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


I Fell Short in Living My Philosophy and Ted Lasso Told Me How to Do Better

Do Good Be Kind 2We all fall short of our goals at times. It's part of what makes us humans.

We try, but we often fail. The key is to pick yourself up and try again, a bit smarter this time.

Last week, I fell short of living my philosophy of treating people with kindness and remaining centered at all times.

Nancy was driving, I was in the passenger seat and we stopped at a red light. There was a car stopped next to us in the left lane.

As the light was turning green, I heard the sound of boots scuffing on pavement. 

I looked to the left and a young man with long hair, a cowboy hat, and an open plaid shirt and jeans was walking in front of the car next to us. He was about to walk in front of us.

The light turned green and Nancy, oblivious to the pedestrian, started to gun the engine to drive forward.

"Stop!" I shouted and grabbed her shoulder. She slammed on the brakes just as the young man walked in front of our car.

"Jesus!" Nancy shouted.

Naturally, the adrenalin was flowing and we were both shocked at how close the young man had come from getting run over.

He kept walking and Nancy shouted, "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

The young man looked at us and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Who cares?"

I said to him, "No big loss, I guess, huh?" 

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. Nancy drove away, and I couldn't take it back.

It haunted me for a couple of days. Due to the shock of almost hurting someone, I lost my center. 

What I should have said to him is, "Be careful!"

That would have been the kind and centered thing to do.

Ted LassoThe next evening, we watched the latest episode of "Ted Lasso," the wonderful and funny series on Apple TV that has kindness as the basic message at the core of the show.

There was an important message in this particular episode. I took it this way:

Every person you encounter has very possibly gone through horrible things in their lives. Be kind to them.

I can't think of a better way to reflect my philosophy of life than that. I grew up as a Christian. At least, that's what my mother told me I was. But as I grew old enough to think for myself, as I got into martial arts and began reading books on philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, I saw better, kinder ways of looking at the world. Enough of the eternal punishment bullshit. Enough already. Enough of vengeance. Enough.

We are now in a social media age where people post and share memes that assume the worst about everyone and try to stoke our anger at "the other guy who isn't like us."

I believe a lot of us don't think very deeply when we see a meme that criticizes a group of people and think, "Oh, that's good," and then share it. We forget that in reality, most people have good intentions, and I know that many people we encounter every day have been wounded by events in their lives that have left them damaged. Some of them are facing tragedies that we can't see, or trying to recover from ordeals that we can't see just by looking at them.

This young man who apparently didn't care if he was hit by a car, for example. What happened to him that would make him feel that way? Was he abused? Did something happen to make him consider himself worthless? Is he suffering from addiction or mental illness? When he was growing up, did he go to bed at night wondering if the next footsteps in the hall would bring someone who was going to beat him?

I don't know.

But I do know that I can be a better person than I was when he shrugged his shoulders. I should have lived my philosophy of treating all people with kindness, with humor, with respect and empathy. That is the way of the Tao. That is what a centered person would do.

I have remained calm and centered in a lot of tense, near-violent situations, but coming so close to such a senseless accident was shocking. It taught me a lesson of how a sudden rush of adrenalin and the horror of almost hurting someone can cause you to lose your balance, but that's not really a good excuse.

We fall short of our goals. We all do. The key is the lesson we learn from it, and whether we can recognize it when we fail.

We can make the world a more positive place, but it doesn't start with the other guy. It starts with us. With me. With you.

I'm going to do better next time. 

--by Ken Gullette

 


Form is Emptiness: The Depth of Tai Chi is Easy to Ridicule for Those Who Do Not Understand

Form is EmptinessMy daughter, Harmony had a yin/yang sticker on her notebook in 7th grade. She loved it. From the day she was brought home from the hospital and put into a crib in August, 1977, Bruce Lee posters had been on her bedroom wall and she was very familiar with martial arts.

But some of the girls in her 7th grade class accused her of worshipping Satan because of the yin/yang sticker.

