Hands-On Instruction and a Positive Atmosphere at a Chen Taijiquan Workshop with Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia

Ken-Gullette-Nabil-Ranne-2022
Ken Gullette (left) with Nabil Ranné in Philadelphia, 2022.

I spent four days this past week studying Chen Taiji with Nabil Ranné in Philadelphia. The workshop was hosted by Ryan Craig of Philly Chen Taiji

Nabil came to the U.S. from Berlin for the workshop. I have been studying in his online classes for almost two years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. He is friendly and humble; one of those people you instantly like.

During the past two years, Covid virtually destroyed the ability to hold workshops. Just getting together with a group of taiji folks was reason enough to celebrate.

I have attended many martial arts workshops during the past 35 years. Depending on who is hosting the event, you can either feel a spirit of camaraderie or it can feel like people gather in cliques.

In Philly, there was a lot of laughter. Nabil brings a sense of humor to his classes and Ryan joined in. That's all I needed -- to be serious about the art but to have fun training. Those are ideal conditions for me.

We trained four hours a day for four days -- Friday through Monday, May 13 through 16, focusing primarily on the first three sections of the "First Road," or "Yilu" form.

Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu of Beijing, the grandson of Chen Fake and the son of Chen Zhaokui. Chen Fake is also the grandfather of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing (Chen Yu is their cousin), but there are differences in the way Chen Yu moves compared with the Chen Village masters. 

I had Nabil on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast nearly two years ago (listen to the interview here) and I had been curious about Chen Yu's taiji for several years. Most of my training has been with Chen Village masters and their students. I did a couple of private online classes with Nabil and was fascinated by what I learned, especially the details in his instruction. Not long after this, I enrolled in his regular online classes. We have gone through the Yilu and Erlu forms during the past couple of years. The Philly workshop focused on Yilu and the body method of the Chen Zhaokui/Chen Yu version of Chen taiji.

Ken-Gullette-Nabil-Ranne-Hands-On-2022
Ken Gullette in a "hands on" moment with Nabil Ranné to feel the internal movement.

As he led us through the first movements of the form, Nabil focused on proper stances, relaxing the hip joints, and establishing peng jin throughout the body. One of the many helpful tips I received was maintaining a connection with the Baihui point as my body is sinking, as in part of "Buddha's Warrior" when the fist prepares for the raising of the knee before the stomp. I also need to work more on extending peng and maintaining it through the shoulders, too.

During the weekend, I wanted to write about what we practiced, but I had a hard time putting it into words. I was processing the information. Even as I read what I write here about the workshop, I'm not satisfied. It's difficult to describe in words. It has to be shown. 

Online classes are great. You can improve a lot by studying with a teacher online, especially if that teacher gives you personal corrections, as I do with my website members and as Nabil does. But nothing is as good as being in person. Nabil was able to put his hands on me to make corrections, and when I put my hands on him, I felt internal movement in the chest, back, Dantien and Mingmen that was very informative. I will be processing this information and working it into my movement for a while.

We worked on principles of movement, including the shifting of weight, the relaxing in the crease at the hip to maintain mobility, and to keep the knees from swimming -- to "stay in the frame."

We worked on applications, especially some good joint locks. It was interesting to see how "Six Sealings and Four Closings" can be used as wrist locks against an opponent who has grabbed your arms. But almost every application we practiced contained elements that drove home once again how powerful Chen taiji is as a martial art. There are subtleties in the way you can connect to an opponent's wrist, elbow and shoulder during a joint lock, depending on the position of your opponent's arm. Just moving your little finger can help connect a wrist lock to the elbow, making it more effective if your opponent is trying to escape the lock.

Monday, May 16th was the final day of the workshop. As we trained that day, I became very grateful for the opportunity to learn and try to improve in my internal skills. Battling a huge blood clot that has cut off all blood flow to the left lung, it was a gamble making arrangements to fly to Philly for this, but I was in good shape and toughed it out through the four days. The blood clot (or blockage) is still there, but what the hell. I don't think about it much and certainly don't let it slow me down any more than I have to. By the fourth day, however, my quadraceps were painfully locking up at times. If you do a Chen taiji workshop and your legs aren't fried, you haven't worked hard enough.

