The Young Monk and the New Year's Resolutions

Zen Buddhist Young Monk 1 SmallFrom the upcoming book, "A Handful of Nothing."

The day after the young monk visited the village during the Spring Festival, he was sweeping the hallway near the monastery’s kitchen, trying to remain mindful of his chore, but his mind kept turning to the new year approaching. He knew that people looked ahead to the new year and set goals for personal achievements, but this was not something he had ever done.

The old master emerged from the kitchen with a cup of tea.

“Master,” the monk said, leaning his broom against the wall, “is it wrong to set goals for a new year?”

“What goals would you like to set?”

After thinking a moment, the young monk said, “Success. Enlightenment. Those would be my goals for the new year.”

The master took a sip of tea. “As long as the goals are set mindfully, I would encourage you to align them with your values. The goals should not be pursued with attachment or ego-driven desires.”

“Is a goal of success ego-driven?”

“I would answer your question with a question. What are your daily activities now?”

The monk said, “I meditate, eat, help maintain the monastery, and seek to develop my compassion and kindness, living in the moment, realizing my connection to all things, experiencing life as it unfolds.”

“And what will you do when you find success?”

The monk’s eyes widened. Slowly, he said, “I will meditate, eat, help maintain the monastery, and seek to develop my compassion and kindness, realizing my connection to all things and experiencing life as it unfolds.”

The old master’s face widened in a smile and the young monk was enlightened.

"And now, I am going to work on the only goal I have set," said the master.

"If I may ask, what is your goal?"

"To enjoy this cup of tea," the master said with a smile as he walked toward the garden.

--by Ken Gullette


A Parable: The Zen Master and the Tree

Monk and the Tree 3-800pxIn a serene Zen Buddhist monastery nestled among mist-covered mountains, a young monk approached the master, his heart heavy with defeat.

He had striven for years to understand the nature of the mind, yet enlightenment eluded him, and recent personal tragedies had further clouded his path.

The elderly master led the young monk to a garden where a single tree stood. This tree, once vibrant and full of life, had been struck by lightning, leaving it scarred and half-destroyed.

The master pointed to the tree and asked, "What do you see?"

"A broken tree, master, damaged by misfortune," the young monk said.

"Look closer," said the master.

The monk stepped closer to the tree and examined the trunk. He noticed new shoots emerging from the scars, reaching delicately toward the sky.

"This tree, struck by lightning, faced its own form of tragedy," said the master. "Yet, it persists, finding a way to grow anew amidst its scars. Its branches may be fewer, but each leaf now basks in the sun's embrace with greater strength."

The young monk's eyes widened. 

The master continued, "In life, every one of us encounters moments of tragedy and defeat that scar us deeply. Yet, like this tree, our true nature is not in the tragedy, but in how we rise and grow from the damage of our experiences. What we seek, young monk, is not to avoid all damage. Instead, we seek to embrace each tragedy and defeat as a chance to rise stronger."

The young monk was enlightened. He thanked the master and walked from the garden, contemplating the root, the internal strength, that would allow him to grow anew.


Byron Jacobs' Book "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit" is a Must for Your Xingyi Quan Library

Dragon Body Tiger SpiritI have known Byron Jacobs for several years now, and I have been a member of his Mushin Martial Culture site on Patreon. He is a truly authentic instructor of Xingyi Quan. He lives in Beijing and is a disciple of DI Guoyong. When Byron published his book this year, "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit," I was expecting a good book because of his deep experience and clear-eyed view of Chinese martial arts. The result, however, is the best Xingyi Quan book in my martial arts library.

As Byron describes it, "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit" is "a translation and explanation of the classic texts of Xingyi Quan." He has collected the main writings considered to be Xingyi Quan "classics." Each chapter focuses on a particular classic, including a brief overview of a section of text in traditional Chinese characters. This is followed by a translation of the text. And finally, Byron provides his own commentary on the text. A lot of very good information is obvious in the translations, but it's Byron's commentary that brings each section to life, providing context and the correct way to interpret the information in your Xingyi practice.

