A Response to the Recent Wing Chun Confusion On Establishing Ground Path in the Internal Arts


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In Tai Chi Chuan, and in all of the arts that are traditionally associated with the name “Neijiaquan”, or the Chinese “Internal Family of Boxing Schools,” have many things in common. Not only does Neigong and Martial practice blend together and become impossible to separate. Power in these arts is generated by the use of whole body coordinated movement that connects with the ground in specific ways. In Tai Chi Chuan the body must be balanced and well rooted. The foot is coordinated directly with the hand without delay and without any sequential order of connection. This coordination is an aspect of the “six harmony” principle in the internal arts.

Lately, there has been some misconceptions spread about using ground path in the Internal arts. There are a quite few people in the Wing Chun world who claim that they do something different from other internal arts and say things like that they don’t need to use ground path, that they “don’t need to use the ground”, and some of them try to demonstrate this in different ways. A couple of these people are enthusiastic and share what they know generously. I like what they do, so I have nothing against them personally. Still, I believe that it’s a pity that they spread mistakes and misconceptions about what they call internal arts. They keep repeating “I don’t need to use the ground” and “We do it differently” as mantras.

I won’t mention names but I will still bring up a few examples. And it’s quite easy to search videos and Facebook groups to find out what I am speaking about. One person intentionally awkwardly tries to demonstrate that using the ground takes time and needs a big wind up movement, which obviously is as wrong as it gets from a Tai Chi perspective. In his videos I hear him say things like “I don’t need to use the ground”, and that using ground force is “Intermediate”. He says that “the problem is the time-length.” But still he doesn’t need to “load” by sinking physically or bring strength from the ground by sinking his waist physically.

The meaning of “We don’t need to use the ground” is obviously a statement that what they do is more advanced, and maybe even “better”, than other Internal Arts. When throwing a student into a wall, he says: “It’s not from the floor.” What you can see though, something that is highly evident, is that he leans his whole body against the student. Because his student is unbalanced using and use a square parallel stance, this leaning itself is well enough to disrupt the student’s balance. And then he can easily push the student away with arm movement only. As this teacher is using a square stance himself and leans his body against the student, he is also unbalanced and would be very easy to pull off balance. Leaning the whole body as he does is obviously a big no-no in Tai Chi Chuan.

In Tai Chi, Jin (Intrinsic strength/power) is an expression of the internal conditions. For establishing a Jin ground path, this means that you need to know how to relax your whole strength down to your feet. But there is no time-delay. In Tai Chi Chuan you don’t suddenly drop your posture or “sink the Qi” in order to do something. Instead, you are always kept sunk. In Tai Chi Chuan, when doing something with the hand, as reaching out with the palm in “brush knee”, the press when pushing the foot down into the ground, must be felt directly in the hand. This feeling is something you should practice in your form, a feeling of an instant, direct connection between hand and foot. Some people speak about establishing a Jin (intrinsic strength/power) path to the ground, others call it just Ground Path, or use both of the terms. The power comes out directly without no delay, no draw back, no preparation or wind-up. As William Chen expresses it in a classic way, he says that in Tai Chi you establish “something from nothing and nothing from something”. If there is an evident load, sinking, a preparation, then we as well would consider this intermediate.

One Wing Chun video that I really like and enjoy though, a video that focus on the internal aspects of the arts, is the Martial Man’s interview with John Kaufman who studied with Chu Shong Tin. Chu was a student of Ip Man and learned Ip Man’s “Internal” Wing Chun. I won’t put a link to the YouTube Video, but it’s easy to search it up if you are interested to watch it. Anyway, Kaufman explains that he does not need to “use” any particular part of the body, and instead what is done is all about just “being”. So it’s not about “doing”. Why? Because if you focus on doing something with any special part of your body, you will lose the whole body generated movement, using that part instead of using all of the body equally. He explains it very well. He takes a few examples of what he does not need to do. But he is very specific with that he still uses these parts of the body and that he still uses the whole body. He does not take the legs out of this equation and he does not really take ground force out of the equation. But he says that it’s important to not try to do anything specifically, or to re-phrase it with my own words, instead just letting it be there naturally as a part of a whole.

What Kaufman is talking about is where I believe that some of the Wing Chun protagonists are confusing things up. When they speak about what they do compared to what they are not doing, they have already lost that important part of doing everything together, using the whole body together, as a natural part of being. They are doing things individually, isolated from the rest of the body. We know this just because of the fact that their minds are focusing on isolated matters when demonstrating what they’re doing.

And obviously you’ll never get away from the us of the foundation, the base, legs or roots, regardless of what you call it. The gravity is always involved, and how you deal with the connection to the Earth is always something you need to take into the equation. There’s a reason why most of Chinese Martial Arts are concerned by building a strong base in the beginning of the the individual’s journey. Traditionally this type of Chinese practice starts off with countless of hours training stances, together with endless corrections of posture and structure. Today most of teachers are not extreme in their teaching method, but the importance of building a strong root and a good foundation is just as important as before. Claiming that using ground force is not important and an immediate skill is ludicrous. It does not make anyone a service, not Wing Chun stylists, not Tai Chi Chuan practitioners and certainly not the world of Internal Martial Arts in general. What many of the “internal” oriented Wing Chun teachers are claiming is not what Kaufman meant by “not doing” this or that. Why they do claim that they don’t use the ground, something that is just not true, not even according to what they demonstrate themselves, is not something I would try to give a definitive answer on. But maybe they just don’t know enough about what they are talking about.

However, as I said, I do like what Kaufman says and it resonates well with what I myself do in my Tai Chi Chuan. Many years ago, I needed to practice different parts of my body individually in order to learn how to coordinate different parts of my body properly by isolating different ways to coordinate foot, kua, centreline, waist, spine movement, etc with the limbs. But when you understand how to coordinate your body in different ways, it’s important to learn how to move naturally and spontaneously without thinking about the mechanics of your movements. When I practice my Tai Chi, especially against something or someone, as dealing with different punching methods or push hands, I don’t think about what part of my body leads the movement. I don’t care if I initiate my movement from the feet, kua or the dantian. I rather use all of the body together as a whole and let my body naturally adjust to what is happening. When you learn something it’s all about “doing”. Later, when you understand how to do something and it has become a natural habit, “doing” should be a spontaneous aspect of “being”.