We didn't spend a lot of time holding stances, but we did hold them at times. During one of those moments on the third day, we were struggling through the pain and fatigue as Nabil went from one student to another making corrections. There were groans and grunts and heavy breathing as the attendees tried to maintain the posture. I'm pretty sure I was the oldest student there, so I cracked, "This was a lot easier back when I was sixty!" I can still hear the laughter, as if a relief valve had been opened. I love laughter in class.

I got a bit emotional as I said goodbye to Nabil on Monday afternoon. I like the man. And I want to see him again in person. My thanks to Ryan for hosting. I think everyone hopes it happens again next year.

As time passes, it is not lost on me that I have a lot less time to enjoy training like this than I used to. Every moment is precious. Now let's go. There's a lot to do. Let's practice.

--by Ken Gullette 


Prepping for My First Workshop in Almost Three Years -- Nabil Ranne in Philadelphia This Weekend

Ken Practicing 2022I'm practicing for a workshop that is happening in Philadelphia starting Friday, May 13. The Chen style Taiji teacher I have been studying with for nearly two years, Nabil Ranne, is coming to the U.S. for a workshop on the First Road (Yilu) form.

Nabil is a disciple of Chen Yu, so his Chen Taiji reflects the version of the Chen family art handed from Chen Fake to his son, Chen Zhaokui, who taught his son Chen Yu. Nabil lives in Berlin.

The workshop will be four hours a day for four days. It's a daunting task, given my health issues, but I plan to pace myself. At this point in my life, I am more a coach than a player, so I want to soak up the knowledge and try to improve my own internal movement.

The Chen Yu First Road form has 83 movements. I have been working on the movements and the body method, but I have a long way to go on this form before I'm satisfied with it. I haven't even totally memorized the choreography. I keep telling myself, "You are not in a race. You are not in a race." 

Maybe I don't learn as easily as I used to, or else it is difficult to learn the Beijing way when you teach the Chen Village way. It has been a very challenging couple of years, but a very satisfying time. It's fun at my age to still be excited and learning new things, pushing forward in the quest for quality.

When you are preparing for a Chen Taiji workshop, getting the legs ready is always top on the list. The body method is tough on the legs and can have your thighs burning pretty quickly. I never feel ready before a workshop, although I don't think we will hold stances in this one like I have done in some workshops in the past, when your legs are shaking and burning within the first hour. As I have been practicing the form, I have tried to pay close attention to closing power in the legs and the connected movement, the opening and closing of the back and chest, and Dantien rotation. This is not Taiji for "health," although it certainly can help your health. This is gongfu, the kind of Taiji that is a martial art -- my favorite kind.

Covid knocked the hell out of martial arts workshops, so this is the first one I have attended since the autumn of 2019. Cases of Covid are rising again due to new variants, but I'm going anyway. I can't miss this opportunity. It's a lot easier than going to Germany. Nabil's workshop is being hosted by Ryan Craig of Philly Chen Taiji.

-- by Ken Gullette


Join Me in Madison This Weekend for Chen Huixian Workshop Nov. 1-3

Huixian Form 7I will be in Madison, Wisconsin starting this Friday, Nov. 1 through Sunday, Nov. 3 to study with Chen Huixian. If you live within driving distance, I hope you'll join me and train with one of the best.

Chen Huixian is an in-door disciple of her uncle, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. Other uncles include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.

She grew up in the Chen Village and is highly skilled. Each time I train with her, I come away with deeper insights because of the personal corrections and coaching that she gives me.

