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.
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.
--by Ken Gullette
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.
The 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.
I 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.
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
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.
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:
During the interview, she talks about a video called "Strolling Under the Skin." Here is a link for that video:
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.
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.
At first, I couldn't believe it. Then, I thought it was funny. But the more I thought about it, the more bizarre and creepy it became.
Here is what happened.
I pulled a book from my martial arts library this weekend: "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan," by William C.C. Chen.
Since body mechanics is something I am very interested in, and somewhat knowledgeable about, I wanted to read his take on it.
I respect all teachers, unless they claim supernatural powers. I have always heard very good things about William C.C. Chen. His name is among the most famous of American tai chi teachers. You have to admire someone who has done so much to spread tai chi in America.
On the back of the book, he writes, "My book.....deals with the human body under the action of given forces and is based on practical physics such as body leverage and the hydraulic pressures which exist in our body."
Great! I opened the book and began to read it for his explanation of body mechanics.
The book is short. There is background on the art, including a disappointing section that attributes the origin of the art to Cheng San Feng, despite the fact that there is no evidence he existed. There seems to be a reluctance among some Yang style branches to admit that tai chi originated with the Chen family, although this book does mention Chen Changxing, who taught the family art to Yang Luchan.
The book briefly discusses relaxation, tension and developing speed, but before long it goes into photos of William C.C. Chen's 60-movement form. A step-by-step approach, with instruction such as "Shift weight to left leg 100%. Turn body 45 degrees to the right. Turn left foot out on heel 90 degrees. Extend left palm forward slightly, facing down."
But there was nothing about body mechanics.
I put a photo of the book cover on my Internal Fighting Arts Facebook page and commented on how the book contains no mention of body mechanics. I did not insult Master Chen personally, it was a post about a book called "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan" that does not discuss body mechanics.
Isn't that fair? It was a very short review to let people know not to buy this book if you are looking for information on body mechanics.
Apparently, Tiffany Chen did not think it was fair. One of her friends tipped her off to the post. She wrote:
"Everyone's entitled to their opinion... however, if you're only looking for the words "body mechanics". Body Mechanics requires understanding the actual physics of movement and weight shifting of the body. Not everyone can grasp everyone's else's ideas, especially in writing. But, given the popularity of my father's book as a learning tool for those studying Tai Chi, this is just somebody's opinion with a few other people who agree and they are entitled to express that. Life is always filled with a rainbow of perspectives. People like to talk and most often people like to talk down about the accomplishments of others because it makes them feel good. We all have our own medicine. Mine is listening, learning, always finding a reason to smile and moving on. Thank you for bringing this to my attention Brian Sherman. I was raised to only speak when there was something nice to say and just to work hard, so that's what I do. Gossip always reminds me of my Father's Golden Words."
I have always heard that her father is a very nice man. Another visitor to the Facebook page mentioned that her father never said a negative word about anyone. She replied:
"Yes, this is very true... his humble, golden nature is how he approaches anything and everything in life. He has never spoken a negative word about anyone ever and he never tolerates anyone speaking negatively about anyone else, he simply says "it's ok, maybe we just don't understand, doesn't mean anyone is wrong". I just don't appreciate the arrogance of those who will very opinionatedly speak on my father and our method without ever having met any of us or visited our school... it's quite a lofty thing to wear your eyes so high on your head. Then again, maybe this how people motivate themselves to do better than others, so if that is the goal here, then great. Perhaps I just don't understand..."
I was simply astounded, and so I asked Ms. Chen to let me know which parts of the book contained information about body mechanics and I would apologize if I was wrong, but she did not respond to my request.
I read her comments again, and realized that she did not directly address me. That struck me as incredibly passive-aggressive.
Then I went onto Amazon and checked out the user reviews of the book. There were some 2-star reviews that indicated there was nothing about body mechanics in the book.
For some reason, Ms. Chen had not replied to those people to tell them how arrogant they are for spreading "gossip."