Here somewhere, where “doing” becomes a natural expression of “being”, our arts, regardless if they focus more or less on internal aspects, might have a chance to meet and understand each other. However, individuals who constantly try to put what they do an a pedestal and look down on others, will never be able to breach the gap between “we and them”, and will never come to a greater understanding of the principles that we all share in common. I don’t condemn anyone. But I do think that it’s a pity that students especially, and also others listening, might adapt to a teacher’s catch phrases just because they are dazzled by a demonstration. Anyone who focuses on narrow and superficial things, as differences of approaches and external expressions of techniques, will never be able to reach down below the surface and understand the core of how the principles really work on a fundamental level, which is essential for reaching an advanced understanding of the internal aspects of martial arts.


T’ai Chi Ch’uan Essentials: The Learning Process of Body Mechanics


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T’ai Chi Ch’uan is indeed a complex art. The learning process goes from separating and learning different types of body mechanics and then putting it all together. This text right here deals mostly with Tai Chi from a Yang and Wu perspective. But still, even if the learning steps might differ, the general ideas should remain the same in all traditional Tai Chi schools. Though I would like to point out that I can only speak about the traditional schools as much of the learning and theory has been very much simplified in modern times, especially concerning how Yang style and short, simplified Tai Chi versions are taught today.

If you look at the 10 steps further down below, you can see that even if I have summed up the progress in ten steps, it’s still quite a lot. In my structure below, I have only considered the mechanics of the physical body. But it’s still important to at least briefly approach the Mind, because the learning process with coordination of mind and how to deepen the practice is a much more complex matter. 

Mind over Matter (Body)

In daily life all people move from the limbs and with the hands especially. They are more aware about their heads and hands than anything else. They keep their balance point high and many people tense their breath. The progress in learning Tai Chi mechanics is very much linked to our own awareness, our body awareness and our awareness about ourself as mind and body in time and space. We strive to be aware about our bodies and ourselves by focusing on the parts of the body where we normally are at least aware. One would think that moving and using our bodies as a whole, from the bottom and from the center, to the top and out through the limbs could be a completely physical development. But actually, nothing could be further from the truth. The way of separating the mind and body here in the West does not work if you want to achieve what can be achieved. And there’s a completely scientific and logical reason behind this. It’s about our nervous system and our sensors in the body, where and how we actually are aware about our own bodies physiologically speaking. This  determines how we perceive ourselves and how we use our bodies. (See the Cortical Homonculus for explanation) That is why it’s necessary to understand that because the body mechanics in Tai Chi deals with whole body movement, understanding and using the body as a whole, the process of learning body mechanics, is paramount to how well you understand yourself and how you deal with your own body. The process in not only technical, it’s just as much a process of deepening your own body awareness, your knowledge about yourself.

The Body Mechanics learning process explained through ten steps

When you start learning Tai Chi, you start learning as a person who is used to mostly be aware about your head and hands. For some people, the process of starting to learn Tai Chi can be painful. You will become painfully aware about all of your mistakes and flaws, how bad your balance is, how bad your coordination is and how hard it is to coordinate the body with awareness in the most simple ways. Now you will start to use your nervous system in another way than you are used to in daily life’s movements. Through the time, you will deepen your knowledge about yourself. It will be a long journey with plenty of rewards ahead.

  1. Balance and the central axis.
  2. Understanding feet and legs
  3. Use of the kua 
  4. Understanding the lower Dantian
  5. Coordinating of kua, dantian and waist
  6. Opening and closing the lower ribs
  7. Opening and closing scapula 
  8. Coordinating lower ribs, spine and 
  9. Coordinating lower and upper body and all of it together 
  10. Everything moves together spontaneously without focus on any part starting/initiating movement

So, let’s explain these steps further:


Stages 1 & 2 – Balance and centerline

  • Balance and the central axis.
  • Understanding feet and legs

First, you will need to learn how to separate full and empty by weight shifting and moving from posture to posture. You do this while keeping your body straight while getting acquainted to the use of turning around the central axis. You will learn how to use your center and balance.

Now, after learning the basics, you’ll need to learn to become more aware about your feet and legs, not only how to shift weight but to move your body with the feet and legs. You need to try to be as passive as possible with your arms, letting the body push the arms and pull them in. 

These first two steps, the very beginning of learning Tai Chi properly, occur mostly while learning a form. The process of learning a long form might take one or two years of study. If you study a long traditional form, you will probably need to learn it first before being able to deepening your body method further.

Stages 3 to 5 – Building the foundation

  • Use of the kua
  • Understanding the lower Dantian
  • Coordinating of kua, Dantian and waist

Above I said that you will “learn how to use your center and balance”. But you are probably not quite there yet to be able to move completely centered and balanced. Most people in the beginning year or so of their Tai Chi practice will sometimes feel uncomfortable and unstable, even shaking. This is because you have started to learn how to relax your legs, but you need to develop a certain leg strength before stabilizing. One of the keys of learning how to stabilize your posture while developing your “roots” is to make use of the kua. This concept is sometimes confused with the tips of the hips, but the kua is actually on the inside area. It’s the hip joint and surrounding muscles. Mostly when we control the opening and closing of the kua, we use the muscles on the inside of the thighs, the muscles close to the groin. While still keeping your feet firmly on the ground, you need to learn how to initiate movement from the kua. 

This understanding will also help your knee health. Many people, even those who have studied a long time, keeps awareness mostly in their feet and move from there. But if you want to stay out of knee trouble, you need to learn how to lift your legs and place them down with your thighs. The alignment of the knee and rest of the leg should follow the line of the upper leg naturally. 

When rotating, shifting, lifting and placing by opening and closing the kua of each side,  you need to control the line and and direction of your upper body with the dantian and the waist. When learning to control the whole area, the Dantian, waist and Kua will move and be used as a whole. Physiologically speaking, there are strong muscles in the kua that through fascia connects this area directly to the abdomen and solar plexus. Different layers of connective tissues connects the kua directly with the lower and middle dantian of Chinese theory. I just mention this as it might make the coordination of kua seem more logical and reasonable. This might also might it clearer that the coordination should not be about three different areas moving independently yet coordinated together, but instead really moving together as a whole, a dense type of coordinating the whole area together as there were no seams between them. Yet, the small point inside the belly, the inner or true dantian should still be regarded as the absolute center of this whole structure. Through relaxation of body, mind and breath, this small area can still be felt as an individual spot. 

