Charismatic Mindfulness


Charismatic Mindfulness

mindful wing chun at College of MarinThis home page is about the Charismatic Mindfulness class I teach.  Beginners can start at any of the five times per year that the seven-week class is offered at College of Marin. For information on living with chronic medical conditions, explore the rest of my website with above buttons.

In watching the three videos on this page be sure to have your sound on so that you can hear my voiceovers.

What is Charismatic Mindfulness? It is the title of my class, which offers a mindfulness-based, mind-body integration practice.

The method is based on the internal martial art of the Chu Shong Tin lineage of wing chun. This is not your usual martial arts class, because in this class we are focused on the mindfulness and healing aspects of this internal martial art, rather than on what most people associate with martial art. More than anything, this system helps people feel more vibrant in their routine everyday activities.

Most martial arts classes focus on self-defense techniques, whereas this martial arts class focuses on learning how to get out of your head and into your body. It is about developing a way of life based on living in your center rather than in your head. An attitude of curiosity with an intention to experiment, explore, and play is encouraged.

The class also serves to provide a supportive practice community, which is important because it is almost impossible to maintain any type of serious practice in isolation, especially one as unique as this one.

In the three videos on this page, you will see me performing the Little Idea Form (Siu Nim Tao in Cantonese). It is in the practice of this choreographed set of movements that you will learn to find your center of mass and learn to develop a very relaxed, aware state of mind and body. A companion two-person set will then help you learn how to actually move from your center of mass and apply that level of alert relaxation while interacting with someone.

This system was created by Ng Mui a few hundred years ago. She was an elder Shaolin martial arts master-warrior and founder of the internal martial art of wing chun. The art was named after her exceptional student, a young woman named Yim Wing Chun. After a lifetime in the warrior arts, later in life she began to search for a way that warriors could be effective when their opponents are younger and much more powerful. The result was the creation of wing chun, a martial art designed by and for women and for men who are no longer in their prime. The reason internal wing chun is so effective for that population is because it is about learning to move from your center of mass and to optimize body-mechanics, obviating the need to rely on muscular strength. Learning to move from center of mass is also extremely valuable for those still in their prime because it teaches you how to move like a human animal, which dramatically increases agility, speed and power.

What are the benefits to participation and practice in this class?

  • In terms of health, many of those who have learned and integrated this practice into daily life have noticed improvement and occasionally even resolution of various conditions that had not responded to medical treatment. Personally, chronic back pain resolved as I learned to release chronic muscle contraction in my low back.
  • You will begin to feel a sense of lightness and spaciousness as your joints begin to decompress and function optimally. Stress reduction occurs as you learn to release bodily tension.
  • Health improves as you learn to release stress that otherwise impairs function.
  • As you develop the ability to move from your center of mass, you will gain agility, speed, and power, without needing to rely on muscular strength.
  • Chronically held muscular tension creates sub-optimal breathing patterns; as you learn to release chronic muscular tension, your breathing patterns will become healthier.
  • As you begin to realize that you have enormous power to effect positive changes in your health and wellbeing through clear intention and practice, you will develop self-empowerment, self-efficacy and a sense of greater aliveness.
  • As in all mindfulness practices, one of the greatest benefits is the practice itself. This is because during those times when you are practicing with all your attention on your moment-to-moment full-body experience, you will feel most alive. This dynamic mindfulness practice will help you live more fully in your body.
  • The ability to center yourself through this practice will allow you to maintain a calm and centered state in stressful situations. Without a practice like this, it is common to get metaphorically and physically thrown off balance by stressors, especially of the interpersonal kind.
  • There is something very satisfying in setting aside a specific time of the day that is just for you to be fully engaged in a meaningful practice, with no interruptions of any kind. For me, it is from 4:30 to 6:30 each morning. Starting the day this way makes it easier to incorporate the practice into the rest of my day. No matter how busy my schedule, knowing that I have that two-hour period creates a sense of stability that stays with me throughout the day.
  • It can be very satisfying to be involved in learning an ancient martial art. Even though this class is primarily about the health and wellbeing aspects rather than the more martial aspects, students enjoy always having the opportunity to learn new things and to then keep building on what they learn. There is a sense of accomplishment in learning an art that will stay with you to improve health, wellbeing, and keep you safe from human predators.
  • In addition, people in the class value the supportive and collaborative atmosphere, which makes the practice safe and fun.
  • This class provides the opportunity for self-exploration and self-compassion, which leads to more deeply experiencing yourself.
  • Excessive thinking is replaced by acknowledging and honoring your thoughts and feelings without getting caught in them.
  • Self-Defense: Most martial arts classes emphasize self-defense techniques. My philosophy of self-defense is that the best self-defense is avoidance of danger. Commitment to practicing what is taught in this class creates a state of calm, centered, awareness. Once you learn to practice living in that calm, 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. However, if your intuition ever tells you an attack is imminent and there is no escape, your increased awareness will allow you to see the attack coming, giving you a chance to preemptively attack your attacker. Muggers and rapists don’t expect their intended targets to preemptively attack them. Your preemptive attack will involve using your most accessible weapons (hands, elbows, knees, inanimate objects) against his most accessible vital targets as they present themselves. The training offered in this class will assist you in functioning effectively in the chaos of a real attack. However, as I mentioned before, with a high level of calm alertness, 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. The people on either side of you whose heads are buried in their mobile devices are the ones who will attract the attention of a predator.
  • The potential health benefits of this practice are endless. More than anything, this practice leads to body-wide release of tension. That in turn improves overall physiological functioning. Wellbeing improves because the release of bodily tension leads to the ability to feel more, which leads to being able to more fully experience life. Fatigue decreases and energy increases as bodily tension diminishes. Energy also increases as you learn to move from your center, which is the most energy-efficient way to move.

