Do Not Seek Medical Advice from Martial Arts Instructors

BipolarI received an email last night from a man who has a young daughter and BOTH have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

As a parent, I instantly empathized with him.

He asked if Tai Chi and Qigong would help his daughter, and if I thought she would be able to do it. He also asked if the martial aspects would be a problem.

This is not the first time people have asked me for guidance on medical or mental issues, and each time it happens, alarm bells ring in my head.

If you are a martial arts instructor, you should NEVER give guidance on medical or mental issues unless you are also a doctor trained in the field.

Every time someone asks for my input on an issue like this, I tell them that the LAST person they should ask for advice is a martial arts instructor or even an "alternative" medicine practitioner.

Tai Chi and Qigong have benefits that include calming the mind and body. As exercise, and even if you do it for meditation, you can gain valuable benefits, but it takes hard work and mental focus.

But the BEST person -- in fact the ONLY person I would ask for input on an issue related to bipolar disorder would be a mental health professional.

If you are a martial artist or you do some acupuncture or tuina or Reiki or whatever on the side -- if you are going to give people advice on this type of thing you better have a good attorney on retainer.

But most of all, people who are dealing with these serious issues should not ask martial artists or alternative medicine folks for their advice.

Is Tai Chi and Qigong likely to help or hurt his daughter? Well, it probably can't hurt, and it might help, but I am not the person to ask. I can only give a layman's opinion. Serious medical or mental health issues require serious input from a person who is trained in the field.

How Standing Stake - Zhan Zhuang - Can Improve Your Tai Chi

Dan-Tienby Ken Gullette

Zhan Zhuang is also called "Standing Stake" or "Standing Like A Pole." It is the most important exercise in Tai Chi. It can be used for meditation and qigong, but it also will help improve your Tai Chi.

Here are the basics of getting into a Zhan Zhuang stance:

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Raise your arms as if hugging a tree with the palms facing you.

3. Relax the knees and let them flex a bit.

4. Relax every muscle in your body - neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips and legs.

5. Keep the head up and the chin slightly tucked.

6. "Sink" your weight -- your "energy" -- and feel as if your weight is sinking into the ground or floor.

7. Calm the mind along with the body.

Here are important things you need to incorporate into your Zhan Zhuang practice:

8. Relax the lower back. We usually keep it tense when we are standing. When you relax the muscles in the lower back, you will feel your buttocks sink and "tuck" slightly. That is a good thing.

9. You should feel your weight centered in the feet between the heel and the ball of the foot, just behind the ball of each foot. You may have to adjust your sinking, or lean slightly forward from the waist to the head to feel your weight reaching this point in the feet. 

Usually when we stand up, we are actually leaning backward. By leaning slightly forward from the waist to the head, you may feel like you are leaning too far forward, but usually, that is right where you want to be.

10. Maintain a feeling of ground path and peng jin. Your arms should feel as if there is a gentle pressure pushing outward, as if you are hugging a large balloon that is having air pumped into it. At the same time, you should feel as if someone is pushing gently inward on your arms and you are grounding the push through your feet. 

Stand in this position for at least five minutes. If you are a beginner, your legs may start getting tired before then -- they may start shaking. 

Every day, your goal is to do a little more time -- perhaps one minute longer. Your goal should be to do Zhan Zhuang for 30 minutes each day.

Here is how Zhan Zhuang helps your Tai Chi:

-- It helps strengthen your legs. Strong legs are crucial to good Tai Chi. By relaxing the legs, relaxing the knees and keeping them flexed as you sink your weight, you are working the muscles. As you get accustomed to standing for five, 10, 15 minutes or more, you will find that when you do a Tai Chi form, you will feel stronger, and your base will feel more stable.

-- It helps you to manage stress. Calm the mind and turn your thoughts away from daily worries such as deadlines at work or school, relationships, bills, and other things. Focus on your breathing and on the mental visualization of energy collecting in the Dan T'ien and growing warmer each time you inhale.

-- It helps teach you to sink and relax. One of the problems many Tai Chi players have is keeping the "chi in the chest." That means their weight is not sunk properly. Zhan Zhuang teaches you to sink and relax the shoulders, chest, arms, hips, and you should carry that into your Tai Chi practice.

