The training in this class improves wellbeing (happiness). As you learn to live in your bodily center rather than in your head, state of mind improves, which is the result of no longer getting pushed around by your thoughts.
Welcome to my homepage. If you are interested in my work on living better with chronic medical conditions, self-empowerment, and self-efficacy, please explore the above buttons, some of which have long drop-down menus.
This home page is for anyone interested in the Mindful Wing Chun for Living from Your Center class that I created for the Community Education Department at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California. The college catalog only provides a couple of lines describing the course; this page is intended to provide a very detailed description of the weekly class. It also describes how this type of training can be applied to the challenges that we all experience in daily life, which is what differentiates it from most martial arts classes.
This weekly class will be offered for the first time in the Fall Quarter, 2019 at College of Marin.
Registration starts early July when fall 2019 catalog comes out.
What is Wing Chun?
Wing chun was created a few hundred years ago as an internal martial art by Ng Mui, a female Shaolin warrior and martial arts master. The art she created was the result of a lifetime of training in the Shaolin fighting arts. Wing chun was the result of her efforts to create a fighting system that could be effective for unarmed female warriors that would put them on equal footing with larger, stronger male warriors. The art was eventually named after her exceptional student, a young woman named Yim Wing Chun.
This is Not a Typical Martial Arts Class
It is the Most Atypical Wing Chun Class Ever Offered Anywhere in the World in the History of Wing Chun.
Most people take up the martial arts to learn self-defense or fighting; this class is about neither of those things. Most people took up wing chun specifically after it was made famous by Bruce Lee or decades later by the popular Ip Man movies. The wing chun offered in this class bears little resemblance to the wing chun of Bruce Lee or to wing chun as it was portrayed (unrealistically) in the Ip Man movies.
I specifically designed this class because in my own training in the Chu Shong Tin lineage of wing chun, I inadvertently discovered that training in the Chu Shong Tin lineage (more on that later) of wing chun can serve as a much improved teaching method through which I can more effectively teach what I have already been teaching for many years. Essentially, what I have been offering has been training in how to get out of your head and into your body, specifically, into your center. Most legitimate martial arts masters, regardless of style or system, tend to live in their center, not in their heads. But for them, it was the result of many years of very rigorous full-time training. This class has that as the primary goal and everything we do in class will be with that outcome in mind.
If you stick with the class and practice, a fringe benefit will be the acquisition of good self-defense skills, but the primary goal of the class is a greater sense of wellbeing, which develops as you learn to stop being pushed around by your thoughts. Enhanced wellbeing is the natural result of living more in your body than in your head.
Many people have tried to develop self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-valuing, self-empowerment, and self-efficacy by changing their thoughts. All the mindfulness research in the last twenty years makes it clear that the most effective way to feel better about yourself and to experience greater wellbeing is thorough some type of mindfulness practice that allows you to clearly see that almost all your suffering is the result of buying into your thoughts. All the evidence reveals that the answer is not to simply try to think in more positive ways, but rather, to have a practice that allows you to no longer be at the mercy of your self-deprecating thoughts. Mindful Wing Chun for Living from Your Center provides such a practice. For many people who have trouble maintaining a sedentary (sitting) mindfulness practice, such as vipassana, this is a fun alternative.
The atmosphere in this class is one of collaboration and caring among the students and is a very non-threatening martial arts class.
Physical Requirements of All Students: You don’t need to be athletic, but you need to be able to stand on your feet for the 50-minute class time. Also, you will be learning the foundational choreographed set of movements referred to as the siu nim tao (SNT) form, which is something you will be practicing at home as much as possible. So, cumulatively, you will be on your feet quite a bit. Also, you need to have free range of movement in your shoulders because both the SNT form as well as the two-person exercises require full range of arm movement.
Something else you should also know about this class: This class is purely, physically experiential.
What is Mindful Wing Chun?