She is teaching a workshop that will include the following:

Friday Night 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

** Zhan Zhuang (Standing Stake)

** Silk-Reeling

Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (with a 2-hour lunch break)

** Chen Straight Sword Form (1st half)

Sunday 9:00 a.m. to Noon

** Chen Straight Sword Form (1st half)

Sunday 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Laojia Erlu ("Cannon Fist") Review and Corrections

Chen Huixian's workshops are punctuated with laughter. It is very refreshing to have an instructor of her caliber -- a Chen family member -- who brings a healthy sense of humor to classes, and an interest in the people who attend. She gives a lot of personal feedback to each person. She speaks English, so you get the information directly from her, not through an interpreter.

If you live within driving distance of Madison, I hope you'll join me this next weekend. Here is a link for more information and to sign up. Click the "SAVE ME A SPACE" button on the page to get the fees, etc.

And check out this video to see Chen Huixian in action.

 

 

 


Chen Huixian Workshop Nov. 1-3 in Madison Wisconsin Will Teach Chen Taiji Straight Sword, Silk-Reeling and More

Push Hands 15
Chen Huixian coaches two students at the 2018 workshop in Madison.

Chen Huixian will teach the Chen Taiji Straight Sword form at a workshop in Madison, Wisconsin on November 1-3, 2019. She will also review and give corrections on Zhan Zhuang, Silk-Reeling, and Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist).

I will be there and I hope you'll join me to learn from a highly-skilled member of the Chen family.

Chen Huixian is a great teacher, an "in chamber" disciple of her uncle, Chen Zhenglei. Her other uncles include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing.

Her workshops are an outstanding experience. She gives a lot of personal attention to students, is actually interested in the people who attend, she answers questions, and she offers corrections and coaching that will move your skills forward. She speaks English, which means there is no need for an interpreter between what she says and what you hear. 

Her workshops are traditional and serious. You will eat bitter. But she has a sense of humor that adds an element of fun that is lacking in some workshops. Laughter is not uncommon when Chen Huixian is in the room. It's a refreshing experience.

I am not bashful about my enthusiasm for Chen Huixian's teaching. Each time I have trained with her, I believe I have gotten better.

The workshop is sponsored by Patrick Rogne, owner/instructor at Ancient Root Taiji in Madison. 

You can sign up for part of the weekend or, like me, sign up for all of it. Here is how the training will break down over three days:

Friday, Nov. 1 from 6:00-9:00

-- Zhan Zhuang and Silk-Reeling practice and corrections.

Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9:00 a.m. to Noon and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00

-- Chen Straight Sword form

Sunday, Nov. 3 from 9:00 a.m. to Noon

-- Chen Straight Sword form

Sunday, Nov. 3 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00

-- Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist) review and corrections

Interested in joining me in Madison? Go to this link for video and for more information on the workshop, the location, and a place to reserve your spot:

https://events.ancientroottaijiquan.com/chen-huixian-bio?fbclid=IwAR1rwl5TCuQ3jsM0Z7c4aC4S7_rpkCQcrzo1I3WqgrO6RAEQwzVTVBywoZc


Chen Huixian - A Tai Chi Jewel Living and Teaching in the United States

Chen Huixian and Ken Gullette
Chen Huixian and Ken Gullette in Madison, 2018

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.

Chen Huixian
Chen Huixian teaching "Cannon Fist."

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.

Chen Huixian application
Chen Huixian demonstrates an application - Part 1.

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."

Chen Huixian
Unbalancing the opponent and using a leg hook - Part 2.

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.

Chen Huixian
The leg hook works - Part 3.

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. 


Chen Huixian to Teach Taiji Workshop in Madison Wisconsin Aug. 24-26 2018

Ken-Huxian-6
Chen Huixian corrects me in 2013.

It is always good news when Master Chen Huixian holds a workshop in the area. Madison, Wisconsin is only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Quad Cities, so I plan to attend her workshop on August 24, 25 & 26, 2018.

She will teach the final two sections of Laojia Yilu on Friday night, then will teach Laojia Erlu (Cannon Fist) on Saturday and the first half of Sunday. Then Sunday afternoon will be devoted to push hands.

I have studied with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Bing, Chen Zigiang and Ren Guangyi.

