Think Before You Strike -- the Legal Side of Self-Defense

Pi Chuan Cutting 1Oh, sure, you talk big. If someone threatens you or comes at you, he will get his butt kicked, right? You'll kick it for him, won't you?

We all have an image in our minds of the guy who gets attacked and we take out the attacker with a few cool techniques.

It is more likely that you will be in a bar where someone gives you some crap, you'll both do the Monkey Dance, and he will tell you he's going to kick your butt. You punch him out and he crumples like an empty suit.

In reality, that could land you in jail.

Here are some guidelines that can help you decide if the law is on your side in a case of self-defense.

Is there an imminent threat of violence?

Do you fear for your physical safety?

If someone shouts at you from across the room that they are going to beat you up, that is not justification for you to strike. If someone insults you or calls you or your girlfriend rude names, that is not justification to hit them. You can go to jail if you strike when you are not in imminent danger of physical harm.

If someone is throwing a punch, there is no longer a question of whether you are in danger.

Is the threat of physical harm over?

Someone hits you and hurts their hand. He doubles up in pain and staggers away, clutching his hand. You walk over, punch him in the face, and he falls and strikes his head on the floor, causing serious head trauma.

Be ready to go to prison for a while. The threat of physical danger was over and you took a violent action that injured someone.

A bully pushes you and swings at you. In self-defense, you punch him in the solar plexus and he falls to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. At this point, he is no longer a threat to you. Any further action you take can land you in trouble.

Is your response proportional?

A tough guy in a bar picks up a pool stick and takes a swing at you. Reaching into your pocket, you pull out a knife and stab him.

You could be going away for a while, because it could be successfully argued that your response was deadly force, when you were not on the receiving end of deadly force.

There are a lot of scenarios that you can imagine if you are one of the people who takes advantage of concealed carry laws.

Would a reasonable person be afraid for their safety?

This is a question often asked in a court case. If a "reasonable person" were in your place, would that person have been afraid to the point of violence?

If you weigh a muscular 250 pounds, and a person weighing 140 pounds is threatening you, a jury could consider how serious a threat the smaller person presented to you in reality.

An insult or a challenge would not necessarily cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety. 

Do you have the opportunity to retreat instead of using deadly force?

In many states, you have a "duty to retreat" if you can leave without harm and without using deadly force.

Self-defense laws can change from one state to another, so it is a good idea to do a little research for the state where you live or the states you visit.

Another Important Point

Okay, perhaps you hurt somebody badly in a self-defense situation, you are charged with a crime but you are found not guilty. 

That is not the end of your troubles. A civil lawsuit is always possible by the person you hurt or their family.

This is yet another reason to think very carefully before rushing into violence.

Remaining Centered Is Great Self-Defense

I was at a James Taylor concert around 1999 or 2000, with great second row tickets. Three guys were behind me, and one of them was drunk and singing off-key at the top of his lungs, drowning out James Taylor. People around us were seething with frustration, but everyone was afraid to speak up, except me.

I like James Taylor, but maybe not enough to lose a job over.

I finally turned to the guys, who appeared to be around 30 years old, and I said, "Hey guys, I paid good money for these tickets and I would really like to hear James Taylor sing instead of you." 

One of the sober ones, a mean-looking guy, gave me the Evil Eye and said, "The three of us can take you on."

I turned to my wife and we both laughed. Actually, they probably couldn't have taken me on. But as I sat there with others in the area thanking me for speaking up, and the three guys making occasional taunts at me, I realized that the situation could potentially escalate to violence.

At that point, I realized that there was no good outcome. I could get my butt kicked by three guys, or I could hurt one or two or all of them, or we could all be arrested in mid-fight by security.

I had a vision of spending the night in jail, of a story landing in the newspaper, of losing my job and possibly being sued if I injured one of the idiots who were sitting behind me.

I decided to center myself and not react to their taunts. They stopped singing loudly and we enjoyed the concert, despite the layer of tension that existed because I didn't know what would happen when it was over. But when the concert ended, they went in one direction and my wife and I went in the other direction.

No one was injured and nobody lost their jobs.

A friend of mine was in a bar one night and a guy came charging at him. My friend punched him in the face -- hard -- and his attacker hit the floor, out like a light. 

