Firing Up the Inner Gyroscope Once Again - Finding My Center in the Hospital

Ken Gullette in hospital
In my gown with my IV stand at the hospital.

I am writing a book on how the philosophies that I learned during the time I have studied martial arts have guided me through some of the storms of life. 

Last week, I found that I was living a new chapter.

After a break of a few years, I suddenly began coughing up blood on Friday, June 4. We're not talking about the type of coughing up blood that you see in the movies -- a fleck or two in a handkerchief.

When I cough up blood, it looks like someone was shotgunned in my sink. I put a picture up on a blog post around 2015. It was gross.

This began in 2009, after three laser ablation procedures on my heart, attempting to stop atrial fibrillation. Instead, the final procedure shut down my  left pulmonary veins, so no oxygenated blood goes from my left lung to the heart.

How my body has survived the past 12 years, I have no idea, but it hasn't been easy, and it has made martial arts quite a challenge -- only one lung, coughing up blood occasionally, and, to add insult to injury, I developed exercise-induced asthma.

So after three days of coughing up blood, last Monday my pulmonologist told me to get a CT scan. I walked into the hospital, got the scan, and they told me I was to be admitted because of pulmonary embolism -- multiple blood clots in the left lung.

I'm not a doctor, but I know that a blood clot in the lung is not a good thing, and multiple blood clots would be a worse thing.

I was worried that a clot could break off, go to my brain, and cause me to lose my ability to think. If that happened, I would probably start wearing a MAGA hat, or I might start believing in the no-touch knockdown, or I might try to heal you with my qi -- crazy $#!+ like that.

Nancy rushed from work and met me at the ER. I was taken to a room on the sixth floor of Genesis East in Davenport, Iowa. An IV was put into my right arm and they started a Heparin drip. Heparin is a blood thinner.

I thought blood thinners dissolved blood clots but they don't. They keep the clots from getting bigger, and the clots are absorbed into the body over a period of weeks or months. 

Hospital-2021-6
Looking out my hospital window after checking in.

When Nancy left to go home that evening, a rainbow formed outside. Now, I don't read anything supernatural into that, but it was pretty cool. I don't consider it a message from God. Bruce Lee, maybe, but not God.

For the next five days, I was in the hospital. From the start, my goal was to make the nurses laugh. I am always their easiest and most low-maintenance patient. 

But I am also a questioning patient. I don't leave my critical thinking skills at the door of the hospital. When a doctor or nurse says I need something, I ask questions.

One think I have learned over the years is this: you must be your own advocate, because doctors will make mistakes.

I don't want to give you the impression that I rolled through this without getting emotionally smacked around. It was a difficult week. I had been on a plateau for years without coughing up blood. I had a pacemaker installed a year ago and I have had other procedures, but I felt reasonably stable because I had not coughed up blood.

It was very difficult to find myself suddenly back in the hospital with a damned IV in my arm without Nancy.

But I held up pretty well, trying to remain centered and determined to get through it. Two days later, however, when I looked out my window and saw her walking across the parking lot to visit, the tears came, and when she entered the room, I hugged her and sobbed for a minute.

I am 68 years old, with one lung, an irregular heartbeat and a pacemaker, asthma, and I don't really think it gets better from here, does it? Seriously. I have survived and continued to pursue the internal martial arts for 12 years. My doctors have been amazed. And now this? 

Ken's arm after blood draws
My left arm after having blood drawn for five days.

It also didn't help that they were coming in every six or 12 hours to draw blood. You want to talk about centering yourself? If you stick me with a needle, I don't like it. One of the worst things about the hospital is that they are constantly sticking me with needles.

That evening, I tried to keep it together when Nancy said goodnight to go home, and after she left I had a talk with myself. I stood up and did Zhan Zhuang with the IV hose dangling from my arm.

Just breathe. Focus on your Dantien. Sink your energy. Establish peng. Become aware of everything around you.

Remain centered, I reminded myself. Just calm down, find your center, find your determination. Let's get through this. You have been through it before, you can do it again.

Some people misunderstand the concept of being centered. They believe if you are centered, nothing bothers you. No matter what happens, you remain emotionally calm.

