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A Beginner's Lesson in Tai Chi Silk-Reeling - Video

If you have a half-hour to invest, try to work through this video -- it's a live class I did last weekend on Zoom teaching the first of Chen Taiji's Silk-Reeling exercises -- "Single-Hand Reeling."

This is helpful to all internal martial artists, but particularly if you practice Taijiquan and Baguazhang.

I have to say that most of the videos I've seen on silk-reeling don't teach it at all. But that should be no surprise. The first teacher who taught me silk-reeling had no clue what silk-reeling is, so I was sent down a blind alley thinking that to achieve silk-reeling, we "imagine" our Qi spiraling through our body. It's part of "Qi cultivation," he said.


Silk-Reeling "energy" -- the Chinese term is chan ssu jin -- is a physical skill requiring a spiraling through the body in a connected way.

Some say the spiraling movements add power to your Taiji. I believe the most practical purpose of silk-reeling is the neutralizing and redirecting of your opponent's force. You know the Dawn dish detergent slogan: "Dawn takes grease out of my way!" Silk-reeling helps do that to your opponent's force.

If you are ready to spend 30 minutes studying this video, schedule a time to do it. I set my camcorder up to record me as I taught a Zoom class on Silk-Reeling exercise #1 -- "Single Hand Reeling." There is gold here that can help you develop your internal movement, especially in Taiji and Bagua.


There is a lot more instruction on spiraling and silk-reeling on my website. Try two weeks and have immediate access to every video I have ever made at

Happy Birthday as This Blog Turns Sweet 16 Years Old

SixteenSixteen years ago today, on October 15, 2006, I put up my first blog post. 

The first post was a "Welcome to My Blog" kind of post. The second post included two videos of Chen Xiaowang, one of them doing a performance that included fajin, and another was a demonstration -- a bit silly perhaps -- of rooting and grounding.

From there, I have posted on all types of issues and events as a student and teacher, and I have discussed philosophy and life. I have discussed my $5,000 offer for Qi "masters" to do their tricks on me, and I have documented some of the medical struggles you have as you grow older and try to continue as a martial artist.

By the time I launched my "online school" two years later, and as I made videos and DVDs, the blog helped me establish an audience for those efforts.

In short, the blog was a way for me to discuss martial arts from my perspective and develop a reputation. At the time I launched the blog, I not only owned a martial arts school, I was also the director of media relations for ACT, the college test company. I left ACT a year later and worked for the University of South Florida in Tampa, then returned to the Quad Cities to battle heart and lung issues, work for a couple of nonprofits, and continue studying and teaching martial arts. The blog continued.

One thing I've observed during the past 16 years is an evolving marketplace for martial arts. The MMA culture has changed traditional arts, and Covid certainly didn't do any favors for teachers trying to maintain bricks-and-mortar schools. It did help drag a lot of teachers kicking and screaming into online instruction. That is a good thing because it opens up quality instruction to a lot of people who normally wouldn't have access.

MMA culture, along with fighters like Xu Xiaodong, have helped show us some of the weaknesses in the traditional arts, the way we practice, and the number of "masters" who actually don't have any fighting skill. It has pushed the rest of us to step up our game and be more realistic about teaching. 

Nowadays, I don't post on the blog as often as I did 16 years ago, but I try to make the posts mean something. I try to express the truth, and I try to educate people about what the internal arts really are -- martial arts with unique body mechanics. There is nothing mystical about them. Since the blog began, I have learned from Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Bing, Chen Ziqiang, Chen Huixian, Tina Zhang, Nabil Ranne, and I have studied some material of Byron Jacobs. My thirst for knowledge continues even as I am about to reach the age of 70 and consider scaling back just a bit on my efforts. Those thoughts will be explored during the next three months. Ironically, at age 69 I find myself studying, practicing and teaching more than ever. I love what I do.

I appreciate everyone who has read my blog in the past and especially the folks who still read it. You don't hear blogs mentioned often anymore when people talk about social media marketing -- it's all about TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube (YouTube is the King, in my opinion). But blogs are still important, and this one will continue as long as I do.  :)

In the past 16 years, I think I've become even more realistic about the internal arts and their limits. I don't put masters up on pedestals, and I do realize they make mistakes and develop sloppy habits, too. They are also prone to mistakes in their marketing (a dumb video of Chen Xiaowang with a strongman is an example, a poorly conceived attempt at a demo of grounding and rooting). But there are a lot of good people out there doing their best and going to great pain and expense to seek out and study with great teachers. Often, they become great teachers themselves, and those are the folks I talk to in my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, which launched almost eight years ago.