Stages 6 to 8 – reviving and coordinating the upper body

  • Opening and closing the lower ribs
  • Opening and closing scapula
  • Coordinating lower ribs, spine and scapula

Before learning any of the upper body mechanics, you would probably already know one or two forms, a lot of other individual solo exercises and had practiced push hands for quite some times. You would probably have practiced already for about three or five years before going this far. Probably five years instead of three. And stage 5 is really where most people stop their learning progress. And understanding kua, waist and coordinating them directly with the limbs is what most people would define as “6 harmony movement”, or just as good Tai Chi movement. But there is still more. Many don’t stay a long time enough with the same teacher, tradition or lineage, and most teachers have not done so either. 

The lower ribs are important to practice separately and take special notice of as the base of this area connects directly to the lower dantian through the back. This area on the lower back resembles the spot in old Neidan tradition said to be the lower gate, meaning that you need special practice to open this gate to achieve grand circulation for the Qi to be able to flow out through the limbs. Many teachers have exercises to open the front and the back of the kua, this is one key. The other key is to learn how to coordinate movement through the lower ribs. You don’t need to believe in Qi, but this is an important stage if you want to understand full spinal movement and coordination, which is of course something that most Tai Chi schools does not teach. You learn to open and close each of the sides of the lower back with the lower ribs by coordinating them together with arm movement. When the arms goes up, they open, when the arms goes down, they close. For a posture as “brush knee”, when one side opens, the other side closes. 

The scapula is the most problematic area. Very few are taught this on a meaningful level. And most people who start to consciously practice this kind of movement becomes stiff and feels uncomfortable. It takes quite a while of practice to feel comfortable with this kind of coordination. First you need to understand how to not raise the shoulders to move the scapula, but instead how to activate the muscles between your shoulder blades close to the spine and move from there. This practice is directly connected to the third, upper gate in Neidan theory. Again, you don’t need to believe in qi to practice this. The type of movement and body use achieved from this practice has great practical advantages. Also for health in old age speaking keeping the smoothness of movement and flexibility of the upper back is extremely important.

After quite some time of specially designed exercises, and later implementing this type of action into your general Tai Chi, you should have learned it well enough to coordinate it with the lower ribs. When you over-emphasize this whole coordination of the back, you will first make gross movements with the whole of your spine. One example of this could be described as lifting the whole trunk from the lower ribs and then rounding the back with the scapula. When you can coordinate the movements from the lower dantian, through the lower ribs and moving the scapula together, you have accomplished a very complex way of moving and coordinating your body. But now you need to put everything together in a deeper sense. First when you have achieve stages 6 to 8, you will really understand the concept of “opening and closing.” Your whole body will work together as a pump. 

Stages 9 & 10 – Reaching natural, spontaneous movements

  • Coordinating lower and upper body and all of it together
  • Everything moves together spontaneously without focus on any particular body part

The first issue when it comes to whole body coordination with both lower and upper body together is about your base. Are you balanced enough? Most people who goes through the stages 6 through 8 can become top-heavy, unbalanced, feel uncomfortable. Sometimes learning the more advanced body methods might feel for the student like starting from scratch again and learn a whole new way of moving the body. So now you need to learn how to put everything together. When you have learned all parts individually and try to put them together, you will occasionally overdo movements, make them bigger to feel them and to better understand the coordination between different parts. But later when everything is on the right place, you need to make the coordination smaller, more compact. Everything, all body parts, should move and stop together. The foot will be directly coordinated with the hand in one single movement. Hand and foot will start and stop at the same time. As the coordination will be smaller you will need to learn how to hide the body mechanics. In the end, all of the body will move together, coordinated. You will learn how to keep your center spontaneously and keeping everything coordinated just by moving. You should not need to think about any kind of rule or need to use any certain body part to lead or initiate movement. Everything will move together, and the coordination is kept together spontaneously. Your whole body will move with the sensation of freedom, and not as bound by any kind of rule.

Differences of schools and disciplines 

There might be differences in schools concerning the order of learning. You might learn about coordinating ribs and scapula before you have deepened your root and understanding moving from the center. There might be differences about coordinating, what to move and how. Or what to not move, why and when. But the process above according to the ten stages above is still how your body must learn. Before being able to coordinate the top properly with the lower part of the body, a solid good foundation must have been develop first. Learning about a more advanced coordination of the upper body too early might will cause unbalanced movements, create stiffness and cause other mistakes. It’s not bad to understand the process and test things here and there. But remember that your foundation, your base, root and center, is paramount for everything else you learn. 

And last, the key is to stay inside the door

Most people really need a good teacher and to stay with the same teacher, or at least in the same lineage, for quite some time to get the guidance they need. The difference between so called in-door students and other ones is not about secrets. There are no real secrets. But there are methods that only makes sense to teach students with a good foundation. Otherwise teaching certain things will be nothing more than a waste of time, both of the teacher’s and yours. You need to be able to stay “inside the door” for a long time, be a student long time enough to first develop a good foundation. If you cannot first use your body in a certain ways, many kinds of techniques and methods just won’t be properly learned. Many students jump from teacher to teacher, from seminar to seminar. Teachers might look good to put in a lineage chart. But the question is: how much did you really learn from them? Tai Chi Chuan takes a long time to learn. Well, I know, it can be very, very hard to find a good teacher who knows it all, with the ability and who are willing to teach everything. But frankly said, it’s often much harder for great teachers to find good students. 

Tai Chi and Meditation



Some interesting discussions on Social Media and discussion boards lately. Some people claim that Tai Chi Chuan practice can be meditation and others state that Tai Chi is absolutely not meditation. But both parties usually agree about most things.

The problem has to do with how you define meditation, how you look at its, what values you put into the term and concept. I was a bit surprised by the on meditation fraction, because that before reading these thoughts of others, I have always considered Tai chi practice as a form of meditation. I’ve already written about what my teachers called “the three pillars” in my brief post “What is Tai Chi?“, namely health, self-defence and meditation.

