Charismatic Mindful Kung Fu


Charismatic Mindful Wing Chun

mindful wing chun at College of MarinThis home page is about the Charismatic Mindful Wing Chun class I teach. Except 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.

The term Kung Fu, aka Gong Fu, is most often associated with the Chinese martial arts. However, I like the original meaning, which defines kung fu as: time spent fully committed to a skillful endeavor. The nature of that endeavor in this class involves training to get out of your head and into your center. This practice creates a much more calm, yet alive way of life. Although the martial art of internal wing chun is the path or vehicle for my teaching, it serves as a practice in dynamic (physical) concentration and mindfulness.

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 because this class involves training in how to move fluidly and with speed.

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 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 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.

I teach self-defense as a mindfulness practice and as a path to self-empowerment and self-efficacy. The skills you will train involve situational awareness, learning to move fluidly with speed, assertive boundary-setting, learning to trust and act on your intuition, as well as very simple pragmatic techniques. Commitment to this training will make it highly unlikely that you will ever need to physically defend yourself because you will spot potential danger early and will know the best ways to avoid it.

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.

  • Mind-body integration: Directing your physicality with your mind throughout the day as a 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.
  • Using your mind to be fully present in your body. The body obeys commands from the mind.
  • Using your mind to develop mindful relaxation, which is an energized, vibrant type of relaxation. Reduction of bodily tension is not only important for optimizing your health, it is essential to the practice of this internal martial art. Chronically held muscular tension creates sub-optimal breathing patterns. As you learn to release chronic muscular tension, your breathing patterns will become healthier.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 (chores), if those activities or commitments are aligned with your values, the Ever Forward mantra will keep you going forward.
  • 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.
  • This class provides the opportunity for self-exploration and self-compassion, which leads to more deeply experiencing yourself.
  • Self-Defense:
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • You will 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 that and set clear boundaries. Boundary setting early on serves to make it clear to a potential predator that you are not an easy target. Also, it builds self-esteem and self-efficacy.
    • 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. As your level of conscious embodiment increases, it will be obvious to any type of human predator that you would not be 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 against your better judgment, or allow your ego to prevent you from moving when a stranger seems to be coming straight toward you.

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 artist. There are various anecdotal stories about Ng Mui, but the one I like best is described on page 41 of a book: Tao of Wing Chun by Danny Xuan.

Here is an 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, cupped hands slap to the ears, thumbs in the eyes, knee in groin, or foot stop on ankle of 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 willness 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).  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 through the first form set, you will then be taught the second choreographed form set, known as Chum Kiu, which will teach you how to actually move from center of mass. You will also be offered the sticking hands practices, known as chisau. The way I teach chisau, it is primarily for developing a high level of sensitivity, which will greatly enhance your ability to read others’ body language and intentions.

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 two-person, sticking hands practices are fun and create a sense of community in the class.

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 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 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. Finally, 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 around 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.