The Death of a Child and the Death of a Spouse Offer Tests of Internal Strength and Character

Shara-at-33
Ken Gullette with Shara in Oct. 1980.

A few days ago, my daughter Shara would have celebrated her 39th birthday. She was born on September 12, 1980.

Six weeks later, on a chilly October morning, the morning after she broke into a big, toothless grin for the first time, causing me, her 3-year old sister Harmony and her mom to burst out laughing, we found her dead in her bed from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. 

Crib death came in the night and took our little red-haired baby girl.

We were devastated, shrouded for a couple of years in grief that felt like a weight vest. Over the years, the grief diminished to a manageable state; life went on, and after being knocked into an emotional hole in the ground, I managed to lift myself up and re-balance.

The philosophical Taoism and Zen thinking that I tried to adopt in the years before Shara's death had put down roots.

This philosophy is not about not feeling. It is not about being passive. It is about feeling fully, but not letting destructive emotions take control.

It is about letting them wash through you and continue moving, opening yourself to other emotions that will come if you persist through the pain.

On Shara's birthday last week, I took my 98-year old neighbor Earl to lunch.

Earl is a World War II vet who fought in the Philippines, carrying a mortar and fighting many battles. He saw friends die, but he came through with only one scratch from a piece of rock shrapnel that a bullet from a Japanese gun kicked up next to him.

Earl returned home after his fighting was done suffering from PTSD. He received help and he recovered, living a good life with his wife, Mary, and raising three sons who all have done well in life. Earl retired many years ago from John Deere & Company.

Nancy and I bought the house across the street from Earl five years ago, about one year after Earl's wife died. 

Earl and I developed a friendship that has become one of the most important things in my life. 

Sitting in the booth at the family restaurant, I showed him Shara's picture and told him she would have been 39 years old that day. 

We talked about Shara, and the horror of burying a child, and then we talked about the last time he saw Mary.

Earl and Mary 2
Earl and Mary Hansen of Moline, IL.

She was sitting up in her bed at the nursing home. Earl had been there all day, and it was time for him to go home and get some rest.

"I love you," he told Mary. 

The next morning, he got a call and he went to the nursing home. She was still sitting up in bed, but she was gone.

As Earl told me this story, his chin was quivering and tears came to his eyes.

"A true test of character is the way we deal with loss as we get older," I said. "Losses start piling up. How do we balance ourselves and not let the ups and downs of life capsize us?"

It is a real test, Earl agreed. 

I described to Earl how, when my daughter's body was in the casket at the funeral home, I took her out and held her in my arms, sitting near the casket, mourning as visitors came in. It must have been quite shocking to see. I was so grief-stricken that I could not bear the thought of her lying alone in the coffin. Wasn't I supposed to protect her? Isn't that what a father is supposed to do? It felt as if I had failed in the one job that I had.

"She is in a better place," some well-intentioned people would tell me.

"No," I would gently correct them. "The best place for her is with her daddy."

I know they meant well, but that was a stupid thing to say. All they needed to say was, "I'm sorry." Remember that the next time someone you know suffers a loss. Don't tell them its "meant to be," or "they're in a better place." Just say you are sorry and you are here if they need anything. 

As I held my daughter's body in my arms, my little Zen voice in the back of my mind was saying, "You might appear as if you have lost your mind, but you haven't. Death is part of life. If you accept the joys and happiness of life, you must accept this, regardless of how unfair it is."

Earl and I talked about this at lunch, and about Mary, and losing a spouse after more than 60 years of marriage.

Is it easier to be the spouse who dies first? Earl thinks that is the easiest route. It is difficult, he said, to live without her.

We agreed that the loss of a spouse is the loss of the past. The loss of a child robs you of the future.

And so, in both cases, and in many other instances of loss in your life -- the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, the loss of money and status -- how do you find your balance again after being knocked down?

The answer for me is to enjoy the good parts of life and to put my head down and persist through the bad parts.

The yin and the yang are ever swirling and mixing and separating. In the best of times, you can enjoy the happiness life brings, but deep inside you know that something negative will happen at some point. It is the nature of things.

When something negative or tragic happens, if you try to accept it as part of life, put your head down and try your best to get through it, the wheel will turn and good things will happen again.

Some losses change you forever. The pain of losing my daughter will never be erased. Earl will feel the pain of losing Mary for the rest of his life. 

But I also remember how we laughed at Shara's grin the night before she died. I remember changing her diaper, her eyes staring into mine, trying to understand this new world, and I could see intelligence in her eyes. 

