My Life in the Martial Arts

Demonstration Videos

Here are some videos of me demonstrating the traditional wing chun forms with voiceovers

Like most martial artists, I did most of my serious training in my younger days. Then, I got busy with life and didn’t do any serious training for 26-years. When I retired and decided to return to serious training in my mid-60s I quickly realized that I could no longer generate the speed and power I had in my 30s. I also came to realize that I was now getting injured much more easily and that 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 when I decided to return to serious martial arts training later in life. Wing chun is a martial art that can be practiced well into old age. People say that about tai chi as well, but they are usually referring to the tai chi form and gentle push hands, not the martial art. Whereas, the complete martial art of wing chun can be practiced throughout life.

In addition, my interest had changed from a focus on the combative aspects to approaching the martial arts as an all-encompassing approach to a life in the martial arts as a path to self-discovery, inner wisdom, and self-empowerment.

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

As an adolescent and young adult, I used to hear people refer to me as a hothead, because it took very little to provoke me. Kwai Chang Kane was the opposite of a hothead and I knew I wanted to be more like him. I looked forward to each weekly episode and for a brief time after each episode, I was pretty good at maintaining the centered and calm demeanor of my fictional hero. But then, the next day, someone would inadvertently say something, and I would lose my cool.

While reading my brother-in-law’s old undergraduate philosophy book on Taoism, I kept coming across the term tai chi chuan, I decided to train in it. It so happens that I had come to the mistaken conclusion that Kwai Chang Kane was using tai chi chuan when he fought with all his weekly attackers on the TV drama. Little did I know at the time that David Carradine, who brilliantly played Kwai Chang Kane, was not a martial artist. Years later, I found out that the part had been written for Bruce Lee, but that the network would not hire an Asian to play the lead character in an American series. Ironically, Bruce 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 where I lived, 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 from Boston), Master 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, who were ranked karateka to the floor with absolutely no effort. I knew then that I had to train with him. I knew that one could become proficient in the so-called hard styles, like karate in about five 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 chuan, it was impossible to even see where the tai chi master’s power was coming from. Now, 45-years later, 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.

My Long Personal Interest in Wing Chun: My first introduction to wing chun was around 1980 through a sparring partner who also trained in wing chun. He had begun training with William C.C. Chen in tai chi chuan a few years before I did.  He showed me the first two form sets and chisau (sticking hands). I was intrigued by the principles of wing chun, especially center-line theory. I also liked that it was very straight-forward. In tai chi chuan, there was only one tai chi chuan master (William C.C. Chen) who was teaching realistic fighting that works with boxers and kickboxers, whereas it seemed as if realistic fighting was inherent in wing chun. (This predated MMA.)

Amazingly, when I boxed as a kid in the mid to late 1950s, I noticed that all the other kids my age were throwing a lot of wild haymakers.  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 a bully I was matched up with in a fight. What I had inadvertently figured out on my own was actually 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. In the 1950s wing chun was totally unknown outside of China and was only taught by and for Chinese.

Twenty-five years later, when VCRs began to appear, some wing chun masters around the world released instructional wing chun courses on Betamax and VHS recordings that we could play on our new VCRs.

I was amazed by the total absence of any unnecessary and flowery movements. By that time, I had trained in the very flowery Praying Mantis style of kung fu under Grand Master Chan Poi and Sifu Yao Li in the North Station area of Boston. Immediately upon studying the videos, I recognized that wing chun was the most pragmatic martial art in the world. I had also trained in aikijujutsu at Bushido-Kai under Tony Annesi Sensei in Natick, just west of Boston. But I found that grappling, trapping, throws, and pressure point striking was most efficacious for law enforcement officers and not practical in the street unless you are extremely 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 to my liking, but it too seemed most useful for law enforcement officers, who could face charges of excessive force if they elbowed the attacker in the throat or chin, gouged his eyes out, or broke his eardrums, which are techniques I now teach in my women’s self-defense class.

