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.


A Peaceful Approach to Self-Defense -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Paul Linden

Paul Linden 1
Paul Linden

Is it possible to love your attacker? Can you find the fun within misery?

Paul Linden has a unique perspective on self-defense. He is the chief instructor at Aikido of Columbus (Ohio), and the Columbus Center for Movement Studies. He holds a sixth degree black belt in Aikido and a black belt in Karate. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in physical education. He is an instructor in the Feldenkrais Method of body awareness, and he developed the "Being in Movement" mindbody training.

Since his late fifties, Paul has also been faced with a challenge that has required the practical application of both philosophy and his knowledge of body awareness. Fourteen years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

Paul Linden is my guest on the 34th edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. 

Listen to the program online or download it through this link to Audello.

It is also available on Stitcher and iTunes. 

Dr. Linden will hold a 6-day workshop called "Embodying Power and Love: A Workshop on Body Awareness & Self-Regulation" in Columbus, Ohio on April 16-21, 2018. See his website for details by following this link.


Martin Luther King Jr Was a Real Kung-Fu Hero

American ShaolinIn the book, "American Shaolin," author Matthew Polly described his adventures as he moved to China to live with Shaolin monks for two years.

He trained with them, ate with them, and became their friend.

Often, he would watch kung-fu movies with the monks.

In their culture, the hero of the movie was usually the man who would continue fighting even when hope was lost. 

You are fighting for a good cause, but you know you are doomed to defeat. You fight anyway.

I was 15 years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Growing up in the racist South, I reflected my white culture and I thought he was a troublemaker. I'm sure I dropped the "N" word many times if his name came up.

MLK was not a troublemaker. He was a hero in the truest sense of the word.

By 1968, he had been beaten, arrested, jailed, and threatened with his life because he had the audacity to protest when black men and women were turned away by restaurants, stores, the voting booth, and generally treated as animals.

When I was a child, black people did not come to "our" public swimming pools. I never saw blacks in "our" restaurants. And they sat in the balcony at the movie theater, not on the main floor with "us."

I remember seeing "Colored Only" water fountains in Georgia.

We treated black Americans as inferior. 

MLKAnd then, through nonviolent protest, Martin Luther King and his brave friends such as now-Congressman John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy and others, used kung-fu on the white culture.

They allowed the hateful energy of the whites to be seen in all its ugliness. Instead of fighting it, King and other black protesters did not contend. They absorbed the hateful energy by taking the punches, the kicks, the firebombs, the attack dogs, the hoses, the insults and the injuries -- and they showed white America what was lurking inside its heart.

They turned that hateful energy against their racist attackers.

Hearts and minds began to change across the country. 

On the night before he was murdered, Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience that he had been to the mountaintop and saw the other side. "I might not make it there with you," he warned.

He knew what might be coming. And he fought anyway.

The following day, when he walked out of his room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, the shot rang out and he was dead.

It took a few more years and some college experience before my heart began to change, but it did. I began to realize that a LOT of what we are told as children is simply not true, but we are not old enough to reason, so we model the behavior of our parents, grandparents and friends.

MLK 1Two years ago, Nancy and I visited the Lorraine Hotel. It is part of the National Civil Rights Museum now. 

As I stood near the spot where he was gunned down, and stared through the glass at his room, which has been maintained exactly as it was the moment he was killed, I was struck by the heroism of the man.

We can practice martial arts all of our lives; we can compete in full-contact matches and we can consider ourselves pretty heroic.

Very few of us will even come close to the level of heroism displayed by Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who did not practice martial arts.

I occasionally see social media comments by martial artists, including some teachers, that are racist, or xenophobic, or intolerant in a variety of ways with a variety of targets, and I realize that an important part of the arts has escaped them; the connection with others, the philosophical thread that binds us to our fellow human beings.

One instructor I met preached Taoist philosophy and being connected to others, then he would fire up a cigarette and use the term "chinks" instead of "Chinese" when he talked about Chinese people. I still occasionally see intolerant social media messages that he posts, and I realize that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think, you can't make him connect with others, and you certainly can't make him a hero.

