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


What Sean Connery and James Bond Taught Me About Fighting

Sean ConnerySean Connery passed away at age 90. The news swept across the world today, and if you are a man in my generation, it's a sad day.

My mother would not let me see a James Bond movie until the fourth Bond film "Thunderball" came out in late 1965. We were very conservative Christians, and she thought the movies were sinful because they showed drinking and (gasp!) sex between men and women who were NOT MARRIED!

She thought I would burn in Hell if I ever saw a James Bond movie.

But by the time "Thunderball" came out and I was nearly 13, she relented. My buddy Ed McCaw and I went to see it at a theater in downtown Lexington. We walked in during the long scene when the atomic bomb was stolen from the downed plane. We stayed all the way through the movie the second time through. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I thought Connery was the coolest man who ever lived. The way he walked, the way he talked, and the slightly sarcastic, confident sense of humor had a big impact on me.

But the way James Bond fought in those early films also had an impact.

When Sean Connery played 007, he often found himself against much stronger, tougher opponents, but his resourcefulness often helped him win the fight. Whether he was fighting Oddjob in the vault at Fort Knox, "Red" Grant on the train in "From Russia, with Love," or the Japanese martial artist in "You Only Live Twice," he found a way to win.

You Only Live TwiceOne of the radio commercials used in the summer of 1967 to advertise "You Only Live Twice" went something like this: "They rush him from all sides. FIFTY karate experts whose hands can slice through rock. The odds...FIFTY to one. THEY haven't got a CHANCE." Listen to the original radio ad here.

Oh, man. I still get cold chills listening to that radio ad.

As a kid, and as a young teenager, I was often the target of bullies. For some reason, they were attracted to me like fat to a mother-in-law, but they made a big mistake when they pushed me to the point when I could not walk away.

They did not realize they were picking on a guy who enjoyed fighting. I always tried to avoid it, but if I could not avoid it, once the fight started I considered it the ultimate one-on-one competition. It was the ultimate sport. I never lost a fight in my life.

And from watching James Bond movies in those days, I realized that the better, stronger fighter does not always win. Usually, the smarter fighter wins.

The second-to-last real fight I had was when I was 17 years old in high school. A guy named Charlie wanted to fight. The disagreement started in Mr. Fife's geography class and we took it to the boy's restroom there in the Stone Building at Lafayette High School. 

It was a very small restroom and we faced off.

Charlie hauled off and punched me in the jaw. My head exploded in pain, and sparks seemed to burst in front of my eyes like fireworks.

It was clear that he was a much better puncher than I was.

So I moved in, clenched with him, and slammed him into the side of a stall.

How would Sean Connery handle this, I thought. Well, since he appeared to be a better boxer, I would stop him from being able to punch me.

I threw him to the ground.

He tried to get up, but before he could reach his feet, I slammed him to the ground again.

Each time he tried to get up, I slammed him into the wall or back to the ground.

Finally, exhausted, he gave up. We went back to our classes. I won the fight.

The moment I walked out of the restroom, I thought, "Sean Connery would be proud of that one."

Self-defense is a lot more than physical strength or even technical skill. Often, it is about awareness, not being there, and if you can't escape the fight, it's also about how you can use your surroundings or items you can pick up.

And it is about keeping your cool at all times. Or, as I learned in the internal arts, remaining centered at all times.

Tonight, I will raise a glass to this fine actor. I have watched his Bond movies countless times. I have them all on Blu-Ray and catch them when they pop up on cable channels. He will always be an inspiration to me in many ways.

I salute you, Sean Connery. The bullies who picked on me might have other feelings, however.

--by Ken Gullette


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

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

On a Saturday morning in early 1998 I drove to their home in Rockford, Illinois, about two hours from my home, to find out what some of these "body mechanics" were that I had recently read about in an internet chat room -- terms like "ground path" and "peng jin."

Jim worked with me for an hour, explaining the difference between the Yang style Taiji I had studied up to that point and the Chen style that he was studying and teaching.

In one hour, I knew I had to start over. What I had been studying was empty. It was based on "chi cultivation" and not on body mechanics.