Mindful Wing Chun (MWC) is the name of the wing chun school in Hong Kong that was founded by Nima King, the person who trained most intensely with Chu Shong Tin (1933 to 2014) and the widely acknowledged primary disciple of Chu Shong Tin. Chu Shong Tin (CST) was one of Ip Man’s first three students in the early 1950s. Ip Man and Ip Man’s other senior students all considered CST to be the most internal wing chun master known by them. Nima King created MWC in order to pass on the teachings of CST. MWC is the largest wing chun school in Hong Kong. In December 2018, MWC opened an online division of the school, where the entire CST system will be taught online over a period of several years. I became a student of the online school when it opened, although I had begun wing chun training locally in a different lineage seven months earlier.
What is Mindful Wing Chun for Living from your Center?
Mindful Wing Chun for Living from Your Center is a class in the Community Education Department at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California. I created it with the intention of having it dovetail perfectly with MWC’s online program. I train with MWC through their online program and my teaching is in perfect alignment with the teaching offered by MWC. I strongly encourage all my students to subscribe to MWC’s online program and fully participate in the MWC Facebook group, which is extremely interactive. That way, as one of my students you can train directly with my teacher, Nima King. You will then be in an ideal situation by combining the MWC online training with the weekly hands-on training with training partners offered in my class.
For most wing chun beginners, the downside to the online course can be the difficulty of finding a training partner from the CST lineage. Every student in my class gets to have instant training partners just by attending my class. My hope is to create a supportive MWC community in the San Francisco Bay Area. A community that trains together stays together and keeps training and supporting each other.
If you are experienced in another wing chun lineage and want to experience the CST lineage, it is even more important for you to subscribe to the MWC online course. You may also want to join our class at the College of Marin in order to get hands-on experience in the CST lineage. Registered students in my class are offered a discount code to subscribe to the MWC online course on the first day of class.
Registering for the MWC online course is not a requirement; you are welcome to take my class without also taking the MWC online course, but, if you decide to continue taking my class and to seriously learn wing chun, you will want to take advantage of the training the online course offers and the way it connects you to the entire CST community around the world.
The most important way my class differs from other wing chun classes is the emphasis on how to apply wing chun to your daily life. This will be explained with examples throughout this paper.
My Limitations as a Wing Chun Instructor
Before you take this class, I want to be upfront and clear with you that I am not a wing chun expert. I am a serious student and practitioner of wing chun. I train with Nima King of MWC of Hong Kong through the online program along with a local training partner. For many years my expertise has been in helping people learn how to live a higher quality of life by learning how to get out of their heads and into their bodies. My teaching also helped students develop self-empowerment, self-efficacy, and self-acceptance.
I want you to know that I just began training in wing chun in May of 2018 and began teaching it in January 2019 as part of a non-wing chun class I’ve been teaching for many years. In late 2018 my teacher, Nima King, encouraged me to start teaching this course. Without my teacher’s encouragement to create this class, I would never have considered teaching wing chun at this early stage in my training. That said, I feel confident that if you take the MWC online course, which gives you weekly training with Nima King (my teacher) along with the weekly hands-on training in my class, you will actually be receiving an exceptionally high level of training in the CST lineage of wing chun.
There are two reasons I created this basic wing chun class. The first reason is that I have found the CST lineage of wing chun provides a much improved teaching vehicle in helping me train my students how to live in their center, in the body rather than the head. The second reason I created this class is that no one else in the San Francisco Bay Area is teaching the CST lineage of wing chun.
How Mindful Wing Chun Fits into my Daily Life
The following will give you a rough idea of where wing chun fits into my life. My personal wing chun routine each week looks like this:
- 2-hours daily of siu nim tao form practice, spread out during the day, performed at approximately 12 to 15-min per round
- 3 to 4 hours weekly of chi sau practice with my local training partner
- 3 to 4 hours weekly receiving instruction/coaching from the MWC online program, which includes several new lessons each week, as well as participation in the interactive MWC Facebook Group, where all the students in the online program get ample opportunities to interact with each other as well as with Nima King and the senior teachers who teach in his school in Hong Kong. In fact, we even get to interact with other senior students of Chu Shong Tin who are scattered around the world.