They didn't understand and had been influenced by their parents, most of whom were Christians living in the Midwest.

Yesterday, I came across the "Heart Sutra," an important "rule" or aphorism in Mahāyāna Buddhism. 

One of the key phrases that immediately made me think of Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Bruce Lee was this:

Form is nothing more than emptiness,

emptiness is nothing more than form.

You can say it a bit more directly: "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form."

It is a widely quoted concept that is visualized in different ways. 

Bruce Lee liked to say that we should "be water." He said, "If you put water into a cup it becomes the cup."

Others, and I believe Bruce also talked about how a cup is only a cup because of the emptiness inside the form.

It is the emptiness that makes the cup useful. Without the emptiness, a cup would merely be a block of ceramic.

The same is true of a glass, a bowl, and you can take this concept on and on.

But to me, it symbolized the practice of Tai Chi (Taiji), and even though that type of quote can be ridiculed by other martial artists who don't understand Taiji, it is actually a good description of the martial side of the art.

When I step out onto a training floor, or out in the yard or in a park, and I begin practicing a form, it is an interpretation of the concepts that provides the frame of the movements, the structure of the body, the spiraling of the limbs and the relaxed internal strength flowing like a wave.

It is all intentional, it has form. But what I am doing as I work to achieve the body mechanics that I am after is not so easy to understand.

I am practicing form to achieve emptiness.

I can hear the MMA guys laughing, but just like the 7th grade girls hurling Satanic accusations at my daughter, they don't understand.

The practice of Taiji involves mastering a structure that allows you to lead an opponent into emptiness.

Using the ground path, developing the buoyancy of peng jin, making micro-adjustments with the kua like a buoy in the ocean, using whole-body movement and Dantien rotation and spiraling to add power to the movement -- these are some of the skills that the form develops (if you have an instructor who will teach you these things). 

Any martial artist can punch and kick. Taiji includes punches and kicks, too, although the real skill in Taiji happens when someone touches you to apply force.

At that moment, all the form practice and the push hands practice and the freestyle work and takedowns with partners -- the practical application of ward-off, rollback, press, push, pluck, shoulder, elbow and other energies and methods -- should pay off in one specific way.

When an opponent puts his hands on you to use force or to put you down, he finds emptiness. You disappear beneath his force and, because the target is no longer there, he goes off-balance and your "form" (structure) and body mechanics take it from there to put him down instead.

I practice and teach Chen style Taiji, Xingyiquan and Bagua Zhang. I don't look at Taiji as a self-defense system that I would use if someone were standing three feet away and preparing to punch me. Taiji would not come into the question at this point. Xingyi would.

Once the punch is on its way toward my face and enters my power zone, Bagua would be a logical choice.

When they grab me, that's when Taiji shines, in my opinion, leading an opponent into emptiness and then lowering the boom. I maintain my mental and physical balance while my attacker loses his. I maintain my structural integrity even as I cause him, with his help, to lose his structure.

Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.

It's a shame so few Taiji students don't stay with it long enough, or have the right instruction, to realize this important concept. It has nothing to do with "cultivating chi." These are mental and physical skills that require as much practice as any fighting art requires for excellence. It's what I try to focus on in my study and my teaching. It doesn't come easily, but it does come when you eventually realize that the goal of all this form work is actually emptiness.

--by Ken Gullette

Try two weeks free in Ken's online internal arts school - live online classes, live personal coaching, and 1,000 video lessons in Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and more. Go to www.internalfightingarts.com 


I Want to Throw Roundhouse Kicks on Muhammad Ali's Birthday

I want to throw roundhouse kicks.

I have been very angry during the past week-and-a-half. I am working very hard to center myself. Let me tell you why.
 
Ali vs ForemanMuhammad Ali would have celebrated his 79th birthday today if he had lived, but unfortunately, he died of complications of Parkinson's Disease in 2016.
 