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 chuan sparring, under Grandmaster William C.C. Chen looked to observers just like western boxing; great for sport fighting, but not practical for the street until you are at an extremely high level of expertise.

I had often felt frustrated by how challenging it was to apply the internal aspects of tai chi chuan to freestyle push hands and sparring (with gloves). I was continually falling back on external techniques rather than internal skill, and I probably would have been better off going to a local boxing gym, which I actually did for a brief time (Natick Boxing Club), until I realized that those guys were totally focused on sport fighting in the ring. My interest was in sparring as a way to explore the internal fighting aspects of tai chi chuan and I had no interest in fighting in the ring for sport. It was actually good experience, but I left the boxing club and refocused all my energy on tai chi chuan with my teacher William C.C. Chen in NYC. A little while later, after studying the newly released wing chun video cassettes 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 William C.C. Chen was one of the top tai chi chuan masters and tai chi chuan fighters in the world—probably the best at that time. I was spending evenings and weekends on empty-hand forms, weapon forms, push hands, two-person drills, and freestyle sparring. Between my work life, my martial art life, and family life, there was simply no way to start training in wing chun at that time.

It was all great experience, but if I could go back in time and do it all over, I would devote myself exclusively to training in wing chun. I’d come to realize that I would have preferred the simplicity of wing chun.

In 1988 my wife and I moved from Boston to San Diego. For the next 26-years I was just too busy working to do any serious training. That first year I sporadically attended tai chi chuan classes under a senior student of Master Abraham Liu, but Master Liu and his students didn’t do any freestyle sparring and I missed the combative realism of my previous training with Master Chen.

Then, in the fall of 2014, I finally decided to resume tai chi chuan training by attending a William C.C. Chen weekend workshop in Los Angeles. Master Chen remembered me well. He was now 83 and I was 67. Unfortunately, I discovered quickly that in the 26-year interim, given worsening arthritis, severe osteoporosis, and a few other medical conditions, I was no longer able to do push hands due to hip and knee arthritis and certainly could no longer risk sparring. It was shocking to see William sparring at age 83. I also saw him squat down to the floor and bounce back up, something that was now impossible for me to do with my arthritis. For the next three and a half years, I would go to workshops when Master Chen came to California, but now unable to train in the combative aspects of tai chi chuan, I began to start thinking about wing chun again. I suddenly remembered those incredible 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 back in my twenties and thirties when I spent all those years training in tai chi chuan with Master Chen and in various other grappling and striking arts.

With that realization in the spring of 2018, on my 71st birthday, I began training with a local wing chun instructor. He turned out to be a really exceptional teacher and I enjoyed training with him and his senior student for several months.

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

Now, at 71 and retired from two careers, I finally had the time to devote to serious training in wing chun and I have been very dedicated to my wing chun training ever since. As soon as I started training under the local instructor, I began watching wing chun experts from all the various lineages on YouTube. One day, I came upon videos of Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin and his disciple, Sifu Nima King, and I immediately recognized that they were doing something radically different from all the other wing chun lineages. Most impressive was that they were moving and generating power from center of mass in the most energy-efficient ways I’d ever seen.

I wanted to train in the Chu Shong Tin lineage of wing chun, but I found out that Grandmaster Chu had died in 2014. Flying back and forth to Hong Kong from San Francisco to train with his disciple Nima King for chunks of time crossed my mind, but due to health issues, I was no longer physically up to it. Furthermore, I was committed to continuing to teach a popular course I had been teaching at College of Marin in Kentfield, California, which was based on my work in mind-body medicine.

I immediately established a Skype friendship with Sifu 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. 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. Prior to the pandemic I had two local chisau partners but since March of 2020 I have not done any chisau. Meanwhile, my Covid training partner and best friend is my wooden dummy (known as the mook yan jong).

During the seemingly endless pandemic, I came to the decision to design a new course to teach and named it Peaceful Warrior Woman: Protector of Your Body and Boundaries. For a very thorough course description see the course page on this site (page link).