Fun and Flirting on the Kung-Fu Training Floor -- Teaching My Wife an Ancient Chinese Secret

My wife, Nancy is my videographer. She is usually behind the camera as we record lessons for DVDs and the website.

Yesterday, as we were recording some tuishou instruction about using tai chi "energies" and methods to do takedowns, we pulled her out in front of the camera to learn how to do a takedown using "shoulder" energy.

I enjoy teasing Nancy. She has a great sense of humor. One of the reasons I started in martial arts was because I thought it was fun. I still do, so I often include outtakes and jokes in my DVDs and video for the website.

This is a short video showing Nancy learning a good technique. The Chinese term for the technique is at the end.

 


A New Spiffy Platform for the Internal Fighting Arts Website

Internal Fighting Arts Logo 250Sometimes, change happens naturally, and sometimes it is forced on you.

A little over two months ago, the company that hosts the platform for my website -- Kajabi -- let me know that all the membership site owners using their platform would need to upgrade by October 1 or our websites would go dark.

I had a lot of plans for new content during the past two months, but I ended up spending a lot of the time moving the site over. We're talking more than 800 videos that would not work on the new platform without a new player.

Making a long story short, it took me until this week to get it done.

But now, the website will be even better.

I'm planning a lot of new content.

So check out the new and improved Internal Fighting Arts website. Try two weeks free, get instant access, and brace yourself to be blow away by the content on the site.


Reflections on Earning a Black Belt 20 Years Later

Ken Gullette with Staff in 1997
Ken Gullette at age 44, shortly after earning a black sash in 1997.

20 years ago this summer, I got canned from my last job in TV news.

It wasn't a total shock. In fact, it was a relief. Despite award-winning work, I was the manager of a newsroom, and it was a fate worse than death.

Anchors acting like prima donnas, reporters angry because they wanted to be anchors, videographers dinging news cars, inexperienced kids on the air and me having to answer for their screw-ups.

I got into news to be a writer, reporter, and to be creative. I found myself in a living hell as the top decision-maker in the newsroom.

Suddenly, I was canned. It happens in the news business. The life expectancy of a news director is 18 months. I had been there three-and-a-half years.

Two days after losing my job, I had an idea. I was 44 years old and I had been one test away from black sash since 1991, but I had moved away from Omaha, where my teacher was, I was working more than full-time, I was a single (divorced) father with two teenage daughters living at home, and was also trying to have some type of social life, so there was no time to pursue the black sash.

Making it more difficult, my teacher had sold his school in Omaha and was in seclusion.

So I got canned from the TV job, just 10 months after I was re-married. One daughter had moved out and the other was living with her mom in Cincinnati.

Within a couple of days of being fired, I called the instructor who bought my teacher's school -- one of his senior students -- and asked if he would test me. He agreed.

Every day for one month, I trained for a several hours. I had no partner to work on chin-na or one-steps or sparring, so I fought mental opponents. I stood in the basement and imagined my partner throwing attacks and I would respond.

Xingyi, Taiji, Bagua, Qigong, chin-na, shuai-jiao, weapons forms, sparring empty-handed and with weapons -- it was a deep curriculum. The test was intense.

In late August, 1997, I drove to Omaha, took the test, and did well. I was now allowed to wear a black sash. And brother, I was ready!

On October 1st, I began teaching at a fitness center in Muscatine, Iowa, and at that time, as I faced my first students, young guys who all expected me to be perfect, I began feeling that there were deep holes in my curriculum and my knowledge.

The Internet was beginning to take off. I was reading the Neijia List every day, an online discussion by Chen taiji guys, including Mike Sigman. All the guys on the site seemed to look up to Mike, and they were using terms and descriptions of skills that I had never seen or experienced. I had never heard of the ground path. I only knew "peng" as the "ward off" posture in Yang style tai chi, which I learned as part of my curriculum.

Holy cow! I had a black sash and it meant I had to begin studying!

I was still proud of the black sash. Many people begin martial arts training, but in a school as difficult as the one I trained in, few earned their black sash. But I knew there were a lot of internal principles and mechanics missing.

The next spring, I set out to make a mark in tournaments in the black belt division, but I still continued to research and seek out what was missing in my internal mechanics and material. Within a few months, after being directed by the guys on the Neijia List to Jim and Angela Criscimagna in Rockford, Illinois -- a couple of hours from my house -- I switched to Chen taiji, which gradually became the foundation of everything I did.

I left the system that I earned the black sash in -- it was a little too much into the woo-woo for me, and the more I studied Chen taiji, the less internal I realized my previous art was -- but I still practice and teach the most solid pieces of the martial material, infused with and improved by better internal principles.