-- It teaches you to maintain a "centered stance." In your Tai Chi practice, you need to keep the weight centered in the feet as much as possible. In Tai Chi and in push hands, you are constantly trying to maintain or find your center.

-- It is an outstanding Qigong exercise. Even though I do not think chi is a scientific reality, it is a great mental visualization tool. When I do Zhan Zhuang, I imagine chi entering the body when I inhale and when I exhale, I imagine a ball of chi growing warmer in my Dan T'ien. I also sometimes imagine it flowing through my body. There are many exercises explained in detail on my Qigong DVD and in my Kindle ebook.

Zhan Zhuang can change your life. If you learn to calm the mind and relax the body, and if you recreate those feelings when you find yourself in a tense, stressful situation, you can teach yourself to react to stress with relaxation and calmness rather than tension. That is the most important lesson of all.

Qigong - Chi Kung - and the Eight Pieces of Brocade

It’s impossible to trace the origin of many chi kung exercises. The Chinese people have a military history that dates back thousands of years, and the value of exercise and stretching were probably recognized very early as being beneficial for the success of battlefield troops.

Qigong-pictureThe images at left – and below – were found in the tomb of King Ma, who lived before Christ, died in 103 BC and was buried with many documents, including military training manuals. The documents were discovered when his tomb was found in 1973. Some of the images are very similar to chi kung exercises, including movements from the Eight Pieces of Brocade.

I first learned the Brocade exercises as chi kung, but the more I practiced, the more I came to believe that these were also used as stretching and leg conditioning exercises for Chinese soldiers. It is possible that the chi kung interpretation was added many centuries later.

Mawan2aThe Eight Pieces of Brocade is not a mystical or magical routine. Practicing the exercises will not give you special powers. You will gain benefits from the stretching and the leg strength that comes as a benefit from the horse stances, but the main purpose of these exercises is the purpose of all chi kung – calm the mind and body, ease stress, center yourself, and allow your body to become the healing machine that it truly is.

Your goal in all chi kung practice is to recapture the centered and calm feeling when you encounter moments of crisis or tension in “the real world.” I have used this for more than two decades in all types of tense moments, from work to home relationships and even in traffic on city streets and Interstate highways. It can help you ride the ups and downs of life without being capsized.

Brocade6-PalmsUp-Down-1Here is one of the exercises from the Eight Pieces of Brocade. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands in front of you -- palms up and fingertips nearly touching.

Inhale while you are in the first position, then exhale and push one hand up and the other hand down. Put "supporting" energy into the upward hand and "downward" energy in the lower hand.

Exhale as you return the hands to the original position and then reverse hands -- the other one goes upward and the other down. Exhale as you Brocade7-PalmsUp-Down-2are doing this. Then inhale as your hands return to the original position.

The key is calming your mind and body. You want to be as relaxed as possible through the exercise, although you do want to use supporting and down energy in the hands.

The entire Eight Pieces of Brocade is part of 90 minutes of instruction on my Qigong DVD. The cost of the DVD is $19.99 with free shipping anywhere in the world. It also includes three 5-minute routines, two 10-minute routines, and 36 exercises of the Yi Jing Ching (the Fist Set, the Palm Set, and the Moving Set). All the exercises are described and shown in my Qigong Kindle ebook available on Amazon's Kindle Store worldwide. The ebook costs only $4.99.

Qigong will not make you immortal. After all, every qigong master of the past is dead. But it does help you balance the mind and body, and it can improve your health by managing stress. It is not difficult, but it takes time and practice. It is well worth the effort.


How Do You Find Inner Peace? A Story of Qigong and the Journey Within and Without

Ken Gullette, feeling centered but vaguely inadequate on Wall Street more than 10 years ago.

My favorite poem comes from a book I bought back in the Seventies, Man of Contrasts, by taekwondo master He Il Cho. Here is the poem:

I can find peace amidst the city's roar

In the dry, frayed face of confusion

the exhausted hour.

My peace is cradled within.

Where does peace come from? I started finding the answer to that question when I began practicing Qigong in 1987, about 14 years after I began studying martial arts and reading about Taoism and Zen Buddhism. Qigong (also spelled Chi Kung) took it to another level. Before long, the ability to center myself in tense situations or moments of crisis began to develop somewhere inside me, and it was noticed, both by me and by others.

