Tai Chi Corrections - Chen Huixian and a Great Laojia Yilu Workshop

Chen Huixian gives Ken Gullette hands-on corrections for "Single Whip."
It is a humbling experience, getting corrections on your taiji form by a member of the Chen family. This past weekend, I spent two days at a workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, where Chen Huixian -- a Direct In-Chamber Disciple of her uncle, Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei -- gave corrections on the Laojia Yilu form. Her husband, Michael Chritton -- a Certified Coach of the Chen Village Taiji Training Center of China -- helped provide feedback and corrections. 

Everyone needs a coach to let them know when they need a tweak to get back on track. Training as I do here in the Quad Cities, without an official "teacher" since 2006, I need occasional hands-on corrections by someone at a higher level.

I got it this weekend.

Chen Huixian did not try to take us through the complete form. She asked what we wanted, and the group asked to spend more time on corrections and less time rushing through the choreography. Most of us know the form and some of us learned it through a different branch of the Chen family (I studied with teachers and disciples of Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing) so we do some of the movements in a slightly different way. Not better, just different.

I was grateful every time she gave me feedback. Once, when I was overcompensating for some instruction on a movement to sink the hips, she demonstrated how my movement was exagerrated and said, "Don't do that!" The memory makes me laugh because that's the type of thing I would say to my students. Sometimes, when I am thinking about feedback, I drop my head as I contemplate the movement. Once when I did that, she loudly said, "Ken, the answer is not written on the floor!" Hilarious. And true. I'm going to use this.

Michael made a lot of good suggestions during the 12 hours of training. One little tweak there, one suggestion there, always given with courtesy and insight.

The main problem that follows a great workshop is retention.

After both days, I went through the movements of the day in my mind, scribbling down feedback on each movement as much as I could remember. It really helps down the road.

The workshop included a little stance-holding, trying to maintain a posture as Chen Huixian worked around the pavilion, one person at a time. That type of workout will test the leg strength of the most muscular person, and often, by the time she gets to you, the legs are shaking from fatigue. This is not your YMCA taiji where you aren't supposed to break a sweat. When you are put into the correct posture, Chen Huixian will ask, "Leg burning?" Yes, the leg is burning. She will smile and indicate that it is a good thing.

When done properly, taiji training is a grueling workout. The expression they use for the required pain is "eating bitter." The skill you get from eating bitter -- eventually -- is sweet. Or so they tell me. I've had a regular diet of bitter for 15 years. I'd like an order of sweet, please. Stat!!

The Key to Taiji Progress - Baby Steps

The secret to making forward progress in the internal arts is taking one baby step at a time. That is impossible without occasional hands-on corrections from someone at a higher level. I love it, and as Nancy and I drove back home Sunday night from Madison, about three hours away, I was excited the entire drive home.

If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin area, I recommend Khiang Seow as an instructor. He hosted the workshop with Patrick Rogne.

Michael Chritton, their son Xilong, Chen Huixian, and Ken Gullette.
And now, the hard work begins -- taking the notes and incorporating them into practice -- again and again! In November, I plan to attend the Chen Zhenglei workshop at Chen Huixian's school in Overland Park, Kansas, the largest suburb of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The goal is to improve one more baby step or two, and then get new corrections in November.

I will work on shortening my stances just a little, maintaining peng through both legs, and some other little things that I wrote down that include relaxation of the hips, spiraling, foot stability and more details about specific movements that I have not been taught before.

It is part of the lifelong journey that is taijiquan. And it's the knowledge that corrections help you get even better that make the journey so much fun.

Preparing for a Laojia Yilu Workshop this Weekend with Chen Huixian

Photo courtesy of Chen Huixian.
People in the Chen Taiji community that I respect speak highly of Chen Huixian, a niece of Chen Zhenglei who now lives and teaches in the Kansas City area. If I lived in Kansas City, I'd be studying with her. I have also developed respect for her husband, Michael Chritton, through communications on Facebook. They are good people, and that means a lot in my book.

