Form is Emptiness: The Depth of Tai Chi is Easy to Ridicule for Those Who Do Not Understand

Form is EmptinessMy daughter, Harmony had a yin/yang sticker on her notebook in 7th grade. She loved it. From the day she was brought home from the hospital and put into a crib in August, 1977, Bruce Lee posters had been on her bedroom wall and she was very familiar with martial arts.

But some of the girls in her 7th grade class accused her of worshipping Satan because of the yin/yang sticker.

They didn't understand and had been influenced by their parents, most of whom were Christians living in the Midwest.

Yesterday, I came across the "Heart Sutra," an important "rule" or aphorism in Mahāyāna Buddhism. 

One of the key phrases that immediately made me think of Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Bruce Lee was this:

Form is nothing more than emptiness,

emptiness is nothing more than form.

You can say it a bit more directly: "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form."

It is a widely quoted concept that is visualized in different ways. 

Bruce Lee liked to say that we should "be water." He said, "If you put water into a cup it becomes the cup."

Others, and I believe Bruce also talked about how a cup is only a cup because of the emptiness inside the form.

It is the emptiness that makes the cup useful. Without the emptiness, a cup would merely be a block of ceramic.

The same is true of a glass, a bowl, and you can take this concept on and on.

But to me, it symbolized the practice of Tai Chi (Taiji), and even though that type of quote can be ridiculed by other martial artists who don't understand Taiji, it is actually a good description of the martial side of the art.

When I step out onto a training floor, or out in the yard or in a park, and I begin practicing a form, it is an interpretation of the concepts that provides the frame of the movements, the structure of the body, the spiraling of the limbs and the relaxed internal strength flowing like a wave.

It is all intentional, it has form. But what I am doing as I work to achieve the body mechanics that I am after is not so easy to understand.

I am practicing form to achieve emptiness.

I can hear the MMA guys laughing, but just like the 7th grade girls hurling Satanic accusations at my daughter, they don't understand.

The practice of Taiji involves mastering a structure that allows you to lead an opponent into emptiness.

Using the ground path, developing the buoyancy of peng jin, making micro-adjustments with the kua like a buoy in the ocean, using whole-body movement and Dantien rotation and spiraling to add power to the movement -- these are some of the skills that the form develops (if you have an instructor who will teach you these things). 

Any martial artist can punch and kick. Taiji includes punches and kicks, too, although the real skill in Taiji happens when someone touches you to apply force.

At that moment, all the form practice and the push hands practice and the freestyle work and takedowns with partners -- the practical application of ward-off, rollback, press, push, pluck, shoulder, elbow and other energies and methods -- should pay off in one specific way.

When an opponent puts his hands on you to use force or to put you down, he finds emptiness. You disappear beneath his force and, because the target is no longer there, he goes off-balance and your "form" (structure) and body mechanics take it from there to put him down instead.

I practice and teach Chen style Taiji, Xingyiquan and Bagua Zhang. I don't look at Taiji as a self-defense system that I would use if someone were standing three feet away and preparing to punch me. Taiji would not come into the question at this point. Xingyi would.

Once the punch is on its way toward my face and enters my power zone, Bagua would be a logical choice.

When they grab me, that's when Taiji shines, in my opinion, leading an opponent into emptiness and then lowering the boom. I maintain my mental and physical balance while my attacker loses his. I maintain my structural integrity even as I cause him, with his help, to lose his structure.

Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.

It's a shame so few Taiji students don't stay with it long enough, or have the right instruction, to realize this important concept. It has nothing to do with "cultivating chi." These are mental and physical skills that require as much practice as any fighting art requires for excellence. It's what I try to focus on in my study and my teaching. It doesn't come easily, but it does come when you eventually realize that the goal of all this form work is actually emptiness.

--by Ken Gullette

Try two weeks free in Ken's online internal arts school - live online classes, live personal coaching, and 1,000 video lessons in Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and more. Go to www.internalfightingarts.com 


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


A Trap Door That Collapses Beneath You: An Effective Self-Defense Principle

Fifty years ago this summer, in 1971, I was working for my dad as a laborer in his ornamental iron business. I was 18 years old, had just graduated from high school and was soon to start college. My dad was very mechanical and was an artist with ornamental iron, doing everything from columns and railings to stairways in apartment complexes. I did not inherit his mechanical gene, so I was relegated to painting and helping carry materials.
 