Around 1988, when a wall cloud was passing outside the newsroom where I was preparing the 6:00 News (I was the producer), people were racing and shouting in the newsroom, wheeling cameras outside to broadcast it live. I was trying to write some final teases and copy for the 6:00 News. It was total chaos.

Suddenly, I heard someone laugh. I looked over and a sports reporter was laughing at me. "What?" I asked.

"Dr. Chill," he said, pointing at me. "Everyone is going crazy and you're just taking care of business."

At that moment I realized that I had centered myself and had become the calm in the center of the storm. It felt good, and I had done it intentionally after many months of practice, and now it came naturally.

More than a decade later, I found myself in New York City for a conference. I had been wondering if I would be irritated by the crowds on the sidewalks.

As a rubber-necking tourist from the Midwest, I must have walked 20 miles in two days. Making my way through the crowded sidewalks, the poem from Man of Contrasts went through my mind.

I can find peace amidst the city's roar.

I found myself rising emotionally above the crowds of people rushing in both directions on the sidewalk, but even as I relaxed and rose above it, I felt part of it, and watched people with great interest and good will, even when they brushed me as they passed. I heard everything and felt connected to everyone and everything. It was a feeling of peace -- becoming one with strangers and with this amazing, loud, hustling city.

It was one of the most wonderful feelings I had ever experienced.

You do not need to travel to a city like New York to experience this ability to calm yourself and find your center. How many times do you find yourself tense at home and at work? How many times have you found yourself cursing other drivers on the road? How many times have you reacted angrily to a spouse or someone you love?

By practicing Qigong and learning to calm and center yourself, then recapturing that feeling in moments of stress, you can open a door to a better place -- a healthier place, where you control stress and do not let it control you.

This does not mean you never get angry. You do. It does not mean you don't stand up to injustice, bigotry or stupid, destructive people. You can, and you should. It does not mean you will not fight. You will fight to protect yourself, those you love, and those who cannot protect themselves. You may get sad, you may be hurt, but the inner gyroscope will eventually lead you back to center.

But you do not let anger control you. You do not give stress a home. All natural emotions are allowed. When they happen, you seek to find your center. When you find it, the emotions do not linger. But you do not deny them or suppress them. That only gives negativity more power. Expect the unexpected and you will be ready to handle it. It is not easy, and it does take work.

Leaving New York City, a cab driver took me to the airport. I asked where he was from. He talked about Ethiopia. I asked about his country and if he missed his family. He had just visited them for a month. He and I became friends on the way to the airport, and when I got out and handed him his tip, he shook my hand and said, "You are a nice guy."

I wondered how many people he transported every day who showed no interest in connecting with him. He was a wonderful man who loved his family and was working hard. I helped him to smile on a busy, hectic day. As I turned to enter the terminal, it felt as if I had left my mark in New York City, and it felt very good.

Since that trip to New York, my internal gyroscope has seen me through job losses, near-death health disasters, and the typical ups and downs of life. It means a lot more than just handling the roar of a big city. Life has a lot of twists and turns, and the older you get, the harder it gets. I am now 60 and facing a much shorter life expectancy because of a weakening heart and the loss of one lung. But I've rarely been happier and more content with my life. When the end comes, I want to see my children and my wife's face, and I think I'll be smiling.

The quest for peace is universal -- peace on earth, good will toward men. But you do not have to look very far for this, and you do not have to look outside yourself. You do not need to depend on other beings -- spouses, bosses, or invisible beings -- to give it to you. The farther outside yourself you look, the farther away you get. It is right there, cradled within you, ready for you to find it.

Chi Powers -- The Mystery Revealed! The Chi Challenge Continues - Part 1

There is a documentary in which an Asian monk shows a gullible reporter how he can make a crumpled ball of paper catch on fire by using his chi. The reporter is astounded.

Here is a video that shows just how it is done.

And here is the original documentary. Go in about 3 and a half minutes to see the trick. Reporters are notoriously gullible on this stuff. Even Bill Moyers didn't apply critical thinking skills when he did some of his reporting.

This is causing quite a controversy on my Facebook page. I have reminded people who make outrageous claims of chi powers that I have $5,000 for them if they can prove -- using me as their target -- that they can do these things. More about that in the next post.