I have been practicing Xingyi for 36 years, and teaching for 26 of those. I have won numerous tournament competitions with Xingyi. But I am always open to information that helps in understanding the mechanics, body method and applications of the art. I approach Xingyi, just as I do Taiji and Bagua, as a fighting art. One of the concepts of Taiji as a fighting art is to "yield and overcome." I love Taiji as a fighting art, but I also love Xingyi because it doesn't yield, it simply overcomes. A Xingyi Quan fighter has the eye of the tiger, and when he pounces, he will not be defeated. It is not in his nature to be defeated. That is the mindset of the art. The Monkey form, for example, teaches techniques and movements that "surprise, shock and overwhelm an opponent," according to the book, and it's a perfect description.

The Xingyi that I was taught and have been teaching has a lot in common with the art Byron learned from Di Guoyong, but there are stylistic differences in almost all the various styles of Xingyi, Taiji and Bagua. I try not to focus on the stylistic differences but focus instead on the body mechanics, principles and body method. 

One way I judge a martial arts book is these two questions: did I walk away from the book with new information that can make me better at my art? Does it help me understand my art better? The answer for this book is yes. The writing is clear, the context is clear, and Byron's commentaries are straightforward and based in real-world experience. He illuminates the principles and methods of the art.

After reading the chapter on the Seven Fists, for example, two of my students and I had a great practice working on using the elbows in relation to the concepts of Splitting, Drilling, Crushing, Pounding and Crossing. The Seven Fists of Xingyi Quan include the head, shoulders, elbows, fists, hip, knees, and feet. 

Some of the classics translated and explained in the book, in addition to the "Seven Fists," include "The Five Element Poems," "Yue Fei's Nine Essential Requirements Treatise," "Cao Jiwu's Key Extracts of the Ten Methods," and the "Twelve Animal Poems," among others. I found each one interesting, and I wore out a yellow highlighter as I went through the book, because I didn't just read it. I studied it.

The book also includes biographies of noted Xingyi Quan instructors, starting with the semi-legendary Yue Fei and ending with Di Guoyong.  

I have read other translations of Xingyi Quan classics in the past. They all have something to offer. You can't expect to learn an art like this from a book, so this book won't teach you Xingyi Quan. But if you have or are currently studying Xingyi, "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit" is a book that will increase your knowledge, inspire your practice, and I believe it will be a reference Xingyi practitioners like me will be consulting for a long time to come. 

Last week, I interviewed Byron about the book for the next edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. I am in the process of editing and it will be online this week. I'll replace this paragraph with a link to the podcast when it is ready.

by Ken Gullette


Ken Gullette Shows You How to Be a Chi Master and Ignite Paper by Focusing Your Qi Energy

I was listening to a podcast last week when I heard a well-known Tai Chi teacher say there are chi masters in Asia who we have seen ignite paper with their Qi. Some other fantastic claims were made on the interview. 

Here is the truth: noboby can ignite paper with their Qi. 

Some charlatans pretend they can ignite paper with their Qi. But it's a trick.

When an adult goes to a magic show, and a magician saws a women in half, and you see the woman's body being separated, and then in a moment the body is reconnected and the woman is walking off the stage, no rational adult walks away telling everyone, "Did you know you can be sawed in half and then you can be reconnected? I saw it happen!" 

If you tell them, "Hey, man, that's just a trick," the believer will say, "You just don't understand. You have to open your mind!"

Nobody with an ounce of intelligence says that after seeing a magic show. What they actually say is, "I'd like to know that trick."

However, demonstrate a magic trick and call it "Qi powers" (or Chi Powers) and you will have millions of people believing it. 

When I heard this Tai Chi teacher talk about igniting paper with Qi as if it were true, I decided to show you how it is done. Here is my video. Enjoy and please share this with those unfortunate souls who have lost their critical thinking skills. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Let me show you how to focus your chi energy, and then I will teach you step-by-step how you, TOO can be a chi master.


