Studying with the Yang Family -- the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Holly Sweeney-Hillman

podcast tai chi Apr 10, 2019

I have been doing this podcast for a few years now, but I have never talked with someone who has studied tai chi directly from the Yang family.

Until now.

Holly Sweeney-Hillman teaches in the Bedminster area of New Jersey. She is a student of Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun. Holly is the Center Director for Bedminster/Montclair Yang Family Tai Chi Center and Senior level instructor of Traditional Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, has been teaching movement arts for 25 years and is an Adjunct Professor of Tai Chi Chuan at Kean University, Union, New Jersey.

We had a very enjoyable discussion. It is always fun for me to realize how much we can have in common with people who love the internal arts, or any martial art, even when we come from different "styles."

I hope you enjoy this program. You can listen to it here or download it (see the little download button on the right side of the controls). If you like it, please spread it to your friends in the arts.

The podcast is also available from...

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Fighting in the Boy's Room -- Avoiding the Opponent's Strength

Uncategorized Mar 26, 2019
Charley was a jerk. I hate to be judgmental, but he was a jerk. And one day, during my senior year of high school, he started hitting me on the back of the head in our history class.
 
I was sitting in front of him, and he kept smacking me on the back of the head.
 
Usually, I would welcome ANYTHING that distracted me from history class, but this was irritating.
 
I told him to cut it out, but he kept smacking me. Finally, in anger and frustration I said, "Let's go down the hall to the restroom."
 
We went down the hall and into the boy's restroom. Nobody was there, but one of Charley's friends came with us.
 
Charley and I squared off. He got into a boxer's stance.
 
Before I knew what was happening, he punched me right in the jaw. An explosion of pain tore through my head.
 
Holy cow! I thought my jaw had been dislocated.
 
I had never been beaten up before, but it was instantly clear that he had boxing skills. This was in 1971,...
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Turn the Waist More Than the Hips in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua Movement

In the first internal martial arts school I enrolled in, the Dantien was talked about a lot. It was often referred to as the "One-Point." In our movements, if we were throwing a punch or kick, the teacher would sometimes shout, "Snap your One-Point!!"
 
What he meant was, snap the hips; turn the hips sharply and fast so your Dantien snaps with it.
 
It was later, when I trained with members of the Chen family and their students, that I learned why it is wrong to turn the hips so much.
 
For one thing, it kinks up your structure and moves you out of a centered stance.
 
If you look at a new student, it doesn't matter what martial art they have studied -- karate, TKD, wrestling, tai chi -- if I ask them to turn their waist, they always turn the hips. They will do it every time.
 
The waist is NOT the hips.
 
Here is a little test you can do with nobody watching.
 
Keep your hips in place -- facing forward -- and without moving the hips, turn to reach...
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The Sudden Death of a Martial Artist and the Cold Slap of Reality

Life is fragile. We live day-to-day and take a lot of things for granted -- our health, our futures, and the people in our lives.

Sometimes, we are slapped with the cold hand of reality.

One of my website members, Michael Todd, passed away last night in Port Richey, Florida.

Michael was about 50 years old, with a loud voice. He has been a member of my website for almost two years and began calling on the phone almost immediately.

"I'm working on the Xingyi, Mr. Ken," he would say. 

"You don't have to call me Mister," I said during the first call.

"Oh, that's just the way I talk," he said. "I love you, brother."

Now, it's unusual for a guy you don't know to tell you he loves you right off the bat, so I was a bit leery of him at first. I just wasn't sure. But he kept calling every week, letting me know how he was progressing, and finally, we set up a live one-on-one coaching session via Skype.

When we did the live session, I was surprised at how well he had learned the Xingyi...

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A Martial Art for Grownups in the Quad Cities

general our classes Mar 07, 2019

Are you a former martial artist, in your thirties, forties or fifties, still athletic and looking to stay in shape, develop more mental and physical balance and continue learning self-defense skills in a way that will challenge you but won't leave you injured the next morning?

Do you live in the Quad Cities area (Iowa/Illinois)?

It is time to resume your martial arts journey by trying a free practice with our small group of adults.

I don't seek "local" students very often, and what we offer is more complex than some younger guys want to study. Young guys want to learn to "fight." But we have a few more years under our belts, and we are not preparing to enter an MMA cage with an opponent who has cauliflower ears. 

We are learning self-defense arts that have tremendous depth in body mechanics and in the mental aspects of maintaining balance. There is a reason these are called "martial arts." 

Anyone can pound on another human being. The internal arts focus on something...