One day, we were working on the third story of a new apartment building in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The third floor balcony had some kind of temporary sheet metal flooring, but on this day, I didn't realize the flooring did not have support under it.
 
I was daydreaming and not being mindful about what I was doing when I went up to the third floor and stepped out on the balcony.
 
As soon as I stepped on it, the flooring gave way beneath my feet -- three stories up. It was as if I had stepped onto a trap door that suddenly, without warning, opened up.
 
To this day, I'm not sure how I did it. With no warning, as I was not paying attention, there was no floor under me and I was falling. In the fraction of a second that I felt myself falling, I reacted. Somehow, I jumped to the beam on the outer edge of the balcony and grabbed hold of some iron work we had installed the week before.
 
The flooring crashed to the ground. I looked down and began shaking inside. I could have been seriously injured or killed if I hadn't reacted without thinking, as soon as the flooring collapsed. But how did I jump when the floor was giving way beneath me? There was nothing to jump from, just sheet metal falling under my feet.
 
It's still a mystery, but maybe it explains why the concept of "empty" is one of my favorite "energies" in Taiji, but this concept is not limited to just Taiji.
 
"Empty force" is called "Kong Jin" in Taiji. It does not mean knocking someone down without touching them, as some less-than-honest people will tell you.
 
Empty 1Empty force means that when an opponent tries to push you or seize you and apply force to you, whatever he is pushing on gives way like the flooring I stepped on, leaving him off-balance and vulnerable to a counter.
 
Sometimes, you can offer your opponent stiffness when they grab you. When you resist, he thinks you are going to continue using muscle-on-muscle, so he continues to use muscular force. Suddenly, you "empty," and he goes off-balance.
 
In the old "Kung-Fu" TV show, they said, "A Shaolin monk, when reached for, cannot be felt." 
 
When an opponent reaches for you, when he exerts force, the target dissolves.
 
There is a popular saying in Taiji; "Leading Into Emptiness."
 
Empty 2What does it mean? It can be self-defense for a physical, verbal or emotional attack.
 
For example, someone hurls an insult at you, wanting to "push your buttons" and make you react. You don't react negatively. You lead their verbal attack into emptiness. It is very good verbal self-defense. It is also a very good social media technique when you encounter someone spewing negativity on Facebook or Twitter to trigger reactions. Don't react with negativity. Lead them into emptiness.
 
Here is a physical example. A boxer like Muhammad Ali would lead his opponents into emptiness by sticking his face out toward the opponent, anticipate the opponent's punch, and when the glove came toward his face, Ali would lean back or slip to the side or go under, leading the punch into emptiness. Ali would use that split-second when the opponent was slightly off-balance to counter-punch.
 
But a third way to lead someone into emptiness is when they grab you to take you down. They always use muscular force, and very often, just emptying and not using force against force will put them off-balance just long enough to take advantage and put them down instead.
 
Empty 3In Photo 1, I'm demonstrating this concept on a larger partner. He is pressing in on me, giving me force.
 
In Photo 2, I take all the tension out of my arm muscles and I step back, causing the support he had in my arms to collapse like the flooring I stepped on 50 years ago.
 
In Photo 3, he has fallen into the emptiness, losing his balance, and I am in position to come down on his neck or head with an elbow.
 
There is more about this on my website for members to watch in the Close-Up Self-Defense video (in the Push Hands section). It is also on the "Close-Up Self-Defense" DVD. 
 
It takes practice to "empty" completely and suddenly so your partner falls into the emptiness. Even though I am "emptying" in the photos here, you can see that I am maintaining my structure and balance. The key is to let the "floor" (the part of the body he is pushing on) collapse under him, putting him off-balance just long enough for you to counter.
 
Practice by having a partner grab you and apply force, as if they want to take you down. Give them resistance for a moment and then completely relax and see what happens. When you collapse that part of your body, maintain your ground, peng, and structure. You can even do it with just one side of your body. Someone pushes on one side, you give that side to them. Empty it and let it go. It often sets them up for a good counter.
 
