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Interview with IAI Instructor Keith Norris

This interview was conducted by IAI Xing Yi Instructor Matt Tomkiel

IAI: Keith, what is your martial arts background and what style(s) did you train in?

KN: My martial arts background is varied. I formally studied Tae Kwon Do Moo Duk Kwan between 1987-1994 and I achieved the  rank of 1st Degree Black Belt  in Tae Kwon Do Moo Duk Kwan in 1994 from the Pennsylvania State University Korean Karate Club. My primary instructors were James Delreal (founder), Patrick McClellan, Rez Sharifi, and Bob Wollyung. The club focused on body conditioning, Tae Kwon Do Moo Duk Kwan martial techniques and forms, boxing, kickboxing, Jujitsu locks and throws, and Chinese Kempo forms. The club held Friday night sparring and invited all the martial arts clubs on PSU campus to spar round-robin for the entire night.

In 1994, I moved to Rhode Island and started studying Yang Style Tai Ji Quan with Malcolm McKeag. We trained the 108 Yang Style Long Form, the 88 Fighting Set, Tai Ji Quan Qigong and conditioning.

From 1998-2004, I trained with Dr. Yang Jwing Ming, Ramel Rones, and Brian Cooper as part of Yang Martial Arts Association (YMAA). We trained Yang Ban Hou’s Tai Ji Quan Long form, Shaolin/Tai Ji Quan Chin Na, Tai Ji Quan Saber, Tai Ji Quan Sword, the Tai Ji Quan 88 Fighting Set, Tai Ji Quan Push Hands, Tai Ji Quan Jin (power training), Tai Ji Quan Tui Na Massage, Xing Yi Quan Five Fists, Xing Yi Quan Linking Form, Xing Yi Quan An Shen Pao (2 person fighting set), Basic Qigong sets, Tai Ji Quan Primary and Coiling Qi Gong sets, Tendon/Muscle Changing, Marrow/Brain Washing, 27 Cube Breathing, Mushroom Breathing, Embryonic Breathing, 2/4/5 Gates Breathing, and Grand Circulation Breathing.

It was also with YMAA that I also started actively learning Chinese philosophy, culture, acupuncture, and TCM concepts to enhance my understanding of martial and Qi Gong technique. And it was with YMAA that I formally trained a gong-fu body and mentality that prompted me to search out training in Ba Gua Zhang.

Keith Norris Demonstrating Ba Gua Applications

Between 2004-2006, I went looking for Ba Gua Zhang instruction and found Yin Style Ba Gua Zhang instructors teaching (Yin Style Ba Gua ZhangDragon/Snake forms) with Arthur McKaris in Vermont and (Yin Style Ba Gua ZhangLion/Chicken forms) with Dan Cresenzo and Michael D’Angelo at Smith College in Massachussettes. They were part of the Xie Pei Qi lineage and training under direction of He Jin Bao.

Between 2006-2012, I trained with Keith Cowley in Westerly, RI, focusing on Zhang Zhuang (standing post) Qi Gong with Ba Gua Zhang postures, Ba Gua Zhang Qi Gong, and Ba Gua Zhang push hands.

In 2014, I found Tom Bisio’s Authentic Ba Gua Zhang Foundational Level Online learning program and purchased it. I was immediately hooked and bought his yellow book on Ding Shi practice and all 3 of his videos. I practiced his curriculum and started walking the circle with Ding Shi and Lao Ba Zhang.

I found this training so valuable, this prompted me to sign up for Tom’s Foundational Level Instructor Training Program and I later became a IAI Foundational Level Instructor in Ba Gua Zhang. Since then, I have attended many of Tom’s seminars and Summer camps to learn Ba Gua Takedowns and throws, Ba Gua Mandarin Duck Knives, Ba Gua Whip Stick/Cane, Lao Ba Zhang, Tian Gan, Ba Gua Lian Huan, Ba Gua Saber, Bagua/Xingyi Staff, and Ba Gua Qin Na. I have all of Tom’s books, videos, and online trainings. I also trained directly with Tom to learn higher aspects of Lao Ba Zhang, Ba Gua Lian Huan (Linking Form), the Mandarin Duck Knives, Ba Mien Zhang (Eight Direction Palm), and to better understand energetic feelings of the Ba Gua Eight Animals.

Keith Norris Demonstrating the Mandarin Duck Knives

Between 2014-2023, I also trained the fundamentals of Pekiti Tersia Kali and Krabi Krabong (Muay Thai Double Sword) with Sifu William Shultz (PTK-SMF), Gary Lam’s Wing Chun with Steven Taylor, HME’s Ching Man Cheng Yang Style 37 Form, Song Gong, Spinal Qi Gong, and partner push hands drills, and Hun Yuan Chen Style Tai Ji Quan 24 form, Hun Yuan Ba Fa, and Hun Yuan Qigong with Qilong Zhang who lived and trained with the famous Feng Zhiqiang.

IAI: What event(s) prompted you to want to train and study martial arts?

KN: In my earliest years it was Chinese Kung Fu movies on Saturday afternoons as a kid. Kung Fu with David Carradine. Other movies from Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. Especially, the movie “The Octagon” with Chuck Norris and Ninjas. I immediately bought all of the books from Stephen Hayes and Masaaki Hatsumi on Ninjitsu. They were the Togakure Ryu Ninja tradition. I tried to practice their techniques and breathing exercises as a young teenager from the books.

