Energized Embodiment Through Wing Chun

mindful wing chun at College of MarinExcept for this page, my website is all about how to live better with chronic medical conditions as an empowered medical patient, so please explore the rest of my website with above buttons if that is your interest. I also have two books, which are described on the The Books page.

This home page is about the class that I plan to resume teaching at College of Marin, Community Education Division in Kentfield, California when the pandemic ends. The class has been completely redesigned and has a new title. I’ve had requests for a Zoom version of the class since we can’t meet in person. I appreciate the interest but the essential energized embodiment aspect of the class necessitates pairing up and practicing with another person. Hopefully, the virologists and vaccinologists will soon discover a solution to this horrific pandemic.

More than anything, this very atypical martial arts class will train you to get out of your head and into your physicality, specifically into your center, leading to the creation of a calm, confident, physically embodied, resilient way of life. The training to achieve this is based on the martial art of wing chun, specifically the teaching of Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin and his student Nima King, who founded the Hong Kong and online schools, both known as Mindful Wing Chun.

There are two ways to benefit from this class:

  • Even without learning all the wing chun form sets, you can learn how to move from your center through various solo and two-person movement exercises in each weekly class. You will also receive training in how to apply the ability to move from your center to the self-defense techniques taught in the class. 
  • For the few who are committed to learning the complete martial art of wing chun I recommend you subscribe to my teacher’s online course. That’s because I don’t teach the wing chun form sets during our brief weekly class sessions due to lack of time. Traditional wing chun classes meet a minimum of twice a week and often for longer sessions, which is needed to be able to cover the form sets along with the other exercises. However, for students who subscribe to my teacher’s Mindful Wing Chun online course, I make myself available to coach you on your form sets for a few minutes just before and after each of our weekly class sessions at College of Marin. You will then work directly with my teacher on all the form sets in the comfort of your home.

Unlike a traditional wing class, my teaching is focused on wing chun as a practice to develop physical embodiment, rediscovering the physical animal nature of our human ancestors. The class also serves as a practice in dynamic (physical) concentration and mindfulness, empowering you to notice when your attention is in your thoughts and to then redirect your attention to your bodily center, your center of mass. The martial arts are valuable for many reasons, but I consider training to live and move from your center to be far more useful than fighting. Self-defense is a very real benefit from this class, but the path to master that set of skills in this class is predicated on developing the ability to remain centered, even in the midst of aggression toward you from a predator, family member, boss, stranger, or anyone with whom you interact.

Wing chun is the only martial art created by women that allowed them to defeat men. Ng Mui and her exceptional student, a young woman named Yim Wing Chun are believed to have created wing chun from Ng Mui’s life-long experience as an extraordinary martial arts master and Shaolin nun. There are various anecdotal stories about Ng Mui, but the one I believe is most likely based in reality is described on page 41 of the book: Tao of Wing Chun by Danny Xuan.

In watching the three videos on this page be sure to have your sound on so that you can hear my voiceovers and watch in full screen mode. Any mention of Charismatic Mindfulness refers to the original class title prior to the pandemic.

Like most martial artists, I did most of my training in my younger days. Then, I got busy with life and was away from the martial arts for 26-years. When I returned to it in my mid-60s I quickly realized I could no longer generate the speed and power I had in my 30s. I also realized I was more easily injured and it took considerably longer to heal from those injuries. Although still very athletic, I could no longer afford to get hit in the head or thrown to the floor. That’s one of the reasons I eventually chose internal wing chun to train in at this stage in life. Wing chun is a very safe martial art to practice until you reach the level of freestyle sparring, which is not part of this class.

As you read through the below list of class foci, keep in mind that techniques are the least important aspect. What I teach is an approach to life, a path that involves living from your center rather than from your head. Here is what the class offers:

  • A few very simple, reliable self-defense techniques: You will learn the parts of your body that can be used as so-called empty-hand weapons. You will learn how, when and where to apply your empty-hand weapons. You will learn the most vulnerable parts of your attacker’s body (targets) and how to know which of your empty-hand weapons is most effectively applied against each of those targets.
  • Mind-body integration: Learn to direct your physicality with your mind throughout the day as a dynamic mindfulness practice. During those times when you are practicing with all your attention on your moment-to-moment full-body experience you will feel most alive.
  • Intentionality: If you allow your mind to focus on what you don’t want to experience, you increase the odds of experiencing what you don’t want. Whereas, if you train your mind to be fully present in the activity of the moment, you increase the odds of achieving the desired results.
  • How to practice mindful relaxation: This is an energized, vibrant type of relaxation. Reduction of bodily tension is important for optimizing your health and is essential to the practice of this internal martial art, as well as for effective self-defense. Chronically held muscular tension creates sub-optimal breathing patterns. As you learn to release chronic muscular tension, your breathing patterns will become healthier. In this internal art, speed and power result from feeling and releasing all unnecessary muscular tension.
  • Self-empowerment and self-efficacy are cultivated as you learn to be fully in the physical activity of the moment without being distracted by your thoughts.
  • Situational Awareness: The fine attention to detail as you move will allow you to notice things more acutely in your environment and even in interpersonal interactions. You will also learn how to spot early warnings of potential danger in your immediate environment. The result is increased confidence and aliveness.
  • Learn to incorporate the wing chun concept of forward intention into every daily activity. Live each day with the mantra of Ever Forward, which refers to always going forward toward your values and goals. This is still another way of practicing dynamic mindfulness; throughout the day continually ask yourself what action you can take in this moment that is most aligned with your personal values and goals. Every one of the hundreds of decisions you make throughout the day can be informed by that question. It is common to be thrown off course by the negative opinions of others. Forward intention is a practice of going ever forward in order to avoid being thrown off course by the opinions of others. This can be accomplished through the daylong internal wing chun practices, which serve to keep your mind in your body center, rather than in your thoughts. When we spend most waking moments in our thoughts, we tend to be a slave to many of those thoughts, many of which effectively serve as roadblocks to our values and goals.
  • Self-Defense: The self-defense taught in this class is most useful for women. Men want to learn how to defend themselves when they get into a bar fight or a scuffle following an argument over a parking space or the way one of them was driving. Fighting over that stuff is adolescent behavior. Self-defense is for when your life or someone else’s life is being threatened and there is no way to evade the attack. If you can escape, but you choose instead to stay and fight, you could be charged with a felony; you are not practicing self-defense. If a predator puts a gun or knife in your face, they are using the weapon to scare you into giving them what they want. In most cases, if you hand over your wallet or purse, you will be left alone. But if the perpetrator wants your body, then it becomes self-defense and you must fight and keep fighting until you can get away.
    • Most martial arts emphasize specific defenses and counterattacks for specific attacks. In wing chun, every move is simultaneously offensive and defensive; in other words, there are no separate blocks or deflections. Every deflection includes an attack in that same move. Every move is very direct and uncomplicated. Every move is performed with your entire body.
    • The highest level of self-defense is the ability to avoid danger. As a result of training in this class, potential attackers will notice your physicality and situational awareness, which will cause them to view you as a hard target and they will look elsewhere in order to find a softer target.
    • Once you learn to practice living in a centered, aware state of mind, you will see potential threats in time to act on your intuition.
    • Honoring your intuition, you will instinctively stay away from potentially dangerous people and situations.
    • In this class you will also learn how to de-escalate a confrontation through calm assertiveness.
    • Be able to assertively set boundaries. Many people fail to set clear boundaries for fear of offending the person. If you are ever uncomfortable with someone’s words or actions, you must assertively express your discomfort and set clear boundaries. Boundary setting serves to make it clear to a potential predator that you would be a hard target.
    • Once you develop self-defense skills and learn to practice situational awareness, it is extremely unlikely you will ever be targeted by any type of human predator. Their modus operandi is usually to catch people off guard and they usually avoid people who appear to be very alert and aware of their surroundings. There are rare exceptions, but generally the people on either side of you whose heads are buried in their mobile devices or who appear to be in an altered mental state are the ones who will attract the attention of a predator. Human predators (robbers, rapists, bullies, psychopaths) are no different from wild animals, in that they are all looking for easy prey.
    • Despite good training, you could still be attacked by someone if you allow yourself to have a lapse of situational awareness, fail to act on your intuition, go to unsafe places (any place with drinking or drugs) against your better judgment, or allow your ego to prevent you from moving when a stranger seems to be coming straight toward you with eyes fixated on you. Also, there are those very rare situations where you find yourself in a confined space with a crazy person whose goal is to cause trouble. In that situation, treat the trouble-maker respectfully while being assertive about maintaining safe boundaries. But if at a certain point it becomes clear that he is going to attack, then that is one of those times when you must launch a surprise attack before he or she pulls a weapon.
    • Examples of just a few of the many things that I look for in practicing situational awareness: Is the suspicious person holding anything questionable in one of his or her hands? Are both hands visible? Does the person seem anxious, hyper-alert, looking around in an intentional way? Is the person sweating on a cool day? Is the person wearing a heavy coat in warm weather? I also ask myself why I feel concerned; sometimes it is hard to identify, but I always honor my intuition, even in the absence of evidence. At the very least, I don’t take my eyes off the person (without staring) until I am confident that the person is not a threat. Once, when standing in line at a Starbucks, someone walked in who got my attention; my suspicion increased when I saw the barista suddenly break out in a sweat. There are countless warning signs like these that go unnoticed by most people, which is why victims of crime often say the person attacked without warning; there are always warning signs if you know how to look for them.