I still think of that day in 1971 when I do push hands. My goal is to have -- at all times -- the sensitivity that I showed on that morning, when I reacted without thinking, in the blink of an eye, as I took a step and suddenly there was nothing beneath my feet. If I had taken even enough time to think, "Oh crap!" it would have been too late to react.
 
In the meantime, I'm also working to provide my push hands partners with that "Oh, crap!" experience. They usually don't react as quickly as I did, but that's the idea, isn't it?
--by Ken Gullette

A Wise Tai Chi Master Once Said We Should Practice the Method Not the Form

Henry-Gullette
Henry Gullette, 1896-1965
Written by Ken Gullette on Sunday, January 24, 2021
 
My grandfather, Henry Gullette died when he was 69 years old. He was an old man when by the time he was 60. He was a very nice old man, but the thing I remember him doing most was sitting on his couch watching TV. In the photo above, he is younger than I am now.
 
My father, Kenneth Sr. died when he was 61. He was a nice guy, too, maybe the best man I have ever known (his picture is below). My dad had his first heart attack at age 50 and gave up after that. I remember in his fifties he would say, "I'm not going to be around much longer."
 
It turned out to be true.
 
Today is my 68th birthday and I am still trying to get better at gongfu. Despite having much more serious health issues than either my father or my grandfather, I still have goals I'm trying to achieve. I'm not as good at the internal arts as I want to be.
 
There is no way I'm giving up yet. I'm having way too much fun.
 
What is the internal difference between me, my dad and my grandfather? Why did they get old and give up too early?
 
Why have so many people over the years told me how good they want to be in martial arts but then they quit after a few lessons? What is the difference between them and the student who stays with it year after year? I'm in my 48th year of studying and practicing and I'm still peeling back layers of the onion, excited by what I find next.
 
It seems that a lot of people go through the motions of life without fully diving in and persisting, even when there are stretches when it isn't much fun.
 
I have a martial artist friend named John Morrow who turned 69 years old on January 6. Every year, I say to him, "I hope I'm as good as you when I'm your age."
 
Every year he replies, "You better get busy." Hahaha. Real funny, John.
 
What You Are Practicing
 
I have forgotten who said this, but it might have been one of Chen Fake's students, Feng Zhiqiang. He said we should practice "method, not form."
 
In the beginning, when we learn a form, we are trying to memorize the movements. Then, we are trying to memorize the movements in order so we can do the form from beginning to end. It takes a lot of work to remember a complete form.
 
But after we get the movements down and we can do a form from beginning to end, we must immediately force ourselves to go to the next level.
 
What you should be practicing is not the form but the method.
 
Every style of martial arts has its own "shen fa," or "body method." The form is only a way to practice the body method.
 
In the style of Xingyi that I teach, body methods include taking ground, alternating relaxation and power, maintaining intent, ground path, peng jin, dantien rotation and whole-body movement, among others. The mindset of Xingyi is to drive through the opponent. As they might say in Cobra Kai, "No mercy."
 
When practicing a Chen Taiji form, you should work in each movement to develop an "alive" style of moving that is relaxed but with internal strength that makes it "iron wrapped in cotton." You should make good use of the kua, dantien rotation, ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement and the spiraling power of silk-reeling, among others. The mindset of Taiji is to yield and overcome, bend but not break, maintain your structure and hide your own center from your opponent while you find his center and put him down.
 
In Bagua, your body method includes mud-stepping, circle-walking and a lot of the mechanics of Taiji, including an alive, spiraling quality in your movement that is relaxed but with strength underneath. But even your circle-walking has its own unique qualities as your foot skims across the ground and you keep your weight on the rear leg. The mindset of Bagua is to become like a spinning wire ball. If your opponent gets too close, he will be caught up in the spinning wire ball and thrown out in all directions.
 
When I studied Yang style Tai Chi, I moved in a very different way than I do in Chen style. It was slow and relaxed but the body was not "alive." There was no ground. There was no peng. There was no kua. I was taught a ridiculous way of silk-reeling that did not include spiraling movement in the body at all. My teacher told us to "think about Qi spiraling from our foot to our hands."
 
When I first encountered Chen style, a lightbulb went on in my head. The body method was so different, I knew instantly that it was a higher quality. But even within Chen style there are different body methods, depending on the teacher.
 