The night he defeated George Foreman (picture at left) to regain the heavyweight title was the night I realized I needed to stop being a racist. It was October 30, 1974. Muhammad Ali was fighting George Foreman in a fight that was held in Zaire and called the "Rumble in the Jungle."
 
Foreman was so strong it was scary. He was knocking other heavyweights out cold. Most people expected Ali to be killed that night.
 
I grew up in the American South in the 1950s and Sixties. I saw "White Only" signs on drinking fountains and bathrooms. I remember when blacks were not allowed to sit with us in the movie theaters. They had to sit in the balcony.
 
I remember when black kids could not swim with us in the public swimming pools.
 
When I was 15, I thought the coolest thing in the world would be to join the Ku Klux Klan. That's how the culture of the South affected me as a young white boy.
 
But in 1973, while I was in college at Eastern Kentucky University, I enrolled in my first martial arts class. I began reading about Bruce Lee, his philosophy, and I started reading books with the Taoist and Zen philosophy that I heard while watching the "Kung-Fu" TV show.
 
But I still had the South in me, and Muhammad Ali was a frequent target of our hatred. We hated him. We called him a "loud-mouthed" N-word. And he switched religions. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. What a trouble-maker!
 
The night he fought George Foreman, college might have already started changing me a bit, but when the fight began, and I was listening to it being broadcast on radio, I was pacing in my dorm room, hoping Ali would get beaten. I was cheering for Foreman to hurt him.
 
The fight only lasted eight rounds. In the early rounds, Ali was on the ropes, being pounded by Foreman. Can you imagine the punishment? George Foreman could punch a large heavybag into submission. Imagine what he would do to someone's arms and ribs and kidneys!!
 
Round after round, Ali took tremendous punishment, and round by round, he survived.
 
Something clicked inside of me. It took a few rounds, but somewhere around the seventh, my perspective began shifting. Instead of a loud-mouthed braggart, I began to see Ali's courage, and the realization struck me like a right cross to the jaw. This man was letting the strongest boxer in the world pound on him. He had a plan, and he had placed himself in the line of fire.
 
I began cheering for Ali. When he suddenly knocked Foreman out in the eighth round, I jumped around my room, then ran up and down the halls shouting the news.
 
That was the bravest thing I had ever heard or seen.
 
I no longer saw Ali as a black man. I saw him as a brave man, and I began looking at other black people in a new light. I realized they suffered pain just as I did. They had the same needs I did. And they deserved the same respect I did.
 
I realized that so much of what I was taught in my culture was bullshit. For almost a year, I had been reading about the Taoist and Zen philosophies that presented such a different view of the world than the hatred of racism. How could I become "one" with the universe and the world around me if I considered myself better than another person?
 
It made no sense to be racist.
 
The answer was simple. If I continued to be prejudiced against people who were different, the philosophy that I was adopting would be a joke.
But like everything in life, including Qigong, and the ability to center myself, it took hard work and an ability to look inward, reflect and analyze why I thought certain ways and why I took certain positions on issues.
 
The philosophy woke me up to empathy.
 
Five years after the Rumble in the Jungle I met Muhammad Ali. It was 1978 and he had just defeated Leon Spinks to win back the heavyweight title. Ali was giving a speech at a rally in Louisville and I covered it as a reporter for WLAP radio in Lexington, Kentucky, where I was working. I got a front-row seat to the speech.
 
After the speech, Ali was going to hold a news conference at a hotel. I had a long walk to get to the hotel, so I was walking fast across a huge parking lot at the fairgrounds, where the rally was held, to the hotel where the news conference would be held.
 
Just as I arrived in front of the hotel, a limo pulled up with Ali in it. He got out and was followed by three or four bodyguards who were larger than he was.
 
I had a hardbound copy of his autobiography, "The Greatest," that I brought with me in case I was able to get his autograph.
 
For a few seconds after he got out of the car, there was a little space in front of him. I walked up and handed him the book.
 
"Would you sign this for me, Champ?" I asked, handing him the book and a pen.
 