Setting Ego and Tribalism Aside to Work, Play and Learn with Martial Artists of Other Styles

Ken Gullette and Chris Lorenzen ground-fighting.
I'm on the ground with Chris, getting an education.

I love it when martial artists of different styles come to my practices. I like to compare notes, concepts and body mechanics with other martial artists. It's also fun to see how Taiji, for example, handles someone from other arts.

Yesterday, my friend and former student Chris Lorenzen came to practice with me, Justin and Colin. Chris is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has been training the art with intensity for the past three years, including some success at BJJ tournaments. He was 16 when he was my student (around 2001 and 2022). He was a natural, and won first-place trophies in almost every competition he entered at regional tournaments. And he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.

Before he arrived, we were working on escapes from joint locks. In a self-defense situation, you don't go in with a plan to use chin-na against an opponent, but you should be ready to apply a joint lock when the opportunity arises. 

Equally important is to become "sensitive" enough to realize when an opponent is putting you into a joint lock.

Justin Snow and Chris Lorenzen
Justin and Chris working it out on the floor.

Our philosophy is to "spiral out of that s#!t." It's one of our primary goals of self-defense. When someone is trying to lock you, spiral out of it.

We showed Chris some of this, but when a guest comes to our practices, we also want to "feel" his art.

My favorite thing against a ground-fighter is to see how Taiji concepts can keep him from taking me down. Can I apply the ground, peng and use sensitivity well enough to feel where he's applying pressure? Can I empty at the right time to put him off-balance, and can I feel where his center is moving so I can keep him from taking me down? That's a lot of fun when you try it against someone who is skilled, but who doesn't know what to expect like your own students do. And it's also fun because I don't know what to expect from him like his regular training partners do.

But we also want to experience what it's like to be on the ground with a Jiu Jitsu fighter. Chris showed us one-by-one what happens, and if you aren't a ground-fighter, it's interesting to see how he can use the feet, the legs, and roll into positions that makes his opponent vulnerable to a painful lock or a choke.

I love it. Even at 70, with one lung and a-fib, I enjoyed getting on the ground with Chris even though I don't have the lung capacity to work in that situation for more than two or three minutes. It's still a great education.

You can have a lot of fun and learn interesting things about yourself and your art if you try not to pee on trees when someone from a different

Colin Frye and Chris Lorenzen
Chris says to Colin, "This is how I do an ankle lock."

martial art is around. Put the tribalism aside and empty your cup. Some of your assumptions about the effectiveness of your own art can be wrong, or, with a minor adjustment, can be right.

It was the second time Chris has visited our practices. I invite martial artists of all styles to come by. Nothing is ever lost except self-delusion. I think a lot is gained by comparing notes and concepts with good martial artists who can also rise above one-upmanship. We all learn and improve our skills as a result.

--by Ken Gullette 

 

 


Having Kung Fu Conversations with Podcast Hosts Owen Schilling and Randel Davis

KungFu Conversations Ken 2023I was honored to be a guest on the "Kung Fu Conversations" podcast with Owen Schilling and Randel Davis. They are two very nice guys and dedicated martial artists. 

I have been interviewed on several podcasts, so I am tired of hearing my own stories, but they try to plow some new ground and I think it turned out very well.

Click this link to listen to the podcast on YouTube.

Click this link to listen to the podcast on Spotify.

Click this link to listen to the podcast on YouTube.

My thanks to Owen and Randel for having me on the program. 


Hard Work and Eating Bitter: The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Greatest Hits Volume One

The 70th edition of the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast is a collection of some of my favorite interview clips from the first two years of the podcast, covering from 2014 to 2016.

I love talking with martial artists who have gone to great pains, both physical and financial, to seek out great internal martial arts masters, and then work very hard to attain skill.

This editon of the podcast is called "Greatest Hits Vol. 1" and it includes great comments with important martial arts teachers such as Michael Chritton (my first guest and husband of Chen Huixian), Kimberly Ivy, Stephan Berwick, Byron Jacobs, Kent Howard, Tim Tackett and Marin Spivack.