After 25 years in martial arts and more than a decade in the internal arts, I couldn't find my kua with both hands. This was a problem, considering I had a "black sash" and was already teaching. My students and I were already making a splash at area martial arts tournaments. Now, my style of Taiji had to change.

For the next few years, I drove regularly to Rockford to study with Jim and Angela. They introduced me to Ren Guangyi and Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, who they hosted for workshops.

Kua PosterMy career up to that point had been in the news industry as a reporter, news director, anchor and producer. Every day, I tried to explain news stories and events in an understandable way. A complex story had to be broken down so the general public could make sense of it. As the reporter or story writer, I had to understand it, too.

That is how I approached my teaching of the internal arts. As I began learning the internal concepts, often in a roundabout way, I asked myself how I could explain it to my students and to myself in a way that made sense.

Over time, I broke the body mechanics down into six main concepts that beginning students needed to at least know about:

One -- The Ground Path -- If someone pushes against any part of your body, they must feel as if they are pushing into a steel rod that is connected to the ground. That needed to be maintained through all movements.

Two -- Peng Jin -- An expansive quality in your body and limbs that works with the Ground Path to give your relaxed movements an internal strength that is not evident on the outside.

Three -- Whole-Body Movement -- When one part moves, all parts move, and your internal strength unfolds like a ribbon from the ground through the body. All styles talk about this, but it is clear when watching even Taiji people that many do not achieve it.

Four -- Opening and Closing the Kua -- The crease at the top of the legs, along the inguinal ligament, acts as a buoy in the ocean. Used properly, it helps you adjust to incoming force and rebalance yourself.

Five -- Dantien rotation -- They say the "Dantien (sometimes spelled Dan T'ien) leads all movements," but I believe all movements start with the ground and the Dantien is part of what leads the internal strength along the ground path.

Six -- Silk-Reeling Energy -- The word "energy" can be misleading. It means "method" in this context. Silk-Reeling energy is a method of spiraling the body, from the ground through the limbs, that helps provide additional power to your movements. I teach the Silk-Reeling exercises to guide my students on the proper way to combine all six of these concepts into their movements.

When students begin learning from me, the first thing they learn are these six body mechanics, and from there, they study the art they want -- Chen style Taiji, Xingyiquan or Ba Gua Zhang. On my website, there is a section devoted to many videos breaking down these skills, and I also teach them in my Internal Strength DVD and Silk-Reeling Energy DVD.

As you continue learning, there are many other concepts and skills to be learned, but in my experience, a lot of students are just kind of thrown into classes and simply follow the teacher for a long time, as they slowly develop a sense of what they are trying to achieve.

I believe it is much more difficult to reach your destination without a road map. Understanding these six principles and how they factor into your movement and self-defense applications will be a revelation, like firing up a brand new updated GPS device.

Punch Ground 2If you read this list and do not understand how to translate these into your internal movement, save some time and check out either the DVDs above or my membership website at www.InternalFightingArts.com

Here is a true fact about many internal arts teachers: It is a lot easier to pretend to be teaching something mystical than it is to put in the hard work required by the internal body mechanics that produce real quality.

My goal in teaching is to cut years off the time it takes someone to go from novice to skilled by providing information that I did not have for decades as I tried to feel my way through the thick jungle of misinformation, hacking through the tall weeds of mysticism and magical chi powers in search of something true. I am still learning.

Internal energy, and the relaxed power of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua comes from good body mechanics, not mysticism. If you don't fully understand the principles you should be working on, the road ahead is much longer and much more expensive.

-- by Ken Gullette

 


We Lost an Important Critical Thinker: James Randi Dies at Age 92

James RandiJames Randi has passed away. He was a magician and a critical thinker who inspired many of us as he debunked supernatural BS, including chi powers. He had one million dollars in escrow that he offered to anyone who could prove, in a double-blind setting, that they could perform any supernatural acts that they claimed to do.
 
Richard Mooney was one of the martial artists who claimed to knock people down without touching them. He was featured in a martial arts magazine many years ago now, with photos showing his students falling to the ground without being touched.
 