Earl laughs about the trips he and Mary took, and how much they loved dancing and hanging out with other couples. 

A year after Shara died, Belinda was born, a very funny little girl. She turns 38 this month, and works as a public defender in Cincinnati advocating for abused and neglected children. I can't imagine life without her.

The wheel turned. I kept my head down and walked on.

These deep losses have changed us, but in this universe, change is the only thing you can depend on. Everything changes. Why should Earl or I be any different?

The art of self-defense takes many forms. Sometimes, an attack may come from a person with misguided intentions. An attack can be physical and it can be verbal or emotional. 

Sometimes, self-defense requires something other than martial skill or people skills. It requires the internal, psychological strength to handle what can seem to be an attack by nature itself, even though it is not an attack; it is simply life happening, throwing us off-balance and taking us to the ground.

Earl and I have almost 165 years between us. Persistence and determination, we agreed, were keys to re-balancing. In my view, the centering skills that I have taken from my philosophy have given me the ability to realize that nothing life throws at me is personal. None of us gets out of this alive.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Because good and bad happens to all people. How you deal with it is what counts.

One of the reasons my friendship with Earl is so precious is that he and I both realize it is not going to last very long. With some of my health issues I could go first, but in all likelihood I will be the one left behind to regroup. He knows this too, and he says he is ready to go if the time comes, which he expects will happen before long. We look forward to the time we spend together having lunch, sitting outside in front of his garage, or talking in his living room.

You cannot live in the past, whether your past is happy or tragic. You can work and plan for the future, but you have to understand that nothing is guaranteed.

Earl-Ken-Village-Inn-5-24-2018
Ken and Earl having lunch at Village Inn.

And so we are left with this moment; this point in time. And on this day, at this moment, I was having lunch with my 98-year old buddy, talking about our lives, both good and bad, sharing the occasional off-color joke, and just enjoying each other's company.

Life is good.

After a few minutes talking about Shara and Mary, I said, "Let's talk about something lighter so we won't start crying in our food."

He laughed. "That's a good idea," he said.

So we started talking about the battles he saw in World War II.

How's THAT for lighter conversation? 


30 Years Without My Best Buddy -- My Dad Kenneth Ray Gullette Sr.

Ken Gullette Sr
My dad and a typical smile first thing in the morning.

Throughout our lives, as we work and play, develop relationships, raise children and try to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, moments pass without being noticed.

One moment after another ticks by, gone forever, and most of the time we give it no thought. We are just living our lives.

There is always tomorrow. There is always next year.

And one by one, the moments slip away.

My father, Ken Gullette Sr. died 30 years ago today. He was 61 years old.

I was 36 at the time. I am now five years older than he was when he died. When I think about dying at age 61, I realize just how short his life really was.

Last night, I was in the bathroom and glanced into the mirror. I saw my dad looking back at me.

It seems the older I get, the more I see him in my face; a living reminder that his genes are a key part of me.

Fortunately, the memories are part of me, too.

The first thing I remember him saying to me was, "Kenny, are we buddies?"

He had a wonderful, goofy, Southern sense of humor. He grew up in tiny Wilmore, Kentucky during the Great Depression. Life was hard back then, but he always had a smile on his face.

He joined the Marines in 1945 at age 17 and he was told he would die during the invasion of Japan. But we dropped the bomb, ended the war, and my dad was allowed to grow up.

He had an Indian motorcycle as a young man, and would stand up on the seat and ride it down the street in Wilmore to impress the girls. He was a good-looking guy.

I remember the day I realized my father's age for the first time. I was walking down a sidewalk in Wilmore with my mother and sisters and I remember realizing and saying, "Daddy is 29 years old." That would have been 1957.

He was an entrepreneur, and he wanted to work for himself. He started ornamental iron businesses and did iron work on houses, apartment complexes and more. I can still see some of his work when I drive through my hometown of Lexington.

One time around 1967, his business ran into trouble. Contractors weren't paying him, he couldn't meet his bills, and he filed for bankruptcy.

After the bankruptcy hearing, he came home from the court with twenty dollars in his pocket. He was smiling.

The next day, he went out and started a new business.

Ken Sr Sucking It In 1979
Sucking it in for a 1979 picture with his brothers and sister. From left to right: Orbra, Robert, Ken and Irene.