And now, let's bring back the first video I showed in one of my first posts 16 years ago. It shows Chen Xiaowang doing a demo at a tournament in the Washington, D.C. area back in 2003, on an evening after he taught a workshop on Laojia Yilu that I attended. Thank you for coming along for the ride and here's to another 16 years!

--by Ken Gullette


Seek Out a "Wow" and Insights from Other Teachers to Make Your Martial Arts Better

Ken and Nelson Reyes
Comparing notes with Nelson Reyes, a student of Monk Yun Rou, when Nelson passed through town a couple of months ago.

I met a very nice, earnest young man recently who is studying with me in-person after studying Yang style for a couple of years. I asked him to do the first part of his form -- the Yang 24 -- so I could see how he moved. After a few movements I had one reaction.

"Fire your teacher," I told him. "But before you fire him, give him a roundhouse kick to the head."

I had him begin his form again, and during parts of movements I stopped him and pressed lightly on his arms or body. He caved in instantly. There was no peng, no ground path, and when he moved, he twisted and turned from the hips to the shoulders in one unit, which would allow anyone to control his center and take him off-balance.

So we started over. We practiced some principles that give you the internal structure -- internal strength -- and the connected movement through the body that helps you deliver relaxed power. We worked on moving the Dan T'ien, not twisting the hips. We worked on using "intent" throughout the body. We worked on the first silk-reeling exercise, which puts some key body mechanics together.

It's fun when you get someone to think differently, see the substance below the movement and hear them say, "Wow!" over and over.

It made me remember my first experience in Chen style Taiji after studying Yang style for more than a decade. I had won a gold medal with my Yang 24. I thought I really knew Taiji. Then I met my first Chen instructor, Jim Criscimagna, and within one hour, I knew I had to start completely over in Taiji. I drove two hours home from our meeting saying, "Wow!" In fact, I kept saying this each time I studied with him and his wife, Angie.

The first couple of times I met with this new student recently, I had to center myself because it was clear that a lot of people think they are studying Taiji when, in fact, they are learning an art for people who want to vacate their minds and meditate. The weakness and emptiness of what he thought was Taiji frustrated me, but it is a common thing. 

At the same time, it's a great feeling when someone feels the difference between the weaker art and one with internal structure and intent and they have the realization that makes them say, "Wow!"

I try to keep my mouth shut when I see someone doing a weak art. They move their hips in space and turn their hips instead of using the kua and Dan T'ien. They appear often to have no intent in their arms and hands, and no connected movement. I look for a "ribbon of internal strength" moving like a wave through the body, but the ribbon is usually broken, if there is a ribbon at all. If I consider the person a friend, I'll ask a question which might lead to a discussion on that particular movement or principle.

If I ask a question or point something out as politely as I can, I am sometimes told, "Oh, that's YOUR style. That's not our style."

And then I am sometimes told that Chen style is not really Taiji.

Well,okay. Go for it. Do yo thang, baby.

My first Chen teachers, Jim and Angie, taught me some important lessons. For one thing, they encouraged me to study with different masters. If other Chen teachers were nearby, especially when different Chen family members came around, study with them even if it is outside your "lineage." There are masters under a famous Yang-style instructor who live in my area. I have tried to meet up with them to compare notes but they haven't expressed an interest in doing that.

When I met Chen Huixian in 2013, I gained some insights and got corrections that made me say, "Wow!" And that also happened when I began studying with Nabil Ranne in 2020. I didn't think, "He does something different. He's from a different Chen style lineage. That's not MY style."

Several years ago, I met with some of my karate friends for a workout. They showed some of their forms and I showed a Chen-style form. I asked about fighting applications of their movements and they had surprisingly good answers that helped shed light on the applications for some Taiji movements. It was a great exchange and a lot of fun.

A few years ago, I met with a friend who studies Guided Chaos -- a completely different type of martial art -- and I gained insights that made my push hands better. In fact, it changed the way I look at and teach push hands, too.

If you open your mind to insights from other teachers, even other styles, you can come up with information that will improve your skill. I try to get together with people from other Chen and Yang-style lineages whenever I have the chance, to compare notes and to "feel" what they have. I am often pleasantly surprised and I learn something. Sometimes, I even say "Wow!"