The goal of any type of mindfulness practice is to live a vibrant life. Being human, our attention continually drifts off from the present-moment activity, thereby distracting us from the vibrant life that can result from being totally present with whatever activity we are engaged in and our experience of it from moment-to-moment.

Mindfulness is not a skill to acquire; it is a skill to practice. In other words, we are mindful when we are practicing mindfulness and mindless when we are not practicing. 

Comparison with other mindfulness practices: Mindfulness practices are primarily sitting meditation types, such as Vipassana. The formal, dynamic, mind-body integration training offered in this class is practiced primarily while standing and moving.

You will learn to feel bodily tension on a very subtle leveI in this class, which then serves to guide you in exploring ways to move that provide you with greater ease. You will learn how to continually return your wandering mind to performing all your daily movements with as little effort as possible. As physical ease improves, people experience stress-reduction.

The Formal Practice:

What is so special about the Little Idea (Siu Nim Tao) solo form you see me practicing in the videos?

The reason this choreographed set of movements is such a profound and dynamic, body-centered, mindfulness practice is due to its perfect combination of slow movement with stillness.

Little Idea Form has the perfect mix of physical movement with mental effort, making it an extraordinarily exceptional practice for the cultivation of mind-body integration.

Sticking Hands Partner Practices: Sticking hands (translated from the Cantonese chisau) will allow you to test and enhance what you have been developing in your solo Little Idea Form practice. The sticking hands 2-person practices provide clear information to you on the areas you most need to practice. The two-person, sticking hands practices also happen to be fun and create a sense of community in the class.

Not all students choose to participate in sticking hands. Occasionally, someone chooses to only focus on the Little Idea Form, which is the core practice that develops the ability to identify and release bodily tension and to find your center of mass.

One of the most powerful benefits of sticking hands is that it provides you with interpersonal 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 would otherwise be terribly distracting. 

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

When you fail to train the mind to come home to the body, it is like abandoning a big part of yourself. Spending your waking moments analyzing external situations is another way to abandon yourself. When you put mind in the body, you are home. Part of the human condition involves performing tasks that are not always fun and are often even unpleasant. Practicing moving from your center can serve to give greater meaning to everything you do.

Reality isn’t what you think. In this class you will experience how your thoughts actually distract you from reality. Thoughts are mental constructs that are continually spewed out by the brain. We need to think and reason to function in the world, but the problem is that we spend far too much time thinking thoughts that are no longer useful and are often harmful. As with other mindfulness practices, you will develop the ability to keep returning to what you are experiencing in your body. This practice is about how to feel moment-to-moment experiences rather than thinking about them.

What appears below is only tangentially related to the Charismatic Mindfulness class. It is about my personal history in the martial arts. My primary interest has been in psychophysiological self-regulation (training the mind to improve physiological functioning) as well as in self-compassion and self-empowerment.

My Long Personal Interest in Wing Chun: My first introduction to wing chun was through one of my tai chi chuan sparring partners around 1980, when he began wing chun training. He showed me Siu Nim Tao and taught me a little chisau, which seemed somewhat related to push hands. 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 camp in my childhood in the mid to late 1950s, I noticed that all the other kids my age were exclusively throwing wild haymakers. As I watched the other kids fight, I realized that if I go up the middle, 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 Northern 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 when you need to incapacitate your attacker immediately. 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 eye-gouged the attacker. 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 a very high level of expertise. Also, I had often felt frustrated by how challenging it was to apply the internal aspects of tai chi to push hands and sparring. 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 (Natick Boxing Club), until I realized that those guys were totally focused on sport fighting in tournaments. My interest was in sparring but not in competing in the ring, so I left and refocused all my energy on tai chi chuan under William C.C. Chen. 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, who was known for training fighters. In fact, one night in New York, William paired me up with a guy who was working as a sparring partner of Roberto Duran, which left me wondering if I would survive the night. I was spending evenings and weekends on empty-hand forms, weapon forms, push hands, two-person drills, and freestyle sparring. Between work life, family life, and serious tai chi chuan and aikijujutsu training, there was simply no way to start training in wing chun. Then, about six years later, around 1987, my passion for tai chi chuan was fading. It was all great experience, but if I had it to do over, I would have quit all the arts I was training in in 1982 and devoted myself exclusively to wing chun.

From 1988, when we moved from Boston to San Diego (and later to San Francisco), until 2014 I didn’t do any martial art training at all. All I did in all those years was just the tai chi form. I was just too busy to train. Then, twenty-six years later, 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, training in tai chi chuan was no longer possible. 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.

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, 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.

Amazingly, I discovered that wing chun is actually a lot safer for aging bodies than tai chi chuan. Because of all the yielding, tai chi chuan is actually much harder on aging, arthritic backs, hips, knees, and feet than chisau. And chisau sparring at a moderate level is much heathier than tai chi sparring, which involved hitting each other in the head with 14-oz gloves. 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.

Now 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 CST had died in 2014 and Nima King was in Hong Kong. Flying back and forth to Hong Kong from San Francisco 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.

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.

How I Got Interested in the Martial Arts: Originally, I became interested in the martial arts 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 series.

When I was in my teens, twenties, and thirties, 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 show. 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.