Here is how a review works. You write a book, make a DVD, record a song, produce a movie or a play, and people review it. It is even better when someone who knows the subject (body mechanics of tai chi, for example) writes a review of it. Does the book live up to its title? Does the title even apply to the contents? Should tai chi students invest in the book?
A review typically serves as a heads-up to potential customers. It did not discuss her father personally or his "method."
I studied Yang style for more than a decade. I won a gold medal at the 1990 AAU Kung Fu National Championships performing the Yang 24 form. I have studied Chen style and its body mechanics for nearly 20 years. That is a total of 30 years studying, practicing, competing with and teaching tai chi.
So here is how Ms. Chen could have responded to my short review that included no personal criticism of her father or his art whatsoever.
She should have said something like, "I am sorry my father's book did not meet your expectations. Let me suggest a couple of other of his books or videos that will have the information you are seeking."
And then tell me which books or videos have information on body mechanics.
The honest thing to do would be to admit, "Yes, the book is a lot more about the 60-movement form than it is about body mechanics."
Boom! That would not be difficult, would it?
But martial arts is a lot like religion. Teachers become deities. If you dare criticize their work, you are seen as attacking them personally, along with each and every student. And this is especially true if you are an "outsider." It's us versus them, don't you know? We are the best and naturally, nobody else understands what we are doing. Right?
Shame on them. That attitude does nothing positive for your art, and it certainly does not honor your instructor.
I believe in real-world discussions, martial artist to martial artist. No instructor deserves to be stroked when they are phoning it in, and that includes any instructor. By the way, I have learned face-to-face from some Chen instructors whose DVDs contain virtually no real instruction. That is why I began making DVDs. I was tired of buying videos that left me with more questions than I had before. I was tired of tai chi books that delved more into woo-woo than reality.
But the entire point of my post is very simple. If I buy a James Bond book, I expect 007 to make an appearance in the story. If I buy a book on refrigerator repair, I expect to get some pointers about how to fix my refrigerator.
And if I buy a book called "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan," and body mechanics are not discussed, it is worth a heads-up to other potential buyers.
I still believe what I hear about William C.C. Chen being a nice man, but he should have called his book "Instruction for the 60-Movement Form" instead of "Body Mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan."
So, dear readers, would you like to learn about the body mechanics of Tai Chi Chuan?
You can learn about body mechanics in depth from Mike Sigman's videos and written materials. He was a major influence on me. And you won't find any woo-woo in his instruction.
You will also learn about body mechanics in depth in my Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs, and in every DVD that I produce. And if you don't like a purchase you make from me for any reason, even if you simply think I am ugly and my mother dresses me funny, just send it back and I will refund your money, and I will not criticize you personally. I will not call you arrogant, accuse you of gossip, or accuse you of not understanding what I am teaching.
No. When I receive negative critiques of my work, I think about it and think about how to make it better next time. And if the critique is accurate, as mine was, the honest response from someone who is secure about their art would be to say, "Yes, you might be right about that."
Wouldn't that be the type of emotional balance that would honor an art such as Tai Chi Chuan, and an instructor as accomplished as William C.C. Chen?
Update to this Post - October 22, 2018 -- After reading William C.C. Chen's book, which did not cover body mechanics of Tai Chi, and after realizing how little has been written in plain language about the body mechanics of this powerful art, I spent a few months in 2018 writing my own book.
The aim is to explain and teach six key body mechanics that provide the foundation of Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi.
The book is called "Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi." It is available on Amazon for international customers, and if you are in the U.S. you can get it from this blog (click this link to go to the book page) or through my website at www.kungfu4u.com (click this link to go to the book page).
The book costs $24.99 and if you find it teaches you nothing about body mechanics, return it to me for a prompt refund (and I will not call you arrogant if you do). :)
The Holy Grail of Tai Chi self-defense -- in my opinion -- is when you can "feel" an opponent's energy when you are in a clinch and you can break his structure and use Tai Chi "energies" to take him down.
On Saturday, about a dozen martial artists of different styles gathered at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in Moline, Illinois and we practiced some of the basic concepts and energies. We recorded the workshop and the video is already going up on my website -- www.internalfightingarts.com -- and I am putting it together for a DVD.