These misguided martial artists do not realize that the concept of defending the weak against attackers means a lot more than stopping a husband from beating his wife, or stopping a bully from attacking a weaker kid. 

A martial arts hero defends the unarmed black man who is being shot by a bad cop; the woman who is subject to harassment at work; the gay young man or transgender woman who is taunted and insulted because they are different.

A martial arts hero connects with others, and defends the weak even when hope is gone.

Hardly any of us reach the level of heroism that was displayed by Martin Luther King, Jr. When hope was gone, he fought on. Fifty years later, he is remembered, but his work is not done.

There is a lot of hatred still out there. There are people who could use your help.

Are you really a hero? 


My Favorite Martial Arts Tournament Memory was When I Got My Butt Kicked by an Old Man

Ken Gullette tournament sparring
Ken Gullette in red, sparring and connecting in Keokuk, 2000.

A little old man kicked my butt at a tournament in Keokuk, Iowa in 2000, and it is one of my favorite memories from my years competing in martial arts tournaments.

It was a hot, August day in a gymnasium that was not air-conditioned. I had been out-pointed by a black belt from Georgia in a match for first place, so I was next paired with a nice old guy to fight for the third place trophy.

My opponent was short, feeble, very slow, left himself open, had slow reaction time, and could hardly get a kick above his own waist. He wore hearing aids in both ears.

I had seen him perform at the tournament at least two other times, but he never went home with a trophy. He didn't even come close. It was a fluke that we were put in the ring to fight for some hardware.

The center ref told us to bow to each other, then bow to him. He signaled us to begin.

In that moment, I felt a connection to my aging opponent. In other tournaments, I had encouraged him to stay with it, even though he competed and never won anything. It was great just to see him there, still plugging away despite not having the tools to succeed.

But now, for the first time, I was in a position where I had to dispatch him, and I had a surprising reaction to it. Or, considering my personal philosophy, not so surprising.

What would his children think; how proud would they be if at his age, and with his limitations, he brought home a martial arts trophy for sparring?

And how much would another trophy mean to me if I won under these circumstances? 

We touched gloves and the match began, and I approached him. He threw a kick, then a punch.

I could imagine his children bragging to his grandchildren, showing them the trophy he won late in life.

I didn't want to make it obvious. He needed to do some blocking, so I blocked some of his punches and threw a few that he blocked. Then I left my stomach open just a bit for a kick to land.

Two points.

The match resumed and I threw a kick for him to block. He threw a couple more kicks and one landed.

Two points.

At this point, I knew my students, who were in the stands recording the match, would be wondering what the heck was going on. And on the video, you can hear one of them give an "Awwwww," in frustration as my opponent got his second kick in.

We touch gloves and the match resumed. I needed to act a bit more desperate, so I came in with a little more energy, bouncing, threw a few quick punches that were easily blocked, and I kept my head out front and open. 

He landed a ridgehand for his fifth point.

The judges called it and had us bow to each other. My opponent and I slapped each other on the shoulder.

"Why?" my puzzled student asks on the video.

He found out why a few minutes later when I explained.

As I walked out of the ring, an Asian judge approached with tears in his eyes.

He slapped me on the back and said, "That was one of the most generous things I have ever seen."

I just nodded at him and said, "Thanks."

Later, a couple of other black belts came up and commented on the match, thanking me for displaying such sportsmanship.

But the best thing that happened was one week later, when I went to a large regional tournament in Dubuque, Iowa. One of the more prominent black belts, Ken Dunkle of Dyersville, was standing across the large high school gymnasium when I walked in carrying my gear and my weapons.

I watched as Mr. Dunkle walked across the gym, directly at me, like a man on a mission. When he reached me, he stuck out his hand.

"I heard what you did last week in Keokuk," he said, warmly shaking my hand. "I just want to tell you that I think it was great."

I don't remember exactly how I replied. I was probably surprised and just said thanks, it was nothing, glad to do it.

Attitudes seemed to change towards me at the tournament that day. I could feel a greater sense of respect from my black belt peers.

I always tried to have fun in martial arts tournaments. When my opponent landed a good punch or kick, I congratulated them right there in the ring. I didn't try to brush it off or act as if it didn't happen, as some competitors do to try and fool the judges. And I did not get angry. I never got angry.