Ali-AutographHe took the book and the pen, scribbling his autograph as he walked, then held it out. By that time, he was being surrounded by people, and a bodyguard grabbed the book and pen and stuck them out behind his back as he walked with Ali. I pushed through the gathering crowd and managed to get the book out of his hand.
 
Then I went to the news conference, where Ali stood just a few feet away and I was standing with all the sports reporters, network sportscasters and other local media, watching and listening and enjoying my brush with greatness.
 
As years passed, I learned a lot more about Ali. In 1960, when I was only 7 years old, Ali won a gold medal at the Olympics and returned home to Louisville. He went to a restaurant that refused to serve him because he was black.
 
He was an Olympic gold medalist and still couldn't get respect from some white people.
 
Imagine how you would feel?
 
And yet, he was not an angry man. He tried to preach respect and human rights.
 
One day, he was visiting his mother in Louisville, and he was in a large motor home behind her house. A young white sports reporter knocked on her door to interview her. He didn't realize Ali was there.
 
"Oh, he's in the trailer," she said. "Just knock on the door."
 
This young white reporter knocked on the motor home door. Ali answered, let him in and they talked for hours. They became good friends.
 
That's the kind of man Ali was. How could anyone hate him?
 
Now why would I be angry today? I guess it's because of the riot held a week-and-a-half ago by the white supremacists in Washington, D.C. A lot of the people who stormed the capitol building were white nationalists.
 
I guess I have been angry because unarmed black men continue to be gunned down in the street by police in the United States. It was happening when Ali was young and it's happening now.
 
Perhaps, on Ali's birthday, it struck me that being a white nationalist, or tolerating them in any way, would be a violation of my goal of being a centered person. And perhaps this is my way of letting you know, since I am a teacher, that part of your training in the internal arts involves connecting -- not just with an opponent who you might never face, but also with the world, with the environment, with other animals, and with other human beings.
 
Being centered and connected does NOT mean being passive. Sometimes, it means standing up for what is right.
 
As you work on your martial arts, and as you try to become more centered and balanced, please understand that a good martial artist defends people who are weaker and are being attacked.
 
Self-defense is much more than throwing punches and kicks. Being a martial artist means you are working to master yourself, too.
 
The world is made a safer place when we all do our part and connect with others, perceiving them as being one with us, and when we realize that silence is the fuel that gives more power to evil.

Review of "Be Water" -- the Bruce Lee Documentary on ESPN

Bruce Lee Be WaterThe Bruce Lee documentary that aired this week on ESPN, titled "Be Water," is a must-see for any Bruce Lee fan. The film aired on June 7 but is being repeated on ESPN and you can stream it on the ESPN Plus app.

It contains photos and old film footage that I have never seen before, and I have collected and devoured Bruce Lee material since 1973.

"Be Water" is a very timely film, especially in light of the George Floyd murder and the protests against racism during the past three weeks.

Bruce Lee was the victim of racism, and he fought hard to overcome the prejudice that white Americans -- and Hollywood -- had against Asians. He refused to play a stereotype, especially the old-style "chop chop" pig-tailed Oriental image that was the butt of humor in American culture.

It is an eye-opening film. I grew up in the racist South in the Fifties and Sixties, but when I was 13 I watched "The Green Hornet" every week, and I thought nothing of the fact that Bruce Lee, as Kato, was Chinese. In fact, it was mysterious and cool to see his kung-fu in the TV show.

It would still be six or seven years before a buddy and I sneaked into a drive-in theater to see "The Chinese Connection" in the summer of 1973. A couple of weeks later, I saw a very short article in the newspaper that reported Bruce Lee had died.

I was surprised by the news. That strong young guy in "Chinese Connection" was dead. My buddy and I thought the movie was horrible, but I kept saying, "That Bruce Lee guy is really good."

A month later, I went to see "Enter the Dragon" and everything changed. I enrolled that September in my first martial arts class, and it has been part of my life ever since.