His resilience was amazing to me even then. As years passed, I realized that I inherited it. And, of course, that sense of humor. Everyone he met was a friend, until they proved otherwise. My dad never met a stranger, and greeted everyone with a smile.

I am the same way, and I am grateful to him for giving me that trait.

We used to talk about everything, and he shared with me his sense of wonder about the world. I remember sitting out at night, and he was looking at the stars and the moon. He would marvel at how far away they were, and how long it took the light to reach us. 

"We aren't seeing that star right now," he would say. "We are seeing it as it was millions of years ago."

And he would be in awe.

That sense of wonder rubbed off on me.

He was a hopeless romantic. One of the warmest memories I have of my parents comes from 1959, when my father put a romantic record on the record player in the living room and slow-danced with my mother around the room. He would have been 30 or 31 and she would have been about 25. As a first-grader, it made me feel really good inside.

But it was his sense of humor that I loved the most. My father made me laugh my entire life. Here is a typical joke that he told.

"Kenny," he would say, "did you know that when I was young I wanted to study law?"

"No, I didn't know that," I said.

"But I didn't because I found out I was against it."

He pronounced "against" the way a hillbilly would -- "uh-GINN."

And he would laugh his head off at his own joke. I would laugh, too.

Ken Sr Lawn Darts
Playing lawn darts in 1979 as my dad tries to grab it before I can throw it.

He developed congestive heart failure in the late 1980s, and finally, during a hospital stay, doctors told him he also had lung cancer, probably from chain-smoking since he was a teenager.

He was given two to four weeks to live. I rushed in from Sioux City to spend a couple of days with him and say goodbye.

When he was dying, I had been through some ups and some serious downs for several years. I was not in a happy marriage. Our second daughter, Shara, died of crib death nine years earlier and devastated me.

My dad had his first heart attack at age 50, around the time Shara was born. The first time he saw his granddaughter was when she was lying in her coffin.

I worked in TV news, which can be pretty brutal. I was still struggling to make my mark in the business and found myself in Sioux City, Iowa.

He kept seeing life slap me down, and he kept seeing me get back up and do a little better than before.

But now he was dying in August of 1989. As I sat next to his hospital bed in Louisville, trying to savor every moment, knowing it would be the last time we were together, he reached over and gripped my arm tightly.

"Rock of Gibralter," he said.

I didn't ask what he meant. I knew what he meant.

My father never gave me any advice about school. He only earned a G.E.D. He didn't give me advice about work or careers. He spent money as fast as he earned it, so he was not a good role model for financial matters.

When my father died, he did not leave his children any money. I got his U.S. Marine uniform, a beat-up Timex watch, his wallet with photos and ID in it, and a leather belt showing a hunter with his dog, and the words "Ken Gullette Coon Hunter" etched into the leather.

That is what my father left me.

But we were buddies. Sometimes, that's enough. Those memories, and that legacy, does not run out. It stays deposited in the heart. As time passes, the love compounds and continues to grow.

He was the nicest man I ever knew, and the most honest, too. I never heard one story, or witnessed one event, when he cheated someone or was dishonest in any way.

I am lucky that I had a chance to tell my father goodbye, and to tell him what a great father he was. Walking out of the hospital room to fly back to Sioux City, knowing I would never see him again, is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

In the 36 years I knew my father, we never had a cross word between us. He got mad at me when I acted out as a child. Once, he gave me a spanking after guests left because I kept playing "earthquake" with my sisters' doll house while they were setting it up with their little girlfriends. I was about seven years old. He did not give spankings very often. It was not something you forgot.

I guess I deserved it.

The day before he died, I called dad on the phone in his hospital room. We had been talking every day, but during the last couple of days, his body had begun to shut down. He didn't need any pain medication. He was not in a talkative mood.

"Well," I said, "I guess we've said it all."

"I guess so," he replied.

The next day, my cousin Larry called from the hospital.

"Kenny," he said, "your dad passed away."

We drove from Sioux City, where I was the news director of KCAU-TV, to the funeral home in Nicholasville, Kentucky. It's a long drive and we had to stop for the night.

As soon as I reached Nicholasville, I had to pull the car over. I was hyperventilating at the thought of seeing my father's body.

He was laid out at Betts & West Funeral Home, in the same room where services were held for my grandparents and for my daughter. I was overcome with emotion when I walked in. For about ten minutes I held back, unable to gather the strength to see him that way.

I lost my buddy.