No, I felt that if someone scored on me, they were pretty good, and I appreciated their skill.

Sometimes, I would joke in the ring. At least once, a younger, faster opponent would score, and I would take out my mouthpiece and loudly say, "He's young and fast. I HATE that." And the judges would all laugh.

It is a lot more fun for everyone, whether it is at a tournament or in the workplace or at home, to enjoy yourself, help everyone else enjoy themselves, and not take yourself too seriously. Good things happen when you get out of your head and connect with others.

Do you live your philosophy or is it all about you?

I have won a lot of trophies in a lot of tournaments -- in forms, weapons and sparring. But I think my warmest memory comes from the day in August, 2000 when I got my butt kicked by an old man in Keokuk, Iowa. That was the day I saw a judge with tears of gratitude in his eyes, and I saw an old man take home a shiny trophy to show his grandchildren.

I think I won that day, too.

 



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The Best Way to Meditate While Doing Tai Chi, Hsing-I or Bagua -- Mindfulness

A philosopher asked the Buddha, "What is your method? What do you practice every day?"

"We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down," the Buddha explained.

"What is so special about that? Everyone walks, eats, washes, sits down," the philosopher said.

"Sir," replied the Buddha, "when we walk, we are aware we are walking; when we eat, we are aware we are eating. When others walk, eat, wash, or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing."

In Buddhism, mindfulness is the key. -- from Zen Keys by Thich Nhat Hanh

Are you mindful when you practice your gongfu?

Are you mindful when you are at work? Does your mind wander when talking to other employees or when sitting through meetings?

When in public, are you on a cell phone instead of being engaged in the world around you?

When your significant other is talking, do you zone out or are you mentally engaged in what they are saying?

Are you constantly multi-tasking? 

Psychology Today reported that we lose 40% of our productivity when we attempt to multi-task.

Our brains are not wired to focus on more than one thing at a time with full attention.

But you know that, don't you? How much time have you wasted when you hop on Facebook to post something, and suddenly it is a half-hour later and you have spent the time hopping from one friend's post to another, clicking links, and then being distracted by another post? How many times have you logged off and then realized you had forgotten to do what you logged on for? Yeah, admit it. You have done it, too. So have I.

Mental Discipline is supposed to be a benefit of meditation and of practicing martial arts.

But mental discipline takes work. You know -- kung-fu. A skill developed over time through hard work.

There are many ways to apply the internal arts and philosophy into your daily life. But first, you have to calm the mind, and that requires work.

One of the best ways to "meditate" while doing any martial arts form is to simply be in the form; focus on the movements and the intent of the movements -- the body mechanics of good internal movement and the "intent" you would need to do the movement as an application.

You do not have to perform with a "blank" mind. Just getting into the form and eliminating other distracting thoughts is one way of meditating while doing the internal arts.

When doing Zhan Zhuang at the beginning of a practice, Chen Xiaowang might say something like, "Calm down. Listen behind you."

The goal is not to detach from everything.

The goal is to become connected, aware and part of everything. The goal is to be in the moment.

When you are in public, are you in the moment and aware of all things around you? When someone looks at you, are you looking back and able to engage or smile, or are you unable or unwilling to make eye contact?

Do you detach, or are you listening behind you?

At the gym, everyone plugs in their earbuds and will hardly make eye contact with others. We are not connected, not engaged -- we are isolated in public. 

Who is the person standing behind you? You wouldn't know. You are not willing to give them that much attention, are you?

If you are a true internal artist, you are connected.

Master Po 2In the Kung-Fu TV show, this was one of my favorite scenes: 

"Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?" asked blind Master Po.

Young Caine looked down to see a grasshopper.

"Old man, how is it that you hear these things?" he asked.

Master Po replied, "Young man, how is it that you do not?"

Be mindful in your forms. Be mindful and engaged with the world around you. Calm your mind. The more distracted you are; the more you "multi-task," the less connected you can be.

Be here now. When walking through a grocery store, be there. When listening to your boss in a meeting, be mentally present. When doing your forms, become the movement.

And whatever you are doing, stop checking your cell phone every three minutes.

Calm your mind.