Stories like that scare me. Punching an adult in the face is serious business. Breaking their limbs is a serious act of violence. The most serious injuries don't happen when the punch is thrown -- it happens when the person falls and hits their head. What began as a simple bar fight could now be manslaughter....or worse. You could become a felon in about five seconds.

If you are seriously in danger of harm, or you see another person who is in danger of harm, self-defense is the reasonable thing to do. But it is a wise person who studies the law and understands when self-defense is justified or when it could turn your life into a living hell.

I encourage you to find your state's laws on self-defense and learn them. If you are a martial arts teacher, your students should know the law, too.

And remember, no one is ever hurt when at least one of the parties keeps his cool and defuses the situation instead of escalating it. That could be the best self-defense advice of all, and the best lesson you can teach your students.


Do Martial Arts Prepare Students for Real-World Violence? The Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Rory Miller

Rory Miller 2Rory Miller's book, "Meditations on Violence," slapped a lot of martial artists across the face with the cold hand of reality.

Miller is a former corrections officer who worked in "booking," where criminals are brought to be checked into the jail or prison when they are angry, still on drugs, and not always searched as well as the booking officer would want. Officers who work in booking are unarmed, and if they work at a county jail, for example, they end up getting in more fights than the entire police force combined.

As a martial artist, Miller soon realized that there is a big difference between real-world violence and what is taught as self-defense in traditional martial arts classes. 

Internal Fighting Arts Logo 250I have wanted to interview Rory Miller since I began my Internal Fighting Arts podcast. He is the guest in the latest episode.

He talks about the difference between "social" violence and predatory violence, and how you can prepare yourself for both.

Listen online or download the file by clicking this link to Audello. The podcast is also available on iTunes.



The Dilemma of Paris -- Self-Defense in the Age of Modern Terrorism

ParisNancy and I went to an Asian restaurant in Davenport, Iowa on Saturday evening and were seated in a room all to ourselves. The waitress started a small fireplace. It was very relaxing.

And then I realized that if a terrorist with a gun walked into the door of the restaurant, we were sitting ducks. There was no escape.

What a shame that we live in a world where this is something we think about at a time when we should be simply relaxing and enjoying ourselves.

The terrorist attacks in Paris this weekend hit a lot of us in the civilized world like a sidekick to the stomach. Many of us watched news reports from the restaurants and concert hall with the same thoughts -- what if we had been there when gunmen walked in? How do we protect ourselves against a terrorist attack?

I do not carry a gun. I don't even own a gun. Nancy and I have considered buying one to keep in the house, but I have always resisted the "concealed carry" idea. All we need in a world of hair-trigger tempers and road rage is a population of frustrated people carrying firearms.

And yet, self-defense has been my hobby since 1973. What good is self-defense in an age of terrorism?

For decades, I have endured comments such as, "You know kung-fu? I'll shoot you before you can use your kung-fu. I know Smith & Wesson."

That's a silly comment, because studies have shown that if you have a gun on you, a motivated attacker will be on top of you before you can pull the gun. And besides, you don't have to worry about defending yourself against a guy who practices kung-fu. You have to worry about the criminal who wants to kill you -- right now. He isn't messing around and he is not going to warn you in time to pull your gun.

On the other hand, you can spend decades working on empty-hand self-defense techniques only to be blown away by a radical jihadist with an assault weapon because you were seated in the wrong part of a restaurant.

None of us want to be paranoid. It is not healthy to constantly feel the urge to look over your shoulder. We must be able to relax. But we must also expect the unexpected.

And so here are a few things you can begin doing as a safety precaution:

  • Always scope out the exits. Know an escape route if you need one.
  • If possible, request a restaurant table near an escape route -- an exit or near the kitchen -- away from the front door.
  • Sit so that your back is not to the door. Sit so that you have a view of what is happening.
  • In a public place such as a mall, be mindful of who is around you and where the exits are located. When you enter a store, be aware of exits into the back rooms. Those exits sometimes lead to the outside or into another hallway, or there may be storage areas where you can hide.
  • Some people say if you are in a store and employees start running in a particular direction, follow them because they may have practiced an emergency exit drill.
  • Movie theaters are difficult because if you sit in the main part of the theater, and an attacker with a gun walks in, you are typically a sitting duck. One possibility is to sit closer to the exits, which are often next to the screen. In older theaters, there were also exits at the top of the stairs, but most theaters now are built differently and there is no exit at the top.
  • Most importantly -- Remain Mindful and alert to what is happening around you. This does not mean to remain in a hyper-vigilant "fight or flight" mode all the time. It means to pay attention to people, sounds, and the atmosphere around you. 