We returned home after the funeral, a long drive back to Sioux City. On the evening we got home, I went to the local high school track and ran a couple of miles to try and clear my head. Then I sat on a hill next to the track.

In the sky, there was a bright, clear moon, and I sat in the darkness, looking at the moon, pondering the universe, and what a wonderful journey we are on. This life is finite. There is an ending. 

It dawned on me, sitting on the hill and looking into the night sky as he and I had done many times, that I could live another 60 years and never see him again.

Now, 30 years has passed. 

I was a little bit wrong about my prediction. I do see him. I see him in my face sometimes. I hear him in some of his silly sayings that I still repeat. And I hear him laugh occasionally when I laugh.

Life sure does throw challenges in your way, doesn't it? As I have gotten older, I have decided that a true test of character is how you deal with the losses that pile up as the decades pass.

In the years since his death, I have lost marriages, I have lost jobs, but I have gained a lot, too. Few losses are as profound as losing my daddy.

I would love to talk with him today with 66 years behind me. I would ask why he did this, why he did that, why we moved to Florida when we did, and why we moved back to Lexington. What was it like for him to marry a teenage girl and take her from the orphanage where she grew up? 

My mom was a good person who was capable of sudden rage. I would love to ask him when that first surfaced, what he thought, and how he put up with it as long as he did.

But most of all, I would like to ask him where he has been during the past thirty years.

I have a feeling his answer would be, "I don't know, but it sure is peaceful and quiet."

And then I'm sure he would grin and crack a joke. And I would laugh.

For years after my father died, he would appear in dreams. They would almost always play out the same way.

In the dreams, my father would suddenly be standing there. I would run to him, hug him, and I would always wake up with tears running down my face and into my pillow.

One particular dream has haunted me for the past 20 years or more. Perhaps haunted is the wrong word. It has stayed with me. It has become a part of my outlook.

I was at the Louisville Fairgrounds in the dream, and suddenly, my dad was standing a few feet away. I ran to him, put my arms around him and whispered four words in his ear before I woke up crying again. 

What I whispered, I understand now, was a message to myself -- a message everyone should realize as we live each day and as the moments pass into oblivion. It's a message that I wish I had thought about a little more when I was younger, busy with work and family, and when I had the opportunity to spend more time with my father.

We always think there will be more time. That is not always true. And sometimes the moments pass by, forever carrying away the things and the people you love.

The four words I whispered in my dad's ear in the dream, as I hugged him tight and struggling to speak through the tears, were these:

"Every moment is precious."

And then I woke up.


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Can You Lift Weights and Do Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua?

Bagua Pole 3The photo shows a practice tip that is on my Bagua Basic Skills DVD and in the Bagua section of my website. It shows me walking the circle with dumbbells in my hands.
 
One of the traditional training methods for old school Bagua students was to do this with a brick or a stone in each hand. Now, we have dumbbells, so we can use those.
 
This not only helps develop circle-walking, but it is a weight-training exercise to help build your arm and shoulder strength, not to mention leg strength from circle-walking with the extra weight.
 
A Huge Fallacy in the Internal Arts
 
I have heard many people in the internal arts say that weight-training is a violation of internal principles. Even doing push-ups is a violation. They believe you should only do Taijiquan, for instance, and nothing more.
 
If you practice an internal art like Taiji, the argument goes, it is all the fitness training that you need.
 
One guy who claims to be a "master" instructor of Tai Chi told me that he went to China and saw masters pulling tires full of rocks, but not with muscular force. He said they were "soft as a baby."
 
I expected him to sell me a time-share in Florida after that.
 
I think this type of belief is one of the problems in the internal arts. I am going to use the ground and peng and proper mechanics to pull a tire full of rocks, but I am also going to need some healthy muscle tissue, too.
 
Simply doing an act like that is the same as weight-training, isn't it?
 
I'll bet that the martial artists who are dragging tires filled with rocks began with tires that only had a few rocks, and kept building up more and more as they got stronger and stronger.
 
Weight-training, my friends. But the public doesn't see the training - only the results.
 
There have always been myths and superstitions in physical activities. Sports are full of superstitions.
 
Coaches used to tell players to avoid sex the night before a game. "It will sap your strength," they would say.
 
Remember that a lot of these old beliefs came from a culture that believed if a man had sex with a LOT of women every night and did not ejaculate, he could absorb the energy of the women and achieve immortality.
 
But if he ejaculated, his chi would be lost.
 
You will have to forgive me for being skeptical about this type of thing. I hope you are skeptical, too.
 