Kenneth Gullette
Ken Gullette, Sr., 1928-1989
Sometimes, you can almost be paralyzed by thinking of all the body mechanics that make up the body method in one art. But once you learn the movements of a form, you should spend the next number of years learning how to apply all the mechanics to each movement. You develop skill in the body method.
 
I will practice a form and sometimes focus on just one thing, such as dantien rotation. The next time, I'll try to maintain the same dantien rotation but I'll focus on how the Mingmen (lower back) bows and unbows as the dantien rotates.
 
Or I'll do a form and focus mostly on opening and closing the kua. Next, I might focus on the Bai Hui point at the top of the head and try to keep my head lifted instead of letting it drop forward. Another time, I might focus on maintaining peng jin, or not collapsing my knees.
 
As we peel back the layers of the onion, practicing the body method helps us get deeper and deeper into it. The quality of your art is in the body method.
 
As I tell my students, "Don't allow yourself to just go through the motions when you practice. You won't perform with the proper body method if you don't practice that way."
 
My dad said he wasn't going to be around much longer. It turns out that his prediction came true and he died at 61. Now, at 68, I want to get better at the internal arts. Can I make it come true?
 
Can you?
 
We can both do it if we work at it.

A System of Teaching Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua with a Focus on Internal Body Mechanics

Internal StrengthEverything about martial arts changed for me the day I met my first Chen Taiji instructors, Jim and Angela Criscimagna.

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.

Kua PosterMy 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.

Punch Ground 2If 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

 


Loading the Rear Leg - An Important Skill in Xingyiquan

An important concept in Xingyiquan is to take your opponent's ground.
 
Xingyi is not really a defensive art. The goal is not to take an opponent's energy and neutralize it. The purpose of Xingyi is to drive through your opponent like a bowling ball through bowling pins.
 
Loaded Stance 1Xingyi is aggressive. It takes no prisoners.
 
But to take ground, you need to build leg strength by practicing taking ground. Step one in that process is to "load" the rear leg.
 
Take a look at the three images in this post.
 
In the first image, I am standing tall. If I had to spring forward, it would be difficult.
 
In the second image, I am loaded into a Xingyi fighting stance. My energy is "sunk" and I am ready. Notice how I am compressed into the rear leg. It is like a spring, ready to release. And my energy is forward, not backward.
 
In the third image, I am springing forward to strike with Beng Chuan.
 
As soon as I land, I will load the rear leg again.
 
Loaded Stance 2Taking ground is not just for Xingyi. Lively footwork and taking ground is important in Taiji and, of course, in Bagua. There are always movements that take ground. When you are fighting multiple opponents, and you become the wire ball that they punch into, you must be close to them.
 
You can practice taking ground like this:
 
** Mark your distance. Start from the same spot.
 
** Load the leg and spring out as far as you can. Mark the spot.
 
** Maintain your balance. Do not land with your energy over-committed forward, or leaning forward or to the side. Keep working on it until you can spring out and finish in a solid, balanced San Ti stance.
 
** Go back to where you started and try again. Try to get a little farther this time. Keep repeating to build strength and to increase your distance. It will build your leg strength and your explosive ability to take ground.
 
Loaded Stance 3In the Xingyi section on the website, there is a video that shows this and another good exercise for building leg strength and "taking ground."
 
Psychologically, it is damaging to your attacker when you knock him off the spot where he is standing. That is one of the key goals of a Xingyi fighter.
 
And just as important -- if you are ever in a self-defense situation, you can really surprise someone if you can cover a lot of ground quickly.
 
One of my students was a police officer in Bettendorf, Iowa. He found himself in a living room, with a violent offender across the room threatening him. Before the offender knew it, my student lunged across the room with the "taking ground" principles we had practiced, and he put the criminal down with Pi Chuan (Splitting Palm).
 
When the criminal was cuffed, he looked at my student and said, "How did you get to me so FAST!"
 
My student the cop called to tell me how proud he was that he used Xingyi in a real situation. It would not be the last time.
 
These arts work. 
 
Check out the highly-detailed Xingyi (Hsing-I) instructional DVDs on the right side of the blog page. Free Shipping Worldwide and a Money-Back Guarantee. Also, buy Two DVDs and receive a Third DVD FREE!