I have written about an incident that happened in Chicago a couple of years ago. Nancy and I were walking along the shops on Michigan Avenue when the crowd of people on the sidewalks and in the stores began getting larger. There were more young people and I noticed that their voices were growing louder as they talked and laughed.

After a few minutes, I realized that something did not feel right to me.

"Let's go back in the opposite direction," I said, and I held Nancy's hand and guided her away from the shopping area, back toward our hotel.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"My self-defense radar went off," I said. "Something isn't right."

Chicago Violence 2We got clear of the crowds and stopped for dinner, then returned to our hotel room in time to turn on the 10:00 news. The lead story told of how bands of young people had started running through the crowds attacking shoppers on Michigan Avenue at exactly the location we were shopping. It had started just a few minutes after my "Self-Defense Radar" had pinged. 

Nancy was impressed. She had not noticed anything, but I had remained mindful, aware of what was happening around me. It was not anything I had been doing consciously -- I was just being mindful as I normally am.

As I was reminded that night in Chicago, the best self-defense is to not be there in the first place. If you know of a bar where fights sometimes happen, stay away from that bar. If you are walking down the street and see some people hanging out that give you a bad vibe, cross the street or -- better yet -- turn and go the opposite way. Being a little inconvenienced is much better than being attacked.

I live in the Quad Cities, on the border of Iowa and Illinois. This is a pretty safe place compared to many American cities. But all you need is one mentally ill loner, or a radical young man or woman who decides to align their goals with ISIS and you can find yourself among others who say, "We never thought it would happen here."

But we cannot remain locked in our homes. We cannot be afraid to go out. If we are afraid, the terrorists achieve one of their goals -- to terrorize. So relax, breathe deeply, remain centered, enjoy your life, but remain mindful at all times.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone -- A Guided Chaos Workshop

Ken Gullette - Al Ridenhour 1
Working on Contact Flow with a master at his art, Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour.

Have you ever emptied your cup and attended a workshop that is outside your comfort zone -- outside the art that you typically practice?

Some of the most valuable instruction I have ever received has been from people who made me feel like a complete beginner. I feel this way when I study with any of the Chen family, and I felt that way when I worked with my best teachers. I also felt that way when I attended a "Guided Chaos" workshop in Cincinnati last weekend and worked with Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour and Kevin Harrell.

I was introduced to Guided Chaos through my friend, Evan Yeung, a few years ago. How can I best describe this art? There are no forms. It is a no-nonsense method of handling the chaos that can happen when you are face-to-face with real-life violence. It is a fighting art.

When I first heard of it, I was skeptical. The world is full of people who "created" their own martial art. Very often, that means they were not willing to put in the work to master a real martial art. During the past few years, when Evan worked with me on Guided Chaos (at the same time I worked with him on Chen Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua), he showed me an exercise they call Contact Flow. I immediately saw the connection with push hands, but it was more than just a connection. Through Contact Flow, I was recognizing skills that all internal artists -- especially those who practice push hands and close-up fighting skills -- should develop, but many of them don't.

I have seen Al Ridenhour in the Guided Chaos DVDs. The videos do not do him justice. When I read about him

Kevin Harrell - Ken Gullette
Every bit of advice Kevin Harrell gave me at the workshop was gold.

and Kevin on their website, both had the title "Master." Naturally, I rolled my eyes. But after I worked with them for a weekend, I realized the titles are deserved.

Contact Flow is one of the skills they practice that resembles push hands although there is no "pattern." You start very slowly and match the speed of your partner. Each of you tries to strike and defend, but by starting slowly, you learn just how out-of-balance you can become and how inefficient your movement can be. As you get better, you speed up, but as in any quality art, it takes a while to get better as you overcome bad habits.