Besides, I couldn't do that if I tried. Nancy would really be steamed if I absorbed another woman's energy. :)
 
Strength Training Helps You Live Longer
 
It is certainly true that Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua are great physical activities. They get you moving and they have been proven in clinical trials to improve leg strength, balance, flexibility and more.
 
Physical exercise can also reduce blood pressure and helps prevent many diseases. The internal arts are physical activities. It is common sense that the same benefits apply, and clinical trials have confirmed it.
 
But according to the Harvard Medical School, strength training is crucial to maintaining a high quality of life, especially as you get older.
 
You will lose at least a quarter of your muscular strength between the ages of 30 and 70. You will lose half of your muscular strength by the age of 90.
 
I have always done cross-training. Doing Taiji, or Xingyi, or Bagua, or all three is simply not enough for overall conditioning and strength.
 
What Happens As We Age
 
Here is how it works. The less weight-training you do, the less muscle you have. As you age, your muscle mass diminishes.
 
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you are at rest. When you burn more calories at rest, you gain less fat.
 
If you lose muscle mass, as we all do as we age, you burn fewer calories at rest. You get flabbier as you burn fewer calories.
 
It becomes a vicious cycle -- less muscle means you burn fewer calories and build more fat. You can do less and less and your strength declines.
 
Cross-Training is Common Sense
 
You can do Taiji for two hours a day and you will STILL not be in shape to play a pick-up basketball game.
 
You can practice forms every day and then try to go three rounds of sparring and see how far you get.
 
Doing any of the three internal arts is a leg workout. Zhan Zhuan (Standing Stake) is great for the legs. The thighs of the Chen family are like tree trunks. That really helps longevity.
 
But the upper body strength is the issue here. Doing an internal martial art does not work the upper body enough to help maintain the strength you need for a better quality of life.
 
Weapons Training Can Substitute
 
Have you ever used a combat steel straight sword or broadsword? How about a combat-strength kuandao? Have you ever used double broadswords made of combat steel?
 
Those are serious weapons, and they are heavy.
 
Doing a weapons form is a weight-training exercise if you have the right weapon.
 
But in the modern age, most of us practice with lighter weapons -- practice weapons -- if we practice weapon forms at all. A lot of people don't do weapons forms.
 
The Bottom Line - There Is Nothing Soft About the "Soft" Arts
 
See that photo at the top of the post? It should tell you all you need to know about strength-training and martial arts.
 
In the old days, if you were going to defend your village from bandits, or if you were going to be hired by another village to train their young men to fight, I will bet you a dollar to a donut that you would not be "soft as a baby."
 
You would be hard as a rock. And tough as nails.
 
And you would do everything to make your body as strong as possible.
 
The Chen family men were hired out as guards. When things hit the fan, I don't think they worried very much about using the proper energy with the proper amount of softness.
 
My common sense, and my experience defending myself, tells me that all they really thought about was breaking the opponent as quickly as possible.
 
That sort of fighting ability requires not only strong legs but the type of upper body strength and overall conditioning that comes from cross-training -- from running, from hard work, from chopping wood, from lifting weights, from jumping rope, from doing push-ups and chin-ups and leg lifts and crunches.
 
The old school internal arts masters and students in China did not have gymnasiums or weight benches or racks of dumbbells or running tracks.
 
They worked the fields, the chopped wood, they lifted things, they were very, very active. And they practiced their arts. These were people who were accustomed to pain, hunger and very hard work.
 
There was nothing soft about them. And there was nothing soft about their fighting.
 
When I was near death at the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, and doctors tore a pulmonary vein and pierced my heart accidentally with a wire, some top doctors told me that the only reason I survived was the physical shape I was in.
 
I weighed 206 before I got sick. I weighed 156 by the time I left the hospital. I lost a lot of muscle mass and have never gained it back. But I survived.
 
I know the value of strength training from a variety of perspectives. Do not neglect it. It may have saved my life and it can save yours.
 
Having strong, healthy muscles does not, in any way, prevent you from achieving the relaxed power of the internal arts. All you need are the proper body mechanics and the ability to avoid tension. You gain that skill by practicing and training your body, not by avoiding strength training.
 
A person with weak muscles has the same problems learning these arts as anyone. They are tense, too. They just aren't as strong.
 
My ideal body shape was always Bruce Lee, not Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always have weight-trained with lighter weights and did more repetitions. That way, my muscles weren't bulky, they were toned and ready for action.
 