They are wrong. Being a human being means you will experience a range of emotions, and if you lean toward Eastern philosophies as I do, you will continue to experience a range of emotions. You can be knocked down emotionally. You can be insulted, you can be hurt, you can be angry.

It is okay to be knocked off-balance, but when you suffer a tragedy or crisis, and you look inside yourself for the tools to survive and cope, what do you find?

When you find yourself off-balance, do you look outside of yourself for help (gods, other people, drugs, alcohol) or do you cultivate the ability within yourself to get back up and regain your balance?

That is what the philosophies of the martial arts, which I first encountered while watching the "Kung Fu" TV show as a teenager, have taught me.

Standing in my room, focusing on my breathing, my Dantien, and realizing I am part of all things made me feel balanced again.  

When you lie in a hospital bed without getting up, your strength leaves the body quickly, so I was taking walks a few times a day around the sixth floor, walking the circuit back to my room, and I noticed a lot of the doors had "Fall Risk" and other signs on them notifying nurses of various predicaments the patients were in.

I created my own sign and placed it on my door. "Tai Chi Risk: Patient prone to sudden calmness."

Within a few minutes of putting it on my door, there was a shift change and my night nurse, Adam, opened the door, laughed, gave the sign a thumbs up and walked away. Two or three other employees over the next few days laughed and commented on the sign.

I took a walk around the floor and told nurses I was the floor supervisor. They laughed. I cracked one-liners to lighten the mood. Dressed in my gown and rolling my IV stand, I told them, "I'm busting out of this joint." More laughter.

Hospital-2021-2One evening on my walk, a frail, elderly woman was in her bed, looking to the hallway. I waved to her and said hello. She waved back and said, "Hi." Sometimes, the elderly are treated like pieces of meat in situations like this, but I know that, like me, they are wondering how the hell they got here. They are thinking, "I was just 18 a moment ago, it seems, and now look at this!" They deserve kindness and respect.

"I hope you get out of here soon," I told her. 

"I hope you do, too," she said.

Doctors were waiting for my Coumadin level to increase before they released me. Coumadin is a risk for me because of my history of coughing up blood since my pulmonary veins closed in 2009. With thinner blood, the risk of bleeding is a real possibility.

I practiced tai chi one day in my room, in my gown with the IV hose dangling off my arm. Do you know how hard it is to do "Lazy About Tying the Coat" without getting tangled in the hose or without pulling the needle out of your arm? I did it very, very carefully.

I kept myself in shape all my life, never took drugs and did martial arts, and all this has happened. We all have to play the hand we are dealt, and if we are lucky enough to grow old, something is going to get us in the end. How we handle it is a test of our character and a test of our belief system.

By Saturday, the doctor decided to release me because the Coumadin level was high enough and it was on the way up. It would be where we wanted it by Sunday, and he told me to go in and get checked on Monday. 

Ken-Nancy-Home-from-Hospital-2021
Home with Nancy after five days!

I got home Saturday afternoon. The entire time I was in that hospital room, I realized how we sometimes take little moments for granted. What I most wanted was to be with Nancy in our basement with the dogs, sipping wine and watching the big screen. Well, I should word that differently. The dogs won't be sipping wine and watching the big screen, Nancy and I will.

I try not to take any moments for granted. But they slip by us anyway. They are here and they are gone. The moments pass and the weeks, months and years pass. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a place where all we want is to get one of those moments back.

I do not believe we encounter anything negative after death. If you subscribe to philosophical Taoism, death is the unknown, so there is no point worrying about it. But what makes sense to me is that we return to the same place we were in before we were born; a state of complete peace. 

If you remember, on the day we were born, none of us had any complaints about where we had been.

So I don't worry about dying. However, I am not in a hurry to get there. I have too much to enjoy -- Nancy, my daughters and grandchildren, my friends, the internal martial arts and my students, Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy movies, and every single moment of this life. As long as you don't stick me with a needle. I don't care for that, but I have found that I can bear it if I focus on my breathing and my Dantien.

How can you truly appreciate the good moments of life without the bad moments? It's all part of the journey. Enjoy the journey.