In person, both Al and Kevin could get through my defenses at will. And as I worked on it with other partners, they would offer coaching that was spot on. I took a lot of notes and have plenty to practice -- and plenty to apply to my push hands.

I used to drive a couple of hours to Rockford, Illinois, to study with my teachers Jim and Angela Criscimagna. In the car on the way home, I would always feel like bouncing around because I was excited at what I had learned. I felt the same way driving the 7 1/2 hours from Cincinnati back to the Quad Cities on Sunday night.

I have attended workshops by a lot of great martial artists -- from Bill Wallace to Kathy Long and the Chen family, plus some workshops I have forgotten. The Guided Chaos workshop was one of the best and most practical that I have attended. I can't say enough about Al and Kevin. They are great teachers.

The founder of Guided Chaos, John Perkins, doesn't really have a lineage in Taiji. To look at him, you certainly wouldn't guess he is a martial artist. And yet, he apparently is one of those people who comes along once in a while and possesses a gift. There are no forms in his art. It is designed for use in real-life self-defense. And yet, he has captured the essence of something that has eluded many internal artists. It should be required training for anyone in the internal arts. Hell, it should be part of any martial artist's training.

Ken Gullette-Al Ridenhour-Kevin Harrell-Evan Yeung
Evan Yeung, Ken Gullette, Kevin Harrell and Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour at the Guided Chaos workshop in Cincinnati on Sept. 20, 2015.

Most people never get to a level in push hands that approaches what I would expect from a good Contact Flow practitioner. And while in push hands we work hard to maintain a centered stance at all times, in Guided Chaos they work to strike from their root even when they find themselves in an off-balance or awkward position. It is a very complementary concept to what good internal arts should be.

And we didn't even get into the Guided Chaos ground-fighting or other aspects of their training. But you can check it out on their website.

I enjoy the "art" part of martial arts. I love the precision of the forms and enjoy working on my body mechanics and movement. I have not been in a "real" fight since I was 18, and I try to avoid situations where I would need to use my martial skills. So at 62 years of age, I would not be satisfied to study an art that does not include what I get from Chen Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, which are great fighting arts if studied and practiced properly. And when it comes to real self-defense, there is NO one-size fits all. For every attack that is raining chaos on you, I can show you two YouTube videos where one punch ends the fight. So you can put down one glass of Kool-Aid and replace it with another if you aren't careful. I try not to drink the Kool-Aid, remaining open to the truth in different styles.

There is truth to discover in Guided Chaos, and it fits perfectly into whatever internal or external martial art you are studying.

My thanks to R.J. Trusty for hosting the workshop at his Five White Tigers Martial Arts school. I will be at the next one, too.

Extra Note -- For more about Guided Chaos, here is the Internal Fighting Arts podcast I did with Ari Kandel earlier this year.

Is Your Martial Art Preparing You for Real-Life Self-Defense?

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-3What is real-life self-defense? What is real-life self-defense with the internal arts?

Do I need to step into a ring and go full-contact these days to prove myself?

Do you?

There are suddenly a lot of keyboard warriors out there who seem to think so. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. I have always enjoyed fighting, but as an adult, I believe it is much better to learn how to fight without getting hurt and without hurting someone else.

When my 15-year-old student was grabbed by a drunk step-father who was preparing to punch him out, my student broke the step-father's elbow with chin-na we practiced in class. That's real-life self-defense.

When my student who is a police officer took a fugitive rapist down with Pi Chuan, a Xingyi technique, he didn't ask himself during the encounter if he was using internal energy just right. He simply took down the man who was considered dangerous.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-2When three drunk guys at a concert wanted to fight me, I remained centered and managed to defuse the situation. There was no violence, there were no lawsuits, nobody went to the hospital and nobody lost their job. That is real-life self-defense, too. 

Sometimes, the best fighter is the smartest.

I love to pad up and go at it in class. My students do even when they don't pad up. I have done it less the last few years for health reasons, and instead I have tried to work on my internal movement and the body mechanics related to effective fighting.

Most of the guys who troll online and criticize others for a lack of fighting skill because they are not going "full contact" are guilty of mental masturbation. They can't fight, but they are keyboard warriors. Most of us who are out here trying to get better -- especially those of us in the internal arts, where the principles of good fighting are more complex -- are at different levels of mediocrity, practicing, understanding, taking baby steps.