I respect them very much, but I have walked away from Huixian's workshops with better corrections and more insights that really make me feel as if I have taken a step forward. I have practiced Cannon Fist for 12 years, but I look forward to getting more information on some of the movements from her perspective.

I hope you will join me at this workshop. Huixian is the niece of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She grew up in the Chen Village. Her uncles also include Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing. Let's talk about a heritage, okay?

It doesn't get better than this. She lives in the Kansas City area (Overland Park, Kansas) with her husband, Michael Chritton, who is also an outstanding teacher himself.

There is an "Early Bird Special" if you register before Aug. 1st. 

Here is the link to read more about the workshop and to register.

If you live within driving distance of Madison and you study any style of Taiji, you are crazy to miss this. The workshops are physically demanding, like any good, traditional martial arts class should be, but because of her sense of humor, there is also laughter. It is an enjoyable and satisfying experience.

The workshop is hosted by Patrick Rogne, of Ancient Root Taijiquan in Madison.

 


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.

 


Workshop on Internal "Energy" and Takedowns on Saturday, Oct. 7 in Moline, IL

Chen-Xiaoxing-Ken-Gullette-2006-webI was doing push hands with Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing in my basement in 2006. We were doing a push hands pattern that includes a step, forward and back.

I stepped forward, maintaining contact with his arms.

Suddenly, I was slammed down on the basement floor. On my back!

I was surprised, to say the least. I got up and touched hands with him again. I stepped forward as we did the pattern. I stepped back. Then, as the pattern continued, I stepped forward.

BAM! I was on my back again!

What in the world was he doing? I didn't really feel him do much of anything.

I got up and we started again. Within a few seconds, WHAM! On my back again.

I laughed. Chen Xiaoxing laughed. I got back up, we started again, and within a few seconds, WHAM! On my back.

I laughed harder. He laughed harder. I got back up, fascinated.

He must have done it ten times before I realized what he was doing. He was controlling my center, breaking my structure, making me turn a certain way, and reaching around to grab my shoulder and keep me turning that way.

It was one of the most important moments of my martial arts career.

A lot of tai chi (taiji) students never get to the point where they can use internal body mechanics and internal "energy" in takedowns.

Often, their teachers only teach them tai chi for health and meditation.

Teachers often focus on "chi cultivation" instead of the main purpose of tai chi -- a martial art.

All of the energies that they talk about in the internal arts are not really energies coursing through your body. This is a misinterpretation.

The different energies -- peng, lu, ji, an, etc. -- are methods of dealing with an opponent's force.

Tai Chi is also a close-up fighting art. The closer your opponent gets, the better you can use the sensitivity developed in push hands and lead him into a position of vulnerability.

Your goal is to "listen" to his force (sense where it is going and its intensity), adapt to it, neutralize it, and counter with a self-defense application.

Most people think of tuishou, or "push hands," as a sensitivity drill with a partner. It is much more than that. And the closer you get to your opponent, the more you learn to "listen" to his energy and then, break him and put him on the ground.

On Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, I will hold a 3-hour workshop where we will look at how these concepts are used to take your opponent down.

It does not matter what style of tai chi you study -- in fact, this will be useful for any style of martial artist.

Here are some of the things you will learn:

--How to break an opponent's structure.

--How to control an opponent's center.

--How internal "energies" are used in takedowns.

--How to unbalance your opponent with less force.

--7 ways your legs are used in takedowns.

The workshop will be held at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts at 1321 5th Avenue in downtown Moline, IL.

The cost of this workshop is only $40. All proceeds go to Morrow's Academy for the use of the building. 

The workshop will be videotaped for a DVD. All participants will receive a copy of the DVD when it is produced within two months. I don't charge much for my workshops. I want people to come. I make my money on the back end. The video shot will be used on my website and in a DVD. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

There is a lot more to it than the techniques that Chen Xiaoxing used 11 years ago to give me a new perspective on my basement floor. But the insight I gained that night started me on the road to exploring, thinking, studying, and practicing different ways to use my opponent's energy against him, using the methods (energies) of internal movement.