- Teaching one 50-min Mindful Wing Chun for Living from Your Center class per week.
- Also, I apply the MWC skills listed below to all daily activities. No physical movement is too small or unimportant to use for practice.
- There are additional wing chun practices I occasionally add to my usual routine.
My above practice routine probably seems like more than you would want to take on, but once you begin to experience the joy of being body-centered and are no longer getting beat up by your thinking mind, you will then want to practice at every opportunity throughout the day.
The Act of Practicing is an Act of Self-Caring and Self-Valuing
- There is something healing about practicing just for the sake of practicing.
- Most important is the act of consciously making the choice to practice.
- Consciously choosing to practice is self-empowering.
- Especially when you don’t feel like it, consciously choosing to practice is an act of self-caring and self-valuing.
- Consciously choosing to practice is a message to yourself that you matter. Ask yourself if you value yourself enough to set aside practice time as a time that is just for you.
- Not practicing is an act of self-abandonment.
- Don’t ever practice because you think you should. We all must find a way to make daily practice satisfying. Some days it is extremely challenging to find the time, but as long as there is something in it that is satisfying, we make the time. If we dread practicing, we won’t, and probably shouldn’t. However, at those times when the motivation to practice is lacking, it is important that we explore what we really want from the practice, because that can then provide motivation.
- If you maintain a daily practice, then, during those times when you are confronted with a particularly stressful period in your life, the practice can carry you through it, providing support.
Here are some additional examples of how I practice throughout the day:
- I practice pivoting as I walk. The way I do this is to initiate all turns internally. Intention to rotate the spine and pivot activates physical rotating and turning. I find this to be a very satisfying practice.
- As I sit, stand up, and walk, I practice symmetry, unifying my upper and lower body and balancing my L and R, all the while moving from my center (just anterior to the spine).
- When I’m holding a heavy pan in one hand, I maintain symmetry.
- When I am bent over, I remain centered.
- I have found that washing pots and pans, cooking, opening and closing the refrigerator doors, and moving the heavy roaster with a chicken in it are all opportunities to practice principles such as symmetry, uprightness, internal activation, optimal angle, precision of movement, and elbow force. I also ask myself if I am recruiting more muscle than would be needed if I was more relaxed. How relaxed and centered am I in my body?
- Whenever I notice stressful thinking, I immediately put my mind in my center.
- The question I ask most throughout the day, whether opening a door or getting up from a seated position is: Am I using the minimal amount of muscular exertion possible to get the job done?
The 50-min class time each week is divided up as follows:
- Utilization of the SNT stance and MWC mobilizations to help you find your axis, center of mass, center of balance and develop taigung, seng, and mindful relaxation: 5-min.
- Mindfully perform SNT form in unison in order to experience the flow, and to develop the deep SNT concentration practice: 12-min.
- SNT form corrections where we spend time on each shape of the form. This section includes pressure-testing and various other partner practices: 15-min.
- Dan chi sau, Look sau, Chi Sau: 18-min
What Skills Will You Learn in the Class?
SNT: The centerpiece of this weekly, 50-minute class is on SNT, as originally taught by CST and currently taught at MWC in Hong Kong and through the online course. In the CST lineage, SNT is so important that even the senior teachers spend up to 80% of their weekly practice time on the SNT form. To put that in perspective, they practice two additional empty-hand forms, the wooden dummy form, two weapon forms, and chi sau sparring. The reason for the emphasis on the SNT form is because the internal aspects of CST wing chun are learned in SNT.