Recently, I have been feeling stronger after stopping some medication (blood thinners and Lipitor) and plan on ramping up the sparring even with one lung. For years, I have realized that if I was hit in the head by a sparring partner while on blood thinners, it could easily cause a hemmorrhage and even death. To make matters worse, Lipitor has made me feel weak for years and I didn't realize it was the culprit until two months ago.

Ken-Gullette-Toughman-Jab-2Since 2009, I've had to do a lot more coaching than sparring, and it sucks. Hopefully, that will change, but in the end, I'm at the point where I have to wrap my head around being a coach more than the one in the match.

I suddenly know what guys like John Calipari probably go through -- coaches who would love to get in a play during the championship game but have to pace the sidelines and coach the players. It's very strange.

The video below is from the Toughman Contest in Sioux City, in March or April, 1991. I was 38 years old. I'm the one in blue. By the way, I wore number 14 because it was Pete Rose's number. Big Red Machine fans will understand. This is not internal fighting. It is boxing, and it took place two years before I trained with the Iowa State University Boxing team, so I really was not a boxer when I did this fight. It shows.

I loved it. There is nothing like putting it on the line -- one on one -- the ultimate personal competition. It's why I never lost a fight growing up. I tried to avoid fighting, but when a bully pushed too far, I would fight, and I really enjoyed it. Usually, I was not the toughest fighter. But I was always the smartest. One of the reasons I was the smartest was because I tried to avoid fighting!!

Get it?

Even in the full contact match below, you can see near the end that I was trying to have fun. In my opinion, fun is one of the main reasons to do martial arts. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone.

We study the internal arts. We are trying to get better at using the internal arts for self-defense. It is a very deep, worthwhile, and difficult goal. The principles are much more difficult than in many other arts. If we have not mastered it, there are no claims of mastery being made. But we do enjoy the journey.

This blog post was triggered by an arrogant asshole who I don't even know who "questioned" whether I could use the internal arts in a fight. Please forgive the profanity, dear readers, but -- really, Motherfucker? Does it make you feel better about yourself to troll Facebook and make superior comments about the skill of other people? By the way, I searched this guy pretty thoroughly. There is not one photo or video of him doing anything at all. Figures. A keyboard warrior.

If I have to use martial arts to defend myself, it will be a very dangerous situation. Like my police officer student or my 15-year old abused student, I will not waste any mental effort criticizing myself if I don't adhere to my attacker, or use the right amount of peng, if my Dan T'ien isn't rotating quite right, if I don't follow his technique just right or if my fajing is not perfectly connected through the body. I will simply try to break his knee, elbow, or face as quickly as I can. Better yet, it would be really great if I am able to remain centered and again defuse the situation so that no violence occurs. 

There are a few people online claiming near mastery of the internal arts, but most of us are simply learning, showing, discussing, and trying to move forward in our understanding and skill. I enjoy folks like Stuart Shaw who are pushing internal artists forward in their actual fighting skill. Far too many internal artists are into "meditation" or the "woo" aspects of the arts. But when someone I don't know visits my page and starts "questioning" whether I can fight with my arts, that's a type of arrogance that deserves a smackdown. And when you are talking about real-life self-defense, there are many ways to use our training, including defusing a situation.

I don't study the internal arts to fight in the street. I already know how to fight. There is a reason the word "art" is included in "internal martial arts." It's fun, it's deep, it's a form of self-learning and self-expression, and it is fascinating to explore and improve my skill over a long period of time.

In the end, there are many benefits to the internal arts, and many ways to use it for real-life self-defense. Not all of those require you to prove yourself to dumbasses who are trying to pee higher on the Internet tree. I suggest doing what I do -- block these arrogant bastards who have probably never had a real fight, and just keep on studying and practicing. And if some of them want to get in a ring and run the risk of concussions, they can knock themselves out. I will still be the smarter fighter in the end. 

Connecting Drill Number 1 - Slapping Hands

This is a fun drill that helps sharpen your reflexes and also helps you learn to connect to your opponent. It is one of several drills that develop the relaxed state of readiness and observational skills you need to move when your opponent moves and not be caught lagging behind.