Remain centered, my friends.

-- by Ken Gullette


Some People Make You Want to Be a Better Person -- the Death of a Student and a Civil Rights Icon

Two amazing people with beautiful hearts left the world during the past two weeks.

I learned about the passing of Laralyn Yee the day before I watched the service for Congressman John Lewis.

Both of these people had beautiful hearts and they both lost brave struggles with cancer.

John Lewis
President Obama presented John Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

A lot has been written about John Lewis, so I will not focus on him very much, except to mention how people remember him as always being kind.

And Lewis fought all his life for the rights of others. He put himself in harm's way on that bridge to Selma, knowing he was going to be hurt by the racist officers waiting for the marchers. 

Later in life, he put his beliefs into action, and he put his heart into the task of helping others through legislation.

Lara Yee joined my website a few years ago and sent me a couple of emails on different topics. I did not realize she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her messages were always kind. She lived in California and had studied with some good teachers. She asked questions about the internal arts and I tried to answer them. She seemed genuinely pleased that I took the time to reply to her questions.

Then, last year, she contacted me to let me know that she only had five more months to live.

Laralyn Yee 2
Laralyn Yee being instructed by Tony Wong.

Before she died, she wanted to express to me her gratitude for my teaching. Her email was so wonderful that it filled my heart. The first paragraph of her message said:

"I've admired you so much, ever since I came across your online school a while back. Following a second cancer diagnosis in 2017, I became fascinated by and driven to study Chen style taijiquan, and was astonished by the depth and breadth of material available on your membership site! Your video lessons are incredible resources. Additionally, I was inspired from the beginning to model my practice on your example of overcoming tremendous health challenges in pursuit of kung fu excellence."

Then she told me she was dying, but was determined to continue studying as much as she could.

We exchanged several emails, discussing life, death, and our approach to our health challenges. I assured her there was absolutely nothing to fear about death.

But it struck me as the act of a beautiful heart for her to reach out to compliment me at a time when she was facing such a profound diagnosis.

With each message, her kindness and gentle spirit was evident. I discovered that I knew a couple of people who knew Lara, and they confirmed that she was, indeed, a compassionate and wonderful person.

After receiving her email, the kindness of her intent was in my own heart for days, and when I heard this week of her death, it sat heavy within me, and before I realized it, tears were in my eyes and rolling down my face.

Laralyn Yee 1
An example of the joy Lara brought to her taiji practice.

Someone I had never met in person had touched me, and I felt their loss deeply. One of the other students in one of her California classes said that Lara was truly a good person, and brought a joy and insatiable curiosity to taiji class.

One of Lara's taiji "sisters," Angela Ng-Quinn, says that Lara asked her to come up with a Chinese name for her. Angela chose a name that means "an intelligent and beautiful lotus." 

Isn't that nice?

The day after learning of her death, I watched some of the service for John Lewis. I listened as former president Barack Obama said that Lewis reminded us that, "In every one of us, there is the potential for courage."

We lost two courageous and kind people during the past two weeks. As I contemplated this loss, it made me realize that I still have work to do on myself. 

How will I be remembered? Will people mourn a little and then move on with their lives, or will my loss leave a void that is difficult to fill in their own hearts?

Everything we do each day, and every encounter we have with other people, builds this legacy. 

Isn't this what the internal arts should help us do? Isn't a connection to all things one of our goals?

It should be. We all fall short of our goals, but it's the attempt that counts.

John and Lara have found perfect peace now, and they have left behind feelings of warmth and kindness. John also leaves behind a legacy of someone who would put his life on the line for justice.

Is this the "meaning" of life? Did John and Lara live successful lives, even though one was famous and one was not?

I think they both definitely lived successful lives. 

I would write that we should all be so lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it. It is the way we treat others that builds that legacy. It is the actions we take on behalf of others, and the acts of reaching out to let others know they are valued.

In 2020, with so much negativity in the world, with our own friends fighting each other with words on social media over politics and race as we all try to survive a pandemic, there has never been a better time to learn from people like John and Lara.