In general, people who are against defining Tai Chi practice as meditation look at this concept as detachment, detachment of one idea or thought. The most common meditation techniques is to focus on one ide, thought or concept and let all other thoughts pass by. The consciousness is arranged around the single idea so the thoughts and feelings can be controlled by ignoring them.  But if you look at Tai chi, regardless it’s about standing practice or form, there is not this kind of attachment. The nature of Tai Chi mind is non-attached. The state of the Tai Chi mind is empty, yet none of what is happening around you disregard, no impression ignored or suppressed. Everything that happens passes by like the wind, without judgement or attachment. So from this point of view, in order to prevent confusion and misunderstanding, it’s better to explain what meditation or a meditative state in Tai Chi practice might mean and make a clear distinction between “common” meditation techniques. Even if that Tai Chi is not a meditation technique, and “Tai Chi is not meditation”, are valid statements, Tai Chi is still a meditative practice. From my own personal experience, it can work as meditation and affect the practitioner in similar ways as in traditional meditation. Thus “Tai Chi is meditation” is also a valid statement. Which one is is true and false depends on point of view and what values you put into the two different terms.

My teacher Mr He explained that as meditation speaking, Tai Chi Chuan works as self-hypnosis. The movements of the form, especially if performed slow and even, has a hypnotic effect. This is the nature of the meditative practice of Tai Chi and the only technique you’ll ever need to find yourself in a deeper state of consciousness. The more slow, the better meditatively speaking. I myself have found that there is a point of speed, when I speed down to a certain pace, where I can more or less automatically reach another deeper level of calmness, awareness and consciousness. I have practiced common meditation techniques as well, common techniques as well as deeper not so common methods. Personally, I find that what you can reach with your mind in Tai Chi practice is pretty much the same as in traditional meditation. Maybe you cannot achieve as a deep stage  in Tai Chi as with some techniques, but it’s still pretty close. And personally I prefer Tai Chi form and standing practice before any other meditation method I have studied.

So  by that statement I have already answered another question: Is it necessary to combine Tai Chi with meditation? And the obvious answer is that it’s absolutely not necessary. However, if you want to combine Tai chi and meditation, I would personally recommend Deep Meditation before TM, “Mindfulness” or any lighter or simplified version. What can be an advantage with combining Tai Chi and traditional meditation is that meditation is a much faster way to eneter deeper stages of consciousness, if that is what you strive for. If you have already practiced some good method, you can much more easily understand how Tai Chi could work as meditation and your feeling and experience from meditation can guide you and help you with your Tai Chi. There is also kinds of “qi-circulation” sitting meditation practice some Tai Chi practitioners use, mostly to manifest so called “small heavenly circulation”. Personally I would not recommend this kind of practice as it might give you wrong appreciation about how Qi works in moving T’ai Chi Ch’uan.

Book Review: The Metamorphosis of Tai Chi by Robert Agar-Hutton


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The Metamorphosis of Tai ChiI assume that Robert Agar-Hutton as a publisher knows very well what sells and why. I suspect that he also understand how limited the interest is for the art of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. So it’s interesting to see how a professional publisher would take on the challenge of writing and trying to sell a book on this subject. I am a bit surprised that he didn’t try to make a thin book in bigger format, with lots of pictures and with very little substance. All of those books our there are the books I come to think about when someone mention “Tai Chi books”. Well, those and the classical Cheng Man-Ching books. Books that represents a brief introduction with some sort of substance without being a narrow style-dependant instruction booklet is a rare thing. Maybe the need for this kind of book was exactly what Agar-Hutton spotted?

When I started to read the book The Metamorphosis of Tai Chi: Created to kill, evolved to heal, teaching peace I was quite surprised that I didn’t hate it, that I didn’t throw it away immediately as I usually do. I usually only read the first pages in any kind of book I start to read as I don’t like to waste my time on things I don’t really like. But now I actually read all of it, from the beginning to the end, which is quite unusual. And it was not because out of respect because I was given the book as a gift. I enjoyed reading it.

The Metamorphosis of Tai Chi is a small format book, not very long, but well a 111 pages of reading. It is an introduction on Tai Chi Chuan with many short chapters with brief descriptions and facts, common things that people generally asks about or are interested to know. The book has not a great depth, but it’s entertaining and honest without any pretentions on being anything else than an introduction. You learn about terms as the Dantian and Yi, there are some thoughts about death and mind. You can read about timing, how to set goals and many different things. It’s well packed with information and well paced without anything unnecessary that slows it down or works as fillers.

I don’t have much negative to say about the book. One thing is that The Metamorphosis of Tai Chi completely lacks pictures, that it is all about text, facts and information. There are no exercises, photos or illustrations except one simple picture of the Yin and Yang diagram. Some kind of illustration or pictures would have been a plus. As it is an introduction to the art, a few pictures of basic postures would have been good, as well as a couple of illustrations of self-defence applications. Also, the book is so packed with information that some of it is a bit brief. Most of the times I don’t agree with something is when it tends to become generalised.

I suspect that The Metamorphosis of Tai Chi is exactly the kind of book I would have enjoyed very much for the first years of studying. As it’s not style bound it’s very good as a general introduction to Tai Chi. Also, there are many people who have studied Tai Chi for some time but still don’t know much about the art except for what they do in class, and have very little knowledge about the history or culture around the art. So if you don’t know much about Tai Chi, if you have studied a mere couple of years and wants to know more about it, or if you wish to introduce the art to a friend, The Metamorphosis of Tai Chi is one of the first books I would recommend to buy.

Please read more about the author in my Q&A with Robert Agar-Hutton.

Q&A with Jonathan Bluestein


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In this fifth edition of the Thoughts on Tai Chi Q&A series, teacher and author Jonathan Bluestein generously answers on my questions. Sifu Bluestein is one of those rare individuals who has dedicated his whole life to his interest in the Chinese Martial arts. He teaches Xingyiquan and Piguaquan in his home country of Israel and has made extensive research in the realm of Chinese traditional martial arts. He has travelled, met and interviewed many teachers around the world, and has summed up his discoveries in his book Research of Martial Arts, a work packed with interesting facts and fascinating stories.

If I would mention living teachers of today who completely dedicate their lives to their arts, someone who studies martial arts, breathes and eat, in that very order, Sifu Bluestein would probably be one of the very first persons I would come to think about. Please visit his homepage Research of Martial arts to order his book or download free samples. You can also access many free articles on the subject.

For your convenience you can also download the interview here in PDF format:
Q&A with sifu Jonathan Bluestein.