This isn't the same as a sensitivity drill. This is useful against an opponent that is not touching you -- yet. If you can anticipate his action and "respond like an echo" you have a much greater chance of winning the encounter. When he moves, you move. When his attack arrives, you are already there.

Other drills involve stepping and deflecting and even working with a staff, but this is fun and works with any style of internal or external arts.

You stand with your hands in a "prayer" position in front of you. Your partner has his hands at his sides. He is not allowed to fake you out. He must try to slap your hands. He can use one or both of his hands to slap.

Your job is to be ready and "connect" with him, anticipating his attack, reading his intent and getting your hands out of the way.

It goes something like this.


For more than 700 other video lessons, ebooks and other material on the internal arts of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, go to and try two weeks free.


Connecting -- The Number One Skill in Tai Chi, Hsing-I or Bagua

Ken Gullette sparring 1980
I am on the right against a fast, skilled opponent.

I was sparring a guy in 1980 and he was taking it to me. He was fast, with a great reverse punch that had nailed me a couple of times as I moved in on him. I was tensing up, trying to figure out how to beat him.

Then I connected. I relaxed and got my head out of the match. I waited with a relaxed state of readiness for him to move.

When he attacked, I was already moving. When he arrived, I was already there and planted a hook kick on the side of his face.

Ken Gullette Hook Kick 1980
After connecting, I was ready for his attack and nailed him with a hook kick.

When I took my black sash test in 1997, among the many tasks I had to perform was a sparring match with wooden broadswords to show strategy, technique, and skill. My "opponent" was another black sash with a wooden broadsword. He was cocky and considered himself a lot better.

I relaxed and calmed my mind. I centered, and connected with him. We assumed the on guard stance. 

The instant he moved toward me with his sword, the tip of my broadsword was already touching his shirt at the heart. It would have been a clean kill. One cut, fight over.

Have you ever sparred with a martial artist whose reactions to your techniques were sluggish and seemed to lag behind yours? 

You throw a technique and it gets through, or he deflects it, but his counter comes after a beat, giving you plenty of time to throw another attack or prepare for the counter. It's as if he has no idea you are going to attack until the attack has landed.

He is not connected.

When you are not connected, you will always work a step or two behind your opponent or your partner. Being connected allows you to respond like an echo, or as the Tai Chi classic says, "When my opponent moves, I move faster. When my opponent arrives, I am already there."

The same is true in Hsing-I and Bagua. 

Look at this video. It shows a Hsing-I fighter who thinks that if he just has a good San Ti stance, he is doing Hsing-I. He is not connected to his partner and the result -- he gets knocked out.

Maybe this isn't fair. This is a poorly trained fighter. He has no business being in a full contact match. I hate seeing someone suffer a concussion for such a stupid reason as this. A concussion can change your life. But this post isn't about that sort of stupidity -- it's about the lack of a connection with your opponent, which he displays.


The art of connecting to your opponent is the number one skill in the internal arts and there are plenty of ways to practice. Here is one.

Connecting Drill #1


Connecting Drill Ken Gullette - Justin Snow
A connecting drill -- my partner prepares to try and slap my hands.

Your partner should stand with his hands at his sides. You will stand in front of him with your hands in a "prayer" posture (palms together) held out at a range where he can reach them.

Your partner is not allowed to fake. His goal is to slap your hands before you can pull them away. 

This drill requires you to relax -- remain in a relaxed state of readiness -- and be hyper-sensitive to your partner's intent and his physical movement. You must pull your hands out of the way before your partner can slap them.

Connecting Drill 2 - Ken Gullette and Justin Snow
I connect with Justin Snow, my partner, and get out of the way before his hand can slap mine.

After a couple of minutes, switch sides. You will hold your hands at your sides and your partner will hold his hands out, giving you a chance to slap them. He will need to connect with you and pull his hands out of the way before you can slap them.

This is also a good reaction drill and a speed drill, too. If you are trying to slap your partner's hands and you telegraph your movement, he will easily be able to avoid being slapped.

This is just one of many connecting drills. The concept can be carried forward into sparring. Become your opponent. Relax and be ready. Anticipate his movement. When his attack begins, you should already be moving. When his technique arrives, you are already there.

Connecting is not just a concept for fighting. This is a skill that also carries into your daily life. Are you connected to the people at work? Can you anticipate when your boss or a co-worker has a need for your skills? 