This podcast also features a giveaway. If you listen to it and follow the directions, you can enter to win one of 10 digital codes for your digital copy of the new 4K/Ultra HD version of "Enter the Dragon," but you have to listen and enter before August 27, 2023. 

Here is the podcast. Listen online or download the file.

 


Toxic Masculinity and Martial Arts: What Does It Mean to be a Real Man?

Toxic Masculinity
The cover of a recent catalog for Century Martial Arts

"Hey Four Eyes!"

I didn't even have to turn around to know a bully was targeting me.

I turned.

He was obviously older, taller and heavier. Two smaller young tough guys were behind him.

"Yeah, you, pussy."

His two toadies glared at me with looks that said, "You're about to get your butt kicked."

My two younger and smaller cousins, Bobby and Mike (ages 11 and 10) were with me in front of the drugstore in downtown Wilmore, Kentucky. We had just enjoyed a vanilla Coke at the drugstore's fountain and looked at some of the comic books on the spinning wire racks.

The bully saw us when we walked out onto the sidewalk that ran up Main Street. Now he was taunting and following a little too close. "I'm gonna kick your ass."

We walked behind the drugstore and the bully and his buddies followed, his insults growing louder. We found ourselves on a gravel parking lot behind the building.

"Kenny, that's the sheriff's son," my cousin Mike whispered. "He's the town bully. He's 17 YEARS OLD!"

As usual, being a bit scrawny and friendly, always looking to smile and make jokes, I had been targeted again. If I stood in a crowd of 20 guys and a bully walked up, his eyes would focus on me like the radar on a guided missile. Every time. You could take it to the bank.

On the small gravel parking area I turned to face him, realizing there was a chance I was going to encounter some serious violence. Four years is a big age difference when you're 13. But I did have one thing going for me.

I didn't want to fight. I tried to avoid the fight. But once the fight began, I loved it. A fight was the ultimate one-on-one challenge. When the first punch was thrown, I always calmed down. I had some kind of inner confidence in myself. Where it came from, I'm not sure. I recognized the possibility of losing, but I couldn't visualize defeat. And I didn't really believe it would happen. I did not have a mental image of myself that included the option of being beaten up. I knew I would somehow find a way to win.

But I still didn't want to fight. I wasn't stupid. There was always a chance I could be hurt by a bully.

It was a tough position to be in.

I took off my glasses and handed them to Bobby. My mom would be pissed if I broke my glasses.

Jimmy was bouncing as he approached quickly and pushed me. He danced away, laughing and calling me names worse than "pussy." He bounced back up and slapped me across the face, then danced away laughing. He came up again and pushed me down. I caught myself as I crashed to the ground. The gravel scraped my palms. I got back up and picked a piece of gravel off my palm where it had been embedded. My hand was bleeding.

This went on for what seemed to be 45 minutes. The new scratches on my face were stinging. But I really didn't want to fight a 17-year-old.

He danced up again maybe the twelfth time and punched me on the side of the head as I ducked. I had to face facts. If I did nothing, I really was going to take a beating.

We have a story we tell ourselves in situations like this. "If I defend myself, if I take action, it will really make him angry. I'll really be in trouble. So maybe if I do nothing, he won't hurt me."

That is a myth, of course. 

The big guy was bouncing and laughing, feeling like he was going to have an easy victory.

Alright, here goes, I thought to myself. I have to do something.

Jimmy came dancing up again, laughing like a maniac, and when he got in range, I unleashed my right fist and it caught him right in the nose.

CRACK!

He staggered back, stunned. His eyes were watering and he looked terrified. His hands went to his face.

"YOU HIT ME!" he shouted in pain. "YOU HIT ME!"

He began scrambling to back away, but I was walking toward him, feeling pretty determined.

"No! No!" he shouted, tears running down his face. "Don't hit me again! Don't hit me again! You win! I'm leaving!"

I was surprised, standing there with Bobby and Mike behind me, watching Jimmy, now the Former Town Bully, run away with his two toadies following after him, glancing behind them to make sure I wasn't coming for revenge.

My cousins were jumping up and down like they had bet money on me to win.