Anyone can use muscular force to pick someone up and throw them to the ground.
But can you use Tai Chi energies to unbalance, uproot, and control your opponent's center so you can take them down?
You have to be able to do a few things:
** Determine how your opponent's center is turning
** Break his structure to unbalance him
** Have your hands and legs in place to help his center turn
** Then turn his center and take it where it wants to go.
The term "energies" has been misinterpreted. Peng, Lu, Ji, An and the other energies are actually "methods" of dealing with an opponent's force. When force comes in, you can roll it back and then press him to unbalance him. That is one example of how energies are used.
You learn to maintain your balance as your opponent loses his, and then you counter.
You can't learn all this in a three-hour workshop, but it is fun to see people from other styles of tai chi and martial arts as their faces light up and they realize they are experiencing something really different.
It is also refreshing to meet people who put aside their "style" for an afternoon, empty their cups and try something else. One of the reasons I do it this way is to educate others on the internal arts, show them that these arts are not as "soft" as the popular image would have them believe, and to add training partners to the videos.
Push hands starts with the basic patterns, working on form and sensitivity. Gradually, you work into applications, then moving, freestyle, and in the end, learning to take your opponent to the ground while using the various energies of Tai Chi to do it. Chen push hands is the bridge between form and fighting.
I have been working on these principles for a long time. To my knowledge, no other Tai Chi instructor has actually put this information on video in a step-by-step way. It is not really an "ancient Chinese secret," but it is a place that few Tai Chi students get to on their journey.
This is my mission for the rest of 2017.
I stepped forward, maintaining contact with his arms.
Suddenly, I was slammed down on the basement floor. On my back!
I was surprised, to say the least. I got up and touched hands with him again. I stepped forward as we did the pattern. I stepped back. Then, as the pattern continued, I stepped forward.
BAM! I was on my back again!
What in the world was he doing? I didn't really feel him do much of anything.
I got up and we started again. Within a few seconds, WHAM! On my back again.
I laughed. Chen Xiaoxing laughed. I got back up, we started again, and within a few seconds, WHAM! On my back.
I laughed harder. He laughed harder. I got back up, fascinated.
He must have done it ten times before I realized what he was doing. He was controlling my center, breaking my structure, making me turn a certain way, and reaching around to grab my shoulder and keep me turning that way.
It was one of the most important moments of my martial arts career.
A lot of tai chi (taiji) students never get to the point where they can use internal body mechanics and internal "energy" in takedowns.
Often, their teachers only teach them tai chi for health and meditation.
Teachers often focus on "chi cultivation" instead of the main purpose of tai chi -- a martial art.
All of the energies that they talk about in the internal arts are not really energies coursing through your body. This is a misinterpretation.
The different energies -- peng, lu, ji, an, etc. -- are methods of dealing with an opponent's force.
Tai Chi is also a close-up fighting art. The closer your opponent gets, the better you can use the sensitivity developed in push hands and lead him into a position of vulnerability.
Your goal is to "listen" to his force (sense where it is going and its intensity), adapt to it, neutralize it, and counter with a self-defense application.
Most people think of tuishou, or "push hands," as a sensitivity drill with a partner. It is much more than that. And the closer you get to your opponent, the more you learn to "listen" to his energy and then, break him and put him on the ground.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, I will hold a 3-hour workshop where we will look at how these concepts are used to take your opponent down.
It does not matter what style of tai chi you study -- in fact, this will be useful for any style of martial artist.
Here are some of the things you will learn:
--How to break an opponent's structure.
--How to control an opponent's center.
--How internal "energies" are used in takedowns.
--How to unbalance your opponent with less force.
--7 ways your legs are used in takedowns.
The workshop will be held at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts at 1321 5th Avenue in downtown Moline, IL.
The cost of this workshop is only $40. All proceeds go to Morrow's Academy for the use of the building.
The workshop will be videotaped for a DVD. All participants will receive a copy of the DVD when it is produced within two months. I don't charge much for my workshops. I want people to come. I make my money on the back end. The video shot will be used on my website and in a DVD. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.