-- by Ken Gullette

You'll Say WOW when you try two weeks free on my website and see nearly 1,000 streaming video lessons in Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Qigong, PLUS live classes and personal feedback on Zoom. All for only $19.99 per month! Click this link and check it out! 

After 49 Years of Martial Arts Why Am I Practicing So Much?

Ken Kung-Fu 1974A little over a week ago, I marked the 49th anniversary of my first martial arts class. You might know the story by now -- 1973, a garage that had been turned into a dojo in the rear part of a strip mall in Lexington, Kentucky -- a room full of young people inspired by Bruce Lee -- in fact, there were so many new students in the intro class, the garage door was opened and the class spilled out into the shopping center's parking lot.

The following week, a large chunk of people didn't return. The week after that, we all fit inside the dojo with the door closed. Every month that passed, the class got smaller but still had nearly 20 students.

I practiced an hour a day, punching and kicking up and down the 7th floor hallway in Commonwealth Hall at Eastern Kentucky University. I was determined to become good.

Now, after 49 years, I find that I am still just as determined to improve my skills as I was in 1973. 

Shouldn't I feel like a "master" by now? Instead, I feel more like a beginner. In Zen Buddhism, you are urged to approach everything with a "beginner's mind." That's how I approach these arts.

Here's how a typical week goes for me, especially in the spring, summer, and early fall:

I study Taiji with Nabil Ranne on Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes Thursday.

I practice with my local students on Monday evenings, Thursday evenings, and do a video shoot or practice with them Sundays.

I teach two live online classes for members of my website on Wednesday and often throw in another live class or two on Xingyi and Bagua on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.

At various times during the week, I will do private, live one-on-one Zoom classes with members of my website, giving them personal coaching and corrections.

Between all this, I practice Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, I think, read and write about the internal martial arts, edit new video lessons for the website, and I help any website members who need assistance.

I'm going to be 70 in three months, fer cryin' out loud. Isn't it time to slow down?

But I love it. I can't stop and it's very difficult for me to cut back. I have cut back a little during the past couple of weeks because Nancy and I were at the end of our disruption and home renovation after our ceiling collapse. But that was very temporary. I don't feel right when I'm not practicing and studying and teaching as much as I normally do. When I take a break, even for just a couple of days, a hunger to practice begins gnawing at me.

It is satisfying for me to see slight improvements in my movement and a bit more understanding of the body mechanics that make these arts powerful self-defense. That's why I keep studying and practicing. I have learned some high-quality Taiji during the past two years. If I had slowed down and if I had been satisfied with what I had already learned, I would have missed out on this additional knowledge. And I know that more knowledge and insight is coming. This is no time to stop!

Physically, I no longer can bang with my students like I used to. It disappoints me because I want to pad up and go at it. There comes a point when that ship sails, and at that point you get to find out what really drives you to study these arts.

For me, it is the satisfaction of seeking, finding, and learning quality, and being able to look at what I do with a constant critical evaluation of whether it is high quality. After 49 years, and after some serious health issues, I find that gaining knowledge in my arts is as important as the actual physical practice. I still work each day to improve my body mechanics and movement, and execute applications with those mechanics while upholding the principles of the art, but my physical capacity isn't what it was 20 years ago.  

I believe a martial arts teacher strikes gold when a student appears who loves the art as much as the teacher does. Students who come when it suits them or when they can fit it in are just not the same as the students who HAVE to be there because something inside compels study.

If you are not compelled to study, if you don't NEED to be in class to practice and learn, then perhaps you picked the wrong hobby, because you see, it isn't that I WANT to study these arts. I have to study them. It's part of who I am. I recognized it 49 years ago and it is still true today.

Yesterday, I practiced with my students Colin Frye and Justin Snow. We practiced gun and knife defenses for more than 90 minutes. We didn't have the attitude that "this is the way we do it." We were riffing like martial jazz artists, brainstorming on more efficient and effective ways of defending yourself, flowing with the actions of the attacker while maintaining internal principles in your own movement. It was approaching each situation not with a scripted set of reactions but with a beginner's mind. As I enter my 50th year of martial arts practice, it was as satisfying as any practice I have had since that first night at the dojo so long ago. 

-- by Ken Gullette