Here is one example of how a woman can overpower a larger, more powerful male attacker: The attacker grabs you by the wrist and begins to pull you toward him. You use his power against him by allowing him to pull you closer, at which point you harness the momentum he provided to slam your free palm heel into his jaw, elbow or fingers into his throat or eyes, cupped hands slap to the ears, knee in groin, or foot stop on the ankle of his weighted leg. Your first strike will unsettle him, allowing you to then followup until you are able to escape.

However, at the highest level, your practice in situational awareness, trust in and willingness to act on your intuition will allow you to stay clear of any potential danger so that you never need to physically defend yourself. Many rape victims reported not having acted on their intuitive sense of potential danger. Had they taken evasive action, based on their intuitive sense of possible danger, they could have prevented the attack. When asked why they got in the elevator despite sensing possible danger, a common answer was that they didn’t want the guy to be insulted. If you feel any slight discomfort with someone, whether it is a family member or a stranger, honor your fear and avoid that person. Read Gavin de Becker’s book: The Gift of Fear.

In the three videos on this page, you will see me performing the first (and most important) form set, known as Siu Nim Tao (aka Little Idea Form).  This choreographed set of movements is designed to train you to find your center of mass. Having found your center of mass in the first form set, the second choreographed form set, known as Chum Kiu, is designed to train you how to actually move from center of mass. Having learned how to move from center of mass in the chum kiu form, the third form set, known as biu jee provides training in moving from center of mass at high speed and from awkward positions. The fourth form set, performed on the wooden dummy (aka Mook Yan Jong) trains you in how to deliver power against the dummy that is generated from your center of mass and how to move around the dummy from your center of mass. As we become more skilled, less and less muscle involvement is required to deliver the same power while speed increases. During this time of the pandemic, my wooden dummy has become my training partner and best friend.

Chisau: In my teaching, chisau serves primarily as a practice in how to remain centered when interacting with someone else. Although chisau practice was specifically designed as a wing chun exercise, I view it as a metaphor for how to remain centered in daily life.

The two-person exercise of chisau, also known as sticking hands, is primarily for developing a high level of sensitivity, which will greatly enhance your ability to read others’ body language and intentions. A fringe benefit of chisau is that it provides you with skills that are transferrable to daily life. You will acquire the skill to stay focused and centered in stressful interpersonal interactions and other stressful situations. The way this works is that when doing sticking hands, you train yourself to keep your attention in your center and not go into your head, regardless of what your training partner or anyone else says or does that would otherwise distract you. In other words, as you learn to stay focused on your intention while your training partner is physically interacting with you, you are developing the ability to stay focused on your intention while someone in your life is doing something that could otherwise be terribly distracting. 

Another important aspect of chisau (sticking hands practice) has to do with the way you maintain contact with your partner. This allows you to intuit your partner’s intentions and movements. The contact should be light, sensitive, and without any muscular tension, which allows you read very subtle intentions of your partner. Again, my teaching approach is to connect this practice to interpersonal dynamics. For example, in a heated debate with someone in your life, as you learn to remain in very light, sensitive, calm, relaxed contact with that person, you will develop the ability to intuit the other person’s intentions.

The ability to physically center yourself through this practice will allow you to maintain a calm and centered state in all types of stressful situations. Without a serious practice like this, it is common to get metaphorically and physically thrown off balance by stressors, especially of the interpersonal kind, which results from being fused with your thoughts and beliefs.

Practicing is an act of self-caring and self-valuing.

When you fail to train the mind to come home to your center, it is like abandoning a big part of yourself. Spending your waking hours in your head, analyzing external situations, is another way to abandon yourself. When you put mind in your center, you are home. Living in your center is a way of living with your full physicality. It is a way of living in the real world, as opposed to the world of thoughts, judgments, and beliefs.

What appears below is only tangentially related to my teaching. It is about my personal history in the martial arts. 

My Long Personal Interest in Wing Chun: My first introduction to wing chun was through someone I used to spar with around 1980, when he began wing chun training. He showed me Siu Nim Tao and the wooden dummy form, and he taught me a little chisau. I was intrigued by the principles of wing chun, especially center-line theory and the linearity of the style.