At home, are you connected with your spouse and your children, or do you mentally detach yourself? Do you listen? Do you become "one" with your partner?

When you interact with the world, are you connected? Are you doing more damage than good to our planet and to the creatures that inhabit it? Can you do better?

Do you have empathy for other people who feel wronged, abused, or disrespected by society or by authority? Can you connect with them and see the world through their eyes?

A lot of good things happen when you learn to connect.

Chen Laojia Yilu Form - One Self-Defense Application for "Six Sealings Four Closings"

The Chen Tai Chi form "Laojia Yilu" is almost a complete fighting art in itself. In 2008, I recorded three DVDs that take each movement in the form and break them down, unlocking more than 400 self-defense applications from this one form.

Hand strikes, punches, kicks, knee strokes, elbows, shoulders, kicks, sweeps, takedowns, joint locks -- it's all there.

I am currently adapting the DVDs for a new Kindle ebook that should be out within two weeks. It's a big task to try and write a book with 400 fighting applications from one form.

But as I was working on the ebook today, I was focusing on the applications for the movement "Six Sealings Four Closings." Actually, just part of the movement, a part when the arm folds in. It's a "closing" movement that shows up in a lot of postures throughout all Tai Chi forms in every style.

The applications in these DVDs, by the way, work with any style of Tai Chi. After all, all styles evolved from the same source.

Take a look at this short clip and then go to the link and watch another clip from the DVDs.


 Watch another clip from the DVDs on Laojia Yilu fighting applications.

How to Use Intent in Your Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua Movements

I am currently updating my instructional videos for the Chen Tai Chi form Laojia Yilu, replacing video shot between 2008 and 2010. As I was shooting instruction on Sunday for the second movement of the form -- Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar -- the concept of "intent" came to mind as something a lot of people misunderstand.

A lot of Tai Chi instructors talk about "intent," but too many students are left with the impression that intent is somehow connected to "cultivating chi" or other mystical, healing energy nonsense.

Let's cut out the noise, eliminate the middleman, and cut to the chase.

"Intent" means exactly what it implies. What is the intent of the movement? What are you intending to do with this movement?

The answer is almost always a self-defense application.

Tai Chi was created as a martial art. Every movement in the form is a self-defense movement. 

Buddhas Warrior 1When you perform Tai Chi movements with the intent of self-defense, it informs how your "energy" should be used, how you focus your body mechanics, and where you put your arms and legs. You feel completely different when you move if you are thinking about self-defense rather than becoming One with the universe or trying to be healed by some mystical, cosmic force.

Let me show an example of how the intent of a movement impacts the move. There is one movement that almost always comes second in a Chen Tai Chi form. It is called "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar." 

Buddhas Warrior 2In the first part of the movement -- which contains several parts -- you raise the arms at an angle on the left side of your body. In the top photo, you have just finished the Opening movement. In the second photo, you have raised your arms to the left side. But your arms are angled to the left.

Many beginners go too far to the left, until their arms are pointing sideways.

If you go too far to the left, you violate the "intent" of the movement, which is primarily to grab an incoming punch, get your hands on your opponent's punching arm, and either break it or control it some other way, such as an armbar takedown.

Buddhas Warrior 3Let me show you. In the third photo, if a punch comes in and I move my hands up to the left side too far, I get a bloody nose. And believe me, my nose is hard to miss.

The last photo shows where my hands need to rise to intercept and grab the incoming arm. I deflect and grab the wrist with my left hand and bring my right hand to his elbow.

Buddhas Warrior 4This can be a strike, holding his wrist in place and striking his elbow with the right palm. Elbows break very easily. If the situation does not call for that level of violence, you can do an armbar instead. This is where your hands should be at this point in the movement -- at an angle, not too far to the side. Why? Because it doesn't make sense from a martial perspective to take them too far.

And so, your body, arms, hands, legs, etc. are more likely to be in the proper place if you are able to execute a self-defense application while using your energy in the most efficient internal way.

All of the other principles of Tai Chi are still in play here -- the internal and external harmonies, the body mechanics, the "energies," etc. But the intent of the movement drives it all, and the intent is the application.