I love this stuff, and you will have a new appreciation for it if you come to the workshop, then get the DVD, and keep practicing.

If you have any questions, email me at ken@internalfightingarts.com.

If you come to the workshop, I will show you exactly how Chen Xiaoxing put me on my back over and over in my basement. You will learn to do it, too. 


Chen Huixian -- A Great Chen Tai Chi Instructor Living in the United States

Chen Huixian Workshop 7-16-17What would you have if you attended a workshop with a highly-skilled member of the Chen family who deepened your understanding of body mechanics, structure and movement, showed fighting applications that amazed you, spoke English to communicate the information, and made the atmosphere joyful and full of laughter as your legs burned and you sweated and grew stronger?

You would have Chen Huixian, the niece and indoor disciple of Chen Zhenglei who lives in the Kansas City area with her husband Michael Chritton, another talented Chen teacher.

I have learned from Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Bing, Chen Ziqiang, and I admire each of them. I have learned excellent things from them (and especially from their American students/disciples, who studied with them and other teachers) and would study when them again in a heartbeat. I have had some excellent moments with each one. But the two workshops I have done with Chen Huixian are the most satisfying of any of my experiences in martial arts.

This is not a political statement, it is just honesty, and it is something that I wanted to share because I don't think it is widely known. Yet.

In 2013, after working with her and Michael for a weekend, I came away with two major corrections and concepts that boosted the quality of my tai chi, involving the kua and peng jin.

This weekend, after 15 hours of training, I came away with deeper understanding of empty and solid, grounding, using the kua, and "sitting in the chair," the type of posture that makes your legs immediately scream for mercy if you are not accustomed to it. Patrick Rogne, a student of Chen Huixian's, hosted the workshop in Madison, Wisconsin.

I have paid a lot of money and traveled a long way to study with teachers, and I did not always walk away with the same types of advances in my own understanding as I feel like I have each time I have trained with Chen Huixian. But it goes beyond the information she gives and the corrections she makes. It's the sense of humor and joy she brings to her classes, and the interest she shows. There is a lot of traditional pain in her classes, as there is with any good tai chi master, but there is also laughter.

Once or twice, if I were really honest with myself, I would admit that I walked away from a couple of workshops by a "famous master" feeling as if I got very little except "one, two, three, four," and a photo opportunity. Not with Chen Huixian.

If I were 20 years younger, I would be seeking to become her disciple. At this point, the best I can do is tell everyone that we have a real taiji jewel here in the U.S., and anyone who brushes her off because they have a teacher or because she is female is losing out on an outstanding teacher, a tough martial artist, a great human being and a wonderful learning opportunity.

Visit the website of Chen Huixian's school in the Kansas City area by following this link.

Learn more about Chen Huixian - Listen to Ken's interview with Michael Chritton on the Internal Fighting Arts podcast.


A Guided Chaos Workshop - Tai Chi Fighting Insights from the Outside

Guided Chaos Workshop Teachers 9-17-2016
Left to right: Kevin Harrell, Joe Martarano, Ken, and Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour.

Those of us who practice Tai Chi (Taiji) as a fighting art pursue concepts that represent a holy grail. They are written about in the classics, and spoken of in quotes by long-dead masters including Chen Wangting, who supposedly said:

"I know everyone, but no one knows me."

When I first became interested in the Kung Fu TV show back in the early Seventies, one of the interesting quotes from the show was:

"A Shaolin monk, when reached for, cannot be felt."

When I was 18 and watching that show, I thought that meant something mystical, as if a Shaolin monk vanished in front of you. But the quote resonated with me.

I have done push hands with some Chinese instructors, including Chen Bing and Chen Xiaoxing, who, when I pushed on them, they disappeared and very quickly I found myself off-balance (or on the floor). When I reached for them, they could not be felt.

In other words, I could not find their center, but they could find mine.