This weekend, Master Chen is holding a workshop in Madison, Wisconsin. I won't be there for the Friday evening workshop on Silk-Reeling. On Saturday and Sunday, she is giving corrections for Laojia Yilu. I've been looking forward to meeting her and Michael for a couple of years. I've never really trained, even in a weekend workshop, with anyone from the Chen Zhenglei lineage, so I am excited about the coming weekend.

It is interesting to me, as I see videos of internal artists and train with some, how they each have their own stylistic approach to the same form. It seems to drive some of my karate friends a little crazy. Uniformity is important in some arts, apparently. In Taiji, and as I've seen in Bagua and Xingyi, learning the movements of a form is step one -- learning the principles behind the movement is step two -- practicing and becoming proficient is step three -- and step four is adding your own stylistic flourishes, like an artist going beyond the basic brush strokes with an oil painting.

I found a video of Chen Huixian doing the first half of the form on YouTube this morning and watched it. Here is the video of Laojia Yilu part 1.

I definitely see influences of Chen Zhenglei in this demonstration. Chen Huixian and Michael are hosting him for a workshop in Kansas City this November. I plan to be there.

So I've spent a little more time than usual during the past couple of weeks practicing Laojia Yilu to prepare for the workshop. Is my posture good, is my internal strength connected when I move? And a dozen more things on the internal checklist that I ask as I move through the form.

I look forward to emptying my cup and tasting their cup of tea, learning new things, asking a couple of questions about stylistic differences, making new friends, and hopefully taking another baby step forward on this taiji journey.

Stay tuned for further updates along the way, including this weekend from Madison. There is still time to register by going to this page. And my thanks in advance for the sponsor of this weekend, Khiang Seow.

Chen Huixian Workshop July 19-21 in Madison, Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of Khiang Seow.
Chen Huixian, a member of the Chen family living in the Kansas City area, will conduct a three-day workshop in Madison, Wisconsin on July 19 through the 21st (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The workshop is hosted by Khiang Seow, instructor at Madison Chen Style Taijiquan. 

Chen Huixian is a niece of Chen Zhenglei, one of the top taiji masters of his generation.

I have never trained with anyone from Chen Zhenglei's lineage, but I've been wanting to meet Chen Huixian for some time, along with her husband Michael Chritton, so I am planning to attend the Saturday and Sunday sessions, when Chen Huixian will offer corrections for the Laojia Yilu form.

Go to Khiang Seow's website for more details and to download the flyer. My wife Nancy's parents were born in Madison. It's a cool town and we're looking forward to spending the weekend there. Nancy will shop till she drops and I will do Laojia Yilu till I drop!

Join me in Madison and let's support Chen Huixian and Khiang Seow in their efforts to keep high quality tai chi going in the Midwest!! 

How Much Would You Pay for Quality Tai Chi, Hsing-I or Bagua Instruction?

Chen-sword-instruct-move20-250An interesting discussion took place recently online with some of my martial arts friends. How much is too much for a private lesson from a master?

Some of the Chinese masters are now charging up to $500 an hour for private instruction. Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang is one of those. The cost of seminars is rising, too. One of the younger masters in the Chen family -- Chen Ziqiang -- is charging at least $60 for a 3-hour workshop and a little less for a 2-hour workshop.

You can't learn very much about Xinjia Yilu or the Chen straight sword form in two or three hours. And you certainly can't go beneath the surface. You can't learn a lot about push hands when you spend two hours training with some people attending who are rank beginners.

That's one of the problems that veterans are beginning to see with this "top level" instruction from Chinese masters. It isn't always very deep at all -- the same beginner stuff year after year. But they are paid big bucks because we want to be close to the Source.

I've spent thousands of dollars and traveled thousands of miles to study these arts. I've flown across the country more than once, driven two or three hundred miles up to twice a week, and paid good money to try to peel back another layer and take one more baby-step.

I put everything I've learned on video and for nearly four years, I've been building an online membership website where it's all available -- not for $500, not for $200, not even for $100. Nope. Members are able to wade through nearly 600 video lessons for $19.99. And if they get a lot of value out of it, they stay for another month and another $19.99. I have a handful of people who have been members from the very beginning. They see all the new videos that pop up. I put one on today for the Chen Straight Sword form that includes an outstanding lesson that every internal artist needs to practice.