Say No to Noodle Legs -- Do Not Collapse Your Legs in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Collapsed Leg 4-BestSee the two images here in this post?
 
The top image shows a mistake that I see a lot. In fact, there is a good chance you are making this mistake in your forms, especially Bagua and Taiji.
 
I spent several years making this mistake and I was never called on it.
 
Then, I was training with Chen Huixian and her husband, Michael, and they pointed it out. I was doing "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar" and it was pointed out that my rear leg was collapsed.
 
In the top photo, my right leg is collapsing. I have lost my peng.
 
Collapsed Leg 2In the lower image, I am maintaining peng through the legs.
 
As you can see in the upper image, my stability and strength is far less with a collapsed leg. I cannot "defend from all directions."
 
It is a lot more difficult to maintain peng in the legs. It helps to relax and sit deeper into the kua, and it requires a lot of mental focus until you break the habit of collapsing.
 
That one bit of advice changed a lot of my stances. And now, I see people collapsing their legs a lot; even some people who are called masters.
 
Sometimes, there is no one to tell a master that he has gotten lazy, or perhaps his teacher did not teach him this particular thing.
 
Don't have "noodle legs."
 
Try to find a mirror so you can watch to see if your legs are collapsing. Watch for it in all movements. In Bagua, I see it a lot in movements such as "Sweep the Rider from the Horse" and similar movements.
 
It happens often when you are shifting weight -- the knee on the non-weight-bearing leg will collapse. 
 
Remember to maintain peng throughout the entire body at all times.
 
The photos are taken from my book, "Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi." If you don't have it, you can click the link and buy it through my website or through Amazon.
 

The Ground Path is Step One in Building a Strong Body Structure for Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Internal Strength CoverThe first concept I introduce new students to is the ground path.

We do exercises with a partner to learn how to establish and maintain the ground path and combine it with peng jin.

But some people who see a photo like the one here make the mistake of thinking, "That's useless. You can't use that in a fight."

In this photo, Colin is pushing into my right elbow and I am grounding the push into the ground through my left foot.

Colin is not supposed to push with too much force, although as you can see in the picture, this particular drill is used to show that you can, in fact, set up a pretty strong structure using the ground.

The ground path is generally practiced without too much force because the idea is not to make you Superman, to meet force with force.

The idea is to provide internal strength to your body structure, but as you hold that strength in, for example, a self-defense situation, your goal will not be to meet force with force, you will learn to maintain your structure as you adapt to incoming force, neutralize it and overcome it.

PengThe beach ball situation in the Internal Strength DVD is the answer. When I jump on the ball in the pool, it gives, but it maintains its structural integrity, the pressure builds and there is a point when the ball springs back and spins me into the water. It doesn't meet force with force but it wins, anyway.

So by practicing the ground path exercises, the goal is to learn to maintain that structural integrity when force comes in. Maintaining that structure through all the movements of the form is the next goal, and then you apply it to push hands and other self-defense concepts and applications.

On my website, www.internalfightingarts.com, I take you step-by-step through internal skills from basic to advanced in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua. Try two weeks free and start (or continue) your journey in these fascinating and complex arts.


Practice Tip -- You Kneed to Read This

Chen Taiji SteppingI have been sending out weekly training tips to members of my website and other people on my email list. If you would like to join the list and receive weekly emails, use the form at the bottom of this post.
 
This week's training tip is short and sweet.
 
The next time you work on a form and you come to a stepping movement, put the energy in your knees when you step.
 
If you think about it, most of the time you probably are just moving the leg, or stepping with the foot on movements such as "Stepping Three Steps" or "Whirling Upper Arms" (performed by stepping backward).
 
If you put your mind and your energy into the knee, and use the lifting of the knee as the focal point of your stepping, you will find that your steps will become more light and lively (as long as you don't stomp down as you land).
 
So don't lift the foot when you step, and don't lift the leg -- lift the knee. Think of having your "energy in the knee."
 
It will keep you from shuffling your feet, which is never a good thing, and it will make your steps more lively.
 