For a long time, I've been working to get better at maintaining my center while I control my opponent's center, setting him up for a counter. There are muscular ways of achieving this, and more subtle ways. And so, when my friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos, and its practice of "contact flow," I immediately saw the connection between this aspect of their art and the goal that eludes so many Tai Chi folks who end up using muscle to overpower their opponents, rather than relaxing, sensing, flowing, and controlling the opponent's center.

On September 17, 2016, I spent a day in Cincinnati working on contact flow with three talented Guided Chaos instructors: Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour, Kevin Harrell, and Joe Martarano. It was my second time working with Al and Kevin, and the first time I have met Joe. I hope it isn't the last. These guys are great martial artists.

Another important phrase that we often repeat in martial arts is from Bruce Lee, who borrowed from Taoist philosophy when he urged people to "be water." Pour it into a cup and it becomes the cup, Bruce said. Water can flow, and it can crash.

"Be water, my friend."

Contact flow, developed by the founder of Guided Chaos, John Perkins, teaches you to relax and flow around obstacles, redirecting incoming force, moving and maintaining your root, maintaining your center, and, as you flow and find your way, you knock the crap out of your opponent.

This is what Tai Chi is supposed to be. Tai Chi is about fighting, but it aims for more subtle principles and body mechanics than some arts do.

Chen Tai Chi push hands can be brutal. I know people who have gone to Chen Village and come back nursing broken bones. There are strikes, throws, joint locks and more. A good pluck can cause whiplash. If you aren't careful, or if you get a little aggressive, someone will need to heal up for a while. But in the beginning, you should develop sensitivity and be able to move from form to fighting. To do that well, you should develop subtle skills. At least that's what everyone talks about, but few seem to do it.

Practicing contact flow triggered insights and connected some of the dots of Tai Chi in an effective way. A year ago, after my first Guided Chaos workshop, it changed the way I thought about push hands, and this year, it has changed the way I practice push hands.

You should be able to learn some of these subtle skills, but it's not easy to find good push hands instructors, or experienced push hands partners. Another problem we face is that Americans simply do not grow up learning the concept of relaxing and flowing while maintaining the ground, peng, and using the spiraling movements of silk-reeling. Instead, we tense up and want to smash like the Hulk. It's funny to me now when I push hands with someone from outside the internal arts -- how tense they are. But that is how we all feel until we learn, and practice, practice, practice.

Guided Chaos - Ken - Evan
My friend Evan Yeung introduced me to Guided Chaos.

One time, around 1999, a Chinese gongfu "master" came to the Quad Cities to hold a workshop at my friend John Morrow's school. I attended, and at one point during the workshop, the interpreter walked over to me and said, "Master Wong says you have gongfu. He would like to visit your school and practice with you."

I was very flattered. When he visited my school a few days later, he had me put my hand on his chest, and he put his on mine. He wanted me to push him off-balance. That was the first time I ever pushed on someone whose center could not be found, and he wasn't nearly as skilled as the Chen family. It was eye-opening. But he had no idea how to explain it to me. So the concept remained like the Shaolin monk. I reached for it, but could not find it.

Guided Chaos has at least part of the answer, but as a combat art, it is about a lot more than contact flow. It is a no-nonsense fighting art and they will flat out kick your butt. I highly recommend any of their workshops.

I could only spend one day at this year's Cincinnati workshop because I had to return to teach my journalism class. Even one day was enough to inform me on some of the next steps in my own development. I am continuing to work on the relaxed strength, moving, centering, and spiraling that makes up good internal arts, but also allows you to flow like water, remain "out of reach" by your opponent, and then, as Bruce Lee also said, "I don't hit. IT hits by itself."

I can fight, but just fighting is no longer the goal for me, especially at my age. There is something else, skills that have been elusive.

I was working with Joe Martarano at one point during the workshop, and I realized that I was repeating some habits that have been part of my fighting but were not as efficient as I was trying to achieve.

"I need to empty my cup," I said, scolding myself. But Joe disagreed.

"Empty your cup?" he asked. "You already emptied your cup or you wouldn't be here today."

Good point. 

You never know when you will taste someone else's art and learn something that contributes to your own art.