It is a goal we should all work to achieve. If we achieve it -- if we are able to be here now, in the moment, focusing our attention on what we are doing right now, everything we do is potentially part of our meditation practice.

-- by Ken Gullette 

 


Are You Getting This Important Benefit from Your Qigong Practice?

Broadsword 1998I stepped into the ring, holding my broadsword and feeling butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to do well in my first tournament performance as a black belt.

It was February, 1998 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and at 45 years old, I had studied different martial arts for 25 years, had been in the internal arts for more than 10 years, and had practiced qigong diligently for more than a decade.

"Just get into the zone," I told myself as I calmed down and prepared to do my broadsword form.

God, there are a lot of people, I thought.

"Settle down," my inner voice said. "Detach. Rise above the pressure."

It was the worst advice I could have given myself.

A few movements into the form, I turned to my right to do a sweeping cut and noticed a young boy was walking across the ring, just a few feet from me. 

Within another movement or two, I completely spaced out and forgot where I was in my form. For a flash of a second, I was mentally Broadsword 1998-2paralyzed, then I made up some movements, wrapped up the form, and bowed out.

I did not place in weapons forms that day.

I was disappointed at myself. After using qigong in my life so effectively during the past decade, why was I so nervous and unable to hold it together when performing for the first time as a black belt in front of a jury of strangers and a gymnasium full of spectators?

Shouldn't I be a bit more "one" with the universe? Shouldn't I be able to detach my mind? 

Last night, a member of my website -- a man who is becoming a friend -- told me how he was very nervous during a recent karate test (which he also studies) and had the same thoughts about how qigong is supposed to help him remain calm in those situations.

But here is the real secret of qigong practice.

It does not prevent you from being human.

Qigong is not intended to prevent the normal human emotions that we all experience. The key to effective qigong is that you do not hold on to emotions like fear, anxiety, greed, and other negative thoughts. 

To suppress negative emotions is to give them even more power.

And that is where the mindfulness component of qigong comes into play. It is actually an important part of our quest to calm and center ourselves -- to "be in the moment."

When you are "mindful," you are completely in the moment, giving attention to the people or the situation that needs your attention. Your mind is not wandering, and if it does, you simply bring your attention back to where it needs to be.

The negative feelings, the butterflies in the stomach, the fear of failure -- it's all part of the experience. No one ever brags about doing well when nothing was at stake. We don't sit around in our golden years reminiscing about all the boring times we had. 

The best moments in life -- when you are most alive -- happen when you are testing your comfort zone and feeling every sensation.

And so I realized that calming and centering were not enough. I needed to be in it.

Over time, I developed a joy of being in the moment, whether that was a happy moment or whether I was about to perform in front of a panel of judges and a crowd at a tournament, or whether I was going to be grilled in a job interview by a panel of staffers and VPs.

When I was being interviewed by a panel at the University of South Florida in 2007 for the director of media relations position, I sat down, smiled and said, "Take your best shot."

I enjoyed every moment of that interview, fielded all their questions, was honest and let my creative mind flow. I started a month later.

I want to experience it all -- to be in the now and fully feel the experience:

  • To enjoy demonstrating my arts in a tournament and show martial artists something different.
  • To enjoy the competition of sparring without being overjoyed or upset about individual point calls by judges.
  • To enjoy the "competition" of a job interview, and display my experience and knowledge in a creative way.
  • To be in the moment in a tense personal or job situation, where I can take care of problems without exploding.

Qigong helps us relieve stress, calm our minds and body, and helps us to center ourselves. The goal then should be to recapture that calm, centered feeling in times of tension or crisis.

You should not think of qigong as a way to detach your feelings or your mind from the moment. That is not living.

A key part of qigong is mindfulness: the joy of living and being part of everything; the unpredictable nature of challenges that are thrown at you, then learning from them so perhaps the next time, you can handle them even better.

I got better at tournaments. I still got nervous occasionally, but I felt it fully, I experienced it completely, and I sure did have fun.