Ken Gullette tournament champion
Ken Gullette and his trophies in 2008. Most of them were won after age 44. He threw them away after taking this photo.

I did very well in tournaments. I did a lot of Xingyi, but as the years passed, I did more Taiji. My goal was to publicize the internal arts, and show martial artists from all styles that these were martial arts. At that time, karate, TKD, Kuk Sool Won and other "external" artists thought the "internal" arts were for old people, and for people interested in moving meditation. My students and I showed them something that changed their attitudes.

One of my first students, Rich Coulter, walked into one large tournament when he was a brown sash. A student from another school said, "Great. Rich Coulter is here. The most I can hope to win is second place."

Other students did well, too -- Chad Steinke, Rick Todd, Josh Stocking, Fabio Castro, Marilyn Hackett, and later, Chris Miller and Kimberly Miller.

And meanwhile, every day, I was working to improve and learn better internal mechanics for my arts. I taught in a school setting until 2007, when I moved to Tampa for a new job.

In 2009, I lost the function of my left lung, a freak side effect of a medical procedure. I went through a couple of years of heart failure. My cardiologist said, "You could drop dead at any moment with no warning."

That really plays a number on your mind, but it didn't stop me from practicing.

My heart situation improved. Breathing is still an issue, but I have been teaching anyway, through challenging circumstances, and still trying to get better. I now teach in parks and in rented rooms at community centers. I moved my "school" online and have made more than 800 video lessons, passing along everything I learn as my skills develop.

When I was in TV news and became a manager, I would work with my reporters, producers and anchors and try to cut years off their learning and development time by giving them straight information and coaching on delivery, writing, and a more creative approach to their stories.

As an internal arts teacher, my goal is the same. I teach what I have learned and hold nothing back, hoping to save people a few years of getting information bit-by-bit, or not at all, sometimes from teachers who did not have good training but never realized, as I did, that you never stop seeking out new, better, and more advanced information to push your own skills forward.

I never went back into the news industry. I worked in media relations at ACT (the college test), then at the University of South Florida and a couple of nonprofits. In 2013, I began doing the internal arts full-time and handling my own marketing, media relations, video editing and customer service. It is a labor of love and a completely creative job.

And always, I am seeking training and information, practicing the studying, working through forms and movement and fighting applications carefully, like studying a college course, always trying to look beneath the surface.

I was so proud when I earned a black sash 20 years ago, but it was just the beginning. Even 20 years later, and almost 44 years in martial arts (next month), I still feel like a beginner. It is a lifelong endeavor. There is so much to learn.

-- by Ken Gullette

Check out my membership site and enjoy more than 800 video lessons in Chen Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Qigong and more -- right now -- with two weeks free and no risk. Follow this link to www.internalfightingarts.com.

Take your understanding deeper with Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua DVDs that teach principles, internal mechanics and fighting applications at www.internalfightingart.com


Are You Getting This Important Benefit from Your Qigong Practice?

Broadsword 1998I stepped into the ring, holding my broadsword and feeling butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to do well in my first tournament performance as a black belt.

It was February, 1998 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and at 45 years old, I had studied different martial arts for 25 years, had been in the internal arts for more than 10 years, and had practiced qigong diligently for more than a decade.

"Just get into the zone," I told myself as I calmed down and prepared to do my broadsword form.

God, there are a lot of people, I thought.

"Settle down," my inner voice said. "Detach. Rise above the pressure."

It was the worst advice I could have given myself.

A few movements into the form, I turned to my right to do a sweeping cut and noticed a young boy was walking across the ring, just a few feet from me. 

Within another movement or two, I completely spaced out and forgot where I was in my form. For a flash of a second, I was mentally Broadsword 1998-2paralyzed, then I made up some movements, wrapped up the form, and bowed out.

I did not place in weapons forms that day.

I was disappointed at myself. After using qigong in my life so effectively during the past decade, why was I so nervous and unable to hold it together when performing for the first time as a black belt in front of a jury of strangers and a gymnasium full of spectators?

Shouldn't I be a bit more "one" with the universe? Shouldn't I be able to detach my mind? 

Last night, a member of my website -- a man who is becoming a friend -- told me how he was very nervous during a recent karate test (which he also studies) and had the same thoughts about how qigong is supposed to help him remain calm in those situations.

But here is the real secret of qigong practice.

It does not prevent you from being human.

Qigong is not intended to prevent the normal human emotions that we all experience. The key to effective qigong is that you do not hold on to emotions like fear, anxiety, greed, and other negative thoughts. 

To suppress negative emotions is to give them even more power.

