The Joy of Teaching Tai Chi to an "Older" Group of Students

Ken Gullette Tai ChiSomething happens when you start getting older, when your health begins to go South and the hair turns gray.

Suddenly, you feel differently about the old people you see in the store or on the road. You suddenly develop empathy.

Oh, I get it. That old man still thinks of himself as the strong 25-year old that he was just a few minutes ago. Wasn't it just a few minutes ago?

No, it was 40 years ago, before the losses started piling up; before his parents died, before his friends started dying, before his earning power began dropping, and before his heart began beating like a bad carburetor.

Now, when I see a healthy 25-year old, I think to myself, "It seems like just yesterday." When I was 25, life seemed endless and everything seemed to come easily.

As the years passed, I lost a daughter, I lost jobs, marriages, and eventually, my perfect health declined. There were some gains along the way, too, but the losses pile up.

As we get older, it becomes even more important to maintain our mental and physical balance as we try to ride the ups and downs of life.

Ken Gullette Tai Chi ClassLast week, I started a free Tai Chi class for people aged 40 and over. The first class was packed with more than 70 people. The oldest was 83.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach a more "mature" group.

When I first began teaching Tai Chi in 1999, I was still teaching the Yang style. My first official Tai Chi class attracted students from their twenties to their eighties.

At that time, I had already begun studying Chen style and was in the process of switching from Yang to Chen in my practice and in my kung-fu class, made up of mostly teens and young adults.

By 2001, I was teaching Chen style in the Tai Chi class, and the older students began slowly dropping out. Chen style was just too athletic for them.

Nancy and I closed our school in 2007, when I took a job in Tampa, Florida. A year later, that job ended and my health began to go South. I lost the lung and developed cardiomyopathy. For a couple of years around 2012, I was living in heart failure.

Ken Gullette-Nancy Gullette-Tai ChiStarting another Tai Chi class did not appear to be in my future.

But a few weeks ago, I decided to do it, only this time, I would not do it for money, I would do it as a labor of love. The class would be free, and it would be for anyone aged 40 and over -- a free, 6-week class in Qigong and the Chen 19 form.

The turnout was surprising. More than 70 people came in for the first class -- so many that I decided to teach two classes per week.

It is surprising how much I enjoy the class. No one is seeking perfection, and so I make it easy for them, remove the pressure, and make them laugh. My wife, Nancy is in the class, and I use her to demonstrate fighting applications, giving me an opportunity to flirt and tease her. The class really enjoys it.

I encourage heckling in my classes, and always enjoy it when someone cracks a joke. 

On the first night, we do some very light warmups, working down from shoulder circles to side stretches and hip circles. Then, I say, "Touch your fingers to the floor," and I bend over, touching my fingers to the floor. There is usually some giggling, and comments such as, "Yeah, right."

"Okay," I say, "Keep your legs straight and touch your head to the floor." 

That gets a big laugh. Then I say, "If you can touch your head to the floor, you get a black belt."

More laughter.

So here are my tips for teaching Tai Chi to a mature group of students:

** Teach them Qigong exercises and tell them how to use it in their daily lives.

** Lighten up. None of these students wants to be Chen Xiaowang. Don't take it too seriously.

** Go over movements slowly, with a lot of repetition and corrections.

** Encourage laughter. They need it and they want to have fun.

** Have patience. Many older people have little experience with athletics, and as they mirror your movements, their arms and legs will often be in drastically different positions than yours. Give them gentle coaching and expect to go over it several times.

** Ask for questions regularly.

** If you put yourself up on a "teacher pedestal," climb down and be a real human being. Show an interest in them personally.

When I taught the class back from 1999 to 2007, we would occasionally have parties at my house. Sometimes, if a new kung-fu movie was coming out, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, we would pick a showing at the theater and meet there, sitting as a group. It was a lot of fun.

I believe one of the best reasons to teach a class like this is to make new friends. Mature people make great friends. You can add value to their lives, and they can add value to yours.

It is a win-win situation, and nothing is better than that! 

 

 


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.

 


Celebrating 20 Years of Martial Arts Teaching with Free 6-Week Tai Chi Class

Ken Gullette - Rich Coulter 1998-2
Practicing with Rich Coulter in 1997.

Twenty years ago last night, I taught my first martial arts classes. It was about one month after I earned my black sash.

For some reason, I did not want to compete with my friend John Morrow, who has a kung-fu school in Moline, Illinois, so I chose a fitness center in Muscatine, Iowa, rented a room, and advertised classes would start on October 1, 1997 -- one class for children and one for adults.

Two or three children showed up for the kids' class, and three or four young guys showed up for the adult class.

When the adult class started, and these teenagers and 20-something guys were looking at me as if thinking, "Okay, are you any good?" I began to feel the pressure of the black sash.

They asked questions, and I had to know the answers. They asked, "What if someone does this?" I had to know how to respond.

1997 Kids Class - Copy
The ill-fated Kids' Class.

Teaching was a slap in the face by the cold hand of reality! Being a student is one thing, but being a teacher put me in a new category.

I responded by living, eating, breathing, and sleeping kung-fu. My practice time jumped. It was not unusual, especially on the weekend when I was not working, to practice and workout for six hours a day. Two nights a week I was teaching and the other nights, practicing and studying.

Within a few months, as I studied and researched the Hsing-I, Yang Tai Chi and Bagua I was teaching, I discovered there were holes in my curriculum and my training. I heard internal terms that I had not been taught. This led me to Jim and Angela Criscimagna, who introduced me to Chen Tai Chi, and that changed the course of my training. 

I was lucky. Among my first students were Rich Coulter and Chad Steinke. They walked in with the look of skepticism in their eyes. They had both studied other arts, but they liked what they saw in my class and came back. In the coming two or three years, we tore up the tournament circuit and had a great time together. Rich became my first black sash student and both are still good friends.

The Kids' Class only lasted about 18 months. I love kids, but I felt it was holding me back in my own development. One evening, when one of my 11-year old students began crying when I was coaching him on a movement, I asked what was wrong.

"You're always criticizing me!" he bawled. 

I was stunned, and tried to explain that I was simply trying to help him do the movement better.

At that point, I realized that teaching children was not what I wanted to do. Some people are great at it, and some do it because it's the only way their schools are profitable, but I decided I would rather not make a profit if I had to endure that, so when I moved my "school" to the Quad Cities in January, 1999, I left the kids for good.

Celebrating with a Free 6-Week Tai Chi Class

Tonight, at the Bettendorf Community Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, I am launching a free 6-week tai chi class for anyone aged 40 and over. I have been flooded with calls since the Quad-City Times ran a short article about it yesterday.

Tai Chi Class 2002
Some members of the tai chi class from 2002, in a pose from the Yang 24.

Most of the people who are attending have never studied qigong or tai chi before. It's going to be a lot of fun. A few of my older students from 15 years ago will be there. They are now in their 70s. 

One 78-year old woman called yesterday to tell me she would be there tonight. She thanked me for my gift to the community and she said I am a "gift to the universe." How sweet was that? I can't wait to meet her.

A gift to the universe. At my age, I feel like I have been re-gifted. 

During the past 8 years, since I lost my left lung and have occasionally been forced to spend time in the ICU and the ER, my health has not been dependable enough to hold a regular class like this. But with my 20-year teaching anniversary, I thought it was time to try again.

If it works and people like it, I might try again after the first of the year. But if I don't, the people I bring into the art may seek out other instructors in the area. I am the only one holding classes in Chen Tai Chi, however, but when you are beginning and in your 50s and up, you are not really looking to eat bitter, you are looking for health, fitness, and fun, and that's what this class will be. 

 


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. 


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.