The top image shows a mistake that I see a lot. In fact, there is a good chance you are making this mistake in your forms, especially Bagua and Taiji.
I spent several years making this mistake and I was never called on it.
Then, I was training with Chen Huixian and her husband, Michael, and they pointed it out. I was doing "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar" and it was pointed out that my rear leg was collapsed.
In the top photo, my right leg is collapsing. I have lost my peng.
As you can see in the upper image, my stability and strength is far less with a collapsed leg. I cannot "defend from all directions."
It is a lot more difficult to maintain peng in the legs. It helps to relax and sit deeper into the kua, and it requires a lot of mental focus until you break the habit of collapsing.
That one bit of advice changed a lot of my stances. And now, I see people collapsing their legs a lot; even some people who are called masters.
Sometimes, there is no one to tell a master that he has gotten lazy, or perhaps his teacher did not teach him this particular thing.
Don't have "noodle legs."
Try to find a mirror so you can watch to see if your legs are collapsing. Watch for it in all movements. In Bagua, I see it a lot in movements such as "Sweep the Rider from the Horse" and similar movements.
It happens often when you are shifting weight -- the knee on the non-weight-bearing leg will collapse.
Remember to maintain peng throughout the entire body at all times.
The photos are taken from my book, "Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi." If you don't have it, you can click the link and buy it through my website or through Amazon.
--by Ken Gullette
Is your mind quiet enough to do Tai Chi?
In the latest edition of my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, I interview Michael Dorgan, a Hunyuan Taijiquan instuctor and owner of Hunyuan Martial Arts Academy of San Jose in California.
Michael is a disciple of the late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang. He has also studied with Wong Jack Man, George Xu, Zhang Xue Xin, Feng Xiuqian and Chen Xiang.
Michael was a correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers stationed in Beijing in 1999 when he met Feng Zhiqiang.
In 1980, Michael wrote the article about the Bruce Lee/Wong Jack Man fight that eventually sparked the movie "Birth of the Dragon."
Michael talks with me about training with Wong Jack Man, Michael's opinion about the fight, his training in Chen Hunyuan Taiji, and the importance of a quiet mind and a virtuous character if someone is to attain high-level skill in this art.
Michael's website is www.taichisanjose.com.
Here is a link to the podcast on Audello. Listen online or download the file:
You can also play it here (below) or find it on other podcast distributors, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.
I have been sending out weekly training tips to members of my website and other people on my email list. If you would like to join the list and receive weekly emails, use the form at the bottom of this post.
This week's training tip is short and sweet.
The next time you work on a form and you come to a stepping movement, put the energy in your knees when you step.
If you think about it, most of the time you probably are just moving the leg, or stepping with the foot on movements such as "Stepping Three Steps" or "Whirling Upper Arms" (performed by stepping backward).
If you put your mind and your energy into the knee, and use the lifting of the knee as the focal point of your stepping, you will find that your steps will become more light and lively (as long as you don't stomp down as you land).
So don't lift the foot when you step, and don't lift the leg -- lift the knee. Think of having your "energy in the knee."
It will keep you from shuffling your feet, which is never a good thing, and it will make your steps more lively.
Also, when doing moving push hands or otherwise engaging with a partner to practice close-up fighting techniques and methods, the livelier you step, the more you can defend against foot sweeps or other disruptions of your structure if the opponent uses his legs and feet to try to unbalance you.
Let me know if you have any questions on any of the material the site or on the DVDs.
I have never interviewed someone who has studied tai chi directly with the Yang family until now.
The new edition of the podcast features an interview with Holly Sweeney-Hillman.
She is a student of Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun, and she teaches Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan in the Bedminster area of New Jersey.
Her website is www.taichistrong.com.
In this interview, we talk (among other things) about balance, her love of the science of movement, what it is like to study with Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun, and the upcoming International Tai Chi Chuan Symposium, to be held next month in Italy.
If you like this podcast, please send the link to your friends in the arts. It is also available on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, Audello, and other podcast platforms.
I met Derryl Willis at a Chen Xiaoxing workshop in Chicago several years ago. He is a disciple of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and the instructor at the Seattle School of Chen Style Taijiquan. He has made many trips to China to study in the Chen Village. And on his first visit, he stopped traffic just by walking down the street.
In this Internal Fighting Arts podcast interview, I talk with Derryl about the meaning of being a disciple, the importance of practicing the basics, and a valuable technique that one of his teachers, Madame Gao Fu, used to drive home the body mechanics of Taiji.
I came across Graham Barlow's blog, the Tai Chi Notebook, a few months ago and saw that he would be a good guest for my podcast.
Graham has studied Tai Chi for 25 years and began studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at age 39. He now has his black belt in BJJ.
So do the skills for self-defense in Tai Chi transfer to jiu jitsu, or does BJJ simply give you more tools for your arsenal?
Here are links to the podcast. Listen online or download it for listening on the go. It is also available to subscribe in iTunes (Apple Podcasts).
In 1990, I won a Gold Medal at the AAU Kung-Fu National Championships performing the Yang Tai Chi 24 Form, the short form that is practiced daily by millions of people worldwide. It is the most popular Tai Chi form in the world.