Their courageous and kind lights have been extinguished, but we can be better people and carry the light forward. We can live successful lives, too.

If only we will.

-- by Ken Gullette


Yes You Can Learn the Internal Arts -- Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua -- Online

Zoom Session 1-2All of us think we look like Chen Xiaowang or Jet Li when we are doing forms and martial arts movements.

Often, we look like Charlie Chaplin instead.

When I started my online internal arts "school" in 2008, I thought certification would be part of the package. If you could show that you have learned the internal principles and movement, and do the forms and techniques well, you could receive certifications.

It turned out to be a lot harder than I expected.

It is really difficult to learn through video only, because most people do not have enough body awareness to translate what they are seeing on a screen into what their body should be doing.

Everyone needs a teacher to correct them, over and over again, until their muscle memory takes over.

For 12 years, I tried to solve this problem by having members do videos and either put them up privately on YouTube or send them to me. I would watch and I would shoot videos correcting their mistakes. 

I could see some progress in some people, but it was a labor-intensive process and it took a long time.

And then online video progressed, and Zoom, Skype and FaceTime got better and better as computer and phone speeds progressed.

And then Covid-19 hit, forcing a lot of us to do classes on Zoom.

I do a Xingyi class on Monday, a Taiji class on Wednesday and a Bagua class on Friday -- all live on Zoom, with website members from California to Texas to Sweden, Germany and Romania.

Member Coaching
Coaching a member of the website in a one-on-one Skype video session.

Besides the live Zoom classes, I also do live one-on-one coaching sessions with members of my website.

We have fun, we learn, and I see more improvement in members than I have since I began teaching online.

I am starting to send out certifications, and I am learning that this type of environment can produce quality results.

Achieving quality still takes a lot of work. I don't give certifications lightly. You don't "buy" a certificate just by joining. You must show you have achieved what you are after at that level, whether it is the five fist postures and Linking form of Xingyi, the Chen 19 form in Taiji, the Eight Main Palms form of Bagua., or whatever you are working on.

But I have seen that it can be done by people like Nikolaus in Sweden, Michael in Germany, Amir in Canada, Robert in Romania, or Michael in New Jersey.

A certificate of completion does not mean mastery. It is like a belt promotion in any martial arts school. It signifies that you have worked hard and shown basic competence. From there, it is the student's job to continue working to improve the form or technique, and it is the instructor's job to continue to guide the student toward improvement.

By the way, there are no fees for certifications on my website. And no additional cost for the live classes or one-on-one sessions. It is all included in the monthly website fee of $19.99 per month. Yes, I know, it seems very low. But my goal isn't to gouge anyone, it is to teach. I love it, and I am very happy that technology has finally allowed it to be a better opportunity for everyone, regardless of where they live on the planet.

--by Ken Gullette

Try Two Weeks Free of my website -- More than 900 Video Lessons PLUS Live Classes -- Cancel Anytime -- Click Here for More Info


Tai Chi Instructors Should Not Throw Their Pants in the Fire

 

James-Davenport
James Davenport, 1716-1757

Nancy and I watch the TV series "Billions," and last night one of the characters told the story of James Davenport, an evangelist preacher back in the 1700s in the American colonies. He traveled and held revivals and preached fire and brimstone, hell and damnation.

He said he could tell if someone was "saved" or not just by looking at them.

James Davenport became known for his "Bonfire of the Vanities." He would urge his followers to throw books and other material goods into the fire. He was once charged with disorderly conduct because of his behavior and was convicted in a Hartford, Connecticut court. His punishment was simply to be sent back to his hometown.

Davenport kept preaching and holding his bonfires, and he began encouraging his followers to also throw their fancy clothes into the fire. Fancy clothes, he said, was a false god, it symbolized their vanity and kept them away from God.

One night, in front of a group of followers, he took his own pants off and threw them into the fire.

A woman in the congregation grabbed the pants, pulled them from the fire, gave them back to Davenport and told him to get hold of himself.

This act by the woman broke the spell Davenport had over his followers, and they walked away. His behavior was simply too bizarre. He died in 1757 at the age of 41.

What does this have to do with Tai Chi and internal arts instructors?