Mooney tried to claim Randi's million dollars, but it was a double-blind test. Around 18 people were chosen, and none of them knew what Richard was going to do. One by one, they stood behind a screen as Mooney tried to knock them down without touching them. None of them even flinched.
 
In a double-blind trial, video of the event was given to judges who also did not know what Mooney was attempting to do. The judges decided that nothing really happened. Mooney did not get the money.
 
Randi inspired me to offer $5,000 to any "chi master" who could knock me down without touching me. I have challenged several of these people, and even though they willingly take the money of students, and they charge money to give workshops, they refuse to accept my challenge.
 
Ironic, isn't it?
 
I challenged Mooney before I knew he had failed at the Randi Challenge. I told him I did not believe he could knock people down without touching them, and I would drive down to his school to see if he could do it to me. He replied with some rude emails. That isn't what you would expect from someone who had tapped into the secret of the Universe, is it?
 
Mooney's failure at the Randi Challenge was supposed to be kept quiet, according to an arrangement with the Randi Foundation, but word leaked out a long time ago.
 
Mooney isn't the only one who failed James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge, and he is not the only one of these martial arts "masters" who has turned me down. 🙂 He was just one of the first. Many of the people I challenged sent rude or insulting replies. The business manager of one "master" said he was coming to "test" my skills. He said he wanted to do push hands. I told him it would be no-holds-barred fighting. He didn't show up. Imagine that.
 
Nancy and I wanted to meet Randi, but ran out of time. He inspired many people to think more critically, and to not believe everything someone in authority tells you, ESPECIALLY if he is a martial arts "master."
 
Don't check your brains at the door of a martial arts school, my friends.
 

How to Embarrass or Insult a Teacher When You Do Not Observe Martial Etiquette

Etiquette 2When I was growing up and got a little rowdy at the dinner table, my mother would bark, "Kenny! Mind your manners!"

I grew up in the South back in the 1950s and Sixties. We were raised to be polite and have good manners.

I have found that manners in martial arts can be a bit tricky. And depending on who you study with, you need to think from a different cultural perspective.

In a recent podcast interview, Chen Taiji instructor Nabil Ranne of Germany explained how he violated martial arts etiquette during an early conversation he had with his teacher, Chen Yu.

He asked Chen Yu how many times each day should he practice the form that some of us call Laojia Yilu but is also known as "Old Frame First Form," or "First Road."

Chen Yu replied, "Five times a day."

Nabil says he responded to Chen Yu by saying something like, "But your grandfather said you should do thirty routines per day."

Later, when Nabil understood more about martial etiquette, he realized and regretted his mistake.

By responding to Chen Yu as he did, in Chinese culture he was telling Chen Yu that either Chen Yu was wrong, or that his grandfather was wrong.

Listen to the interview with Nabil by following this link.

Nabil realized, as he became more aware of Chinese customs, that this was very impolite. Chen Yu took it well, but not all Chinese masters would. Sometimes, they give Westerners some slack because they realize Westerners do not know their culture.

Americans Are Often Unaware

We have a tradition in the United States; we think we can ask anything of anyone.

If the President of the United States stood before us, our culture says you can ask him just about anything you want to ask.

I have personally interviewed Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and more than one governor and congressman. I have interviewed celebrities such as Michael J. Fox, Barry Manilow, Pete Rose and Rick Nelson, among others.

We ask about their personal lives and their public lives. That expectation, of having free speech and asking pointed questions, and also asking about discrepancies in things they have said in the past, is part of our culture.

We have to suppress this urge when we deal with Chinese masters.

Your Teacher at the Moment is Your Only Teacher

I study with two or three different teachers currently. I recently joined a Zoom class, said good morning to the teacher on gallery view, and one of the other students said, "Ken Gullette! I'm going to buy a couple of your DVDs this week!"

My first reaction was surprise and pleasure. My second reaction was embarrassment.

When I show up to someone else's class, I am a student. I am there only to learn and improve my skills. I am there to support the teacher, not to promote myself.

The teacher was very gracious and said, "Ken does good work!" But I was mortified.

I am not there to talk about my teaching or to compare what I do to what the teacher does. I am not there to discuss the differences in what this teacher shows compared to what I have learned from someone else. I am there to absorb knowledge and improve my skills.