It took me 28 years, but I finally recorded step-by-step instruction and put it on a DVD. It is 2-1/2 hours of step-by-step instruction with a fresh perspective on body mechanics and movement.
The DVD includes complete demonstrations of the form from front and rear views, at regular speed and in extra slow motion. Then, I guide a student through each movement. That student happens to be my wife, Nancy. I teach her the form as we go, and you will learn by watching the mistakes she makes and you will learn what to avoid as I humiliate, I mean COACH her through the movements. Nancy is a good sport, and there is an outtake reel at the end of the DVD.
Even if you have studied the Yang 24 form, I believe this DVD will give you new insights into the body mechanics of the movements. I show you details of the movements that are rarely taught by instructors who teach this form.
The video is already online on my website, Internal Fighting Arts. Many of my members began their Tai Chi journey with the Yang 24, as I did. The reactions to the instruction have been better than I expected.
When I began teaching in 1997, the Yang 24 was part of my curriculum. I taught it for a few years, even after I switched from Yang style to Chen style in 1998. After studying the body mechanics of Chen Tai Chi, I realized what was missing in a lot of the Yang Tai Chi that you see being performed around the world.
Many people are doing an empty form. This DVD attempts to correct that. You will learn how the ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, Dantien rotation and the kua are used in the movements. You will learn how to sink your energy and use spiraling movement.
The Yang 24 was designed by a committee of experts in Beijing in 1956. It was intended to be a simplified form that people of all ages could use for fitness, exercise, and "moving meditation." Tai Chi is a martial art first and foremost, but the Yang 24 is not usually practiced that way.
This DVD is intended to teach the form for health and fitness. Clinical studies have shown that older people who practice Tai Chi see benefits ranging from improved balance and leg strength (fewer falls among the elderly) and reduced blood pressure and stress.
You will learn the Yang 24 Tai Chi form from this DVD. This is a Tai Chi beginner form that got me started in the art. It fits into anyone's hectic, modern lifestyle, and it can bring you benefits in health and quality of life.
The DVD costs only $19.99 and it comes with an Iron-Clad, No-Hassle Money-Back Guarantee. There is Free Shipping Worldwide. If you aren't satisfied for any reason, mail it back and receive a prompt refund, including your mailing costs.
Click the button below for our secure order page.
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.
There is a Taiji instructor -- a Chen family member -- living in the Kansas City area who every Chen Taiji person in the U.S. should know.
I have trained with several top Chen masters, and I believe she is the best instructor of them all. She is highly skilled, a traditional teacher (in other words, her classes are intense), but she has a sense of humor that makes her classes enjoyable. Also, she is interested in the people who attend.
Her name is Chen Huixian. She grew up in the Chen Village, met Michael Chritton when he went there to study with her uncle, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, and they eventually got married and moved to Overland Park, Kansas. Huixian is also the niece of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.
This is a brief capsule video explaining who she is.
If you have been reading this blog since I began writing it in 2006, you know that I do not put teachers on pedestals.
I look at martial arts masters as people, not gods. I do not worship them. I do not want them to be a parental figure. All I want to do is learn from them and support their efforts.
And so I hope it means something to you when I tell you there is a jewel of Taijiquan that is shining here in the United States and, in my opinion, the best Taiji instructor that I have met. For most of the people who have studied Chen Taiji in America, it is an undiscovered jewel.
This past weekend, I attended another workshop by Chen Huixian, who lives and teaches with her husband Michael Chritton in Overland Park, Kansas, which is part of the greater Kansas City area. Michael met her when he was training in the Chen Village under Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. They eventually married and she moved with Michael back to Overland Park.
How lucky that was for Michael. And how lucky it was for us.
Michael was the very first guest on my podcast, and he told of how their relationship developed. It is a great story. Here is a link to the podcast.
Huixian grew up in the Chen Village and is the niece of Chen Zhenglei, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.
So we have a member of the Chen family living and teaching in the United States. And she speaks English.
This means we do not have to go all the way to China, or wait for the men to visit here to get high-quality Chen taiji training. All we have to do is either go to Overland Park or sponsor Huixian for a workshop.
I have trained with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi, Chen Ziqiang and Chen Bing. Each of these teachers are outstanding, and I have enjoyed my experiences with them. But here is a little secret. Don't tell anyone, but I would rather learn from Chen Huixian than any of them.
She does not need an interpreter to explain the details, the concepts, the mechanics, the applications and the philosophy behind the movements of Taiji. She is genuinely interested in the people she meets, she is funny, and a very generous teacher, willing to answer any question.
Patrick Rogne, of Ancient Root Taijiquan in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored last weekend's workshop with Chen Huixian. It was held at Orthdx Natural Fitness. I attended one of her workshops in Madison five years ago, then again last year.
When I first attended her workshop in 2013, Huixian and Michael gave me corrections that no one else had given me, including advice on maintaining peng jin that I felt took me a step forward instantly.
She also gave me an insight into the use of the kua that illuminated this important part of internal body mechanics.