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Sifu Jonathan Bluestein

Thoughts on Tai Chi: Your favourite Martial Artists?

Sifu Jonathan Bluestein: Oh, that is a tough one! Definitely NOT Bruce Lee or any other ‘movie star’, which is the most generic answer out there. I cannot single out one man or woman to be ‘favourites’. Generally speaking, such notions are often childish, as excellence manifests through a wide variety of attributes, and Life is not really a competition. There are many people whom I respect. Some of these gentlemen are (beyond myown teachers, whom I obviously like):

Grand-Master Keith R. Kernspecht, from Germany – who is a good friend of mine, is the head of the EWTO. His modest organization has the upwards of 60,000 students. He is among the people I enjoy most spending time with, along his beautiful daughter Natalie, who is also a martial arts teacher. I gather that master Kernspecht’s business success in the martial arts is second to none in history. Furthermore, as they say in our circles – ‘his hands are high’. I am in the process of writing his biography nowadays, and hoping to get it published by late 2019 or early 2020. You would be hard-pressed to find a better martial arts biography once this one is published. It is going to be a massive tome, over 400 pages, with some of the most entertaining personal stories one could imagine, most of which were never previously made public. To be accompanied by over 300 rare pictures, too. Luckily as we are friends, Keith was willing to cooperate with my research, and there was no need for a contract or anything of this nature. But this is still my project, not an official biography or anything of this sort. The biography I am writing of his life would be the first in a series of books I shall produce about famous masters. Here is a photographs of Grandmaster Kernspecht and I, from 2017:

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Grandmaster Kernspecht & Sifu Bluestein

Then there is master Yang Hai from Montreal, Canada – who is a friend, colleague and a wonderful, extremely cheerful individual. Every time I speak with him, I learn something new. Master Yang’s enthusiasm for all forms of Chinese gongfu is truly boundless. His Xing Yi Quan is very close to mine in terms of lineages and methods, although he performs at a much higher level and is exceedingly accomplished in his understanding of the arts. I look up to him as a person from whom I would love to study one day. Here is a good picture of master Yang:

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Master Yang Hai

Morio Higaonna sensei from Okinawa – among my favourite karateka, and just a terrific human being. A very positive and inspiring practitioner whom I have been looking up to for many years, even though our arts and traditions are quite different. I would say that in his generation, few have equaled his ability and understanding, and among them was his contemporary, Tetsuhiro Hokama sensei.

This time of the year also marks the sad anniversary of the passing of my shigong (teacher’s teacher), later master Zhou Jingxuan. A paragraph would not do, so if you are interested, I have written an biographical summary of his life and my thoughts and feelings towards him, which can be read here (below the link is a picture of master Zhou):


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Late Master Zhou Jingxuan

Your favorite Martial Arts Movies and Series?

Once more, this is difficult to rank. To begin with, I find most martial arts films and series to be quite silly. How can one enjoy something he later tells his own students is ridiculous in class? It is one thing to have pure fantasy, which is alright, and another when something is claimed to be related to real martial arts, and is not. Frankly, in our time, even some Western martial arts films such as the John Wick movies, with their over-the-top battles, are still more realistic-looking than much of the needlessly-hyped Hong Kong cinema of the 20thcentury.

The Chinese film Wu Lin Zhi武林志, though certainly not ‘great’ by any standard, features some very nice scenes which are closer to the spirit of traditional Chinese martial arts, and teacher-student relationship within them. The image below is from that film.

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Wu Lin Zhi – Pride’s Deadly Fury

The famed anime series and manga Hajime no Ippo, though it exaggerates Western Boxing excessively here and there, does justice to that art form and to the viewers. I have always liked it, especially as I have background in Western Boxing. It has unfortunately somewhat deteriorated in later seasons.

The Cobra Kai television series, which is the sequel for the older Karate Kid films, has martial arts which are laughable most of the time. That being said, as a martial arts teacher I have enjoyed it immensely and found it to be hilarious. The reason is that it brilliantly and accurately portrays a lot of the politics and rivalries between martial arts schools, as well as all the fun and emotional moments between teachers and students that do take place in real life; at least, as these are experienced by teachers in Western countries and in modern times. It had done so more reliably than any other production I have examined. Though I have to admit, this show’s entertainment value is not as decent for those who do not operate a martial arts school, and some students of mine were ambivalent towards it.

There are a lot of good things to be said of the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which included both script and choreography inspired and in part written by legitimate teachers of traditional Chinese martial arts. I know two of the men involved – sifu Manuel Rodriguez and sifu Kisu Stars – both lovely people and skilled in their crafts. They have done a tremendous service for the traditional martial arts community through that project in which they had taken part.  Avatar not only features a relatively more accurate portrayal of the martial arts themselves (in terms of choreography and culture, not actual fighting). It also captures much of the Oriental spirit, philosophy and lure. The creators of that show were brave in exposing the audience to  types of teachings considered more ‘advanced’, including an exploration of the Chakras and complex concepts of Qi Gong and meditation practice. The irony is that most likely, the creators themselves did not fully comprehend in the flesh these novel ideas and methods, but were faithful enough to express them very near to how a real master would have explained such things – likely based on very thorough and genuine research of the subject matter, and the advice of experts.

As for gross violence which pretends to be proper martial arts, I would once again like to point out John Wick comes pretty close to reality with a lot of what goes on the screen (granted, Keanu Reeves is a very legitimate martial artist these days), and Marvel’s Daredevilis not that bad either much of the time. The Daredevil series even used legitimate martial arts weapons from Kingfisher woodworks, which make the sticks and staves my students and I use.

Here is also important to mention the infamy of the despicable and unworthy show ‘Iron Fist’. The choreography presented therein is a joke, and the main actor hardly practiced any martial arts before taking the role of a character proclaimed to be ‘a master’ who ‘trained many years in a temple’. That show should have never been made.