The mean streets of Wilmore, Kentucky, population 2,300, were safe again.

Why do I tie this story into a post about toxic masculinity?

Because the voices of guys like Jimmy make a lot of noise on social media, particularly on martial arts sites and pages. They are keyboard bullies and they criticize videos, accuse other martial artists of being weak, belittle you with "laugh" emojis, and they use the same common language like, "Try that against an MMA fighter," or "Take that into a cage and you'll be killed."

Jimmy's voice is also prominent now in politics, with guys who have a misguided idea of masculinity. They make fun of men who have replaced camo with compassion, braggadocio with humility, and racism with respect. If you are concerned about the hardships others face, you are accused of being less than a "real" man.

The bullies who call themselves "real" men want to say what they want, about anyone they want, when they want, and if you don't like it you are nothing but a woke pussy. 

What does it take to be a real man? Does the young, normal kid on the cover of the Century Martial Arts catalog a couple of years ago (pictured above) really want to become the hulking, bearded, slightly menacing guy with the black belt in the mirror?

Toxic Masculinity2I saw an ad for a men's workout program on Facebook last week and the guy selling the program posed with a gun, dressed in camo, with bulging muscles that looked to be straight out of a steroid injection, and a German Shepherd by his side.

Is that what it means to be a man? Is that what it means to be fit?

Does strength come from the size of your muscles or the quality of your character? What is the meaning of "Internal Strength" in this context?

In the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67 has been interpreted as suggesting that true stength and leadership come from kindness, humility, and generosity.

When you are good to people, empathetic with people whose color or religious beliefs are different from yours, and when you are aware of how words can hurt, it takes strength to decide to move through this world and leave something positive in your wake. Each day, everywhere I go, I look for ways to be kind to people.

Can you be a "real" man as you do good and be kind?

Josh Hawley is a U.S. Senator who has a new book out called "Manhood." You might remember Josh. He is the one who raised his fist to salute the mob on January 6 that tried to violently overturn our democracy. Josh raised his fist to salute the mob and not long afterwards was seen running for his life to get away from the mob. It was captured on video.

But there are a lot of people Josh doesn't like. Gay people, trans people, non-Christians, immigrants trying to find a better life, poor people -- the list of people Josh Hawley doesn't like is a long one. If you have empathy for some of the people Josh doesn't like, he thinks you're a woke pussy. 

He saluted the violent mob and then ran for his life.

I don't think Josh has very much he can teach me about manhood.

That's why I have my own definition of manhood. And it's the definition I try to live by. 

It is "quiet confidence."

As I grew up, I tried to develop the qualities in myself to greet everyone with a sense of humor, with politeness, kindness, and fairness. I worked on making myself more empathetic to the problems and needs of people who are different than I. If I made a mistake, I owned up to it. When I was a "boss," I tried to treat people fairly and help them succeed in their careers. I'm still working on myself. We are all works in progress.

A general manager who hired me to run the newsroom in his TV station told me, "One thing I like about you is that you are as nice as you can be, and you are as tough as you have to be."

I've tried to behave that way as a martial arts teacher, too.

In my day-to-day life, I try to be aware of what is going on around me, and I know that if someone is in physical danger, or being emotionally mistreated in my presence, I will take action. 

When someone is with me they are safe. I don't announce it. I don't have to announce it. They might not even be aware of it. But they are safe when they are with me. 

I don't have the need to look tougher than you or act tougher than you. You might be tougher than I am. That isn't even a concern. You're training for a full-contact cage match? Good luck. It doesn't change who I am. And your self-esteem shouldn't be affected by what I'm working on in the arts.

I cry at movies. Hell, I'm so sentimental, I cry when they show the "Turn Off Your Cell Phone" announcement at movies.

I raised my daughters to have a sense of humor, to understand they are loved, and they turned into women who feel compassion for others.

I treat my wife with love and try to help her live a fulfilled life, like she does me.

I seek to feel the pain felt by people who have suffered from racism. I hurt when I know people are up against the wall and can't afford to meet basic living expenses.