Amazingly, when I was boxing at summer camp in my childhood in the mid to late 1950s, I noticed that all the other kids my age were throwing wild haymakers. As I watched the other kids fight, I realized that if I go up the middle inside, my punches would consistently land first. This in fact proved to be correct, which led to my becoming a hero in my age group for beating the bully I was matched up with in a fight. What I had inadvertently figured out on my own was wing chun’s centerline theory. Even though my opponent’s roundhouse punches were more powerful, because my weaker centerline punches consistently landed first, his wild punches were neutralized.

When Wong Shong Leung (WSL) released his wing chun videos in the early 1980s, I was amazed by the total absence of any unnecessary and flowery movements! I had previously trained in the very flowery Praying Mantis style of kung fu with Grand Master Chan Poi and Sifu Yao Li in Boston, where I lived. Immediately upon studying WSL’s videos, I recognized that wing chun was a vastly more pragmatic martial art. I had also trained in aikijujutsu, but I found that that system was most efficacious for law enforcement officers and not practical in the street unless you are highly skilled. I had also trained in Small Circle Jujitsu with Wally Jay; I found his method of applying joint locks to be the most effective, but it still seemed like it was most useful for law enforcement, who could face charges of excessive force if they elbowed the attacker in the throat or chin or gouged his eyes out. Aikido and aikijujutsu are great for neutralizing an attack until your partner is able to put the cuffs on the criminal.

If you are ever attacked, your attacker will most likely be bigger, faster, and stronger than you, or he or she is likely to be carrying a gun, knife, or other weapon, or will have an accomplice. That is why if it appears you are about to be attacked and you can’t escape, you must attack your attacker at the instant you realize he or she is going to attack you, and you must incapacitate your attacker; just inflicting pain using a joint lock, pressure point, throw, or groin kick will not allow you to survive. Keep in mind that even though his or her hands may be empty, it only takes a second for an attacker to pull out a knife or gun. If you delay your attack until he pulls a weapon, you will be far less likely to survive. As for the legality of attacking first, it is considered self-defense as long as you had good reason to believe the person you injured was about to attack you or someone with you.

Tai chi chuan was the art I had trained in the longest, but it too lacked the simplicity, directness, and practicality of wing chun. Tai chi sparring looked to observers just like boxing; great for sport fighting, but not practical for the street until you are at an extremely high level of expertise, which I never reached. I had often felt frustrated by how challenging it was to apply the internal aspects of tai chi to freestyle push hands and sparring (with gloves). I was continually falling back on muscular strength and probably would have been better off going to a local boxing gym, which I actually did for a brief time (Natick Boxing Club), until I realized that those guys were totally focused on sport fighting in the ring. My interest was in sparring as a way to explore the internal and fighting aspects of tai chi chuan and I had no interest in sport fighting. So I left the boxing club and refocused all my energy on tai chi chuan with my teacher William C.C. Chen in NYC. But after studying the newly released WSL’s VHS videos around 1982, wing chun seemed to be the perfect martial art, especially for my temperament, and had everything I was looking for in a brilliantly simple, no-nonsense, complete system.

Unfortunately, to find the time in my busy week to begin training in wing chun, I would have had to give up tai chi chuan with Master Chen. I simply had no time to train in wing chun at that time in my life and I had already put in way too much training time in tai chi chuan to give it up, especially since I was training with William C.C. Chen, one of the top masters and tai chi chuan fighters in the world. I was spending evenings and weekends on empty-hand forms, weapon forms, push hands, two-person drills, and freestyle sparring. Between work and family life, there was simply no way to start training in wing chun.  It was all great experience, but if I had it to do over, I would have devoted myself exclusively to wing chun. I eventually realized that I would have preferred the simplicity of wing chun. Tai chi chuan (the complete martial art) is an extremely challenging and sophisticated art. In 1988 my wife and I moved from Boston to San Diego. For the next 26-years I was just too busy working to train. Then, in the fall of 2014, I finally decided to resume tai chi chuan training by attending a William C.C. Chen weekend workshop in Los Angeles. Master Chen remembered me well. He was now 83 and I was 67. Unfortunately, I discovered quickly that in the 26-year interim, given worsening arthritis, severe osteoporosis, and a few other medical conditions, I was no longer able to do push hands or sparring. It was shocking to see William sparring at age 83. I also saw him squat down to the floor and bounce back up, something that was now impossible for me to do with my arthritis. For the next three and a half years, I just practiced the form.

