Get Out of the Bubble and Pressure-Test Your Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Byron Jacobs, an outstanding martial artist and teacher of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, does the Drunken Boxing Podcast. He recently interviewed Mario Napoli, another great martial artist who went to the Chen Village and won a push hands tournament there. Here is the link to the YouTube version of Byron's interview with Mario. The Drunken Boxer Podcast is also available through Spotify and other podcast distributors.

One of the interesting topics they discussed was the problem of Taiji people not wanting to test their push hands against other martial artists.

Chris Lorenzen and Ken Gullette
Ken Gullette (left) and Chris Lorenzen

One of my former students, Chris Lorenzen, has gotten into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu during the past year or two. So I invited him to stop by one of our practices a couple of weeks ago to pressure-test our arts and to exchange information. I have a lot of respect for other martial arts and I like to see them up close.

It was a lot of fun. Besides banging around a little, we asked about BJJ and he gave us a few demonstrations of techniques on the floor. 

I believe that if your arts are not effective, you are living in a bubble of fantasy. So I like for other martial artists to stop by our practices. 

Most of us are instinctively too tense when another person comes in to take us down. We expect to use muscular tension to defend and counter. But often, that tension is what your opponent uses to control you because they can connect more easily to your center.

We practice relaxing when an opponent uses force, and combining that relaxation with other body mechanics including the ground path, peng jin, using the kua and more to "empty" and then redirect the force our opponent is using.

A couple of months ago, I spent five days in the hospital with blood clots in my left lung, and I'm on blood thinners right now. It's frustrating to be more fragile than I used to be and not able to go as hard as I used to, so I think Chris took it a little easy on me. It was still a valuable experience to feel his technique and learn what I could. Justin and Colin were able to go a little harder with him.

My favorite thing is to square off with other martial artists and ask them to take me down. It isn't about punching and kicking for me anymore. My goal is to get close to them and maintain my center while I take control of theirs. Anyone can punch and kick, but can you make him go off-balance and take advantage of him at the right moment? If someone grabs you to take you down, and uses force on you, can you handle it with relaxed internal strength?

Chris Lorenzen and Justin Snow
Chris Lorenzen and Justin Snow on the ground.

I love to work on it. If they try to take me down and have a hard time because I can keep them from finding my center, that's a good thing. And if I can take them down instead, that's even better. I try to be strict with myself, avoiding the use of localized muscular tension and trying instead to use good Taijiquan principals and methods. I did a DVD on some of these methods of close-up self-defense and you can find the DVD through this link. 

One of the interesting things Mario and Byron talk about in the podcast is how some Taijiquan teachers are calling themselves "master" and yet they have never pressure-tested their skills in competition. If you don't pressure-test your martial ability, Mario Napoli says you are just "moving air" when you do a form. 

"Forms lie to you," he says, and he is right. You can do movements all day and think you can apply it in self-defense, but it's a completely different ballgame when someone is putting the pressure on you.

So get out of your bubble. Invite different people to your workouts. It should be friendly, of course. You don't have to go full-contact because getting hurt is not a good option for adults who have other responsibilities and careers, but there should be a risk of being "shown up" and taken down. Your ego might be deflated a bit, but it's a small price to pay for the truth. We can always get better, but not if we become legends in our own minds.

Let's face it, if you aren't pressure-testing your arts, you are probably not as good as you think you are.

 


What Does Being "Double-Weighted" Mean in Tai Chi?

Has a Taiji teacher ever explained to you what "double-weighted" means? It's bad to be double-weighted, but if you are looking for a definition of the term, you will find a lot of them out there. Most of them are wrong.

Some will tell you that you are double-weighted when your weight is distributed 50-50 between the legs.

Others will say something else.

The video below demonstrates what I learned about being double-weighted from Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing and their students (my teachers).

 


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

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

Keep it Simple for Ultimate Success in Self-Defense

Da Vinci
Leo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was not a fighter, but he knew something that can help you if or when self-defense techniques are needed.
 