I studied with an instructor that I really liked. and I tried to ignore some of the things he said about chi. He said we could read a person's aura and we could direct an opponent's chi over us so they could not attack us.

Okay, maybe you can and maybe you can't, I remember thinking. I'll just go with it and keep an open mind.

Then one night in class, he told us how he created his style. A disembodied Voice spoke to him in his room. He spoke with the Voice for three days and the Voice outlined his entire system of internal kung-fu.

I stood there, around 35 years old, and his words had the same impact as if he had thrown his pants into the fire.

Suddenly, I looked at him in an entirely new way. Why would someone insult the intelligence of these students, and me, a 35-year old professional journalist, by making this type of claim?

A few years ago, I was talking with another Tai Chi instructor who told me that all of the senior citizens in his class had their hair color change from grey to black by doing Tai Chi. 

He actually said this. And he was serious.

He might as well have thrown his pants in the fire.

You have to keep it real. There are people who are motivated to believe and to say very unusual things. Who knows what the motive is? It could be to build a reputation, or they honestly believe their stories, or they have an issue that you can't explain.

Keep a clear head and do not check your brains at the door of any martial arts school. Keep your wits about you when you read martial arts books, or watch videos. 

Question authority. And that includes martial arts instructors. That especially includes people who claim to have been "healed" by the internal arts, or claim to be able to heal others, or claim to have witnessed and felt supernatural things.

You don't have to be rude. Just ask a follow-up question or two. Make sure you understood them correctly, and then make a decision on just how fast you need to depart.

And if you are teaching, understand that there is a line you cross when you begin spewing fantasy. Some people will fall for it. Some people will give you a little slack for a while, but for a lot of us, your delusion lights a raging bonfire.

Keep your pants on.

--- by Ken Gullette

 

 


Flowing Around Another Kung-Fu Obstacle -- a Pacemaker

The image in this post (below) might be disturbing and is a bit personal. -- FYI.

Two weeks ago, a cardiologist put a pacemaker the size of a matchbox into my chest and ran wires down into my heart.

You have to go with the flow, right? 

Be water, my friend, right? Flow around obstacles and find your way.

I try to remain centered and be water, but this took me by surprise. My cardiologist and I had been talking about it for years, but the decision to do it was not made until about five days before we put the pacemaker in.

I still suffer from atrial fibrillation, also known as a-fib, and that causes my heart to beat erratically. Just sitting at my desk, or on the couch, my heart will suddenly jump from 60 beats per minute to 155 bpm, as if I am running the 100-yard dash. Then, after a few seconds it will drop to 70 beats per minute, and a couple of seconds later it will jump to 140 bpm. 

This can go on for hours. It makes me tired, and if I bend over, it makes me have to breathe heavy.

A-fib has been the number one obstacle in my life. When doctors tried to fix it three times in 2008, it cost me the use of my left lung.

But my heart has been beating in crazy, dangerous ways for the past two or three months, so the time came.

A pacemaker does not fix the erratic heartbeats, but it allows me to take medication to slow my heart rate and try to cut down on the rapid beating.

The pacemaker is there in case my heart beats too slowly as a result of the medication. If it beats too slowly, the pacemaker kicks in and provides a burst of electrical current to make the heart beat at the right pace.

In my hospital room before the surgery, I asked, "When can I practice Tai Chi again?"

"Today," he said. "We want you to move your left arm so you don't get a frozen shoulder."

I had no fear of getting a frozen shoulder. Then the rep from the pacemaker company came in to see me. Yes, the pacemaker company sends a rep in to talk with patients before the procedure. That must add to the cost of the machine!!

"When they put it under the muscle, the recovery is more painful," she said. "We want you to move your arm, but you will be surprised by how little you will want to move it."

She was right. 

They wheeled me into the operating room and kept me awake during the procedure, but they put a hood over my face and pumped me with enough goofy juice so that I could hear everything, and feel some things through the numbness, but I didn't care. I was in la-la-land, and that was just fine with me. 