-- by Ken Gullette

Check Out Ken's Qigong DVD with Exercises for Stress Relief

Want a more in-depth interview on Mindfulness? Check out Ken's podcast interview with Mark W. Muesse

 


The "Glimpse" That Keeps Us Coming Back to Tai Chi, Qigong, Bagua and Xingyi

Ravine 2
The "Ravine" at Eastern KY University in Richmond, my alma mater.

A Taiji instructor and a former guest on the Internal Fighting Arts podcast, Kimberly Ivy of Seattle, wrote a post on Facebook a few days ago that brought back some vivid memories for me, and reminded me of one reason I have kept coming back to these arts decade after decade, putting myself through the hard work and practice to get better at these skills.

She wrote that some of her long-time students, some of them off-and-on students, told her that it was the occasional "glimpse" they received when practicing that kept them coming back.

Ahh, yes. The "Glimpse."

I first experienced the "Glimpse" around 1980. I had been involved in martial arts for seven years at that point, and I had been studying Zen Buddhism and Taoist philosophy. One of my favorite books was "Zen Buddhism," by Christmas Humphreys. I loved reading the koans -- little anecdotes or riddles that are supposed to make you realize the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to trigger enlightenment: the "Glimpse."

Here is a koan:

A monk asked Kegon, “How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?”
Kegon replied, “A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never go back to the old branches.”

Here is another good one:

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”
Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”

Most people are familiar with the famous koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is usually said as a joke in the United States. No one actually reflects on the meaning behind the riddle.

So I was sitting one day around 1980 in the Ravine at my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University. I spent a lot of time there when I was a student (graduated in 1975 with a double major in journalism and broadcasting). It was a terraced field, leading down to an ampitheater, nestled almost in the center of campus.

1980 was a rough year. I was working in TV news but earning so little money, my wife and I were teetering on bankruptcy. My wife was pregnant and having serious mental health issues related to the pregnancy. The baby, a little girl named Shara, would die at six weeks of age from crib death later in the year.

RavineI was visiting EKU and decided to sit in the Ravine and meditate, touching the ground like Antaeus, who maintained his strength as long as he was in contact the ground. Perhaps it would renew my strength for the daily battle.

It was a sunny day. I sat on one of the terraced steps of grass and tried to calm my mind and body, detaching and letting all thoughts and concerns go.

A few moments later, just as I reached my calmest moment, a robin landed in front of me in the grass, just a few feet away. It turned and looked at me. Our eyes met.

For a few short seconds, I felt my connection to the bird and to all things in the universe. A sense of calm, order and acceptance washed through me. It was the most complete feeling of peace I had ever experienced.

Then, just as quickly, the moment I thought, "This is satori," it was gone. Vanished. And I was back in my own head.

When you reach for it, you cannot grasp it. Once you get back into your own head, it is gone.

This moment, this "Glimpse" stayed with me. It consumed my mind all the way back to Lexington that day. And I immediately tried to look for it again. But it does not come very easily when you are caught up in daily activities and concerns.

Satori is when you suddenly are aware of your connection to all things; your place in the universe; your "One True Nature." Sometimes, we simply refer to it as a "connection." 

Some people attempt to achieve this through religion, but too often in our society, that means a benevolent (or malevolent) dictator above you, ready to reward or punish your every thought. It too often involves judging others and meddling in their lives, particularly on "social issues." 

The "Glimpse" I'm talking about does not depend on invisible beings or gods. In my opinion, having experienced both worlds, I eventually rejected the religious view for a different path. If you are reading this and think, "Oh, I get the same feeling from (Insert Name of Deity Here)," then I would simply note that you probably have not traveled this path.

In 1987, I began studying the internal arts and qigong. Since then, I have had several moments of the "Glimpse." It can happen in the middle of a form, when I feel my body flowing through the movement. It can happen when doing Standing Stake or another qigong exercise. It can happen when I am sitting on the couch with Nancy.

The "Glimpse" keeps me coming back. 

On the day that I took my black sash test in the style of kung-fu I was studying in 1997, part of the test involved sparring another black sash with a wooden broadsword. We got into our fighting stances and prepared for the start of the match. I tried to center myself and connect. A calmness came over me, and I felt as if I was part of my opponent.

Mr. Garrett moved to thrust his broadsword and before he could move more than a couple of inches, my broadsword was at his chest.