When I put the latest video online today, it hit me again how people can save years -- and thousands of dollars -- by watching these videos instead of waiting for an instructor to teach them these principles, skills and techniques. And if you're studying with a Chinese "master," he or she may never teach them to you.

One of my favorite comments have come from my online members and DVD customers. One black sash instructor said as he watched my videos, he wondered why "no one every told me this before now." He studied for years with a "master."

Another member said he was "impressed that you hold nothing back."

How much is that worth? What would you pay? Some of my martial artist friends say the costs of the Chinese masters' workshops have exceeded their ability to pay, especially considering how little you get in return. Is a photo op worth it?

Every time I sell an instructional DVD, I know that the buyer will return for a few more -- because I lay it all out there in easy-to-understand terms. It doesn't cost $1,000 for a round trip to San Francisco (which I've done more than once). It doesn't cost years of studying. You don't have to wait for a master from another country to decide if he wants to give you "the secrets."

I'm considering attending a workshop or two this year. I might even take a private lesson from a master. I'll ask questions and try to get answers that take me another step in my quest to build skill.

And then I'll pass along what I learn, as I always do. I'd like to invite you along on the journey.

A Fun but Hard Four Hour Workshop on the Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form

Chen-Sword-3-250Last Saturday in Moline, Illinois, I conducted a four-hour workshop on the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword Form. The form has 49 movements, so it was a challenge to teach each movement and include quality information about body mechanics and the applications for the movements. But with a hard-working group, we did it.

The sword form is a great Taiji form -- smooth and powerful, it can be done slowly or fast with fa-jing. Always, the internal body mechanics should be present:

  • Establishing and maintaining the ground path
  • Maintaining peng at all times
  • Using whole-body movement
  • Silk-Reeling energy
  • Opening/closing the kua properly
  • Dan T'ien rotation

Chen-Sword-1-250I've heard instructors in the past talk about "extending your chi to the end of the sword." And for those who have their heads in fantasy, that confuses things.

The "intent" of each movement in a Tai Chi form is its fighting application and how you are using the body mechanics against an opponent. By utilizing the body mechanics listed above, you make the sword an extension of the body and you are able to use proper movement. In an abstract way, you could say you are "extending chi" through the sword, as long as you understand that there really isn't some mystical energy flowing out of your hands and across 4 feet of steel.

We videotaped the workshop and individual video lessons will be showing up this weekend on the online school. In a few weeks, it will become a DVD (and will be listed on the right side of this page with other DVDs).

One of the most satisfying things about doing a workshop like this is working with people from other styles of martial arts. Attendees had studied karate, Shaolin, and even some Filipino arts. The body mechanics of the internal arts were foreign, and it was fun seeing some of their reactions as it dawned on them. Most people don't understand internal body mechanics, even if they've studied arts such as Yang style Tai Chi. Seeing the light bulb turn on above their heads, and their eyes light up as they suddenly connect physically with concepts they've only heard about is satisfying as a teacher.

We had to rush just a bit to finish all the movements in four hours -- and there was a lot of sweating, groaning, and effort. It was an outstanding workout with an outstanding form.

Workshop - Chen Taiji Straight Sword Form Seminar This Saturday, March 24, in Moline, Illinois

Ken-ChadSwordsThis Saturday, March 24, 2012, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., I'll teach the Chen Tai Chi Straight Sword form at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts on Fifth Avenue in downtown Moline, IL.

If you plan to attend, contact Mr. Morrow at (309) 764-1929.

The fee is only $45 and attendees will agree to be videotaped as we shoot the workshop for an instructional DVD. Each person will get credit on the DVD and will receive a free copy when it's edited next month.

It will be a challenging four hours. We will explore all 49 of the movements in this form -- the only straight sword form in traditional Chen family Tai Chi.

The sword form is done fast and slow, with smoothness, good internal body mechanics, and fa-jing. The way you handle the sword in each movement, and the intent or "energy" you put into the sword depends on the fighting application of each movement. We will explore this as we learn the form, but we will especially drill into the body mechanics.

It's a difficult form to learn in four hours, which is why each attendee will receive a DVD. We'll try to memorize the choreography as I also drive home details on body mechanics and applications, then you can piece it back together through the DVD instruction.

