Charismatic Mindful Kung Fu


Charismatic Mindful Kung Fu

mindful wing chun at College of MarinThis home page is about the Charismatic Mindful Kung Fu 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.

The term Kung Fu, aka Gong Fu, is most often associated with the Chinese martial arts. However, I like the original meaning, which has to do with time spent fully committed to a skillful endeavor.

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

This is the safest, most gentle martial arts class offered in the S.F. Bay Area. You don’t need to be an athlete, but you do need to be reasonably fit to be in this class.

Like most martial artists, I did 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 training 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 thrown to the floor or hit in the head. That’s one of the reasons I eventually chose internal wing chun to train in at this stage in life.

In this class you will be training in the internal martial art of the Chu Shong Tin lineage of wing chun. This is a very atypical martial arts class. It is not about techniques. Although you will learn self-defense, it is a fringe benefit rather than a primary focus.

Here are the primary foci of this class:

  • Mind-body integration: Directing your physicality with your mind throughout the day as a mindfulness practice.
  • Using your mind to be fully present in your body. The body obeys commands from the mind.
  • Using your mind to be fully in every physical movement. Rather than thinking about your goals or desired results, you will learn to be totally present in the actual physical movements. This practice is transferrable to being totally present in daily activities rather than focused on desired results. If your mind is on the end result, you miss the experience of the moment.
  • 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 having the desired experience.
  • Living and moving from your center of mass. This is a way of being in the world that is based on reality rather than on fusion with your thoughts and beliefs. Throughout human history, violence has been committed by one group against another as a result of fusion with beliefs. When you live and move from your center, your actions will be based on the reality of the moment rather than on your beliefs. 
  • Self-empowerment and self-efficacy through internal wing chun are cultivated as you learn to be fully in the activity of the moment without being distracted by your thoughts.
  • CST wing chun as a physical mindfulness practice and life path.
  • Learn to apply 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 what you want to experience. Especially in your least favorite daily activities, if those activities or commitments are aligned with your values, that mantra will keep you going forward.

The only realistic fighting system created by women that allowed them to defeat men was discovered by Ng Mui. Her exceptional student, a young woman named Yim Wing Chun and her husband are believed to have later systematized the method into what later got refined into what we now know as the martial art of wing chun. There are other stories about Ng Mui, but this one, described on page 41 of Tao of Wing Chun by Xuan and Little seems the most grounded in reality.

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). 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. Once you have found your center of mass, you will be taught the second choreographed form set, known as Chum Kiu, which will teach you how to actually move from and use your center of mass. You will also be offered sticking hands practice, known as chisau, which develops into what in this class is a very safe, gentle, fun type of sparring. If you are interested in training in effective self-defense, you will want to train in the chisau sparring part of the class and get in as much practice as possible. The chisau sparring starts off with you and your training partners moving very slowly; you work your way up in speed very gradually. To keep my students safe, in this class, sparring does not include hitting each other.

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

  • 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, aerobic conditioning, and stretching. (Personally, I push myself to my limit every morning and late afternoon, hiking in the hills. I also do resistance training and stretching. But I do these three daily workouts for the joy of being fully in my physicality, not because it helps my internal wing chun.) The main difference between internal and external martial arts is that the external ones require muscular and aerobic conditioning, whereas the internal ones rely on mind-directed movement. Both internal and external martial arts are very physical and very effective, but the nature of that physicality is radically different in each.
  • Chronically held muscular tension creates sub-optimal breathing patterns; as you learn to release chronic muscular tension, your breathing patterns will become healthier.
  • During those times when you are practicing with all your attention on your moment-to-moment full-body experience, you will feel most alive.
  • Even if you choose to not train in the two-person practices (sticking hands, aka chisau) the solo form sets serve as powerful mindfulness practices.
  • The form sets serve partly as concentration practices and will give you the power to direct your body with your mind.
  • The ability to physically center yourself through this practice will allow you to maintain a calm and centered state in 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.
  • The fine attention to detail as you move will allow you to notice things more acutely in your environment and even in interpersonal interactions. The result is increased confidence and aliveness.
  • It can be very satisfying to be involved in learning an ancient martial art. 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 a martial 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.
  • Even if the self-defense aspect is not important to you, as your attentional training progresses, you will gain more joy and spontaneity out of all physical activities.
  • Self-Defense: This is the most common reason people train in a martial art.
    • 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.
    • However, from a self-defense perspective, the highest level of self-defense is the ability to avoid 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 improve your odds of seeing 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 (your hands, elbows, knees, and inanimate objects) against his most accessible vital targets (eyes, ears, mandible, throat, neck, solar plexus, groin) as they present themselves. If it looks like you are about to be attacked, you must attack before your attacker pulls out a knife or gun. The training offered in this class will improve your odds of surviving a real attack.
    • Once you develop self-defense self-efficacy 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. 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 are no different from wild animals in that they are all looking for easy prey.

The Formal Practice:

What is so special about the first form set, known as Siu Nim Tao, which 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.

Siu Nim Tao, which translates into 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. Once you find your center of mass through this first form, you will be taught the second form, Chum Kiu, which will train you in how to actually move from your center of mass.

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 form practices. 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. Chisau and later chisau sparring are essential if self-defense is important to you. As mentioned above, in this class the sparring does not include hitting each other.

A fringe benefit 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 your center, it is like abandoning a big part of yourself. Spending your waking moments 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 the Charismatic Mindful Kung Fu class. 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 one of my tai chi chuan sparring partners 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 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 fighting 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, popped his eardrums, 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 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, or throw will not allow you to survive. Keep in mind that even though his hands may be empty, it only takes a second for him or her to pull out a knife or gun. As for the legality of attacking first, it is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.

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. Also, 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 (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 combative aspects of the art, but 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. 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 in the advanced sparring class, 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, I was no longer able to train in the combative aspects of the art. 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 and push hands.

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.

I soon discovered that the combative, sparring aspects of wing chun are actually a lot safer for aging bodies than the combative, sparring aspects of 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 chisau sparring.

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.