New Qigong Kindle Ebook - Easy Qigong Exercises for Stress Management, Health, and a Balanced Life - Chi Kung

Qigong-Ebook-Cover-250Qigong is an effective meditation technique for stress management and improved health. Qigong (also spelled "Chi Kung") involves calming the mind, relaxing the body, and detaching your mind from your daily concerns by focusing on your Dan T'ien, your breathing, and mental visualization of energy.

Just five minutes a day can make a big difference in your ability to remain calm in tense situations and manage stress at work, at home, even when facing rude and aggressive people in public and on the highway.

My new Kindle ebook includes 163 photos and detailed demonstrations of simple exercises and ancient routines such as The Eight Pieces of Brocade and the Yi Jing Ching Palm, Fist, and Moving sets.

The ebook is only $4.99 and can be read on any computer, laptop, and carried with you on your smartphone or tablet, including Android, iPhone and iPad (the free Kindle app is available for all devices). I put it together and priced it very inexpensively to provide a good reference to the DVD that I produced a few years ago showing the same exercises. Click here to visit the Kindle store.

A clip of the first 5-minute routine from the DVD and the ebook is below. It also includes an introduction to Qigong. Click here to check out the DVD. There is free shipping anywhere in the world:

I'm Not A Doctor, But I Play One In The Dojo

Don't take medical advice from someone who is not a doctor.

A martial artist in Europe contacted me recently and said that about two and a half years after he began practicing tai chi, hsing-i, bagua and qigong, he began feeling exhausted each time he practiced.

When he does other activities, the student feels good. But when he tries to do the internal arts, he is drained of energy and feels horrible.

His teacher told him that these arts "touch the soul and feelings." In short, the student must be doing something wrong.

There are a lot of quacks in the world of internal arts. "If you do this technique wrong, it will hurt your gall bladder, and if you don't do this movement correctly, it will harm your large intestine."

And people believe it. But, as we can see during this political season, or in churches throughout the world, people will believe just about anything. It doesn't have to make sense.

I advised this student to see a doctor. Have some tests run. Find out what's going on. There have never been documented medical cases -- in a double blind clinical setting -- that indicate exercise such as the internal arts or qigong can make you feel bad unless there is another reason.

Now, if you attend a workshop or take a private lesson from a member of the Chen family, you may be forced to stand in postures for so long that your legs will give out. But that's due to strenuous exercise. 

There is NOTHING involved in Tai Chi, Hsing-I, Bagua, or Qigong that can possibly make a healthy person feel bad. 

I've heard stories by people who say students have come into class and have started standing stake and suddenly feel panic attacks or stomach pain. They take that as proof that the student had "bad chi" or that the flow of chi triggered something negative in their psyche.

Does the word "poppycock" mean anything to you? It should, and you should blurt it out in full-blown internal arts Tourettes if someone tells you these stories.

If you have a panic attack when doing qigong, see a counselor or a psychiatrist. Or start with your doctor.

It doesn't matter how knowledgeable your teacher wants you to believe he or she is -- and it doesn't matter if they have studied acupuncture, accupressure, or any other of the Traditional Chinese Medicines. It doesn't matter how many of Mantak Chia's books they've read. If you take medical advice from someone without a legitimate "M.D." after their name, you only have your own self to blame.

Feel bad? Go to a doctor, not to a "master."



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A Life Lesson in Death: The Passing of Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang

FengI am always broken-hearted to hear of the death of any kung-fu master, so I was very sorry to hear that Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang passed away a few weeks ago. My condolences go out to his students and his family.

When great masters die, I check to see how long they have lived. Usually, it isn't a lot longer than the general population.

Grandmaster Feng was 83 or 84 - he was born in 1928.

And now comes the part of the post that some may find controversial but it is intended to carry the utmost respect for Grandmaster Feng.

He was a disciple of Hu Yaozhen, a Taoist qigong master. Grandmaster Feng studied with him and also with the great Taiji master Chen Fake. Feng eventually developed his own style of Chen Taiji that included qigong, silk-reeling exercises, etc.