Also, when doing moving push hands or otherwise engaging with a partner to practice close-up fighting techniques and methods, the livelier you step, the more you can defend against foot sweeps or other disruptions of your structure if the opponent uses his legs and feet to try to unbalance you.
 
Let me know if you have any questions on any of the material the site or on the DVDs.

Using Internal Principles in Grappling -- How to Escape a Clinch

Can Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua be used against a grappler?

A lot of macho types say no, but that's because they do not understand the internal martial arts.

Tai Chi has been slandered, maligned and unfairly criticized during the past year or two because a couple of people who claimed to be Tai Chi "masters" (they are not masters) had the stupidity to take on a trained MMA fighter and they lost. Badly.

I had a Wing Chun guy come into my school once and he wanted to spar full-contact. I told him we didn't do that, but we would gladly spar with him and do light contact. We hit him in the face anytime we wanted. My top student and I both tried him out. It was pitiful, but I did not judge Wing Chun based on this guy.

The internal arts have principles and body mechanics that work if you follow them, just like any art. Sometimes, you simply have to fight. That includes punching. But sometimes, you use body mechanics to take advantage of your opponent's force or to break his structure.

This past Wednesday night at practice, three students -- Justin Snow, Colin Frye and Chris Andrews -- worked with me as I demonstrated how to escape from a clinch. We had a good time playing with this.

Justin and Chris are both around 300 pounds. They are strong guys, around 30 years old. They have experience fighting. Real fighting.

I am 65 with one lung, heart issues, and I lost a lot of muscle mass when I got sick 9 years ago. 

They still can't hold me in a clinch if I use internal principles. And I can't hold them, either.

We had fun playing with this. Enjoy the video and I hope you learn from it. And remember, 850 video lessons and pdf downloads are available 24/7 on my membership website at www.internalfightingarts.com. Check it out.

 

 


The Importance of Fascia in Martial Arts Movement: The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Dr. Ginevra Liptan

Internal Fighting Arts - Ken Gullette Logo 300Fascia is the most important part of your body that you probably have never heard of, or at least you haven't heard very much about it.

In the past few years, as medical science has taken a closer look at part of the body that doctors typically ignored for centuries, a picture is beginning to emerge.

Fascia is a web of connective tissue that is made of collagen, elastin, and other tissues and cells that lies under the skin and runs from our heads to our feet. It forms a continuous network that covers and connects organs, muscles, even nerves. 

Fascia allows us to move as a single unit -- a crucial aspect of tai chi, xingyi and bagua. 

It turns out that tai chi and bagua in particular are outstanding activities for stretching the fascia and keeping it healthy. 

During the past year, I have read some things by internal arts and qigong teachers that make it sound as if they knew about fascia all along. Well, they didn't. So I searched for someone at a level of medical education above a physical therapist, massage therapist or TCM provider -- someone who could tell me about fascia from a medical perspective.

Liptan
Dr. Ginevra Liptan of Portland, Oregon.

After months of searching, I found Dr. Ginevra Liptan, a medical doctor who is board certified in internal medicine and also practices a holistic approach to health that combines Western medical science with "alternative" therapies. She founded the Frida Center for Fibromyalgia, and as she has battled fibromyalgia herself, and researched treatments for her patients that involve the fascia, she has become well-versed on the topic.

Dr. Liptan is my guest in the final Internal Fighting Arts podcast for 2017. You can listen online or download the file here:

http://internalfightingarts.audello.com/internal-fighting-arts-33-2-fascia-with-dr-ginevra/

During the interview, she talks about a video called "Strolling Under the Skin." Here is a link for that video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky0BmGP5nbU&feature=youtu.be

Also, at the end of the interview, we talk briefly about "cupping," as it was done in the last Olympic games (remember Michael Phelps and his big red dots?). Here is a link to a presentation on fascia -- if you go to exactly one hour in, the discussion of cupping and fascia begins.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raCBeQ-gXfs&index=1&list=FLxi0PwWp4KesVlONtxxgb_A

The research I have done for this interview, and the interview itself, has made me look at parts of my practices and workouts in a new way, especially certain movements and moving qigong exercises, and how effective they are for maintaining healthy fascia.

Tai chi has shown to be effective in maintaining flexibility, balance, coordination, among other benefits. It turns out that fascia and tai chi work together in excellent ways.