You know what the problem is, with martial arts films made in China? That they usually carry enormous potential in terms of the actor’s physical skills, and then tend to waste it with silly plots, political agendas and absurd choreographies. Take the example of the Yip Man films starring Donnie Yen. Great actor! Very good martial artist, too. But what a mess they made with these films…

Yip Man, the real historical persona (not ‘Internet Protocol Man’ – IP Man), was no saint by any stretch of the imagination. For a “devote Confucian”, he sure did not find it troubling to have a lingering opium addiction, and from what I heard, using his teenage students in peddling his stuff. He was a very skilled martial artist, but never fought against the Japanese for the pride of the Chinese nation, and certainly did not have a fist fight with Mike Tyson (that third film really went overboard). Take a close look at Yip Man’s disciples. You cannot tell which is higher – their skill, or the hatred most of them garner for one-another these days. ‘The Politics of Wing Chun of the Yip Man Lineage’ can be the title of a book series which can put to shame some of George R.R. Martin’s novels. But the films? They are about a likable kung fu superhero… who apparently can easily get through a slew of Southern China’s greatest masters fighting on shaky table-tops, but later has a hard time dealing with an average boxer?… Well, these plots do not make sense. But at least the production value is high, and they are visually entertaining; as opposed to the Bruce Lee flicks, which are distasteful in my opinion.

If you could study with any living or dead martial artist for two weeks, who would you choose?

I would have liked to spend more time with my deceased shigong, master Zhou, whom I loved very much (see details in my first answer). But had I to choose a teacher with whom I was never affiliated and has been dead a long time, one name which immediately comes to mind is Dong Haichuan. Famed master Dong was the originator of nearly all modern lineages of Bagua Zhang. He was known for being able to assess with uncanny accuracy the strengths and weaknesses of each student at first encounter, and had expertise in creating for these men a specialized curriculum which brought their innermost potential to fruition. His life story is quite fascinating, and some parts of it are well documented. I would recommend any martial artist to read about this man and his exploits.

Why did you choose to study Internal Martial Arts? 

Because I had the correct intuition, that they held answers to questions which other traditions were not even asking. That, truthfully, was the main reason. The internal martial arts of China are a unique cultural treasure, and their martial side is but one among a bunch of intricate facets and methods which they cultivate.

Honestly speaking, all martial arts are but a hammer, and what happens is that the teacher and student end up working together on what can be done with that instrument. Are you going to use the hammer to kill someone? Build a house? Repair your neighbour’s roof? Make a living? Do work for barter to learn something else? It is your call, and the teacher guides along the way.

But here is the thing: for many martial arts, in many schools, all that is taught is how to use a hammer so that you can smash it into people; or at times, choke someone with it. The internal martial arts can use that hammer for so much more. It is not a bloody hammer to begin with! These arts are rather, comprehensive systems for operating the body and mind – one’s daily reality – in novel and unusual ways. A short answer cannot really tackle the enormity of how this is done. Anyone interested can read a comprehensive explanation for what the internal arts are in my best-seller, ‘Research of Martial Arts’.

Put simply, humans chiefly covet three things in life: Happiness, Meaningand Continuity. All other things humans want, are in fact off-shoots of these three – Happiness, Meaning and Continuity. Most humans these days who dwell in cities and were ‘educated’ in public schools, live without Meaning. To find meaning is first necessary to invest in learning a comprehensive system for understanding the world. The internal martial arts of China are in fact such systems. That is because in order to fully understand them, one needs to also study history, philosophy, anatomy, physiology, medicine, psychology, sociology and much more – beside the actual martial side which is the obvious. In retrospect, I can tell you that I was drawn to the internal arts in part, because I was lacking in such a comprehensive system. Once a person has familiarized himself with such a system, whatever it may be, and have acquired gongfu in it, then any other modality of learning and reasoning becomes far more easily accessible.

You have to ask yourself though – are you being taught such novel ideas from your own martial arts teacher? In most martial arts schools, the story is the same: you come, you sweat, and you go home. Sometimes, there might be an ‘enlightening 5 minute lecture’ at the end of class. Come on. Do you seriously believe that this is all traditional martial arts have to offer? Teachers need to make a greater effort to have educational materials available to their students, and encourage them to educate themselves. But more so, it is the students’ duty to do their homework! I have trained every day in the martial arts for many years, but that is not the sum of my knowledge. For every hour in class, in personal practice or in teaching, I have had at least two hours of reading, writing, visiting other schools, watching videos, asking questions, etc. My honest, blunt and very politically incorrect opinion is this:  if you are only going to have 3 weekly hours of exposure to the martial arts, then you will forever make for a poor martial artist, if you can even be called that. Neither is it possible to reach a serious degree of competence in the traditional Chinese martial arts, without daily training.

Chinese martial arts are based on a culture with deep roots, going back over 3000 years. There are other, younger cultures, which possess but a few hundred years of history, who present this as a detriment to the Chinese, or the Indians or Native Americans for that matter. Some among those who promote the younger cultures attempt to portray reality, as if ‘newer is always better’. Have you noticed this? Wherein you have been brought up in the public schooling system of a Western country, especially in North America, then chances are you have been indoctrinated into this line of thinking from an early age. You might even be among those who think that books older than 50 years are redundant. Of this, Confucius had once said: “He who continuously examines the old in order to deduce the new, is worthy of being a teacher”.

Too many people these days sincerely believe that they, or their generation, can reinvent the wheel. The traditional Chinese martial arts, especially of the internal variety, are the complete antithesis to such a belief. Their theories and principles are ancient, and for a good reason. It is the same with classical Chinese medicine, to which they are related. Have you, the reader, ever tried to seriously look about classical Chinese medicine, beyond what the newspapers say? Open a translation of the Huang Di Nei Jing – ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic’. Read the first chapter. This book was written over 2500 years ago, and I doubt any educated person today would dispute what that first chapter has to say about human beings and their health. Common sense just spills out of it.

Traditions should evolve with each generation. But principles are eternal. My point is that in our time, very few people seem to understand the principles, and without the philosophical principles, the basics of the traditional Chinese martial arts cannot be understood. They do not understand them because they do not do their ‘homework’. They do not explore beyond what is being presented in class. People who fail to do that, could never understand traditional Chinese martial arts as complex, ancient living systems of thought and action. For such people, they might as well pick up Muay Thai, Western Boxing or Krav Maga. These are all effective, easy-to-learn martial arts without deep philosophical and medical agendas. You come, you sweat, and you can kick ass within a relatively short period of time. Nothing fancy there. This goes back to you initial question – what drew me into the internal arts? I was looking beyond the simplistic. I wanted more. I knew that there had existed a knowledge more profound than jabs and push ups. I have found that pool and body of knowledge. Now, I hope to last several lifetimes so I could have a chance at mastering it.

