been practicing the form, I have tried to pay close attention to closing power in the legs and the connected movement, the opening and closing of the back and chest, and Dantien rotation. This is not Taiji for "health," although it certainly can help your health. This is gongfu, the kind of Taiji that is a martial art -- my favorite kind.

Covid knocked the hell out of martial arts workshops, so this is the first one I have attended since the autumn of 2019. Cases of Covid are rising again due to new variants, but I'm going anyway. I can't miss this opportunity. It's a lot easier than going to Germany. Nabil's workshop is being hosted by Ryan Craig of Philly Chen Taiji.

-- by Ken Gullette


Escaping from Joint Locks Using Tai Chi Energy Concepts

There are valuable concepts in Taijiquan that make it a powerful art for self-defense. One of the interesting ideas is "taking the energy where it wants to go."

Last week, Colin and Justin and I recorded several escapes from Chin-Na joint locks. A longer version with more techniques and explanations is on my website for members, but I put together a shorter version for YouTube.

We are very serious about the internal arts but we have a lot of fun when we practice. I think it shows a bit on the videos we do. Please watch this and you'll learn something about how to escape from a joint lock. Silk-Reeling energy is very helpful against joint locks, and silk-reeling relies on other internal body mechanics, too. This is a narrowly focused video. It doesn't necessarily show how to "soften someone up" before escaping, or what to do as a follow-up, but the information here will be helpful in the real world.