A lot of pacemakers are placed under the skin. My doctor cut the muscle and placed it under the muscle. I could feel him poking and pushing and prodding it, pushing it down closer to my heart. I did not feel him running the wires, called "leads," down into the heart chambers.

The surgery lasted about an hour, then I was wheeled back to my room to shake off the grogginess.

Because of the coronavirus, Nancy was not allowed in the hospital with me, but she picked me up at the door.

It is surprising just how much your upper chest muscles work when you move your arms. After the procedure, they sent me home within a couple of hours. Moving my left arm caused the upper chest muscles to fire, and it was very painful for days.

So I took it easy and decided to let it heal as quickly as possible and not stress it. 

Nancy helped me tremendously, as she always does.

Ken Pacemaker Bruises 2020The bruising was surprising. It looked like someone had drawn a tattoo in a half-circle on my left pec, looking like someone had poured blood inside and filled it half to the top.

You can see the slice near the shoulder. That's where they put the pacemaker under the muscle. Below that, you see the red smudge closer to the heart. That's where they pushed the device. The bruising on the arm is just part of what happens when they cut into the muscle in the chest.

I now have a hump on that part of the chest. When I do heavy push hands and grappling-type throws with partners, I'll have to wear chest protection and make sure I don't take any hard hits or kicks to the pacemaker. Just one more adjustment to make as I get older. 

I taught my first class six days later, a live Zoom Xingyi class with members of my website from Texas to Sweden and Germany. 

I have taught my regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday Zoom classes since. 

After a little more than two weeks, I can now move my arm normally with no pain, and I'll do my live Bagua class at Noon today. 

I went in the week after it was installed. A technician with an iPad said, "Okay, I'm going to test your leads. You may feel your heart race when I hit this button."

She touched the screen of her iPad and I felt my heart race for a few seconds. It made me take an extra breath or two.

Damn! 

Then she hit another button and the heart raced again for a couple of seconds.

So they can control my heart with an iPad??

I hope Nancy doesn't get that app on her tablet. She might get a lot more out of me around the house.

In the end, this pacemaker may be a good thing and hopefully, I'll be able to practice more and teach even more. One of the reasons I haven't done more workshops in the past few years is the unpredictable nature of my health. Hopefully, this will help smooth things out a bit.

So we flow around the obstacles and find our way, like water.

At 67 years old, now with a pacemaker to catch my heart if it falls too low, it is time to keep pushing forward in these amazing arts. I don't think I'll be able to quit practicing until the heart completely stops. Hopefully, that is a few years away. 

--by Ken Gullette


Coronavirus Dangers Are All Around Us but It Is the Best Moment of Our Lives

Ken-Nancy-9-17-2017Nancy and I were sitting out on our screened-in porch a week ago, after watching more bad news about rising death tolls, infections and the economic toll of Covid-19. 

Nancy had been in tears several times over the past week or two, worried that she was going to bring the virus home from work and kill me. I am in a high-risk category -- 67 years old, one lung, a heart issue (a-fib) and asthma that has developed since I lost the lung. If I caught the Coronavirus, I would probably be toast within a few days. 

I have been watching a lot of network news and reading the Washington Post and New York Times because, as a former news guy, I want to keep up with it all.

So it was a mild spring evening and we were sitting on our porch with a glass of wine.

I turned to Nancy, looked her in the eyes and said, "This is the best moment of my life."

And I felt it.

You see, the question we should ask ourselves is not "What is the meaning of life?"

The question should be, "How can I make each moment of my life meaningful?"

My personal philosophy, based on philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, is that in every moment, no matter how horrible, there is always something to be treasured, to be enjoyed, and to give us pleasure if we will only find it and be open to it.

During the past 11 years, since my strong, muscular body decided that a lifetime of clean living wasn't enough to stop it from self-destructing, helped along the way by medical malpractice, pursuing my passion has been a challenge.

I have continued to improve in the internal arts. My movement is better and I understand more deeply than I did in 2009.

Physically, I have to stop and gasp for air quite often when I do athletic forms or movement or strenuous push hands or sparring for a couple of minutes.

But there are nights when I get ready for bed, look in the mirror and laugh. No, not for the reason you're thinking.