As soon as the sequence is learned, students begin focusing on learning how to go into the SNT state. The SNT mind state, sometimes referred to as the nim tao mind state, can only be acquired by performing the SNT form with absolutely total concentration. The specifics of what you concentrate on changes as you become more experienced. They are listed after the next paragraph but will have little meaning until you are in the training.
Chi Sau: The other chunk of class time is spent on chi sau. Chi sau is a two-person sensitivity drill, whereby students learn to intuit all movement of the partner by feeling subtle changes. Chi sau is also an opportunity to put the various internal skills learned in SNT (listed below) to the test to see if they work under pressure with a training partner. More than anything, chi sau is an opportunity to practice maintaining the SNT state while physical pressure is applied by another person. This ability to maintain the SNT state under physical pressure leads to the ability to maintain the state under mental stress in daily life. What typically happens is that as soon as the person we are paired up with starts to get the better of us, we tend to lose our center. The mind suddenly moves from bodily center to head.
In the CST lineage, chi sau is a dance. When our partner moves, we move. However, we are also in a dance with ourselves. Every time we notice that we are off balance and no longer have our mind in our center, we recenter, bringing the mind back to the center.
The most common correction I will be giving you, both in the SNT form and later in chi sau, is to come back to your center. It is very easy for someone else to see, but our challenge is to recognize the moments when we lose our center, so that we can then return to it. In this way, the skill of recentering can be applied to all our daily life challenges when we lose our center.
Those skills learned in the SNT form and which you get to test out in chi sau practice each week are listed here:
- Symmetry, Uprightness, and Balance
- Taigung & Seng (Cantonese terms for internal activation and rising up in the spine and feeling a channel opening up from coccyx to crown of head)
- Mindful Relaxation (a form of relaxation that creates greater aliveness and that increases energy and power) Mindful relaxation is relaxation with direction.
- Optimal Angle (has to do with directness, economy of movement, and ties in with joint rotation)
- Centerline and Forward Focus (triangulation) (Wing chun has no flowery movements and is extremely direct.)
- Elbow Force (refers to power coming from a specific way of using the joints and does not include muscle)
- Holistic Awareness (practiced both in SNT and chi sau)
- Precision of Movement (has to do with placement and is related to the other skills)
- Joint Rotation (relates to vectors of force, none of which has anything to do with muscle)
Although the above listed skills are designed for use in wing chun, over time, you will be able to apply them to managing stressful daily life situations and to getting more joy out of life.
Symmetry, uprightness, and balance examples: when we practice symmetry, uprightness, and balance, brain function improves and stress diminishes. To test this, try taking any type of cognitive test sprawled out on a soft couch. Then take a similar test while standing tall and practicing being physically balanced and symmetrical. Your mind will be much sharper when you are in good posture. Another way to test this is to get into a stressful conversation with someone. Test to see how your posture affects the way you handle the conversation.
Mindful relaxation example: Usually, we tense up when in a stressful conversation or when we are confronted by a any type of stressful situation. Daily training in mindful relaxation frees up energy in your body and mind. It also allows you to see more objectively and to have a more neutral view of things.
Holistic awareness example: The opposite of this would be tunnel-vision or narrow-minded, black and white thinking.
How chi sau improves daily life. It takes a long time to learn the previously listed set of skills in the SNT form and how to actually apply them while doing the SNT form. However, even after developing the ability to apply those skills while practicing the SNT form, everyone finds that as soon as another person, such as a training partner, offers some resistance against one of the movements in the form, we immediately discover that what worked in the form no longer works when a training partner is trying to prevent us from moving an arm in a certain direction. Chi sau is a practice that helps us learn how to better tune in to and read the other person, which then helps us use our skills when that person is pressuring us either physically or verbally. This is achieved by learning how to maintain our center and to continue to move from our center of mass, while zeroing in on the other person’s center. This is challenging and requires a lot of practice to learn in SNT and considerably more challenging to learn in chi sau. But once we can maintain our center in chi sau and to be able to apply the list of skills in actual chi sau, we are well on our way to applying it to the challenges of daily life.