There is a well-known Chen-style Taiji instructor who put a video on YouTube recently showing some fighting applications.
 
The applications looked really cool, but something did not seem right, so I decided to test them with students at the next couple of practices.
 
I very quickly discovered what was wrong with the applications. They did not work if the opponent did not cooperate completely.
 
If my student gave me the slightest resistance, or continued to fight as he would in a real-life situation, the application fell apart instantly.
 
My students and I watched the video together. We were quickly disgusted at how the student in the videos was just standing there limply even when "locked" and then allowing himself to be thrown to the ground.
 
That is not the way a real-life fight happens.
 
No wonder the internal arts have such a bad reputation for real self-defense!
 
da Vinci Knew the Secret
 
How many Bagua videos have you seen where the instructor does flowery, circular movements and three or four techniques on an opponent who appears helpless?
 
I have seen FAR too many. But when you try those flowery sequences on an opponent who is not playing along, they simply don't work.
 
Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
 
He could have been talking about martial arts.
 
If you watch the self-defense applications of movements and forms on my website or on my DVDs, you should notice one thing -- they can all be done against an opponent, even if he is not cooperating.
 
Discard What is Useless
 
Another important artist, Bruce Lee said "discard what is useless."
 
If an application is not realistic, I throw it out.
 
It is okay to practice a theory or a principle, or a technique. But if it does not work as advertised, if you pressure-test it and it falls apart, why continue to practice it?
 
Throw it away!
 
It takes a long time to learn the body mechanics and the smooth application of those mechanics in movement. But once you learn the mechanics, and learn to move with internal strength, the fighting applications are simple.
 
Anyone who has wrestled with a friend, or sparred with fellow students, or sparred in a tournament or other competition knows that many of your best techniques don't work when you want them to work. Your opponent has the same goals you have -- to do good techniques, to avoid your techniques and to win the match.
 
Pressure-Test Your Arts
 
No one is going to stand there while you wrap an arm around their neck, step behind them, hit them and then throw them.
 
Some applications work at just the right time, in the middle of a fight, when you find yourself with the right opportunity.
 
Punch Ground 1
Punch the Ground Part 1
I'm thinking of a movement such as "Punch the Ground" in Taiji. 
 
You would have to be in a position where you could easily snake your arm underneath and around an opponent's shoulder and be in the right position to put him on the ground. See how my right leg is blocking his right leg?
 
It might happen in a grappling, clinching situation, if you are also able to get him off-balance. But if you go into a fight thinking, "I am going to do Punch the Ground on him," you are doomed to favor.
 
In the photos shown here, my partner is not fighting me. Imagine how I would have to soften him up and distract him before I could pull this off! It can be done, but it would require the element of surprise.
 
Punch Ground 2
Punch the Ground Part 2
The Holy Grail of Fighting Skill
 
A lot of applications are successful only if the opponent is distracted, punch-drunk, in pain or off-balance. When any particular opportunity occurs, the "holy grail" of fighting skill is to be able to take advantage of that opportunity without thinking about it.
 
One of my students talked for 10 years about how, the first time he and I sparred, I handled everything he gave me just using Xingyi's Pi Chuan, "Splitting Palm." No matter what he threw, that is the technique I used.
 
Pi Chuan is simple, direct and effective against many different attacks. It is not flowery or complicated. The simplest techniques always are the most effective.
 
I urge you to practice some of your favorite moves from a form against a partner who will not cooperate. Try them in a sparring situation, too. It will give you an education.
 
Try a simple application, and then a more complex one, but tell your partner not to cooperate at all. See what happens and how you need to adjust the application or "soften" your opponent up before executing it.
 
Sometimes people ask me, "What would you use if you were attacked on the street?" They ask if I would use the Taiji "energies" and methods, or some flowery Bagua circular movement.
 