As I aged, had more experiences, and met more peers in martial arts, we were also looking for a “martial philosophy” and a “renewable way of life”, which for me, was uniquely presented in the Chinese Internal Martial Arts.

IAI: Are you related to Chuck Norris?

KN No relation, but I have his autobiography and have read it. He seems like a very grounded person that I would have liked to spend some time with. I loved his movies and TV series. He was my martial arts role model super-star with the same last name.

IAI: How do you balance your time spent training in the martial arts with your other activities?

KN: You train whenever you can. There are many distractions to prevent you from training, but you can also find ways to train every minute of your day. If you are sitting and typing at work, you can work on kidney breathing and elongating your spine. When you are sitting watching a movie, you can stretch your legs, back, and waist while sitting on the floor. When you are standing and watching a movie or TV, you can complete a whole bunch of movements while in place with a simple step forward and back again. When you are walking in the grocery store, you can mud-step and Kou-Bu and Bai-Bu.

I recommend that you set up pre-allocated time to train daily without distraction. Make it a habit and it becomes enjoyable and not work.

IAI: What’s your favorite non-martial activity and how has your MA training influenced the other activities in your life?

KN: Hiking with my wife in the National Parks and forested areas of the New England states. I love the big trees, oxygen rich ferns, ground cover vegetation, rocks, and nature’s creatures. If you take a minute, you can put your palm on a tree and feel it’s energy moving. You can also feel the energy of the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and moving water. It is rejuvenating.

IAI: Has your training influenced other areas of your life in unexpected ways? Relationships? conflict resolution? problem solving?

KN: Persistence and time in any endeavor of your life, makes it more joyful, meaningful, and fulfilling. Training creatively, infuses creativity into all other aspects of your life.

IAI: What inspires you when training/teaching martial arts?

KN: I really enjoy the look when the student feels what correct technique feels like and they can move 1000 lbs with 4 ounces with stepping and a turn of the waist. Martial arts training/teaching is about improving ourselves and carrying on a tradition (way of life) that has flourished for thousands of years

IAI: When did you start teaching martial arts? Why?

KN: I started teaching martial arts after I received my Black Belt in 1994. I teach in all aspects of my life (work, home, family, friends, church, etc…) and martial arts is not different. When you approach training with the intent to teach it, you will go deeper because of the questions that arise from your students, peers, and yourself. I learned this important lesson during my time practicing YMAA Tai Ji Quan. Tom reinforced this concept in making sure that we keep a martial arts journal to record our insights and observations over time.

IAI: What do you feel is the most important quality in a martial arts student to help them succeed?

KN: Understanding your goals for practicing, Perseverance, and time in Practice. When you continually practice with perseverance with the right guidance, you will eventually get the right feeling of executing the martial techniques and you make them your own.

IAI: What drew you to Tom Bisio’s training?

Keith Norris & Tom Bisio

KN: Tom Bisio is a true warrior, a scholar, and a healer in our modern days. This is the trifecta of characteristics you must look for in a well-rounded martial arts teacher. His lineage with Liang, Cheng, Yin, and Gao style Ba Gua Zhang teachers and mentors was uniquely impressive. Tom is generous with his dissemination of knowledge regarding his curriculum and wants to show the “secrets” of the techniques in a progressive and understandable format. Tom’s online Ba Gua Zhang course on Ba Gua Zhang fundamentals is what drew me in. I was sincerely and truly hooked after reading his “Ba Gua Circle Walking Nei Gong” book (the yellow book) and watching his three Ba Gua Zhang DVDs. I had found a world class Chinese Internal martial arts teacher that was relatively close to where I lived.

IAI: What training and teaching do you offer?

KN: For Beginners in Ba Gua Zhang: The Qi-Dynamic and Dao Yin, Yin/Yang Patting/Slapping Nei Gong, Qi Cultivation Exercises, standing meditation, 12 Postures and the 12 Postures Linking Set, Ba Gua Ji Ben Gong (28 Foundational exercises), The Phoenix Walk, Tang Ni Bu (Mud Stepping), Kou-Bu and Bai-Bu stepping drills, Ding Shi Circle Walking Nei Gong, San Cai Circle Walking Nei Gong, The 1st & 2nd Palm Changes of the Lao Ba Zhang form, 7 Star Partner Drills, Partner Piercing Palm drills, exercises for wrist grabs, Seize and Pull Drills, and martial applications from all of the above.

For Beginners in Tai Ji Quan

The 13 Energies of Tai Ji Quan, Tai Ji Quan primary Qigong Set, and the Tai Ji Quan Long Form.

Intermediate Ba Gua Zhang

Tian Gan (Heavenly Stem) Exercises, the Lao Ba Zhang (Old Eight Palms)  Lao Ba Zhang Linear Sets, applications from Lao Ba Zhang, and the 8 Trigram Palms.

For Intermediates: Tai Ji Quan

Tai Ji Quan Coiling Qigong Set, Push Hands drills with – Peng/Lu/Ji/An, Push Hands drills with – Chai/Lieh/Zhou/Koa, and Martial applications from the 37 postures of the Yang Style Long Form.

IAI: How can individuals get in contact with you?

KN: Through my cell phone, email or Facebook:

Cell Phone: (401)742-2790

Email: moc.liamgnull@gnahzaugabir

Facebook Site: facebook.com/RIBaguazhang

IAI: Thank you for conducting this interview for Internal Arts International!

KN: Thank you for facilitating this interview process. Take care!