There are photos and film footage of Bruce in "Be Water" that show him throughout his life, and I particularly enjoyed the film of him dancing as a young man.

The documentary traces his life and his sudden death. There are no talking heads, but Bruce's family and friends speak over the photos and videos.

The title, "Be Water," came from part of Bruce Lee's Taoist philosophy. He is shown in the now-famous interview that he did in Hong Kong in 1971, when he says, "Water is shapeless, formless. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Put water into a kettle, it becomes the kettle. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

And this is my complaint about the movie. This is where it falls short.

Bruce Lee's fighting philosophy was to adapt to, and flow around obstacles thrown at you by an opponent.

I practice this in my Tai Chi push hands and in self-defense. When an opponent touches me, when he gets close and grabs me, I have practiced to the point where I relax, like water, and I don't let him get a firm grasp.

It is like grabbing a handful of water, as Bruce Lee describes it in the film. But what we are working on is to relax, while maintaining internal strength and correct body mechanics, and we don't let our opponent find our center.

We find our opponent's center, however. We flow around his strength like water and we find his weakness. Like water, we find a way to go where we want to go.

If a stream of water encounters a rock, it flows around the rock. If an opponent punches at me or grabs me, I neutralize his force, go with it, and flow around it until I hit him or take him to the ground. At least, that is my goal.

That is the self-defense philosophy of "Be Water."

That same self-defense philosophy can be applied to your life. 

It is illustrated by Bruce Lee's reaction to the racism he faced in Hollywood. He wanted to be the star of the "Kung-Fu" TV show, but studio executives did not think Americans would accept an Asian star. They also thought Bruce's personality was more geared to fighting, not to the peaceful nature of Kwai Chang Caine. So, in a racist move, Warner Brothers hired David Carradine, and they made him half American and half Chinese.

It was the ultimate obstacle in Bruce's life, and what did he do?

He flowed around it, like water. He went to Hong Kong and he made the movies he wanted to make, culminating in "The Way of the Dragon." By this time, Hollywood paid attention, and cast him in "Enter the Dragon."

By adapting and going with the flow, Bruce became the biggest action star in the world. Unfortunately, he was dead before he was able to realize his full success.

Bruce Lee a Life"Be Water" should have hammered home the lesson that the "Be Water" philosophy promotes -- not only for self-defense but also for life.

What obstacles are you running into in your life? How can you flow around them, adapt and change, to achieve your goals and dreams?

I have used this philosophy in my personal life many times, not only in self-defense, but in adapting to and flowing around the loss of jobs, the loss of a daughter, the loss of marriages, the loss of a lung, a heart problem, and now a pacemaker. I will keep flowing, and changing, and growing, and I will continue to improve and understand more deeply because it is part of who I am.

Bruce Lee would understand this very well. THAT is the lesson of his fighting art and philosophy. It is a philosophy that you can use every day.

"Find what is worthwhile about yourself and express it," his wife Linda says in the movie, as if that is the message to be taken from his life.

Yes, that is one lesson, but it is not the lesson implied by the title.

"Be Water" is an excellent documentary about Bruce Lee -- a must-see for fans. But it should have been much more inspirational. It should have done a better job of teaching viewers this key lesson; to be water and to adapt and flow around obstacles that impede your progress. Do not let anything stop you, my friend.

My daughter Belinda made a great observation about this film. She said it was as if the producers "concentrated on the finger, and missed all that heavenly glory." 

By all means, see this film. But for a much better experience in learning about Bruce Lee, I recommend Matthew Polly's amazing book, "Bruce Lee: A Life."

-- 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." 


The Tao of Mr. Rogers - The Secret of Being Kind and Forgiving

BeautifulWhen people hurt me I get angry. You probably do, too.

There have been times when I have carried grudges. There were three bullies who were "after" me for two or three years back in middle school. Rob Brewster, Dan Cotter and Tom Prentice always seemed to be together and always wanted to pound me into the ground.

They were older than I was by at least a year. 