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What is it with research that interests you the most and what more do you want to achieve in this field?

My previous answer covers a lot of that. Nowadays specifically I am interested in the interplay between the internal arts, Chinese Philosophy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Jungian Psychology. These areas have been the focus of my most recent theoretical investigations. I am working on a new book, a long-term project, which will relate these areas of research with Chinese culture, sociology, history and more into one coherent and streamlined narrative. The likes of such a book has never been written before in any language. I am co-authoring this book with a colleague of mine who is a professor of traditional Chinese medicine and who has been practicing the Chinese internal arts for over 35 years.

People mistakenly think that martial arts are about techniques. It is like suggesting that painting is about colours, or that music is about notes. These ideas point to a rudimentary level of comprehending one’s craft – that of the layperson. The martial arts are about human beings, and at an even higher level – about forms of consciousness. Some talk of ‘transcending technique’, but their language forever remains technical – so how could they possibly do that? I have enough techniques to work with and explore in several hours of practice and teaching every day, and in some of my inquiries beyond that. But the more substantial part of my research, relates to what is beyond the technical. All of the genuine ancient traditions of the Orient point to the same Truth, often spoken of as The Dao (The Way), and the principles through which that structure of reality manifests itself. This is more important than martial arts themselves, because if you can understand the higher truths, then martial arts too become easy to attain at a higher level… assuming you train daily, have had excellent teachers and have received a proper transmission to begin with.

In terms of my personal martial arts practice, things are different. I will use the next two question to answer that.

Do you have a short-term goal in your art?

Currently I am working on creating more independent movement between my middle Dan Tian (Tan Zhong) and lower Dan Tian. This cascades throughout the body like an ‘internal ocean’ and is for me a more advanced elaboration on what some call ‘Chansi Gong’. This type of gongfu I am attempting to input into all kinds of techniques.
At the same time, I am working on synchronizing the movement of the Small Celestial Circuit (Small Microcosmic Orbit) with my breathing patterns while in motion, so that the energetic flow of the circuit matches with the movements – especially in striking. In other words, the latter refers to honing what is called the ‘Three Internal Harmonies’ – those between Xin and Yi, the Yi and Qi, the Qi and Li.

Additionally, while doing all of that, I am trying to open and close the cavities of my body on a minute scale, whilst extending or pulling on the tendons so to borrow from the methods of both the hard and soft Qi Gong I practice and insert them into combative motions.

Also, it would be good to go lower with one’s steps and stances. One can always go lower.

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Do you have any long term goal or something particular that you want to achieve?

In the more distant future, I would like to develop a ground-fighting curriculum which relies on traditional Chinese internal gongfu and body methods rather than on the Gracie variety or Penchak Silat (both excellent in their own ways!). Though I teach ground-fighting which is effective, I cannot claim to be an expert by any means, and I should strive to learn much more before I can undergo such a venture.

Just the other day I spent a long time breaking down an MMA fight with my students. I do not usually watch MMA, but some of the fighters even I can enjoy. One such man is my friend Natan Levy, about 27 years of age, who is striving to reach the top of the sport. He won yet another match against a fierce opponent. Natan, I should mention, has his background in a traditional Chinese martial art (Pangai Noon; a historically mispronounced name), and in traditional Okinawan Karate (Uechi-ryu). He is also a very accomplished practitioner of Brazilian Jujutsu.

My students and I looked into some of the more difficult combative situations which arose in Natan’s latest fight, especially on the ground. I then showed them ways, which we tested, to overcome some of the technical problems the fighters encountered, using principles and techniques which I commonly teach for upright self-defense. During this class, I repeated something which I say often: “Joint locks are easy to learn, but hard to apply. Once you have studied 20 joint locks well, it is very simple to understand how all the rest work”. This is true for all martial arts in my opinion.

One of the things you often see happening in sports martial arts, is what in Taiji Quan is called being ‘double-heavy’. That notion has many interpretation. One of the ways in which I understand it, is that a practitioner places too much pressure or weight into a single spot; especially, when two arms or two legs squeeze in a single power vector, when one could have sufficed; or, when a better result could have been had with the two arms or two legs or one arm and one leg coiling in opposing directions and doing differing motions, yet instead they are trying to force the same action together. Commonly it is seen, that this insistence on overt Yin or extreme Yang, causes two fighters to become ‘stuck’ in some form of entanglement, when by choosing to let go of one or two body parts and allowing them to operate more softly or with different modes of coordination, that situation could have been prevented.

Speaking and writing of this, is of course easier than doing it! And, as I have suggested earlier, I cannot claim to be an expert in ground-fighting methods. Here with what I have written of in the last paragraph, what is necessary is not a technique, but a complete change of heart and mind. One’s consciousness has to be altered for this to be possible, all the more when under physical duress. This is why traditional martial artists have always valued the benefits of meditation. Paradoxically, the most advanced methods of combat, cannot be obtained by practicing martial skills. This will be ridiculed by those who like the taste of blood and smell of agony. But then again, as is stated in the classic: “The Dao which is not ridiculed, is not the true Dao” (Dao De Jing, chapter 41).
As for my friend Natan Levy sensei – I believe it is in his capacity to win the UFC championships in the future. I wish him all the best, and hope that he remains injury-free throughout his arduous and challenging career.

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Do you have any favourite MA memory or story to share? 

Back in 2012 I was living in Tianjin, China, and studying with master Zhou. Chinese people come to the park very early in the morning. People can be seen as early as 3AM, and by 7AM half the visitors are already gone! So it is a good idea for curious practitioners to get to such parks around 4-5AM, to catch a glimpse or maybe even chat or learn something from ‘hidden masters’. Trust me when I tell you – the majority of high level practitioners, you will not see on Youtube.

Anyhow, for this reason, I used to get to the park early. Zhou shifu would arrive at about 7AM, and prior to that I would either practice a bit or simply walk around and marvel at the endless amounts of different skills one could witness. Beyond martial artists, there were people there with bull whips, giant yoyos, doing acrobatics, climbing on trees – a real crazy circus, all conducted to the overt sounds of big speakers, operated by amateur dancing troupes who were also common.