This past weekend, we did three hours on Friday night, focusing on the final few movements in Laojia Yilu that we rushed through at the end of last year's workshop.
We started with Punch the Crotch, which involves folding the arms, kicking the palm, turning and punching downward.
Huixian gave more detail in these movements than I ever received from Xiaowang or Xaoxing, and she gave it in English. As she demonstrated, coached, explained and corrected in detail, the quality of her teaching slapped me like the flat edge of a kuandao.
I am 65 now, and with one lung and a heart issue, my legs were screaming for mercy when I got to my hotel room Friday night. I was so exhausted, I wondered if I would be able to last the weekend. Eating bitter with a member of the Chen family reveals how easy we take it on ourselves in our own practice, and after only three intense hours, I was feeling it.
On Saturday and then Sunday morning, we spent a total of nine hours on Laojia Erlu, also known as "Cannon Fist." It has been one of my favorite forms for a dozen years, but this time, I was looking at it through Huixian's perspective, which is closer to the way Chen Zhenglei does it than the way Chen Xiaowang does it.
I had to rewire my brain and do a few movements differently than I had been accustomed to doing them for so long, but at the same time, I caught nuances in the body mechanics, the turning, the movement of the hands and feet that will add depth to my form, explained in detail.
I also received good postural corrections.
Five years ago, when I first met Huixian and Michael, she was coaching us through a movement in Laojia Yilu and I was concentrating. When I do that, I sometimes look a bit downward as I ponder the body mechanics of a movement.
As I looked downward, from across the floor Huixian shouted, "Ken! The answer you seek is not on the ground."
I cracked up, and for the past five years, I have been repeating that to myself when I catch my head tilting forward or looking down. And she taught me that lesson with humor.
In fact, laughter is common in her classes. She is dead serious about the art, but she sometimes jokes, and of course, I have always enjoyed laughter in everything I do, so I tend to crack an occasional joke to lighten the atmosphere.
Michael said on the podcast that when he first saw her practicing in the Chen Village, it seemed that anytime he heard laughter, she was in the middle of it.
On Saturday, late in the day, when our legs were burning and aching, she asked the class, "Are your legs hurting anywhere?"
"Everywhere," I said loudly, and she almost doubled over laughing along with the class.
It is a lot easier to eat bitter when you can cleanse the palate with humor.
Watching her do movements from Cannon Fist is a treat. Her grace, her relaxed strength, and her explosions of fajin won the admiration of everyone in the workshop.
On Saturday evening, there was a group dinner at the Nani Restaurant in Madison. Huixian talked about a wide range of subjects, including her children and life in the Chen Village. She asked about my children, and she figured out that she is three months younger than my youngest daughter. That was a profound shock to me.
I was in good shape and energized until I landed back in my room. I sat down and posted some pictures on Facebook, then stood up. My thigh muscles clenched. "Oh, hell no," they screamed at me.
We finished Cannon Fist on Sunday morning, with a lot of fajin in the fist and elbow strikes. On Sunday afternoon, we spent the final hours of the workshop on push hands. Near the end, we got into some applications and Huixian started throwing some of the guys who were almost twice her size, showing them how a bump can unbalance your opponent, then you can step in and uproot him, then turn and throw him.
When a man is thrown by a woman, it is interesting to watch their faces when they hit the ground and begin standing up. With each one, you could see the respect and realization in their faces, each one not only impressed with the way she threw them, but you could also see the light bulbs going off after they were able to feel the way she did it.
I hated to say goodbye on Sunday afternoon.
I have studied with several teachers over the past 45 years. I do not believe I have met a better teacher than Chen Huixian.
Sometimes we get a bit tribal in the martial arts, just as we do in politics. Sometimes martial arts become political. Oh, I can't study with this teacher because I study with THAT teacher. I'm in THIS style, so I can't study THAT style.
An open-minded Wu stylist who attended this workshop from Detroit told me, "I have never seen this level of personal corrections in any workshop. She is excellent."
Before I attended my first workshop with her in 2013, my main taiji teachers and the Chen masters I had learned from had been men, and it was only natural, given our society and the culture I grew up in, that I wondered how good a woman would be, and since I adhered a bit to the Chen Xiaowang/Xiaoxing way of doing things, would it matter that her "side" of the Chen family added different flourishes to the movements? Each of the "Four Tigers" of the Chen Village (Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian, and Zhu Tiancai) add their own artistic touches to the forms.
Any reservations I had vanished quickly five years ago. The quality of her taiji and the concepts, principles and mechanics she teaches transcends style and teacher. She won my immediate respect and it has only grown since.
I still feel the same as I always have about putting teachers on pedestals, but Chen Huixian deserves every bit of respect and recognition that the men in the 20th generation of the Chen family receive, and regardless of who you "follow" in taiji, if you live in the U.S. you have a Chen family member here of tremendous value, willing and able to share -- and more importantly TEACH -- her family's art with skill, power, and an unpretentious, fun personality that makes every moment a pleasure.
-- by Ken Gullette
Chen Huixian's website is www.kctaiji.com.