I disappoint them when I say, "I will probably try to drive their heads off their shoulders with Beng Chuan and get it over with."
 
If it were a clinch situation, at that point I might use the "energies," and hopefully they will be ingrained in my subconscious enough to do so, but I will be using those energies to set my opponent up for a simple technique that will bump him away, unbalance him, break him and put him to the ground.
 
All of this requires practicing with a partner who is not playing along. Any instructor of Xingyi, Bagua and Taiji should know this. When they put videos showing these unrealistic techniques on YouTube, some viewers may go "oooh" and "aaaah," but they will be impressed only long enough to try them on a partner who does not play along and protect the teacher's ego.
 
I love complex techniques. I love the flowery, circular movements. They are good concepts to practice. Just remember that self-delusion is very common in martial arts, and in real self-defense, simple is best, and simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Stop the Insanity of Thinking Martial Artists Have to Take On a Trained MMA Fighter to Be Ready for Self-Defense

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-2It is a B.S. argument, but it is the current fad in martial arts discussions.

"If you can't take on an MMA fighter, your martial art is useless."

Nonsense.

Nobody trains all-out. Nobody trains realistically. It is mental masturbation to think that you do.

If you did train all-out, like a "real" fight, you and your partners would not train very long.

Unless you are in a full-contact fight with no rules at all, it is very difficult to defend the way you want to.

If a shooter comes in, I want to knee them in the face and strike down on the back of their neck with my elbow. If someone clinches, I want to bite a hole in their arm.

If anyone practiced realistically, in any martial art, we would all take turns going to the hospital.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-3We were practicing clinches last week, and we laughed at one point because one of the best defenses is to just reach over and gouge out your opponent's eyes. But we were working on techniques more fitting to our art and we were not hurting each other.

At one point, I asked my partner to put me in a choke hold. He did. I faked a bite to his arm to get the point across. 

In a real fight, if someone got me on the ground and wrapped a leg around my throat, he would be screaming when I bit a hole in his thigh. You think you are tough enough to take that pain? Not likely. 

You do not have to hurt anyone or be hurt, or defend yourself against a trained young MMA fighter. You can still be a good fighter and defend yourself or others when necessary.

I was in the Toughman Contest in 1991. I was 38 and my larger opponent was 25. I won my full-contact fight, but afterwards, there was a dull ache in the center of my brain from being punched that I had never experienced and could not pinpoint. The photos on this post show highlights. I am in the blue shirt.

It convinced me that full-contact fighting is for people who don't look very far down the road.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-4That does not mean we can't learn to defend ourselves or others, as I proved in that fight.

The macho guys who now say you have to fight a trained MMA fighter or you aren't a martial artist have my permission to damage their bodies and get all the concussions they want.

I'll watch and then go practice my skills without hurting anyone, and without hurting myself.


Using Internal Principles in Grappling -- How to Escape a Clinch

Can Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua be used against a grappler?

A lot of macho types say no, but that's because they do not understand the internal martial arts.

Tai Chi has been slandered, maligned and unfairly criticized during the past year or two because a couple of people who claimed to be Tai Chi "masters" (they are not masters) had the stupidity to take on a trained MMA fighter and they lost. Badly.

I had a Wing Chun guy come into my school once and he wanted to spar full-contact. I told him we didn't do that, but we would gladly spar with him and do light contact. We hit him in the face anytime we wanted. My top student and I both tried him out. It was pitiful, but I did not judge Wing Chun based on this guy.

The internal arts have principles and body mechanics that work if you follow them, just like any art. Sometimes, you simply have to fight. That includes punching. But sometimes, you use body mechanics to take advantage of your opponent's force or to break his structure.

This past Wednesday night at practice, three students -- Justin Snow, Colin Frye and Chris Andrews -- worked with me as I demonstrated how to escape from a clinch. We had a good time playing with this.

Justin and Chris are both around 300 pounds. They are strong guys, around 30 years old. They have experience fighting. Real fighting.