And that is where the mindfulness component of qigong comes into play. It is actually an important part of our quest to calm and center ourselves -- to "be in the moment."

When you are "mindful," you are completely in the moment, giving attention to the people or the situation that needs your attention. Your mind is not wandering, and if it does, you simply bring your attention back to where it needs to be.

The negative feelings, the butterflies in the stomach, the fear of failure -- it's all part of the experience. No one ever brags about doing well when nothing was at stake. We don't sit around in our golden years reminiscing about all the boring times we had. 

The best moments in life -- when you are most alive -- happen when you are testing your comfort zone and feeling every sensation.

And so I realized that calming and centering were not enough. I needed to be in it.

Over time, I developed a joy of being in the moment, whether that was a happy moment or whether I was about to perform in front of a panel of judges and a crowd at a tournament, or whether I was going to be grilled in a job interview by a panel of staffers and VPs.

When I was being interviewed by a panel at the University of South Florida in 2007 for the director of media relations position, I sat down, smiled and said, "Take your best shot."

I enjoyed every moment of that interview, fielded all their questions, was honest and let my creative mind flow. I started a month later.

I want to experience it all -- to be in the now and fully feel the experience:

  • To enjoy demonstrating my arts in a tournament and show martial artists something different.
  • To enjoy the competition of sparring without being overjoyed or upset about individual point calls by judges.
  • To enjoy the "competition" of a job interview, and display my experience and knowledge in a creative way.
  • To be in the moment in a tense personal or job situation, where I can take care of problems without exploding.

Qigong helps us relieve stress, calm our minds and body, and helps us to center ourselves. The goal then should be to recapture that calm, centered feeling in times of tension or crisis.

You should not think of qigong as a way to detach your feelings or your mind from the moment. That is not living.

A key part of qigong is mindfulness: the joy of living and being part of everything; the unpredictable nature of challenges that are thrown at you, then learning from them so perhaps the next time, you can handle them even better.

I got better at tournaments. I still got nervous occasionally, but I felt it fully, I experienced it completely, and I sure did have fun.

-- by Ken Gullette

Check Out Ken's Qigong DVD with Exercises for Stress Relief

Want a more in-depth interview on Mindfulness? Check out Ken's podcast interview with Mark W. Muesse

 


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.


Writing It Down: How to Get the Most Out of Your Teacher's Corrections

Ken Gullette and Chen Xiaoxing
Chen Xiaoxing correcting me in 2005 in Livermore, California.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of private days with Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing. My teacher at the time, the late Mark Wasson, invited me to his home in Livermore, California, for an exclusive opportunity to hang out with him shortly after Xiaoxing arrived in the country for a tour of workshops. 

We spent most of the time going through Laojia Yilu, movement by movement. Grandmaster Chen and Mark would watch as I did a movement, then Xaoxing would make comments and gestures, and often hands-on corrections. Mark would listen and watch his comments intently, then interpret with additional instruction.

I was grateful to have such a valuable opportunity.

When I left Mark's home to drive back to San Francisco to the airport, I was a few hours early, so I stopped at a park, went to a table, and started furiously writing notes. I continued on the airplane flying back to the Quad Cities. Starting with the Opening movement, I went step-by-step through the form and wrote down every correction and piece of coaching I could remember. My mind had retained a lot of it, and it flowed out of my pen and into the pages of my notebook.

Those notes were crucial. I referred to them, thought about them, and I worked hard to incorporate them into my movement. I still refer to them sometimes, to see if I have let anything slide over the years. 

Chen Huixian and Ken Gullette
I can't help but smile as Chen Huixian gives me a subtle bit of coaching in 2013.

This weekend, I plan to attend a workshop held by Chen Huixian in Madison, Wisconsin. On Friday night, she will teach push hands. On Saturday and Sunday, we will go through at least half of Laojia Yilu. I also attended one of her Laojia workshops in Madison four years ago. 

I am looking forward to studying with her again. She is a very good teacher, and she speaks English well enough to not need an interpreter.

You can bet I will be writing down notes at the end of each day's practice.

Are you making notes after classes with your teacher? We don't always retain information over time. We spend a lot of money for instruction, and we spend a lot of time, sweat, and energy to "eat bitter" and to learn.

I urge you to get the most out of your training by taking notes and referring to those notes as you practice.

This week, I was coaching a student in one of the movements in the Chen 38 form. At the beginning of the movement, there is a slight closing of the left kua, a sinking, then a sitting back and turning. Even though I had corrected him on this movement before, I noticed he wasn't sinking or closing the kua before the turning, so I reminded him that we had gone over this, and I encouraged him to write down notes after practices.

