How Mario Napoli Beat Chen Village Taiji

Excerpted from Mario Napoli’s interview at Taiji Forum.

I was in a no man’s land concerning this art. I just could not get it! I was lost, demoralized and had [already] quit Tai Chi Chuan [once]. I only went back to it because I heard how good [Stanley Israel] was… so I figured I’d give Tai Chi Chuan one last try.

We hit it off instantly. After just touching him, I knew he was the one who was going to teach me. He made it sound, look and feel so easy. It was very refreshing and I felt as if I understood everything he said explained and showed! He made it fun for me to go to class. The work was hard, but I took to it like fish to water.

“Just push!”

We had many debates and Stan would always say to me, “Why are you so confused?”

It began after a pushing [hands] lesson when he said to me “Mario, just push.” and I would say, “What do you mean, just push? I mean I can push this way or that way…” Then he would repeat “Just push,” and I would again say, “But I may just end up shoving! Shoving is wrong, right?”

Continue reading How Mario Napoli Beat Chen Village Taiji

Charles Manson and the Many Faces of Tai Chi

Writer and Tai Chi expert Scott Meredith recently made this keen observation about Tai Chi marketing:

Tai Chi faces

This graphic shows the unconscious cultural bias that affects internal training. What do all these have in common? Yeah – they show only upper body, arm gestures, or at least massively emphasize the upper body, arms, hands and heads, to the partial or complete exclusion of feet, legs, and hips…

Our profound entrancement with the upper body has made us all tense as hell up there. That’s one issue. The other issue is that, paradoxical as it may seem, the only way to get the real internal in the upper body (arms, hands, whatever) is by relentless internal conditioning of the lower body (feet, legs, hips).

All of that is true. Modern humans really are obsessed with their upper bodies. Our middle and upper class jobs are performed with hands and eyes, while the lower body is resting in a seated position. And even after forty to fifty hours of office work, leading to pathologically tight hip flexors and hamstrings, most of us would still prefer to skip leg day at the gym.

Lower body workouts are a tough sell. I myself have accidentally frightened away new students in the past, by demonstrating a low posture in an introductory Tai Chi class. As Scott implied, Westerners have been conditioned to expect a vibrant new level of health, as a result of adopting exotic Asian hand positions. To be confronted with the coarse reality of a low squat is a deeply dissonant experience.

Marketing professionals and cover designers know this, and respond to the desires of the marketplace.

It’s fun to make cynical observations about advertising. Nevertheless, let’s acknowledge that martial artists and marketers have a common goal: influencing others’ behavior with minimal cost and effort. Tai Chi fans ought to learn from the wisdom displayed by these ad packages. It’s not about excluding the waist and everything below. It’s about focusing on a human face. Continue reading Charles Manson and the Many Faces of Tai Chi

Karate Kata Secrets of the NBA

First and foremost, a master of Karate must become a master of the obvious. While mid-level belts are distracted by the novelty of obscure or secret kata applications, the expert must constantly return to his or her fundamentals.

Wilt Chamberlain is an intriguing example of this approach. Decades after his retirement from the NBA, he still dominates the record books. Wilt took the most shots, and scored the most points of any player in the league. (He was also very successful on the basketball court.)

Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game

Yes, Wilt Chamberlain was clearly a gifted athlete; but there is another important contributing factor to his success.  Did you know he used a free throw kata?

It’s true. Not only that, but he remained loyal to this practice, despite clear evidence that his kata did not work.

There is a lesson here for every teacher and student of Karate. It’s a lesson about deep fundamentals. Continue reading Karate Kata Secrets of the NBA

Empty Your Cup, Part Deux

tea leaves steeping

“Empty your cup,” the master said.  “Your cup is overflowing.”

“Maybe stop pouring then?” I replied.

“It’s a metaphor,” he snapped.  But it was too late anyway.  My loafers were ruined.

“Now clean up that mess,” he ordered with a stern look.  ”And brew another pot!”  I quietly walked back to the kitchen.  This was not how I pictured my blissful weeklong vacation at an authentic Zen monastery.  Continue reading Empty Your Cup, Part Deux

The Automotive Applications of Tai Chi Chuan

Over the past few months, I have made a careful survey of Seattle’s Tai Chi skills.  I have toured the community centers, local parks, and martial arts studios.  Watched many classes, spoken to dedicated and passionate instructors.  After reviewing these groups, I can tell you exactly where to find the best Tai Chi in Seattle.

Go to the northeast end of downtown at rush hour.  Or try just south of Montlake cut.  You can also head west from Green Lake.  Yes, if you really want to see the best Tai Chi applications in town, just find any steep hill with a stoplight. Continue reading The Automotive Applications of Tai Chi Chuan

From Homeless to World Champion: The Story of Kickboxer Marco Sies

The Master Method

Excerpted from The Master Method: Four Steps to Success, Prosperity and Inner Peace by Master Marco Sies

Growing up, I experienced difficulties and personal conflict that I’ve worked very hard to overcome. Some of these struggles stemmed from negative influences and people who told me I wasn’t good enough…I was inferior…I wasn’t smart…I was too poor, too small, too unattractive to make anything of myself. I was told so many negative things so often, I actually spent many years believing these things were true.

Very small for my age, I was a dark-skinned boy living n a not-yet diversified [Chilean] population where light skin was admired and favored. At school, little girls told me I was ugly, and the boys bullied me relentlessly. I remember being thrown headfirst into a trashcan, and the humiliation of a group of boys whipping me with their neckties and making me run like a horse while they laughed. Continue reading From Homeless to World Champion: The Story of Kickboxer Marco Sies

Are Action Movies Ruining Martial Arts?

In New York Magazine, Kyle Buchanan laments the decline of the modern action movie:

…Actors often brag about how much Krav Maga or karate or capoeira they had to learn for their roles, but to judge from the onscreen world of modern action movies, that kind of skill set is hardly rare: A built-in understanding of martial arts is instilled in everyone, be they hero, villain, or mere henchman. (Fortunately, heroes always get to fight off bad guys who somehow know the exact same form of martial arts they do.) Too often, it seems like movies grind to a halt for obligatory hand-to-hand combat with low stakes and little invention, as though the screenwriter typed, “A fight breaks out,” and the director left it up to the second unit and fight coordinator to fill three minutes.

With little in the way of stakes, a sameness in presentation, and no blood or bruises, martial arts have turned action scenes into dance scenes…Gone are the days when a fight might involve a gun, a makeshift weapon, or a hit that actually hurts.

Mr. Buchanan misremembers the history of violence in cinema. Continue reading Are Action Movies Ruining Martial Arts?