I am 65 with one lung, heart issues, and I lost a lot of muscle mass when I got sick 9 years ago. 

They still can't hold me in a clinch if I use internal principles. And I can't hold them, either.

We had fun playing with this. Enjoy the video and I hope you learn from it. And remember, 850 video lessons and pdf downloads are available 24/7 on my membership website at www.internalfightingarts.com. Check it out.

 

 


Internal "Energies" and Takedowns -- The Holy Grail of Tai Chi Self-Defense

Ken Gullette using tai chi to break opponent's structure
Breaking my opponent's structure and controlling his center.

The Holy Grail of Tai Chi self-defense -- in my opinion -- is when you can "feel" an opponent's energy when you are in a clinch and you can break his structure and use Tai Chi "energies" to take him down.

On Saturday, about a dozen martial artists of different styles gathered at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in Moline, Illinois and we practiced some of the basic concepts and energies. We recorded the workshop and the video is already going up on my website -- www.internalfightingarts.com -- and I am putting it together for a DVD.

Anyone can use muscular force to pick someone up and throw them to the ground.

But can you use Tai Chi energies to unbalance, uproot, and control your opponent's center so you can take them down?

You have to be able to do a few things:

** Determine how your opponent's center is turning

** Break his structure to unbalance him

** Have your hands and legs in place to help his center turn

** Then turn his center and take it where it wants to go.

The term "energies" has been misinterpreted. Peng, Lu, Ji, An and the other energies are actually "methods" of dealing with an opponent's force. When force comes in, you can roll it back and then press him to unbalance him. That is one example of how energies are used.

You learn to maintain your balance as your opponent loses his, and then you counter.

Colin Frye, in blue, works with a student at the Internal Energies and Takedowns workshop.
Colin Frye, in blue, works with a young student on takedowns.

You can't learn all this in a three-hour workshop, but it is fun to see people from other styles of tai chi and martial arts as their faces light up and they realize they are experiencing something really different.

It is also refreshing to meet people who put aside their "style" for an afternoon, empty their cups and try something else. One of the reasons I do it this way is to educate others on the internal arts, show them that these arts are not as "soft" as the popular image would have them believe, and to add training partners to the videos.

Push hands starts with the basic patterns, working on form and sensitivity. Gradually, you work into applications, then moving, freestyle, and in the end, learning to take your opponent to the ground while using the various energies of Tai Chi to do it. Chen push hands is the bridge between form and fighting. 

I have been working on these principles for a long time. To my knowledge, no other Tai Chi instructor has actually put this information on video in a step-by-step way. It is not really an "ancient Chinese secret," but it is a place that few Tai Chi students get to on their journey. 

This is my mission for the rest of 2017.

 


A Fighting Strategy for Self-Defense: Receive and Return

There are seven main fighting strategies in my curriculum. I have begun shooting instruction on these strategies for my website (internalfightingarts.com). I also worked on a pdf document for members of the website to download -- a companion to the video lessons.

The Seven Strategies are:

  1. Receive and Return
  2. Lateral Return
  3. Mutual Striking
  4. Yield and Overcome
  5. Control the Center
  6. Join and Unite
  7. Instant Resolution

The first one, Receive and Return, is especially useful when I work on sparring with Xingyiquan. It is like pushing on a tree branch. The branch will bend as you push, but when you let go, it will whip you when it springs back.

With Receive and Return, you maintain your distance when your opponent attacks. You move back, load the rear leg, then you spring back when his technique misses its target. You can also spring back between his techniques.

Here are two short clips from tournaments showing me using Receive and Return. In the first clip, a young MMA fighter who had also studied Taekwondo and some kickboxing came to a tournament for the sparring competition.

In both clips, I move back, load the leg, then spring forward with a punch to the head. Check out the website for a lot more detail and instruction.