One night, Rob sucker-punched me through a car window, so I had to have been around 16 and driving, but the bullying began long before that, when I was around 14.

One day when I was 14 or 15, I was fighting another bully after school in a field near the school. We were surrounded by boys as our fists were flying and we were wrestling and finally, exhausted, we called it a draw.

Dan decided at that moment, when I was exhausted from another fight and he was fresh, it was the right time to jump me. Bullies always try to pick a target that is weak or alone.

He hit me a few times but I would not fight. I was so tired, I knew I would lose the fight. I left with two other friends and I was in tears of anger and frustration as I walked home.

One day, I was riding my bicycle away from Turfland Mall and came to the top of a dirt hill at a construction site. Suddenly, the three bullies were right in front of me. I took off riding while they ran like hell to try to catch me. At one point, one of them was just three or four feet behind me as I pedaled like hell. I think it was Dan. Somehow, I managed to get away.

I spent two or three years looking over my shoulder when I was in middle school and the first year of high school. A friend told me that he overheard Rob laughing and bragging about how the guys would sneak up on me at school and hit me or spit on me.

When we were 18, Rob turned up without Dan or Tom to play baseball with a group of my friends. It was the first time I had ever seen him alone.

After the game, I walked up to him and asked, "Hey Robbie, you remember how you and your buddies used to hit me and spit on me?"

He said, "Yeah."

I punched him in the nose. Hard. 

He staggered back, his eyes watering.

"Well, your friends aren't here to protect you," I said.

Pow! Another punch to the face. 

Rob looked panic-stricken. On the ground, someone had put down some baseball bats. Rob bent over and picked one of them up.

"Nope," my buddy Ed McCaw said, and stepped between us. He told Rob, "This is going to be a fair fight."

Rob fled to his car and wouldn't get out. He left before too long. That's what bullies do when their target fights back.

Even after all this time, I am still interested in talking with Dan, Rob's bully-friend who became a doctor and practiced along the East Coast somewhere. He would be about 67 by now. It would be interesting to know if he ever reflected on what a bully he was as a teenager. I wonder if he was a bully to his staff when he grew up? Once a bully, always a bully, I believe.

Their other bully-friend, Tom, was not as much of a ring-leader as they were. He was simply a follower. 

So I guess I don't really like it, but I carry a slight bit of anger with me 50 years later -- damage done by bullies and a desire that still persists to see justice done. And justice could simply be an apology.

At the same time, I have worked for more than four decades to remain centered and follow a more Taoist philosophy about life. Carrying this tiny seed of anger means that I have not truly reached the level that I seek?

Do Good Be Kind Ken NancyDuring the past couple of years. my favorite shirts have been the two baseball jerseys that have the words "Do Good. Be Kind." on the front of the shirts.

I do my best to do good, be kind to everyone I meet, and I do Zhan Zhuang as a way to calm my mind and body and remain centered.

This doesn't mean that you can't get angry. You can, but you shouldn't hold onto it. I do a good job of that most of the time. Not all, but most.

I remembered all this as my wife Nancy and I watched the film, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" yesterday. It is the story of a journalist for Esquire, a cynical guy who was assigned to do a profile of Mr. Rogers.

The film shows how Mr. Rogers' kindness had an impact on the journalist's life.

The best quote in the film, in my opinion, was when the journalist met Mr. Rogers' wife, and they discussed what it was like to live "with a saint" who was so kind to everyone he meets.

"Oh, he's not a perfect man," Mrs. Rogers said. "He has to work hard at it. It's a practice."

The line hit me like a sidekick.

Rogers1Fred Rogers seemed like to kindest man that ever lived.

But he practiced it. He worked hard at it.

There have been many people in my life who have hurt me, both in my personal life and my professional life.

I have tried to walk on, shed these poisonous people from my life and not allow them to control my mind by making me remain angry.

I can decide what I do with the anger they stirred up. I can decide not to be angry -- to let it go and live a happy life.