Ahh, the "Glimpse." Just at the time you need it the most.

Do you ever get the "Glimpse?" It comes when you are in the moment, your ego is gone, your awareness broadens and your mind opens to your One True Nature as it relates to all things, without judging, without liking or disliking.

The journey to achieve this takes you to a place where you react differently to relationships, to aggression, to tragedy, and even to tough deadlines at work. You can take the first step with qigong exercises, Standing Stake and internal art forms. And a great book to read is "Zen Buddhism" by Christmas Humphreys.

It is a journey worth taking.  

Here is a website with some great koans to stimulate your mind. And there is a second type of "Glimpse" you get when practicing the internal arts. That will be the topic of my next blog post.


Changing Yin to Yang -- Turning a Negative Life Situation into a Positive

Ken Defense 97
Oh, really, Life? You want a piece of this? 1997

What do you do when life gives you a roundhouse kick to the head? A punch to the groin? A heel kick to the solar plexus?

Nineteen years ago this morning, I walked into WHBF-TV, where I was news director, and management was waiting for me. I was pulled into a meeting where the GM and the Program Director told me they were letting me go. In the news business, it happens.

"Ken, we're parting company," the GM said.

"I have two words for you," I replied, and saw them brace as they sat across the table.

"Thank you," I said.

I left the station, and by the next day, realized that while I was looking for another job, I would train hard and finally test for my black sash in kung-fu.

I worked hard for a month, went to Omaha to test, and succeeded. I began teaching by October. By that time, I was working at Mike Bawden's ad agency in Davenport. From there, I went to ACT (the college test) as director of media relations.

Being fired from a job changed my life in a very positive way. Besides pushing me toward a new career in media relations, PR and communications, it helped me take steps that have resulted in a third career, teaching martial arts to people around the world through this blog, my DVDs and my membership website

After more than eight years at ACT, I decided to try something new, so I took a job as director of media relations at the University of South Florida. It was a great job, but I found myself being asked to hold news conferences and do media interviews on sensitive topics ranging from students arrested on terrorism charges to football players accused of cheating. It was more intensely political than I expected, and each time I did an interview on behalf of President Genshaft, I walked away with arrows in my back, often fired from within the University.

Within a year, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and a week later, I found myself without a job. My nephew, Brian Ragsdale called to talk, and he sparked the idea for my website, www.internalfightingarts.com. I would work for myself, putting all the instruction onto video lessons that I had been teaching my students for over a decade. I would offer it to people around the world who wanted to study but didn't have a teacher nearby. I began making DVDs more prolifically, and on July 4, 2008, the website was born and it is going stronger than ever eight years later.

None of it would have happened if management hadn't asked me, 19 years ago this morning, "Ken, you got a minute?"

Yes, I do. I "got" all the minutes you want. 

How can you turn a life-changing negative event into something positive? You can do it. I am living proof. But after all, one of the things our philosophy in kung-fu is supposed to do is help you ride the ups and downs of life, isn't it? Trust me, I've seen as many downs as anyone. If you hang in long enough and work at it, yin will always turn into yang again. The wheel turns.

Sometimes, an event that seems to be really bad at the moment can be just the push you need. The next step is yours.


The Tao of Tai Chi -- Part 2 of the Internal Fighting Arts Interview with Taoist Monk Yunrou

Yunrou Guan Dao
Chen Tai Chi instructor and Taoist Monk Yunrou.

The 19th edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast features the second part of a two-part interview with Chen Tai Chi instructor and Taoist Monk Yunrou. He became known as Arthur Rosenfeld, as a martial artist and author, but has taken on the name he was ordained with as a Taoist monk -- Yunrou.

This interview covers some interesting topics:

** The need to boost the self-defense aspects of Tai Chi.

** The problem of "having a plan" in fighting.

** The Guan Do and its relationship to Tai Chi Chuan.

** Becoming ordained as a Taoist monk.

Yunrou lives and teaches in the Pompano Beach/Boca Raton area of Florida. His website is www.monkyunrou.com. 

Here is the link to listen online or download the podcast on Audello. 

Internal Fighting Arts 19 - Taoist Monk Yunrou Part 2