The Ultimate Self-Defense Technique: A Real-Life Story about the Art of Fighting Without Fighting

ViolenceWhat would you do if a big drunk guy walked up to you and wanted to knock your head off?

It happened to one of my website members recently and he called to tell me what happened.

John was standing in a business and talking to someone when a drunk guy walked in and wanted to fight. The drunk was larger than John, and it was clear that he could do some damage.

Like most guys, John's first reaction was to think about fighting techniques. And as the drunk got more agitated, it seemed that violence was about to happen.

Suddenly, John remembered the recent Internal Fighting Arts podcast with my guest, Dan Djurdjevic. In the interview, Dan talked about "flipping the script," and how it got him out of some potentially violent encounters.

When you flip the script, you say something bizarre to the attacker to throw him off-script; to confuse him.

So just as it seemed that a punch was going to be thrown, John said to the drunk, "Did you see the game last night?" 

The drunk looked confused. "What game?" he asked.

"My daughter's baseball game," John replied. "She made her very first out at second base."

The drunk guy didn't know what to do with that information.

"Oh, that's great," he said. "Congratulations."

With that, the encounter moved in an entirely new direction. The drunk guy calmed down. No violence happened. Nobody was hurt, nobody was arrested, nobody went to the hospital, lost his job or got sued.

Bruce Lee once said he practiced "the art of fighting without fighting." Flipping the script is one of the coolest self-defense tactics I've ever heard, and it is something you will want to remember. Imagine a thug's reaction if he wanted to fight and you said something like, "I love homemade pickles. My Aunt Jane used to make great pickles."

When I was growing up, I wasn't the toughest kid, but I beat up a lot of bullies because I was smarter than they were. As an adult, I have not been in a fight because I have been able to avoid them.

As adults, avoiding violence is the ultimate self-defense skill, and we do that when we use our brains, our awareness, and our ability to remain calm. John was able to do that by remembering a lesson he learned on my podcast, and I am very happy to have been a small part of this story.

 


An Effective Tactic for Verbal Self-Defense: Flipping the Script

Assault"Hey, what are you looking at?"

Every boy learns to recognize this question. It's one of the first things a bully will say when he chooses you for a target.

It doesn't matter how you answer.

You might say, "I'm not looking at anything."

"What? Are you saying I'm nothing?" the bully will reply.

And then he walks closer. He is ready to fight. 

As adults, these types of encounters are not as common, but they do happen. Often, the bully is replaced by someone with more sinister motives -- someone who wants to do us harm.

Dan Djurdjevic is a martial artist from Perth, Australia who has developed the concept of "flipping the script" on someone who is verbally setting up an assault. 

You can "flip the script" when you reply to a leading question with something that the potential attacker is not expecting.

For example, he might say, "What are you looking at?"

He is expecting you to be afraid and reply, "Nothing." Then he can continue with his script.

But what if you give him something he isn't expecting, for example, "Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention, I just found out my wife has cancer."

He would be completely thrown off his script. He would not know how to react, and the threat might be over quickly.

Or, you could smile and reply, "Hey, how are you? I haven't seen you in a while."

He might stop in his tracks and wonder what the hell is going on. You could say, "Oh, sorry, you look like a good friend of mine that I haven't seen in years. You look just like him."

In the latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast, Dan Djurdjevic gives two or three great examples of how he flipped the script on a stranger who appeared at his door one night with a knife held behind his back, a robber who was looking to take his money at the train station, and he describes a funny story of how a friend disarmed a potential attacker by saying something that made no sense at all.

It's an interview that will give you some great ideas, but it's also great self-defense. If you can avoid a fight, that demonstrates that you have the ultimate self-defense skill.

Here is a link to the Dan Djurdjevic interview on Audello (listen online or download the podcast).

Here is a link to the podcast on iTunes.

Here is a link to the podcast on Stitcher.

Make sure you subscribe to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast and hear interviews with top internal martial artists around the world.