So I recommend a full range of conditioning, including all types of cardio plus push-ups, crunches, chin-ups, and weight training -- not for bulk, but for toning and for health.
 
It is a much more balanced approach, and isn't balance what the internal arts is all about?

The Best Way to Disappoint -- or Impress -- Your Martial Arts Teacher

Ken on Campus January 2016
Ken at St. Ambrose University in January, 2016.

I taught a journalism course at a local university in 2016, both the spring and fall semesters. It was my first experience teaching. I do not have a Masters, but I had enough experience in journalism (I won a few Associated Press awards during 22 years in news) that the department chair thought I would do a good job.

The students filed in on the first day of my first class. I spent a LOT of time working on an entertaining and informative PowerPoint and lecture.

A couple of students looked at me, smiled and said hello as they found a seat. Most of them walked in without acknowledging me, found a seat, and began staring at the computer screen that they each had on their desk. There was no attempt to engage by most of the students.

I have always enjoyed kids, and young people, and have always found ways of making them laugh and have fun.

But a college setting was different.

It was fascinating, watching some students trudge into the class each time, heads down, never looking my way to say "Good morning." Some of them rarely looked at me during class.

And when I gave a reading assignment, and the kids slogged in for the next class, it was surprising just how many of them had not bothered to read the assigned chapter.

I would ask a question in class and no one would answer. I sometimes stood there asking, "Bueller? Bueller?" Some of them didn't even get THAT joke.

When I was in school, I enjoyed being the class clown. I would crack jokes that would make the teacher and other students laugh. That is also how I am as a teacher.

I bought a bag of candy bars. I told the class that if anyone disrupted class with a smart-ass comment or a joke, they would get a candy bar. I was encouraging them to be engaged and crack jokes.

Peer pressure is an incredibly powerful force. I did not give out much candy.

The university cost $28,000 a year -- just for tuition. There were a handful of students who tried. I wondered why the rest of them were there. Why were they spending the money and not trying?

Some students turned in assignments and did not even know that the letter "I" is capitalized when you write, "I rode the bus."

By the time I completed my second semester, I was ready to stop teaching. I was working at least 40 hours a week to teach three times a week. I figured out that my adjunct teacher's salary amounted to less than $3.00 per hour. And that was before taxes.

It took a tremendous amount of time to prepare the classes, it took a tremendous amount of energy to deliver the classes, and it had become obvious that most of the students sat in the class scrolling through Facebook instead of listening.

I used humor and real-world examples, and I taught them news-writing concepts and principles only to see them turn in papers that loudly screamed, "I did not pay attention to one word you said in class."

I could not see what was on their computer screens, and I took the position that I was not their father. If they wanted to surf Facebook, they were all over 18 and could make that decision.

$28,000 a year is a LOT of money to spend on Facebook.

But on the days when one or two students would be involved, engaged, and speak up, it lifted me up. It felt as if I was reaching someone. Over there in the first row, there was one person who was making eye contact. That person would benefit, and would perhaps have a better start to their career because they were actually listening.

It doesn't take much to make a teacher happy. All you have to do is put in a little effort.

Ken Gullette Hippy Shirt 5-11-2016
On the last day of class, I told my students I would wear a psychedelic shirt from my college days in 1973. I made good on my promise.

The same is true in a martial arts class.

I have been teaching martial arts now for more than 21 years. My classes are very small now. I do not recruit new students very often. I am content to teach a handful, and as I do, I work on improving my own skills. I am not interested in teaching a large group unless it is a workshop.

There have been students through the years who will learn something in class and then show up the next class and I will ask, "Did you practice what we went over last time?" 

They shake their heads no. Work was too busy, or I didn't have time, they will say.

As a teacher, it is an empty feeling. 

If I spend my time and my physical and emotional energy showing up and teaching you, but you do not have the interest to carve out a little time each day to practice, it is a reflection on just how seriously you take the art, and how serious you take my time.

And then there is the student who practices, and he comes in, excited to show his own progress, get corrections and continue moving forward. He asks questions and describes any problems he is having with a movement or a technique.

In class, if you teach this student something new, and then you back off to let them practice it, they continue practicing it until you are ready to continue. He does not stop and stand around.

That is the type of student who makes a teacher happy to be alive, and excited about teaching.