There is a lot more to it than the techniques that Chen Xiaoxing used 11 years ago to give me a new perspective on my basement floor. But the insight I gained that night started me on the road to exploring, thinking, studying, and practicing different ways to use my opponent's energy against him, using the methods (energies) of internal movement.
I love this stuff, and you will have a new appreciation for it if you come to the workshop, then get the DVD, and keep practicing.
If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you come to the workshop, I will show you exactly how Chen Xiaoxing put me on my back over and over in my basement. You will learn to do it, too.
Newly Revised Silk-Reeling DVD Offers Detailed Instruction for 19 Chan Ssu Jin Exercises and Tai Chi Pole-Shaking
My first DVD on Silk-Reeling Energy was shot in 2008 in the old 4:3 TV format. I was never really satisfied that it was spread over two DVDs, forcing me to charge a bit more for it ($24.99). But it has been very popular over the years with internal artists worldwide.
Now, I have completely redone it in widescreen format and I have managed to put more than 2 1/2 hours of instruction onto one DVD at a lower price ($19.99). The camera angles are better, too.
Silk-Reeling "Energy" has been misinterpreted by many literal-minded people. When you talk about internal "energies," you are not talking about an actual "energy" coursing through your body like the concept many use for "chi." What energy means is "method." What are the methods of moving in the internal arts that helps give you relaxed power, without the muscular tension that some martial arts use?
Silk-Reeling, or Chan Ssu Jin (Chan Ssu Chin) is part of that method. It involves spiraling movement through the body, which is combined with the ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, Dan T'ien rotation and proper use of the kua. Now, I always get flamed when I say that SRE is not mystical, especially by people who are into the woo woo, but it's true. The spiraling movement of Chan Ssu Jin is a physical skill, like all skills in the internal arts. You can still believe in the woo woo if you want, but the exercises still work.
The Silk-Reeling exercises on this video teach you how to take the six key body mechanics that form the basis of internal movement and put them together into exercises that will help make your internal movement better.
There are many "energies" involved when you practice self-defense with Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua, but there are also basic body mechanics that you need; without them, your movement is empty.
I first learned these exercises and concepts from Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and their students and disciples.
One thing I love about these exercises is the fact that you can do most of them even if you don't have a lot of room. Most of them can be done in a cubicle, or in a small office, anywhere you find yourself without room to do a form.
When you do a Silk-Reeling exercise, you are doing Tai Chi.
They can be done as qigong, too. Sometimes, if I'm watching TV at night at the end of the day, I'll get up and do these exercises rather than sit on the couch. They build leg strength and, if you practice as intended, they will improve your internal movement.
The DVD also contains a section on pole-shaking, which is one of the ways to begin putting all the body mechanics to work for fajin (issuing energy).
Here is a short clip from the Silk-Reeling Energy DVD. If you are interested, you can click here for more information and to order it. There is free shipping worldwide and an iron-clad, no hassle, money back guarantee. If you're not happy with it, just return it for a fast refund. I have never had anyone return this DVD after selling more than 1,000 of them since 2008. All the video from the DVD is also on my website at www.internalfightingarts.com.
Those of us who practice Tai Chi (Taiji) as a fighting art pursue concepts that represent a holy grail. They are written about in the classics, and spoken of in quotes by long-dead masters including Chen Wangting, who supposedly said:
"I know everyone, but no one knows me."
When I first became interested in the Kung Fu TV show back in the early Seventies, one of the interesting quotes from the show was:
"A Shaolin monk, when reached for, cannot be felt."
When I was 18 and watching that show, I thought that meant something mystical, as if a Shaolin monk vanished in front of you. But the quote resonated with me.
I have done push hands with some Chinese instructors, including Chen Bing and Chen Xiaoxing, who, when I pushed on them, they disappeared and very quickly I found myself off-balance (or on the floor). When I reached for them, they could not be felt.
In other words, I could not find their center, but they could find mine.