Please contact John or reply to me at my email (ken@internalfightingarts.com) if you plan to attend. 

Chen Master Jan Silberstorff in California This Week for Workshops

Jan Silberstorff is one of the few Westerners who deserves the title of Chen Taiji Master. He is from Germany and was Chen Xiaowang's first Western indoor disciple.

He is in Seattle this week at Kim Ivy's school. Here's a pdf schedule. You still have time to attend tomorrow if you're in the area.

Next week he'll do a workshop in San Diego at the Taoist Sanctuary.

I've heard that he is someone you want to experience if possible.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing's 2011 U.S. Tour Schedule

Ken-Gullette-Chen-Xiaoxing Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, the head of tai chi training for the Chen family in Chen Village, will tour the U.S. this spring. Among the cities he'll visit will be Chicago, Phoenix, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

This is an opportunity to train with a direct descendant of the founder of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen Wangting. The photo here shows me in a private lesson with Chen Xiaoxing a few years ago near San Francisco. Hands-on correction by any good instructor is a good thing -- hands-on correction by a Chen family member is a different level. 

Chen Xiaoxing is the younger brother of Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, the standard-bearer of Chen family Tai Chi for the 19th Generation.

Check out this web page for the dates and locations for his 2011 workshop tour. It includes contact information for the workshop sponsors. 

A Great Internal Strength Workshop in East Lansing, Michigan

Workshop-Group-blog I met a wonderful group of people in East Lansing, Michigan yesterday. Sifu Doug Lawrence sponsored me for an Internal Strength workshop. For six hours, we drilled on what I've identified as six key skills for the internal arts -- the ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, silk-reeling, dan t'ien rotation and opening/closing the kua.

Sifu Lawrence teaches Yang tai chi, Hsing-I and Bagua. He knows what he's doing. I was really happy to meet an instructor like Doug -- open-minded, constantly researching, trying to get better and searching for good information. I could tell within a few minutes that he is an outstanding teacher.

Workshop-Kua-Demo-blog We started with standing stake and I corrected some posture issues. From there, we worked on the ground path, peng jin, and then silk-reeling exercises. All of the exercises we did can be found on my Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs.

The foundation of internal strength is the ground path and peng jin. Chen Xiaowang likes to describe this in automotive imagery. He says imagine a car, lifted off the ground. You can race the engine but nothing happens. Put the car on the ground and it has power.

Workshop-Standing-Stake-blog One of the difficult concepts for beginners is connecting the flow of strength through the body. This isn't mystical -- it's a physical skill and requires years of practice. The whole body has to move in a connected way, but it begins with the ground, spirals through the body, is directed by the dan t'ien as you open and close the kua. One of the most common mistakes I see is when people turn the hips instead of the waist (dan t'ien area). Another common mistake is a lack of awareness of the kua. Moving into the kua -- opening and closing the kua as you move -- is crucial.


I encourage anyone living in the Lansing, Michigan area to study with Sifu Lawrence if you're interested in the internal arts. He teaches at the Hannah Community Center near the Michigan State University campus.

This Weekend!! -- Internal Strength Workshop in East Lansing, Michigan

This coming weekend -- on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010 -- I'll teach an Internal Strength workshop in East Lansing, Michigan, near the Michigan State University campus. If you study tai chi, hsing-i, bagua, or other martial arts and are interested in what makes an internal art "internal," I'll coach participants in six key internal skills.

Here's a hint -- they're all physical skills, not metaphysical.

What we'll practice:

  • Standing stake
  • Development of Internal Strength skills -- ground path, peng jin, silk-reeling energy, whole-body movement, use of the kua, dan t'ien rotation
  • Pole exercises
  • Martial applications

Where: Hannah Community Center in East Lansing -- 819 Abbot Rd, East Lansing, MI 48823

When: Noon to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010

Contact: dlawrence@itama.org

And here is a clip from my Silk-Reeling Energy DVDs that shows some of what we're going to practice next weekend. There will be hands-on correction and personal feedback for everyone. My goal is for everyone to walk away having risen a notch in their knowledge and internal skills.