Friday, April 5, 2013

Roadtrips & Kung Fu Life


"The Journey is the Reward."  
~ Chinese Proverb

by
Mary Ceallaigh
and Sifu Vyvial


The Chinese New Year of the Snake arrived on February 10th, and, being a Snake person myself, I welcomed this New Year feeling with an especially happy anticipation about the Tao’s unfolding. And it wasn’t long before I found myself travelling for Kung Fu,  to two different cities within one month...

My Sifu regularly travels to visit Moy Tung Kung Fu Academy Houston, a 3-hour drive away, and this time he was joined by Simo and a couple other of us along for the ride on a journey that turned out to be a continuous training – in balance, coordination, timing, sensitivity, and relaxation – kept intact with respect. From the dark winter morning gathering at the school, to attending the Saturday morning Houston class led by Sifu & Dai Sihing Nic, we trained. From some fun side-errands in Houston’s Little India, and an evening return and lingering wrap up conversations in the school office with my Simo, we trained, trained, trained.


This sort of togetherness is called “Kung Fu Life” in Ving Tsun and something Grandmaster Moy Yat emphasized often. It's the process of putting ourselves in situations where we have to directly face moment-to-moment reality through relationship, and respond with our martial attributes. Doing this, we experience the consequences of our actions immediately, and in this way, our physical practices and Kung Fu Life go hand-in-hand. This is why it is said that making the many sacrifices involved to travel for immersion-style training & socializing can exponentially increase your Kung Fu development, as each hour spent together with practice in mind is an hour of great potency. Traditional practitioners of mind-body arts throughout Asia took regular journeys and retreats very seriously, as a way to deepen their practice.


Within days of the Houston trip, I was in my Sifu’s office and he said “You should go to Richmond - you really should! The school can take a van, we’ll take turns driving, it’ll be fun!” Knowing that it was a good date for me to travel, my natural response spontaneously arose without thought – and it was a question: “Is Simo going?” My innate intelligence understood that, as one of the few females in the school, I needed to travel with my Simo, who is not only the most skilled Ving Tsun female presently training in Austin, but also the other half of Sifu. I knew if my Simo was going I would go – and that everything would align in order for me to do so, which it did.


Snakes of the Wood element type of people rarely rely on others, and I wouldn’t normally consider a continuous drive group road trip experience any fun, having done plenty of trekking in my 20s...  And though I have a stable group of close friends that I feel connected to and I love each of these people quite deeply, I am also easily content with solitude!  So, even though 24 hours on the road encapsulated in a jiggling van with 6 other people and a variety of strange pit stop locations isn't my usual thing, I knew it would be wonderful test of martial attributes. I also knew that the Richmond workshops would be energizing and amazing, due to some previous experiences with training transcendence...


Sifu-Simo's presence helped steer our little crew of committed students owards successful improvisation with this trip adventure. Our rental van was a new luxury Chrysler, replete with movie screens, adjustable seats, and fancy seat lighting & air streams - crazy like a jet airplane:

Sifu sat next to the driver, kept drivers awake all night, served up music requests, and helped keep us aware of our progress.
 

And by the 16th hour on such a journey, when chronological time no longer makes any sense, it was just the power of intention and community spirit that carried us to the final goal.  And after after about 24 hours on the road, we arrived at the tail-end of Richmond West school's Friday night class.  Sifu wanted us to attend, even though we were very sleep-deprived, disheveled, and unshowered....  While normally in such circumstances I would just head straight to hot water and a bed, my Sifu-Simo were enthusiastic so I kept up, understanding that we were in Kung Fu Land with precious people. 
  




After the class, when everything started to wind down, and I was relishing the thought of crashing at the hotel, I learned that we were headed to a diner for a late night snack of champions (of course)!  My stomach wasn’t growly, so I ordered just a cup of tea, and feeling the heavy, warm diner mug in my hand instantly re-ignited the fires of gratitude and Wu Wei (harmony) in my heart there at the table, in Richmond, Virginia. Sitting across from me was Dai Sihing Neil, and when his plate of food arrived he shared his corncake with me. I was especially touched by this simple act in the wee hours of the morning after what seemed like a really long journey, and it tasted very, very good.