In daily life, when we are in a heated discussion or in a frustrating or upsetting conversation, what gets us into trouble or what causes our suffering is never the other person. Our suffering is caused by entanglement with our thinking, which usually includes our beliefs that the other person is wrong or that the other person should be acting differently. Here is how SNT and chi sau help: Once we develop the skill of putting our mind in our center, we are then able to calmly and objectively observe what would otherwise cause us to be very upset. As mentioned elsewhere in this paper, suffering is rarely the result of external circumstances or of someone else’s behavior. We suffer when we get caught up in our thinking. Wing chun, as taught in this class, will teach you a powerful practice that prevents getting caught up in thinking. Although that practice is developed and continually refined in SNT, chi sau can be thought of as the practice to put SNT into action.
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 SNT and taught me a little chi sau, 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. When Wong Shong Leung released his wing chun videos in the early 1980s, I was very impressed! I had previously trained in the very flowery northern Praying Mantis style of kung fu with Grand Master Chan Poi in Boston, where I lived. Immediately upon studying the videos, I recognized that the no-nonsense style of wing chun was a vastly more pragmatic martial art. I had also trained in aikijujutsu, but I found that system to be most efficacious for law enforcement officers, but not practical in the street when someone is throwing wild punches. Tai chi chuan was the art I had trained in the longest, but it too lacked the simplicity, directness, and practicality of wing chun. Also, I had often felt frustrated by how challenging it was to apply the internal aspects 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 fighting in the ring. I was like a fish out of water because my interest was not in fighting, so I refocused all my energy on tai chi. After studying those Wong Shong Leung 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, yet complete system.
Unfortunately, to find the time in my busy week to start wing chun, I would have had to give up tai chi. 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 to give it up, especially since I was training with William C.C. Chen. I was spending evenings and weekends on empty-hand forms, weapon forms, push hands, and sparring. Between work life, family life, and serious tai chi chuan training, there was simply no way to start training in wing chun, but by 1987 my passion for tai chi was fading.
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. I was just too busy. Then, in the fall of 2014, I finally decided to resume tai chi training by attending a William C.C. Chen weekend workshop in Los Angeles, but I ended up just dabbling in it over the next few years, rather than really training. The passion for tai chi chuan that I had lost in 1987 never returned to me.
Then, in the spring of 2018, on my 71st birthday, I asked myself what was unfinished in my life. What had I not yet done that I was still physically capable of doing? I remembered those incredible Wong Shong Leung videos from the early 1980s and realized with some sadness that wing chun would actually have been a better fit for me 45 years earlier, when I started tai chi chuan. 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 under him for about three months. Interestingly, I was pleased to discover that wing chun is actually a lot safer for aging bodies than tai chi chuan. Because of all the movement, push hands is actually much harder on aging, arthritic backs, hips, knees, and feet than chi sau.
Now retired from two careers, I finally had the time to devote to wing chun and 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 very different from all the other lineages. Most impressive was that they were generating power from center of mass rather than from the ground. They were not rooting, and I became obsessed with wanting to experience that. I wanted to train with them, but CST had died in 2014 and Nima King was in Hong Kong. Flying back and forth to Hong Kong for chunks of time crossed my mind, but I wasn’t up to it. Furthermore, I was committed to continuing to teach the popular course I had been teaching at College of Marin.
I immediately established a Skype friendship with Nima 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. Although that didn’t happen, 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. Then in December of 2018, Mindful Wing Chun’s online school opened, and I was one of the first to join.
The Foundation of the Practice of Wing Chun
Siu Nim Tao (SNT) is the first of the three empty-hand forms in wing chun. It is like the foundation of a building. The most well-constructed building will not be durable or even usable unless it has a well-constructed foundation. Mastery of the SNT form provides a well-constructed foundation upon which the art of wing chun can be built. SNT is not a form to squeeze into your day. Personally, I build each day around SNT.