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Connecting: A Crucial Skill in the Internal Martial Arts and in Life

philosophy Feb 18, 2019
I was testing for my black sash in 1997. Part of the test involved sparring with wooden broadswords.
 
I stood a few feet away from the black sash instructor who was testing me, Cornell Garrett. I was in the front on guard stance. The tip of my broadsword was pointing toward his throat. He was standing in the same stance.
 
"Okay," I thought to myself. "Calm down. Center yourself. And connect with him."
 
I felt a sense of calm come over me and it felt like I knew exactly when he was going to move.
 
Suddenly, his sword began moving to attack me.
 
Before it could get halfway to me, the tip of my broadsword was touching his chest at the heart.
 
I had never felt so connected. I had learned a very valuable skill.
 
My first internal arts teacher was Phillip Starr, who was also Cornell's teacher. You can find Pete's books on Amazon. He had not written any books when I was his student beginning in 1987. I earned a black sash but then began studying...
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A Balancing Act -- The Mental and Physical Goal of the Internal Martial Arts

Uncategorized Feb 11, 2019
The goal in training the internal martial arts is to maintain both mental and physical balance.
 
We work on developing physical balance with everything we put our bodies through, from Zhan Zhuang to individual movements that make up forms, to balancing exercises and sparring.
 
As our bodies grow stronger and we learn to balance during difficult movements, and through close-up grappling and push hands that allow us to work freestyle against an opponent who wants to take us down.
 
In a self-defense situation, your opponent has lost his mental balance. He is out of harmony with the Tao. 
 
It is your job to maintain not only your physical balance when you are attacked, but also your mental balance.
 
In a lot of schools, mental balance is mentioned in passing but rarely is it part of the training. In reality, mental and physical balance is as important as any skill you gain through these arts.
 
How to Develop Mental Balance
 
When you do...
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Internal Breathing for Tai Chi, Qigong, Bagua and Xingyi

There are three ways to breathe when doing the internal arts and qigong:
 
  1. Normal breathing -- Expand when you inhale and contract when you exhale.
  2. Reverse breathing -- Abdomen draws inward when you inhale and expands and drops outward when you exhale.
  3. Internal (sometimes called Deep) breathing -- Diaphragm expands downward when you inhale but your chest and abdomen do not outwardly expand very much, and your diaphragm contracts upward when you exhale.
Normal Breathing
 
I have heard Chen Xiaowang being asked how you should breathe when doing a Taiji form.
 
"Natural is best," he always said.
 
But many Taiji masters say that when you reach higher levels, you may use reverse breathing or internal breathing.
 
I have always used reverse breathing when doing Qigong, but recently, I have been using Internal breathing.
 
Reverse Breathing
 
With reverse breathing, when you inhale, your abdomen and Dantien draw inward toward the Ming Men...
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A True Story about the Ultimate Self-Defense Skill

In March, 2013, Chen Xiaoxing came to Chicago to do a workshop on Xinjia Yilu. Nancy and I stayed for the weekend in a hotel downtown.
 
After the first day of the workshop, we took a walk from the hotel onto Michigan Avenue. We wanted to do some shopping along the Magnificent Mile and enjoy dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.
 
March in Chicago can be very cold, but we got lucky. This was the warmest day of the year in Chicago after a cold winter.
 
The photo above shows Nancy as we are beginning our walk. The Magnificent Mile is behind her down the street.
 
As we got into the shopping area, the sidewalks became more crowded. I was enjoying the people but I noticed there were a lot of young people in their teens to around 20, maybe 21 or 22. We kept walking and there were more people. The young people were scattered through the crowd, in groups of two or more.
 
As we got deeper into the area, the crowds got a little heavier. I have been in crowds before....
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Spirit - Where Quality Begins in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

general Jan 20, 2019
The photo above is a shot of me in a tournament in Cincinnati in 1983. I was 30 years old, and I was about to win my very first 1st place trophy in sparring competition. I have always been a late bloomer.
 
Do you see the look in my eyes? It's a little dark, but they are focused like a laser. The eye of the tiger. This is four years before I would begin studying the internal arts.
 
Some people believe that when you do Taiji, Bagua or Xingyi, you are supposed to detach your mind. They think you are supposed to become One with the Universe and eliminate any desire or any thought of winning.
 
Even when they do the forms, some people get a dull look in their eyes, void of emotion. They think they are supposed to be meditating.
 
Part of that thinking is dead wrong, and part of it is incomplete.
 
The Eyes Reflect Your "Spirit"
 
The concept of "spirit" does not mean the same in gongfu as it means at the Christian church I attended as a child in Kentucky....
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