For the most part, I do that very well, but it is sometimes hard work -- a work in progress, you might say. Some people think that if you are into Taoist philosophy, or Zen Buddhism, that means you should never get angry. But there is a reason monks meditate for years or decades. It is hard, hard work.

It is nice to know that even Mr. Rogers had to work at it.

And so we practice Zhan Zhuang, qigong, and work to calm the mind and body, then bring that sense of calm to conflicts that arise in our lives, from the angry spouse to the micromanaging boss and even to the person who cuts you off on the highway.

Don't beat yourself up for getting angry. The point of following most philosophies is not to be perfect. That is unattainable.

The point is to reach the point when you don't let the anger linger, you recognize it and deal with it, then walk on. You control the anger, it does not control you.

Sometimes, you simply have to confront people who have hurt you and let them know how you feel. I have found that it usually starts a very satisfying discussion, even if I don't punctuate the discussion with two punches to the face. Sorry, Robbie. 

This is a lesson we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

It is the Tao of Mr. Rogers.

I will remember that if I ever run into Dan Cotter again.

Remain centered, my friends. Mr. Rogers would want it that way. So let's get to work.

-- by Ken Gullette 


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? 


Do Good - Be Kind - Four Simple Words that Can Change the World

Do Good Be KindYour philosophy of life does not have to be complicated to be effective. Sometimes, the simplest of messages can have the biggest impact.

Let me explain.

A Facebook friend of mine, Abby Cheesman, posted a link a couple of months ago that struck a chord in my heart.

The post told about a simple campaign that was trying to spread a message with only four words:

Do Good. Be Kind.

When I saw the baseball jersey with these words printed on it, I had to have one.

Abby's mom and dad, Peg and Brad Neilson, who were in my tai chi class this winter, gave me one of the shirts at the end of a series of classes. They also gave Nancy a shirt.

In the couple of months since, these words have haunted me every day, but in a good way. I wake up and think about how I can accomplish this every day.

How can I do good, and how can I offer kindness to others today?

Since the 1970s, I have tried to live according to philosophical Taoism and, to a lesser degree, Zen Buddhism.

Do Good Be Kind Ken NancyThe center of my personal philosophy is to "connect" to all things, and to remain centered at all times.

If you are truly connected to others, to the world around you, doing good for others becomes natural. You treat others as you would treat yourself. You do not do good because you hope to be rewarded with something -- money, eternal life, etc. -- you do good for moral reasons, for goodness' sake.

Likewise, being kind to others is rooted in being connected and centered. You cannot treat another person with cruelty if you have your act together. You only behave in a mean way when you perceive yourself as better, or as special, or perhaps even as worse than they are, and your mean actions are masking a feeling of inferiority.

It is complicated to explain how to connect to all things, and how to remain centered at all times. It also takes a lot of practice.

That is why "Do Good. Be Kind." hit me like a two-by-four. In its simplicity lies perfection. This is really all you need. 

If you seek to do good in each action you take, and if you seek to be kind to every person you encounter each day, you will connect and you will be centered.

In the real world, however, we do fall short. There are times when anger is appropriate. I study and teach self-defense because, even if our goal in practicing kung-fu is to master ourselves, we understand that there may be times when we must defend against those who are not kind, are not good, and are not centered.

But most of the time, the choice is ours. How do we behave each day? We can decide for ourselves.

So each day now, I ponder these four words. As I go through today, I will look for every opportunity to Do Good. Be Kind.

I hope you will, too. Think of the ripple effect we can have in the lives of others, the Butterfly Effect that an act of kindness could have.

It's worth a try, isn't it?

A philosophy is useless if it is not put into action. So let's live our philosophy today. Do Good. Be Kind.

Visit the website -- www.dogoodbekind.life -- and check out their mission and their apparel. It was started by Christopher Kurtz of Peer Thru. He and his wife Brittany run the nonprofit for Do Good. Be Kind. Please help spread this wonderful message.