Although all aspects of a martial art are important, we all have certain aspects we value more than other aspects, and the nature of which aspects we favor tends to vary over the years. For example, there was a period in my younger days when I spent most of my daily tai chi training on weapons forms. Once I was introduced to sparring, I practiced my weapon forms less and less. Over the years, I also began to do less and less push hands practice because sparring was more like real fighting. As my sparring training time increased and my push hands training time decreased, my overall skill level in tai chi also decreased. This was because tai chi, as with all martial arts, was designed to be practiced as a complete system. The entire system must be practiced in order to reach a high level of skill and also to get the important health and wellbeing benefits. By cutting way back on my push hands practice, my skill level in tai chi deteriorated. Just as “there is no wing chun without chi sau,” “there is no tai chi without push hands.”
Almost all martial arts masters make it clear that the greatest benefits in health and wellbeing as well as in the martial aspects, are found by training in the complete martial art, not just certain aspects, such as the tai chi form or wing chun’s siu nim tao form. As absolutely essential and foundational as those two forms are, they are only the foundation from which you can then begin to learn those two martial arts, and those forms should not be confused with the martial arts themselves.
That said, most tai chi instructors today do not even attempt to teach the martial art and are very open about only teaching the form. My own view is that as long as it is explained to students that the martial art is not being offered and that only the form is being taught, then that seems fine. In fact, the tai chi form is known to be really good for balance. But for athletic, fit people under the age of fifty, they would benefit much more by training in the martial art with a tai chi master, rather than just practicing the form. As for wing chun, this is not an issue since all wing chun teachers teach the martial art; none teach just the foundational form. As for the age limit of wing chun, a fit seventy year old could begin training in wing chun, albeit with some limitations. The limitations would be dependent on the person’s level of arthritis and other common problems associated with aging.
Why the Chu Shong Tin Lineage?
Ng Mui, the founder of wing chun, would certainly have been internal, since that remains the only way female martial artists would have been able to defeat much bigger, stronger men of equal skill (which she and her student Yim Wing Chun did). Unfortunately, at some point in the transmission of the art from generation to generation, the internal aspects of wing chun were lost to a large extent and were supplanted by an external interpretation, which means the use of muscular strength when practicing. Although Ip Man had internal skills, he openly said that his student, Chu Shong Tin had surpassed him in internal abilities. Also, CST’s fellow senior students at IP Man’s school were all in awe of how powerful CST was, given how skinny, sickly, and weak he looked. In interviews, CST’s kung fu brothers and sisters all said that they could not even figure out what CST was doing that allowed him to be so much more powerful than any of Ip Man’s other senior students.
CST had escaped from the mainland around the same time as did his teacher Ip Man, in 1949. CST began training with Ip Man in 1950 and they shared very small living quarters for five years. CST originally had no interest in the martial arts, but because he was living with Ip Man and working where Ip Man began teaching wing chun, he was exposed to it many hours a day. Ip Man’s first two students, Lok Yu and Leung Shong convinced CST to try it. He then became Ip Man’s third student. Unlike Lok Yu, Leung Shong, all of Ip Man’s later students, like Wong Shong Leung, CST’s motivation was not to improve his fighting skills. Rather, his motivation was driven by his curiosity over how the biomechanics and physics of wing chun allowed wing chun experts to be so effective with extremely minimal muscular effort. Therefore, when all the other students were spending most of their training time doing chi sau sparring and free-fighting, CST was spending many hours a day practicing the siu nim tao form.
Over the years, Ip Man had regularly told all his students that if they master the siu nim tao form, they would develop very extraordinary powers. With the sole exception of CST, all Ip Man’s other students were focused on fighting and were not interested in spending many hours a day practicing siu nim tao. Although some of Ip Man’s students became well known for their extraordinary fighting ability, most notably Wong Shong Leung (who was referred to as The King of Talking Hands), none were internal to the same degree as Chu Shong Tin. When interviewed decades later, all the early Ip Man students said that CST was so internal that when they would do chi sau sparring with him, they couldn’t even figure out what he was doing. Also relevant, Ip Man’s other students were all more powerfully built than CST, who was always emaciated. It is believed that CST’s lack of muscle worked to his advantage in developing his internal powers.