I receive messages and scoldings occasionally from people who claim that qigong, and Taoist qigong, if done properly, will mean you will evade illness and disease, and will result in a very long life. I received some of these messages after I developed atrial fibrillation, and a surgical procedure resulted in the closing of my pulmonary veins. Basically, I lost the function of my left lung three years ago.

A few well-intentioned but moronic messages were sent to me advising me -- in all seriousness -- that this wouldn't have happened if I had been doing qigong properly.

So here is the main point of my post:

My wife's mother lived to age 96. She never did a minute of qigong in her life. My step-mom is 84 and never did a moment of qigong in her life -- and rarely even exercised. My father-in-law lived to be 94 and I never heard that he exercised for a moment in his life -- and would have thought qigong was ridiculous.

Feng Zhiqiang lived to 84 and practiced Taoist qigong. As it turns out, his master, Hu Yaozhen -- the Taoist qigong master -- passed away at age 76. Chen Fake died at age 70.

There is nothing magical or mystical about qigong -- even Taoist qigong. It will not make you live longer than the general population. It might help the quality of life while you are here -- it might help you calm yourself, find your center and maintain it in moments of crisis. For that, it's very helpful.

But make no mistake -- qigong and Tai Chi will not help you achieve immortality, and it will not prevent you from developing cancer, heart disease, or a host of other illnesses. Please stop pretending -- or spreading false information -- that Tai Chi and qigong somehow make you live longer than other people. There is absolutely no medical or legitimate scientific research that shows that this is true.

Death finds us all. And from what I've seen, it takes Tai Chi masters and qigong masters along with the rest of us, with no discrimination. 

Let's stop the fantasy -- and call people out who encourage that fantasy.

A Special Place for Qigong and Zhan Zhuang -- Standing Stake

Qigong7-5-11-250 I've been interested in the concept of being "one" with nature (or the Universe) since the early Seventies. I was first inspired by the Kung-Fu TV show -- fascinated by the "flashbacks" and the morality and philosophy of the Shaolin monks. 

"Standing," as it is often called, is the most important exercise in Taijiquan. It's also known as Zhan Zhuang. Translated from Mandarin, that means "standing like a post." 

When Nancy and I moved into our new home a month ago, I found an ideal spot for Standing Stake. It's in a corner of my deck, surrounded by trees with a deep yard below. Yesterday morning, a young buck was at the edge of the yard below, eating leaves from low-hanging trees. His antlers were pretty short. He stopped to stare at me for a moment, wondering if I was friend or foe, then lost interest and began munching again. On the tree a few feet away, a chipmunk ran up and down.

It's not difficult to feel "one" with nature here.

Standing Stake is useful for a lot of reasons. I use it as a way of maintaining my center with all of the things going on in life -- moving a month ago, work, sometimes uncertain health issues -- Standing is an excellent way to return to a connected state and then try to maintain that feeling throughout the day.

Many benefits have been attributed to qigong. Many are unfounded in real science. In my experience, Standing and other qigong exercises help you manage stress and center yourself in a hectic world. If you manage stress, you help your body function and heal better.

There are other, more martial applications -- the strengthening of the legs, development of root as you learn to sink the energy, development of peng jin, and more.

To be an outstanding internal artist, a small part of each day should be devoted to Standing and qigong. It doesn't have to be a long period -- sometimes five minutes is plenty -- but hopefully you can find time each day to maintain your center. The location isn't important. The corner of a bedroom will do just fine. The important thing is to invest the time.

It's an investment in yourself.


I began practicing qigong in 1987, after being introduced to the practice by Sifu Phillip Starr. In 1998, I began studying with Jim and Angela Criscimagna, and they introduced me to Standing Stake.

Belief May Be a Powerful Tool in Alternative Medicine - the Placebo Effect

When you study the internal arts as I do, believing in alternative medicine -- acupuncture, herbal medicine, healing hands, etc. -- is part of the culture. Those of us who demand proof and scientific evidence for the effectiveness of such treatments are often met with hostility. I studied acupuncture for two years and other Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is interesting how it works for some pain management issues in one person and doesn't work at all in another.

Belief in alternative medicine theory is a lot like religion. If you question someone's religion and ask for real scientific evidence, the conversation can turn negative very fast.

Now, here is a news report that indicates in some cases, the medicinal truth behind alternative medicine isn't as important as the belief by the patient that it will work.

Read this story from CNN Health.