For a long time, I've been working to get better at maintaining my center while I control my opponent's center, setting him up for a counter. There are muscular ways of achieving this, and more subtle ways. And so, when my friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos, and its practice of "contact flow," I immediately saw the connection between this aspect of their art and the goal that eludes so many Tai Chi folks who end up using muscle to overpower their opponents, rather than relaxing, sensing, flowing, and controlling the opponent's center.
On September 17, 2016, I spent a day in Cincinnati working on contact flow with three talented Guided Chaos instructors: Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour, Kevin Harrell, and Joe Martarano. It was my second time working with Al and Kevin, and the first time I have met Joe. I hope it isn't the last. These guys are great martial artists.
Another important phrase that we often repeat in martial arts is from Bruce Lee, who borrowed from Taoist philosophy when he urged people to "be water." Pour it into a cup and it becomes the cup, Bruce said. Water can flow, and it can crash.
"Be water, my friend."
Contact flow, developed by the founder of Guided Chaos, John Perkins, teaches you to relax and flow around obstacles, redirecting incoming force, moving and maintaining your root, maintaining your center, and, as you flow and find your way, you knock the crap out of your opponent.
This is what Tai Chi is supposed to be. Tai Chi is about fighting, but it aims for more subtle principles and body mechanics than some arts do.
Chen Tai Chi push hands can be brutal. I know people who have gone to Chen Village and come back nursing broken bones. There are strikes, throws, joint locks and more. A good pluck can cause whiplash. If you aren't careful, or if you get a little aggressive, someone will need to heal up for a while. But in the beginning, you should develop sensitivity and be able to move from form to fighting. To do that well, you should develop subtle skills. At least that's what everyone talks about, but few seem to do it.
Practicing contact flow triggered insights and connected some of the dots of Tai Chi in an effective way. A year ago, after my first Guided Chaos workshop, it changed the way I thought about push hands, and this year, it has changed the way I practice push hands.
You should be able to learn some of these subtle skills, but it's not easy to find good push hands instructors, or experienced push hands partners. Another problem we face is that Americans simply do not grow up learning the concept of relaxing and flowing while maintaining the ground, peng, and using the spiraling movements of silk-reeling. Instead, we tense up and want to smash like the Hulk. It's funny to me now when I push hands with someone from outside the internal arts -- how tense they are. But that is how we all feel until we learn, and practice, practice, practice.
One time, around 1999, a Chinese gongfu "master" came to the Quad Cities to hold a workshop at my friend John Morrow's school. I attended, and at one point during the workshop, the interpreter walked over to me and said, "Master Wong says you have gongfu. He would like to visit your school and practice with you."
I was very flattered. When he visited my school a few days later, he had me put my hand on his chest, and he put his on mine. He wanted me to push him off-balance. That was the first time I ever pushed on someone whose center could not be found, and he wasn't nearly as skilled as the Chen family. It was eye-opening. But he had no idea how to explain it to me. So the concept remained like the Shaolin monk. I reached for it, but could not find it.
Guided Chaos has at least part of the answer, but as a combat art, it is about a lot more than contact flow. It is a no-nonsense fighting art and they will flat out kick your butt. I highly recommend any of their workshops.
I could only spend one day at this year's Cincinnati workshop because I had to return to teach my journalism class. Even one day was enough to inform me on some of the next steps in my own development. I am continuing to work on the relaxed strength, moving, centering, and spiraling that makes up good internal arts, but also allows you to flow like water, remain "out of reach" by your opponent, and then, as Bruce Lee also said, "I don't hit. IT hits by itself."
I can fight, but just fighting is no longer the goal for me, especially at my age. There is something else, skills that have been elusive.
I was working with Joe Martarano at one point during the workshop, and I realized that I was repeating some habits that have been part of my fighting but were not as efficient as I was trying to achieve.
"I need to empty my cup," I said, scolding myself. But Joe disagreed.
"Empty your cup?" he asked. "You already emptied your cup or you wouldn't be here today."
You never know when you will taste someone else's art and learn something that contributes to your own art.