Gradually, during the 1950s, CST rediscovered the internal aspects of the art as most likely intended by Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun. From the 1950s until his death in 2014, CST remained the most internal wing chun master in the world.
Training in the Chu Shong Tin lineage of internal wing chun leads to the ability to have great power without muscular strength.
After just two months of practicing the SNT form from the CST lineage for roughly two hours a day, all the chronic back pain I’d had for many decades disappeared.
It has been profoundly satisfying for me to be able to effortlessly do physical chores I previously could only do with muscular effort. I certainly do not have nim lik (chi), but like CST, I am fascinated by the biomechanics and internal aspects of this beautiful art.
Regarding chi, I have met many people over the decades, especially tai chi people, who think they have chi, but I have only actually seen evidence of it in the masters. I have had three tai chi teachers: T.T. Liang, William C.C. Chen, and Lenzie Williams. All three clearly exhibited chi. There are several senior students of CST who now have varying levels of chi.
Where is your Center?
If you are fit, your center of mass and center of balance could be thought of as a vertical axis that is just anterior to the spine and it is where to put your attention. Living and moving from your center is a life practice and an antidote to living in your head. Living in your center means living in the moment—being fully present and fully awake to your moment-to-moment experience. Different martial arts describe the center differently and place it in a very slightly different place, but it is always the place to put your mind.
When your mind is in your center, you will remain calm in situations that otherwise cause you to get flustered or to lose your cool. When living in your center, unpleasant emotions such as anger, rage, frustration, sadness, and despair are more likely to be experienced as pure emotions, which means, since your mind is in your center, those emotions will not be problematic. You will still feel them; in fact, you may feel them even more deeply, but you won’t get caught in stories about them. It is the stories we create that add to our suffering.
Be the Eye of the Hurricane that is Swirling Around You
Originally, I became interested in the martial arts as a result of a 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 and twenties 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 inadvertantly say something and I would lose my cool. After reading a philosophy book on Taoism, where I kept coming across the term tai chi, I decided to train in it. Plus, I had come to the conclusion that Kwai Chang Kane was using tai chi when he fought with all his weekly attackers on the show. In the 1970s, tai chi was unknown outside of China. There were just a handful of tai chi masters who had come to North America, 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. They taught me how to find my center.
In living and moving from your center, you have the ability to put your mind in your center. That serves to help you gain emotional distance from situational stresses and objective distance from the chaos of your thoughts.
In living from your center, you practice mindfully recognizing when you get triggered by an individual or a situation. Focusing outwardly on the behavior of the other person prevents you from living from your center. This does not mean closing your eyes and ears to all the craziness going on in your environment. It means being aware of your surroundings and being part of the dance.
As humans, we live primarily in our heads—in our thoughts. CST wing chun is a practice that trains the mind to come home to the body. This is achieved as we learn to direct the body with the mind. What I am describing has nothing to do with thinking about the body or about the connection between mind and body. Rather, it is about using mind to direct body movements without any analysis and without any muscular exertion.
When we fail to train the mind to come home to the body, it is like abandoning a big part of ourselves. Spending our waking moments analyzing external situations is another way to abandon ourselves. When we put mind in the body, we are home. Part of the human condition involves performing tasks that are not always fun and are often even unpleasant. Practicing moving from our center can serve to give greater meaning to everything we do, including those unpleasant tasks.
What is the secret to acquiring this skill? Once we are fully aware of being triggered, we can then consciously choose to come home to the body—in particular—coming home to our center. This is the secret to acquisition of the power of a calm, aware, focused mind—keep coming home to your body—to where you live.