I laugh because despite the challenges, I'm still pushing forward.

Some days, my heart will go from 60 beats per minute to 155 beats per minute within a couple of seconds. A few seconds later, it will drop from 155 to 70 BPM, then back up to 140, then down to 65, then up to 150 -- and this will go on sometimes for hours.

But I love my life. I absolutely love it. I wouldn't trade it with anyone.

And so, even though my life is in serious danger with this invisible enemy floating around infecting us, I have felt very little stress. I try to live my philosophy every day.

It is not a philosophy that depends on another being or person to save me or to bring me happiness. I guess you could say it's a philosophy of personal responsibility. The farther you get outside of yourself, the farther you are from the answer you seek.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not ready to go. I am sheltering in place and I am washing my hands and avoiding touching my face. I'm centered, not stupid. 

Remaining centered is not just something I talk about when I discuss philosophy.

It is a crucial part of my mindset and my outlook on life. I have been through some serious stuff in my life. 

I give fear and stress no place to enter.

What is your personal philosophy? Can it help you ride through this storm without leaving you capsized in the waves?

Do you know how to live?

I love this part of the Tao Te Ching:

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers can find no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so? Because he has no place for death to enter.

This is not just philosophy. It is not just something to read in a book. It is a tutorial on how to truly live, even when danger, physically and economically, is all around you.

Don't you love this life?

-- by Ken Gullette


The Duality of Winning and Losing is a Mental Trap if You Love Martial Arts

Ken Gullette doing the high jump at Lafayette High School in1970
Ken Gullette doing the high jump at Lafayette High School in 1970.

When I was in high school, Paul Carter's dad used to come to our track meets. I was on the team and did the high jump. Paul's dad would always say hello and talk with me a little bit. It was Lexington, Kentucky, but he grew up in the rural part of the state. He was the type of friendly Southern guy you would expect to see in Mayberry, talking with Andy Griffith. 

One day Paul told me that his father enjoyed watching me high jump because, "He says whether you win or lose, you smile."

I enjoyed hearing that when I was 17. When I competed, I always wanted to do as well as I could, but I loved doing the high jump. I wasn't going to get a college track scholarship or anything. I wasn't a talented, gifted athlete, I just loved it.

A few years earlier in middle school, Coach Pieratt set out the high jump one day in gym class. None of us had ever seen it. He wanted each boy to try jumping 4 feet 10 inches. He explained to us how to jump doing the old Western Roll. The Fosbury Flop was so new, he didn't consider teaching it. He set the bar at four-ten and, one by one, each guy ran up and jumped, and knocked the bar off. 

My turn came. Let's see, you run up, jump off the left leg, throw your right leg over and then, when you are above the bar, kick your left leg to help propel your body over.

It seemed difficult. No other boys could actually clear the bar.

I ran to the bar, jumped, and landed on the foam rubber on the other side.

There was a gasp in the gym. I had cleared the bar by a mile.

"Well," Coach Pieratt said, "we finally found something Gullette can do."

Instantly, the Coach put me on the team. I did the high jump for the middle school track team and then for my high school, Lafayette.

Sometimes I won first place and sometimes I didn't. In the four years that I did the high jump, I never remember leaving a meet disappointed. I loved doing it, but I didn't think of winning or losing. I knew I was just an average high-jumper, and if a "natural" showed up, I wouldn't win.

When we compete in anything, we are trained to look at it in dualistic terms. If you don't win, you lose. But I never looked at it that way. I had fun. And whether I won or not, I smiled.

It's a shame we have to ruin activities we love by getting upset over winning and losing.

In 1974, I competed in my first martial arts tournament. At first, I let the macho "kick ass" attitude take over. Winning was everything. It wasn't much fun, because I didn't win first place until 1983. In 1988, at a tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, I was very upset when the judges ignored some very good points that I scored, and they gave the trophy to my opponent. It was not much fun.

By the time 1999 rolled around, I took a different approach. I started having fun. When someone would score on me, I would nod my head and say something like "Great kick," or "Good shot." If someone landed a good kick, I would look at the judges and say, "Yep, he got me." Or I would wobble back to my spot in a comical way, making the judges and spectators laugh.