The first martial arts class I enrolled in was in 1973. I went home that night and practiced the punches, blocks and kicks that we went over in class. At the time, I was a student at Eastern Kentucky University, living in Commonwealth Hall. I spent at least an hour each day doing punches or kicks in my dorm and doing my stepping, punching and kicking down the hallway, then back to my room, then over and over again.

In 1987, when I started in the internal arts, I was the father of two daughters and I worked as a TV news producer in Omaha, Nebraska. I found an hour a day to practice when I was not in class.

And after I started teaching in 1997, I practiced up to six hours a day on weekends, working and working to get better. When I visited my teachers, I wanted them to know that I was working on the material. And since I was teaching, I felt a certain pressure to be very good.

One of the students in my journalism class paid attention, spoke up, and came up to me after class with questions. When he walked in each day, he looked at me, smiled, and said hello.

Joe worked as a bartender at my favorite local Italian restaurant, Lunardi's. Months after the spring semester ended, I walked into Lunardi's to pick up a carry-out order and Joe was behind the bar. He was glad to see me.

"I just want to tell you how much I learned in your class," he said. "What you taught me is really helping me with the advanced journalism course I'm taking now. You are one of the best teachers I have ever had."

It would be difficult to describe how his comment lifted me up. I think I was beaming with pride and joy as I left the restaurant.

Being a good student -- in high school, in college, in a martial arts class -- is not necessarily about being the most highly skilled in your class.

Being a good student is about showing up and trying, and practicing the material outside of class. And not just practicing it, but thinking about the movements, principles and techniques. Slowing them down. Feeling it.

Studying martial arts is like a college class. The work you do outside of class is more important than the class itself. 

Being a good student is about valuing your teacher's time and effort by putting in some of your own.


Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Is Now On Google Play Music

You can now listen to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast on Google Play Music. 

Here is the link:

https://play.google.com/music/m/I4inhxqfaenree4ag4b7uyv2zam?t=Internal_Fighting_Arts__Learn_Real-World_Martial_Arts_Insights_from_Top_Instructors_of_Tai_Chi_-_Xin

On this podcast, you will hear the following types of guests:

** Top English-speaking internal arts instructors, most of them with close ties to top Asian masters

** Taoist priests, Zen masters and other philosophers

** People who have inspired us in our martial arts journey

** Martial artists who can shed light on issues of interest and controversy 

The podcast is also available on iTunes (Apple Podcasts), Audello, Stitcher, Podbean, and other podcast distributors.

I hope you will subscribe. The interviews take a real-world approach. It is a Woo-Woo Free Zone.

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45 Years in Martial Arts - Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Ken7545 years ago tonight, on September 20, 1973, I entered my first martial arts class in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.

It was the start of the Bruce Lee craze. "Enter the Dragon" had only been in theaters for a little more than a month and Bruce had only been dead for two months. "Kung-Fu" was a popular TV show. I loved David Carradine's show and I had seen "Enter the Dragon" half a dozen times. 

The crowd of new students that night spilled into the parking lot. I was 20 years old, a student at Eastern Kentucky University.

I had no idea that I would still be in the arts 45 years later, and that I would be working at it full-time after more than four decades.

I stayed in my first school long enough to earn a brown belt, then I began exploring, studying Taekwondo, Tien Shan Pai kung-fu, and discovered the internal arts in 1987. In 1991, I was working as news director of the TV station on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa, and was practicing in the gym when the coach of the ISU Boxing team, Coach Terry Dowd saw me and invited me to workout with the team. I was 39 and they sort-of adopted me. I trained with the boys for two years.

Ken-Gullette-Flying-Kick-1997-blogSince 1973, martial arts and Eastern philosophy have been an important part of my life. It has become part of who I am.

I'm pondering some of the lessons I've learned over the past 45 years. The martial arts attracts people with controlling personalities sometimes, and sometimes the arts attract people who want others to see themselves as mysterious, possessing supernatural powers. There are really great, caring people and also those who will lie about their backgrounds as they take your money. It attracts some people who think critically and others who will believe almost everything their teacher says. There are people who maintain their humility and there are others who troll the internet and Facebook and slam everyone they see.

But beneath all the noise are these self-defense arts. After 45 years I still think they are cool, fascinating, and I take them seriously but I still have as much fun practicing now as I did when I was 20, even though after all these years, losing a lung and developing a heart issue has made it a little more challenging.

45 years went by quickly. I hope to keep training, learning and improving for years to come.

Thanks for being part of my journey by reading this.