In the classic story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is cruel, stingy, and critical of people who are poor. But through a series of ghostly visitors who make him look at the past, the present and the future, Scrooge "awakens" to the true meaning of life. At the end of the movie he is "woke" and he helps ease the suffering of others. He becomes a good man by the end of the story.

There is a reason Scrooge's story is so popular. The message resonates with people. We want to be better people, more kind and generous. The bad guys are the ones who are cruel and stingy. The bad guys are the ones who are not woke.

"The Buddha" is a name that means "one who has awakened." The Buddha was born into a rich family and he was shocked and horrified when he became aware of the suffering of others. He became woke and devoted the rest of his life to teaching people how to achieve enlightenment and ease their own suffering.

Our society is in a defining moment, when some "leaders" are trying to tell us that if we become awakened to the pain and needs of others, and we do something about it, we are "woke" and that means we are their enemies. Ron DeSantis is waging a "War on Woke." To him, to Josh Hawley and many other guys like them, I am not a real man.

Tonight, coming home from dinner with a brutal heat index of 110 degrees, a mentally ill woman was sitting outside on a sidewalk on one of the busiest streets in town, talking to herself. I spotted her as we drove by. I stopped and bought a cold bottle of Gatorade at a nearby store and took it to her. She was sitting in the grass next to the sidewalk, babbling incoherently about finding her lighter. She took the Gatorade and poured it on her head. I called 9-1-1 and police were sending a patrolman to see that she is alright.

It would have haunted me to pass on by to leave her sitting in the heat. How many cars passed her by? How many people saw her and were thinking critical thoughts about a poor homeless woman talking to herself?

Am I less of a man? 

Live your philosophy. If you are a Christian, love your neighbor. If you are a Buddhist, ease people's suffering. I lean toward Eastern philosophy, so I want to remain centered and do good and be kind. There is no other meaning of life greater than this, in my opinion.

Chapter eight of the Tao Te Ching says, "The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them."

As a great man once said, "Be water, my friends."

I would much rather have a drink and joke around with guys like Jimmy, the town bully, rather than fight.

But if Jimmy decides he's a real man and tells me I'm not because I don't behave like he does, or because I don't do his martial art, or because I look weaker, or he says I'm a "pussy" for caring about others, or because I try not to say things that hurt other people, he's not being a real man. He's not being a "true martial artist." He's a bully, plain and simple.

And you know what happens to bullies. Here's a secret: They aren't really very strong inside. Right, Jimmy?

--by Ken Gullette


Taiji, Wing Chun, Qigong and Yiquan -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Tony Wong

Tony WongTony Wong is a long-time instructor in San Francisco, but I had never met him until we spoke a week ago for my Internal Fighting Arts podcast.

His birth name is Wong Wai Yi, but he goes by Tony. He grew up in Hong Kong before moving to the United States. Tony has trained with some outstanding teachers. He studied Wing Chun with Kenneth Chung, Wuji Qigong with Cai Song Fang, and he studied Chen Taijiquan with Zhang Xue Xin, Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing and Chen Qingzhou. He also studied Yiquan with Chen Zhengzhong.

In this interview, Tony has interesting stories to tell about his teachers and other experiences, including what it was like to train for push hands competition in the Chen Village. 

Listen to the podcast online or download the episode by following this link.

You can also listen or download the podcast here:

 


Taiji Body Method -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast with Nabil Ranne

Ken Gullette and Nabil Ranne 2023The 68th edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast features an interview with Nabil Ranne, who lives in Berlin and is a disciple of Chen Yu.

Nabil was first on the podcast in 2020. Shortly afterwards, I began studying with him. 

Two weeks ago, I attended my second workshop with Nabil in Philadelphia. He focused on body method, the Yilu form and push hands.

In this interview, I wanted to "go into the weeds" and discuss some concepts that are difficult to talk about in an audio interview because things have to be shown, but I wanted to give it a shot and discuss details on body method that might stimulate the listener's curiosity.

You can listen to the podcast or download it here.