Then, in the spring of 2018, on my 71st birthday, I asked myself what was unfinished in my life. I wondered what had I not yet done that I was still physically capable of doing before my arthritis gets any worse. I suddenly remembered those incredible Wong Shong Leung videos from the early 1980s and realized with some degree of sadness that wing chun would actually have been a better fit for my personality 45 years earlier, when I trained in Praying Mantis, Tai Chi Chuan, Aikijujutsu, Small Circle Jujutsu with Grandmaster Wally Jay, as well as Arnis and Escrima. With that realization, that week, I began training with a local wing chun instructor. He wasn’t from the WSL lineage, but he turned out to be a really exceptional teacher and I enjoyed training with him and his senior student for about three months.

I soon discovered that chisau sparring at a moderate level is much heathier than tai chi sparring. The hits in chisau do not cause brain damage unless the combatants are trying to hurt each other, which is not the norm in wing chun chisau sparring.

Now, at 71 and retired from two careers, I finally had the time to devote to serious training in wing chun and I have been very dedicated to my wing chun training ever since. As soon as I started training under the local instructor, I began watching wing chun experts from all the various lineages on YouTube. One day, I came upon videos of Chu Shong Tin and his disciple, Nima King, and I immediately recognized that they were doing something radically different from Wong Shong Leung and all the other Ip Man and other wing chun lineages. Most impressive was that they were generating power from center of mass rather than from the ground and I became obsessed with wanting to experience that.

I wanted to train in the Chu Shong Tin lineage of wing chun, but Grandmaster Chu had died in 2014. Flying back and forth to Hong Kong from San Francisco to train with his disciple Nima King for chunks of time crossed my mind, but due to health issues, I wasn’t up to it. Furthermore, I was committed to continuing to teach a popular course I had been teaching at College of Marin in Kentfield, California.

I immediately established a Skype friendship with Nima King as a result of my work as a psychologist in mind-body medicine and my new interest in doing scientific research with the internal wing chun experts from the CST lineage. I originally intended to bring Nima to San Francisco so that, along with colleagues at University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF) we could study him using fMRI, neurofeedback, other biofeedback, and various other modalities. At some point, we may do that, but for the next six months we met weekly on Skype to discuss the science of CST wing chun and he would coach me in my Siu Nim Tao form each week. In December of 2018, his Mindful Wing Chun online school opened, and I was one of the first to join. I do have local chisau partners but since March of 2020 I have not met with them, and won’t until I get the SARS CoV2 vaccine, which may not be until late 2021. Meanwhile, my training partner and best friend is my wooden dummy (known as mook yan jong).

How I Got Interested in the Martial Arts: When I was a kid at summer camp, my three favorite activities were shooting at the gun range, archery, and boxing. But I didn’t begin serious martial arts training until many years later, which was as a result of a fictional TV character who was able to remain calm, assertive, and centered in a wild and violent environment. When you are able to reside in your center, you can avoid getting entangled in all the craziness swirling around you. This was exemplified by the Kwai Chang Kane character in the 1970s Kung Fu TV fictional series.

As an adolescent and young adult, I used to hear people refer to me as a hothead, because it took very little to provoke me. Kwai Chang Kane was the opposite of a hothead and I knew I wanted to be more like him. I looked forward to each weekly episode and for at least an hour after each episode, I was pretty good at being like my fictional hero. But then, the next day, someone would inadvertently say something, and I would lose my cool. After reading a philosophy book on Taoism, where I kept coming across the term tai chi chuan, I decided to train in it. Plus, I had come to the mistaken conclusion that Kwai Chang Kane was using tai chi chuan when he fought with all his weekly attackers on the TV drama. Little did I know at the time that David Carradine, who brilliantly played Kwai Chang Kane, was not a martial artist. Years later, I found out the part had been written for Bruce Lee, but the network would not hire an Asian to play the lead character in an American series. Ironically, Lee had been born in San Francisco.

In the 1970s, tai chi chuan was almost completely unknown outside of China. I soon learned that it was the most sophisticated of all the martial arts, that it took a lifetime to learn it, and that there were just a handful of tai chi chuan masters who had come to North America at that time, mostly by way of Taiwan. I found one in Boston, Master T.T. Liang, and then a couple of years later I found another one in New York City (just a 3.5-hour drive), William C.C. Chen.

The first time I saw a tai chi demonstration, I was hooked. What I witnessed was a frail-looking, elderly man (T.T. Liang) knocking much younger, larger and stronger men to the floor with absolutely no effort. I knew then that I had to train with him. I knew that the so-called hard styles, like karate, could be learned in just a few years, but tai chi chuan seemed way more mysterious. Karate was easy to comprehend; it was essentially about block and punch or block and kick. But with tai chi, it was impossible to even see where the tai chi master’s power was coming from. Now, 45-years later, CST wing chun seems just as mysterious and just as difficult to master, and just as appealing to me as did tai chi chuan in my younger days.