I am not a naturally gifted martial artist, but I had fun. I won some, I lost some. But I became known for my skill AND my sportsmanship.

According to Zen philosophy, our intellect sets up duality of thinking -- right and wrong, pretty or ugly, hot and cold, good and evil, winning and losing.

We become trapped in a "this or that" mentality.

But an enlightened person rises above intellect; rises above duality of thinking.

Now, in 2020, the unenlightened person thinks, "You have to be training to kill someone or you're a pussy. If you can't defend against an MMA fighter, your art is useless!"

My advice is to rise above that type of chatter. It comes from people who don't understand that once you develop self-defense skills, there are many other reasons to train.

I'm 67 years old now, and so far, I have not been attacked by an MMA fighter on the street. I doubt it's going to happen. 

My favorite part of the arts is to unlock self-defense applications within the movements and to learn how to flow with a partner in creative, effective ways.

Some of the best things I have learned have happened because I "lost," when a training partner or tournament opponent landed a good shot on me. 

My attitude is, "Thank you for that. I did something wrong there, and now I can learn to do better."

Invest in loss. Even in losing, we can win especially if we learn. There is no losing because if you learn, you win.

And above all, love what you do. Don't let the duality of other peoples' thinking trap your mind. The next time someone asks, "Did you win?" you should reply, "Yes. I learned how to improve." 


Real Self-Defense Requires Fire and Fury, Not Punch and Stop

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-2-AHave you ever done any point-sparring with partners or in a tournament?
 
You score a point and the action stops while judges decide who wins the point. Then the action resumes.
 
When you think about real self-defense on the street, how do you think that will go? Do you think you will just throw a punch or a kick and it will be over?
 
Do you think your opponent will be four or five feet away, in punching or kicking range?
 
Probably not. You might not even know he is going to attack until he is on top of you.
 
And that's why your mindset, and some of your training, needs to prepare yourself for "shock and awe."
 
Instead of looking at self-defense applications as this technique or that technique, part of your training really must focus on going a little crazy.
 
I do this on my Bob training dummy. I just start raining strikes on him, flowing as fast as I can from a punch to an elbow to a palm strike to a forearm strike to another punch.
 
BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!!
 
It also helps when you get a live partner and pad up -- head gear, face masks, gloves, feet, chest protectors -- and go at it in a flowing but creative and UNORGANIZED way.
 
Ken-Gullette-Toughman-5Don't stop striking. Flow around what your partner is throwing and strike him, over and over with every weapon at your disposal. Bump him. Defend and strike at the same time by taking advantage of the openings he creates when he tries to hit you.
 
Every time your opponent moves to strike you, he gives you an opportunity.
 
Too many of us think that one technique will do it, but we need to develop the mindset that our bodies will explode and rain fire and fury upon someone who intends to do us harm "on the street."
 
Now, I am going to be 67 years old in three weeks. I do not expect to be in a fight again in my lifetime. But it is not out of the realm of possibility. It could happen, or I could see someone being harmed and I could step in to stop it.
 
Make sure you don't just practice for a "one and done" situation. You should be prepared to use your art -- Taiji, Xingyi or Bagua -- in a controlled but "furious" way if the situation demands it.
 
But it starts with practicing the right way and having the right mindset for real self-defense.
-- by Ken Gullette
 
Check out my website - www.internalfightingarts.com -- and get 900 step-by-step video lessons for TWO WEEKS FREE!

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.


Receive a Weekly Internal Training Tip - Join Ken's Email List

Internal Fighting Arts Logo 250Each week on Friday I send an email with a valuable training tip that can transform your practice of Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, or Qigong.

I try to keep it focused on one tip that can help move your training forward.

I also use it to keep everyone updated on new DVDs, new books, and new videos.

Use this sign-up form to add your name and receive this email. 

I will not be obnoxious about it. You will not be pelted with constant emails, and your information will never be sold or given to anyone else.

Sign up today, try it for a week or two, and unsubscribe if you think it isn't helpful (but I try very hard to make it helpful).

Click this link to sign up!