Stop the Insanity of Thinking Martial Artists Have to Take On a Trained MMA Fighter to Be Ready for Self-Defense

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-2It is a B.S. argument, but it is the current fad in martial arts discussions.

"If you can't take on an MMA fighter, your martial art is useless."

Nonsense.

Nobody trains all-out. Nobody trains realistically. It is mental masturbation to think that you do.

If you did train all-out, like a "real" fight, you and your partners would not train very long.

Unless you are in a full-contact fight with no rules at all, it is very difficult to defend the way you want to.

If a shooter comes in, I want to knee them in the face and strike down on the back of their neck with my elbow. If someone clinches, I want to bite a hole in their arm.

If anyone practiced realistically, in any martial art, we would all take turns going to the hospital.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-3We were practicing clinches last week, and we laughed at one point because one of the best defenses is to just reach over and gouge out your opponent's eyes. But we were working on techniques more fitting to our art and we were not hurting each other.

At one point, I asked my partner to put me in a choke hold. He did. I faked a bite to his arm to get the point across. 

In a real fight, if someone got me on the ground and wrapped a leg around my throat, he would be screaming when I bit a hole in his thigh. You think you are tough enough to take that pain? Not likely. 

You do not have to hurt anyone or be hurt, or defend yourself against a trained young MMA fighter. You can still be a good fighter and defend yourself or others when necessary.

I was in the Toughman Contest in 1991. I was 38 and my larger opponent was 25. I won my full-contact fight, but afterwards, there was a dull ache in the center of my brain from being punched that I had never experienced and could not pinpoint. The photos on this post show highlights. I am in the blue shirt.

It convinced me that full-contact fighting is for people who don't look very far down the road.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-4That does not mean we can't learn to defend ourselves or others, as I proved in that fight.

The macho guys who now say you have to fight a trained MMA fighter or you aren't a martial artist have my permission to damage their bodies and get all the concussions they want.

I'll watch and then go practice my skills without hurting anyone, and without hurting myself.


10-Year Anniversary of My Online Internal Arts School - Internal Fighting Arts

Internal Fighting Arts Logo 25010 years ago today, I launched my kung-fu membership website -- July 4, 2008. It had around 200 video lessons on it and some pdf documents.

I wanted to teach, but I was tired of the bricks-and-mortar school business model. And I was receiving emails from people who bought my VHS tapes and DVDs, asking how they could learn when there were no teachers nearby.

So I created the membership website.

10 years later, there are 830 video lessons, dozens of pdf documents to download, and step-by-step instruction in three internal arts of Chinese kung-fu -- Chen Tai Chi, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, plus Qigong and more. All of this is taught without the mystical mumbo jumbo and chi fantasy you see in so many other places. The website is at www.internalfightingarts.com. 

I have members worldwide, from Illinois to Shanghai, to Malaysia, Japan, throughout the UK and Europe. They pay a monthly fee to study and to get feedback from me through live coaching sessions via Facetime or Skype.

Tonight at 5:00 Central, I am doing a Facebook Live to give away DVD bundles or single DVDs to 10 members whose names I will draw.

This morning, I received an email from a member in Scotland, thanking me and Nancy and telling me that I am creating a "worldwide legacy."

I still don't think most of my friends and family understand what I do, or how I earn an income. It has been a labor of love for 10 years, and I have created it while going through some serious health struggles. Sometimes, it makes me laugh. Sometimes, the health issues slow me down. But we persist.

All the skills I learned in radio and TV news, plus PR and communications, I put to work for myself, instead of for other people. It is a little overwhelming at times, being a one-man business. I do all the content creation, editing, Photoshop, writing and marketing. It is also a total creative challenge. I have no committees to overrule my creative decisions, and no one to say, "Oh, we can't do THAT." 

As long as I am able, the website will continue to grow. It is truly a labor of love. I could not have done it without Nancy's help and support (she is also an excellent videographer). I also appreciate my local students, and all those who have been in my videos in exchange for training. Among those you see in the videos over the years -- Tom Revie, Sean Ledig, Colin Frye, Chris Miller, Kim Kruse, Justin Snow, Chris Andrews, Jay Stratton, and others.

Here's to 10 More Years!!

Try Two Weeks Free on My Website and Get Complete Access to Step-by-Step Training in Tai Chi, Xingyi, Bagua, Qigong and More Without the Mystical Mumbo Jumbo -- This Training Will Finally Teach You the Complete Arts, for Self-Defense, Fitness, and Meditation. Click Here and Get Complete Access Now!