So one day I get there at maybe 6:30AM, which was ‘late’, though master Zhou has yet to appear. I begin practicing. I was spotted then by this fellow in his 30s, quite mischievous, whom I recognized was a buddy of master Zhou, as they used to laugh and speak a lot together while the students were sweating. The man had seen me training with a spear before. So he came over, said hello, then went and came back with a spear in his hands, gesturing me to practice with it. Well, I needed some practice before master Zhou was to arrive, so why not? I took the spear and practiced the Liu He Qiang (Six Harmony Spear) form. That wooden spear sure felt shaky and rusty, but the man who gave it to me was very enthusiastic, and was literally cheering and encouraging me to go harder at it. I became overzealous, went a tad overboard, issued too much power into the spear, and broke it in half. Now, I am not superman. This is what happens to these white waxwood spears when they are old enough – if you have decent gongfu, you can break them. It happens. But I did not expect what happened next.

Feeling slightly ashamed, I thought the man was going to be upset I broke his spear. Instead, he burst out laughing and could not stop himself. I was soon to find out why. Within seconds came over this short, grumpy dwarvish-looking Chinese grandpa, looking to be in his 60s, all mad and shouting incoherently. I immediately realized the sorry state of affairs – the angry grandpa was the real owner of the spear, and the other guy ‘borrowed’ his weapon looking to make trouble. Angry grandpa was in a foul mood, for a good reason, and nearly turned violent. I was not worried at the least, as he was in no physical condition to threaten me, but I felt bad, as this was my fault after all. Yet before anything could be decided, angry grandpa snatched the pieces of the spear from my hands, and went home (sooner than usual for him), all jittery about the ordeal.

Some minutes later, master Zhou finally arrived. A few folks from the general area who knew Zhou, told him of what had transpired. I wanted to explain things better, but with limited spoken Chinese, I could not plead my case. Thankfully, master Zhou was patient and understanding of the situation. It was decided that I would simply get the old fellow a new spear, and make amends as soon as possible. We then went along with the training as usual.

Come the end of the session, I drove especially to the other side of town to fetch angry grandpa his spear. It took 60 minutes by bike to the weapons shop, then a price of maybe eight good meals, then 60 minutes to my apartment, then back to the park the next day. Come tomorrow, I arrived early to be sure to catch the grandpa. Luckily, by about the same time as the day before, he appeared. Now, all the regular folks from the general training area were watching, to see what would happen. They all saw the new shiny spear, which was of a very good quality, and understood the nature of the situation. I cautiously approached angry grandpa, bowed down in a humble manner, and offered the new spear as a gift with my hands outstretched. I also held out my cell phone with an image of the Chinese character Qiàn 歉– ‘to apologize’. But the grandpa would not have it! Though I politely persisted, he would not take the spear out of my hands. He instead grumped some more, and then went to his regular corner to do his practice.

A few minutes passed, and master Zhou arrived at the scene. Before I could say anything, he grabbed the spear out of my hands, and hurried towards angry grandpa to offer his apology, not knowing I had already tried before. I followed him to stand by his side and bow in humility once more. The grandpa would not have it. Now, it was too much. Chinese culture, you see, is based on reciprocity. It is an insult to cause harm, and not repent. But it is an even bigger insult, at least in the scenario at hand, when a person tries his best and goes out of his way to repent, and the injured is nonetheless unwilling to forgive and accept the offering. Master Zhou and angry grandpa quickly escalated the ordeal to a shouting match. I could hear and understand that Zhou was protecting my good name and actions. But the two nearly ended up fighting, and master Zhou had to be held down by his friends. I am very happy that did not happen, as who knows what could have happened to the poor grandpa! He was far outclassed. Eventually it broke off, and grandpa once more went home. The next day we were all back in the park – myself, master Zhou and the grandpa, and everyone just pretended it all never happened. The spear? Master Zhou shrugged it off and said: “It is yours now!”.

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“My bike with the spear, the day I bought it.”

Do you have any favourite Martial Arts concept? 

I have many I like. One is called ‘Hun Yuan’ – ‘Smooth Roundness’. It is a recurring theme in all of the internal martial arts. The Zhang Zhuang (Standing Post) often called ‘Cheng Bao Zhuang’ (Tree-Hugging Post) was originally called, and is still called in my teachings, ‘Hun Yuan Zhuang’. To have ‘Hun Yuan’ means to be able to make your body and structure move and fight, when necessary, like a round, smooth inflatable ball, which can change its size and tension, as well as manifest as a single ball or several. This allows you to deal with power and pressure in a soft manner which is nonetheless very effective. The opponent feels as if he is trying to push down an inflated ball into a swimming pool, which, if you have ever tried, know can be challenging when the ball is big enough relative to your size. The ball can feel to the opponent quite yielding and deflated, or almost like concrete, depending on one’s intention. It is a quality to one’s gongfu which takes several years to develop. I also teach a taulu (movement form) called ‘Hun Yuan Quan’, which encompasses the entire curriculum of my Xing Yi Quan, and is focused on higher attainment of the abovementioned principle. In my teachings, developing and cultivating Hun Yuan is the gateway to all other internal methods and skills.

Please can you share a good advice to Tai Chi and Internal Arts practitioners?

There is a truth in the internal arts which no one wants to hear, and that those who hear it tend to ignore. It is that you need to invest in slow training. The slower – the better! I encourage my students to spend the first year or two in their Xing Yi Quan training moving slowly 90% of the time. The rest of the time, movement can be practiced at a walking pace or with movements at combat speed. Later, it evens out. Nowadays, I practice slowly about 50% of the time.

When I say slow, I mean – as a snail. Extremely slow. I have gone so slow at times as to make one movement last 2 minutes while continuously moving, and one form last over 60 minutes. I guarantee you that this is a fast way to excellence in the internal arts, and true masters will agree.

That being said, without correct internal methods, especially knowledge of what type of Yi to use with every movement, slow training is unfortunately not nearly as beneficial.


Shifu Jonathan Bluestein is a martial arts teacher and author hailing from Israel. He is a practitioner and teacher of Xing Yi Quan, Pigua Zhang and Jook Lum Southern Mantis. He is the author of best-selling books, such as: ‘Research of Martial Arts’ and ‘The Martial Arts Teacher’.

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Thank you Jonathan for the generous and extensive answers. I appreciate your participation a lot. I wish you good luck with your teaching and look forward to continue to read about what you have discovered in your research.


I will update the blog sporadically the next coming weeks due to work and a general lack of time, but hopefully I’ll be back soon with another edition of the Q&A.