Anxiety and calmness cannot coexist. It is physiologically impossible. Once we are fully aware of being triggered, we can then consciously choose to come home to our center. Mindful relaxation, the ability to relax the musculature of the body while remaining fully alert and the other principles of MWC make this possible. These practices are also what makes it possible for us to recognize when we are triggered.
The word relax is commonly thought of as meaning limp or floppy. However, mindful relaxation and the various physical centering practices such as balance, symmetry, and uprightness, lead to a very awake and alert form of relaxation. It is a way of being energized while being calm.
Muscular tension blocks energy flow. We commonly hold onto bodily tension in the same way we hold on to thoughts and beliefs. Both block the free flow of internal energy. Cultivation of the sensitivity that allows you to become aware of your tension is the first step. Gradually, you will notice freer movement of your appendicular and axial skeletons.
According to Nima King, my teacher, “internal energy generation is about subtraction. It is not something to put into the body; it is the product of subtracting and eliminating all the thoughts and muscle tension that block the natural flow of internal energy.”
This process is like a reversible reaction in chemistry. Physiologically, an example of a reversible reaction is the process by which carbon dioxide and water form carbonic acid and then carbonic acid breaks down into carbon dioxide and water. Relaxing the mind serves to relax the body, just as relaxing the body serves to relax the mind.
The spine can expand. Striving, straining, muscle tension, poor posture, and non-diaphragmatic breathing contract the muscles around the spine and block energy. When the energy is stable to flow freely, you are likely to experience sensations of increased space between the vertebrae and have a sense of gaining height. Energy is generated when the whole body moves in a relaxed, coordinated way. When mindful relaxation, symmetry, balance, uprightness, and the other MWC principles are practiced, there is considerably more movement throughout the spine and the rest of the body.
Practice cultivation of a gentle, natural smile. This serves to catalyze state-bound memories of when you experienced optimal wellbeing, which then recreates that same psychophysiological state in the present.
Practice maintaining a soft gaze. Relaxing the muscles around your eyes actually improves your vision, especially your peripheral vision and allows you to take in more of your surroundings. The opposite would be tunnel vision, where the muscles around your eyes are tense and your eyes are focused on one thing. Maintaining a soft gaze allows you to take in all your surroundings with a relaxed alertness. It will allow you to be more in tune with the environment around you.
Practice conscious choice. Whenever you find yourself using “have to” language, adopt the attitude that you are taking care of yourself, such as in “taking myself for a walk”. Loving self-care of your body will optimize its abilities to perform for you.
Training the Wandering Mind: Each time you notice your mind has wandered to ruminative thoughts of the past or future-centered planning, gently and lovingly return your attention to mindful relaxation and centering. Because we are human, our attention will always wander, thereby negatively impacting our performance and joy in every activity. Every time our attention wanders, we are less fully alive and engaged in life. The solution is simply to adopt the practice of lovingly returning our attention to these body-centered practices as soon as we become aware of the loss of attention.
It is none of your business what others think of you: Never allow yourself to be distracted and worried about what others are doing or thinking (the result of being in your head). Regarding what others may think about you, it is none of your business. That type of outward concern is the result of losing your center. Fill your day with mindful doing or mindfully taking action. This means acting without thinking about how you are doing or what anyone else thinks. If you fear being judged, maybe it is because you are judging yourself, which is another result of living in your head rather than in your center.
Through mindful wing chun, you learn to hold yourself in a more relaxed and open posture—both physically and mentally. This results in others (and animals) feeling safe around you. In addition, holding yourself in this mindful, relaxed stance helps you to feel more open to and accepting of others. Much of the stress we live with is the result of lifelong habits of holding various muscle groups tight for self-protection, which is not only dysfunctional, but actually reduces our sense of aliveness and wellbeing. Daily practice of the siu nim tao form is a method of learning how to become aware of unhealthy bodily tension and to be able to release it.