Go to a workshop and some people will have notebooks or tablets with them. Each time there is a break, you can see them scurry over and scribble or type furiously, recording the tips they had received during the previous hour or two. I often take a notebook and do this during breaks. At other times, I will go back home or to my hotel room, if I am travelling, and I will write down as much as I can remember.

You can also do that after a regular practice with your teacher. We are no different than high school or college instructors. When a student pays attention, takes notes and focuses on what is being taught, it is what we live for -- to know they are hearing us, taking it to heart, and documenting it so they won't forget.

The best way to get the most out of your teacher's corrections is to write it down and then practice, practice, practice. 


Happy 9th Birthday to My Online Site for Learning Tai Chi Hsing-I and Bagua

Internal Strength
In one of the first videos I put up on the website, I teach Tom Revie Zhan Zhuang.

Nine years ago today, on July 4, 2008, I opened my website -- www.internalfightingarts.com -- to the public.

Wow, it has really grown.

On the day it opened to public members, there were maybe 100 video lessons on the site and some pdf documents for downloading.

Today, there are more than 800 video lessons covering Chen tai chi, Hsing-I, Bagua, Qigong and more. The video lessons range from 90 seconds to 20 minutes. It is now the video equivalent of more than 66 DVDs, and it is growing every week as I shoot, edit, and put up more instruction.

We have members all over the world. Everyone gets two weeks free to make sure they like it and to make sure it offers what they need. There are no contracts and members can cancel anytime.

The lessons start with the basics of internal body mechanics, including the ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, silk-reeling energy, opening/closing the kua, Dan T'ien rotation, and it builds from there. Members get to stream any and all of the content from day one -- all information and videos are available even during your first two weeks, when you pay nothing. It is my way of being transparent and honest.

I have spent almost 44 years studying martial arts. I have spent thousands of dollars and I have traveled and worked for a long time. One of the great compliments I get from members is how surprised they are that I hold nothing back. In a world when some instructors keep secrets, I pass along what I know to anyone who can learn from it.

Am I the highest level instructor you will find? No. There are many other instructors in these arts who are at a higher level of skill. But what I know is quality information, and I explain it in a plain-language way that you can understand. What I teach can cut a lot of time off your skill development.

I know for a fact that a lot of internal arts instructors do not teach -- and many of them do not know -- the principles, body mechanics, and applications that I teach. That is why I give new members two weeks free. I am confident that most new members will realize that this is information they have not yet learned.

If you haven't checked out www.internalfightingarts.com, you have nothing to lose by checking it out. You actually have a lot to gain.

Nine years has gone by pretty fast. This is a labor of love. By this time next year, I hope to have 1,000 video lessons on the site. What a great tenth birthday celebration THAT will be!


A Fighting Strategy for Self-Defense: Receive and Return

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

The Seven Strategies are:

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

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

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

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

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


New DVD Set Teaches Bagua Elk Horn Knives Form and Applications

Bagua Elk Horn Cover-250Have you ever bought an instructional DVD that didn't really teach much detail?

Yeah, so have I. 

Some DVDs include different views of a form, different views of movements repeated over and over, but not very much about WHY you're moving this way, exactly what the body mechanics are, and what the movement means for self-defense.

That's what I decided to change when I began making videos and DVDs back around 2003.

My latest DVD contains 3 1/2 hours of detailed instruction on the Bagua Elk Horn Knives form, a Cheng-style weapons form that teaches the form step-by-step, with an emphasis on internal body mechanics and the "intent" of each movement.

It is a 2-DVD set.

The elk horn knives are also called "deer horn knives" or "Mandarin duck knives" because elk horns, deer horns and Mandarin ducks are always found in pairs. The names are used interchangeably, depending on the teacher.

Disc 1 is 2 1/2 hours long and includes complete demonstrations of the form -- a front view at normal speed and a rear view in slow-mo. I do solo instruction for each section, starting at the beginning and taking you move-by-move through a section. Then, you learn as I coach a student through the section. It drives home the mistakes to avoid when you see a student learning a form and being corrected on mistakes. It truly is the next-best thing to being in an actual class.

Disc 2 is an hour and 10 minutes long, featuring fighting applications for each movement of the form. If you are going to learn a weapons form, you must learn how the weapon is used. Martial arts depend on the "intent" of movements and techniques. By the end of Disc 2, you will know what each movement means and how to apply it against an opponent with a weapon. There is also a section on how to take the applications and begin sparring with an opponent.

This 2-disc set costs only $24.99 and is available through this blog with free shipping anywhere in the world. Click here to go to the order page. It is also available on Amazon with Prime 2-day shipping. Check out the clip below for a highlight of what to expect.

 

 Click to Order and Start Learning!

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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