After the class, I sent the teacher an email and apologized, and the teacher reacted very graciously.

My Teacher Says......

If you are a teacher, you inevitably will have a new student who has studied other arts.

Often, the student will begin by explaining the different arts he has studied and the teachers he has studied with.

Some people call me about my membership website and they spend 15 minutes right off the bat telling me about their other arts and other teachers.

Perhaps they do this because they don't feel worthy. Perhaps they are trying to convince me that they will be a good student.

The best thing they can do, however, is just to begin studying and learn.

It is usually true that when someone begins listing all the arts they have studied, the longer the list, the more likely it is that they have no skills at all. I have seen it over and over during the past 23 years of teaching.

They don't realize how, in their first lesson with me, their minds are going to be blown.

Empty Your Cup

I have had students who enroll in face-to-face classes, and in their first lesson, they go on and on about how "their" school did it.

Empty CupOr you will show a principle or technique, and they will talk about how "their" teacher showed it.

Sometimes, I will stop them and say, "Okay now, it's time to empty your cup."

You know that old Zen parable, don't you?

A student wanted to learn Zen and approached a Zen master. The student talked on and on about what he knew about Zen.

The master calmly listened, then, as the student kept talking, the master gave him a teacup and began pouring some tea. As the student continued talking, the master kept filling the cup until the hot tea flowed out and spilled onto the floor. The master continued to pour until the student realized it.

"What are you doing?" the student asked. "Can't you see that my cup is full?"

The master replied, 'Exactly. You must first empty your cup in order to taste MY cup of tea."

Most teachers will cut you some slack, but if you are a student, it is something you should remember.

If you tell any teacher, "But my teacher taught me to do it another way," that teacher would be forgiven if they responded with, "Well, then go study with your other teacher, because you obviously don't need what I am teaching."

Martial arts etiquette would suggest you approach your question another way. 

I have studied with teachers who do movements differently than I see their teachers performing it. I don't generally ask them why they do the move differently than their teacher does, but I do try to understand what the intent of the movement is. As long as the explanation is good, and the application makes sense, differences are fine.

The beauty of the Chinese internal arts is that students very often look different than their teachers. Most people add their own artistic flair to movements as they progress and get older.

I recommend that you definitely remember two things:

  1. Do not compare your teacher at that moment with another teacher;
  2. Do not say, "My teacher told me....."

Rather than talking about how your other teacher taught, just talk about the movement. Ask your question. Leave other teachers out of it.

And if you see me on another teacher's Zoom class, and you want to talk about my DVDs or website, just send me a private message or email. It will "save face" for everyone.

We all have more to learn. I have made mistakes with Chinese culture, too. I have a lot to learn about it.

But we learn and grow. As I tell my wife Nancy, who happens to be my third wife, "I only make the same mistake twice."  

Mind your manners.

---by Ken Gullette

 


Treating Early-Stage Covid-19 Patients with Traditional Chinese Medicine - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Dr. Stephen Jackowicz

Covid-19Can Traditional Chinese Medicine help patients who test positive for Covid-19?

Dr. Stephen Jackowicz, the chair of the doctoral program at the University of Bridgeport's Acupuncture Institute has treated more than 90 patients in the early stages of Covid-19, all of them testing positive and some of them very ill.

None of the patients progressed to the point of hospitalization. 

It is important to note that Dr. Jackowicz does NOT claim a cure. Using over-the-counter products that anyone fighting virus symptoms needs (Tylenol, Kaopectate, Ensure or Glucerna, etc.) and courses of herbal medicine using TCM practices, he says patients recover faster than without this treatment.

He is the interview in my latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast. It will be of interest to other TCM providers, regular medical doctors and nurses, and anyone concerned about the virus that has changed all of our lives in 2020.

I am a skeptic when it comes to TCM. I think a lot of claims are made that cannot be supported with solid medical evidence. Dr. Jackowicz does not make those claims. I would not have done this interview if he did.

This is episode 52 of the podcast. Listen or download through the player below, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or other podcast distributors.

I think you will find this interesting and informative.

 


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

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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