If you are not practicing the fighting applications of Tai Chi, there is no way you are going to understand the true intent of the movements. No way. End of story. No matter what your teacher tells you while he is urging you to cultivate chi.

And here is another dirty little secret. As long as you are thinking about cultivating chi and you do not learn the fighting application, you will never have a clear idea on how to properly perform Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar or any other movement in the internal arts.

Here is another little secret. If chi actually does exist (and you know how I feel about that), it will be flowing and cultivating if you do the movement properly and if you are practicing the fighting application in a way that uses proper body mechanics. It is much easier to "feel" the "chi flow" when you perform an application and understand "Oh, THIS is the way I close into the kua and use whole body movement to knock this guy over my knee!" Those lightbulb moments will illuminate the "secrets" of Tai Chi for you a lot faster than pondering abstract, flowery descriptions in the Tai Chi Classics.

On my online videos and my DVDs, fighting applications are as essential as the body mechanics of the movements. In fact, the body mechanics of the movements are often understood much more clearly by showing how they work in a self-defense situation. The entire feeling of a movement changes when you work it in a self-defense scenario. That is why I teach applications as I teach the movement -- in person, on my website, and in most of my DVDs. In fact, if you want a really good understanding of Chen Tai Chi applications, many of them also adaptable to Hsing-I and Bagua, check out my 3-disc DVD series on Tai Chi Fighting Applications.

The concept of "intent" is a simple one. The real art, and the real complexity, comes when you try to apply internal body mechanics properly in both movement and self-defense.

Is Your Internal Arts Class Preparing You for Real World Self-Defense? Podcast Interview with Ari Kandel of Guided Chaos

Logo-IFA-2014-300I am turning 62 years old this week. I have managed to make it this far without ever being attacked by someone who wanted to kill me. I usually stay aware of my surroundings at all times and it has served me well over the years.

Remaining aware without anxiety is an important part of self-defense. A state of hyper-vigilance, like that of a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, or a police officer who is constantly put into potentially violent situations is not healthy and rewires your brain in destructive ways. This is why soldiers returning from war have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and why abused children have trouble in school and can act out in violent ways. Anyone who has to remain on alert, constantly in a "fight or flight" mode, is damaged. But awareness and mindfulness is a different and a more healthy state of mind.

So how much time do I need to spend training for a type of violent attack that I have never experienced? And what else do I need to do to prevent that type of attack from happening?

I was always a good fighter. I have beaten guys who were great punchers -- who jacked my jaw -- by being smarter. But I haven't been in a real fight since I was 18 (I have diffused or avoided fights as an adult). That's another reason I am about to turn 62.

As an internal artist, how much do I enjoy and appreciate the "art" and how much do I train for real world self-defense? I like a balance. But that is one of the reasons I wanted to do this week's podcast on Guided Chaos.  I appreciate what they do. Their material has made me take a fresh look at the Xingyi, Taiji and Bagua that I practice. 

It is important to understand that if you train in self-defense but don't prepare yourself for the killer -- not just the ego fighter in a bar -- you are missing a key element of a good self-defense mindset.

I think this is a good interview that all internal artists -- hell, all martial artists -- need to hear, even if, like me, you intend to live the rest of your life without being attacked by a someone who really wants to harm you. Because you just never know, do you? You can listen to or download the podcast, and I would appreciate it if you would share this blog post.

I became aware of Guided Chaos through my good friend, Evan Yeung. Although I had done push hands for some time, when he showed me the Contact Flow training exercise that they do, it changed the way I approach push hands and close-up self-defense.

Guided Chaos is a martial art created by John Perkins in 1978. It is heavily influenced by the internal arts, although calling it an internal art would get eyes to roll among some in the Chen Taiji community. But I would urge you to open your mind and absorb what is useful, and there is a lot here that is useful.

In the latest Internal Fighting Arts podcast, I talk with Ari Kandel, a 4th degree black belt with Guided Chaos who runs a school in Boca Raton, Florida. You can listen online or download the podcast by following this link. It is also available on iTunes.

There is a Guided Chaos workshop scheduled for April 18 and 19, 2015 in Kansas City and a workshop that I plan to attend in Cincinnati on September 19 and 20, 2015. You can find details for the workshops and much more information on the Guided Chaos website.