A little later, when our smaller group of Austin students arrived at our hotel at 1am, Sihing Rubin patiently parked our van and got us checked in, paying attention to a multitude of details, just like he had done with all the groundwork before we left Austin and all the fueling on the road. As we walked/stumbled the downtown hotel's hallways in a place I’d never been before (a city formerly known for its very dangerous circumstances), I noticed I felt safe, and that was a remarkable thing as the only female in a small group of men in a city I’d never been in before.


Our two days of training at Sigung’s nearby Richmond school began the next morning. More experienced students who were simultaneously my nephews served as my Sidais, and again, gratitude swelled in me, as they offered their unique structures for me to learn with. The energy of 40 people training together with shared commitment is an awesome thing, both indoors and outdoors under the brilliant Spring light and fresh cool air. Training outside the vacuum of our Austin school was super refreshing, as each new training partner provided a whole new universe to train with. 
Later at the evening banquet event, which was also Sigung’s birthday, there was the sweetest jazzy music, along with food, cake, chitchat, and group photos. 
Eventually Sigungmo & baby Giovanna departed with the senior ladies accompanying their trip home – and Sigung dimissed all other locals. It was then that I realized I was again the only female, this time in a room of a few dozen men, as they started to move tables around and began to train.   I soon realized I also felt protected by the presence of many high caliber, noble warriors - as well as the reliable sign of my own relaxation.


Sigung, seated in his observation post compound near a handful of newer students practicing Luk Sao, had warned me to be careful when he asked me to go around the room filming during the Chi Sau practice - where things change fast and bodies can fly!  As the minutes passed, it began to dawn on me that I was getting to see senior Kung Fu master killers in motion, all of them with at least 10 years of training (and some of them with over 20) and it was so good that it wasn't televised!!! This high-level training ground was the very same dimension inhabited by the ancient Taoist masters - except that we were in the American Northeast. Serious force was being harnessed and let loose in a bar-room brawl without much of a bar, the room permeated with the sounds of bodies crashing on tables and banging on walls, with just enough groundrules to sustain Kung Fu. It wasn't until someone got thrown into a wall and a huge oil painting in a wood frame knocked down to the floor, that I started to know that we were in an alternate dimension, really...


Meanwhile, I was intent on good filming technique and fulfilling my duty - even though one of the bodies that happened to painlessly encounter a wall was mine at one point.  It was really only afterwards that the true reality hit me: my Sifu and Dai Sihings and all the other Chi Sau players were allowing their Kung Fu to flow in ways few people ever get a chance to see, and the energy of the room was Life Force itself. In other words, it was Beautiful Springtime City, and we could have been in some high mountain meadow village.  I was feeling a relaxed trust in the exciting scene - as well as a serious amount of loving nonattachment as I saw dear ones risking bodily harm.  My Sifu was successfully knocking bigger bodies than him into the air, and younger men were surprising older men, and nothing was as it seemed. I was a very different person witnessing this than many years before when I started to cry at an Irish boxing match!!!


Eventually Sigung announced the wrap up and Chi Sau came to a close. I just sat there, blinking.  It had only been maybe an hour of Chi Sau, but Time had definitely stopped. 

The next morning was Sunday,  and Sibak really helped us get more training in by opening the school early just for us.  This was at Sifu’s request of course, because Sifu wanted us to get in as much training as possible in between riding in the van on the road!


Then later the Simos and all the female students were invited to join Sigungmo’s women’s training workshop at the historic Byrd Park carillon, where we practiced
10 Siu Nim Taos in a row, in glorious Spring air. A hawk flew over us many times during this, catching the light like kung fu, and casting huge moving shadows of wings across the pavilion. Sigungmo practiced the highly advanced Babywearing Chum Kiu, and many of us trained Toi Ma on the corridors of the stone tiles. When Dai Sihing Neil, and Sihing Rubin arrived to collect Simo and me so we could join the Austin departure, they took some photos of us, the largest Ving Tsun female group in modern times.


As our Austin group reconvened, Sifu helped us focus on a timeline despite us feeling like we could stay for days. We said our goodbyes at the school, receiving many compassionate wishes for a safe journey in our famous 24 HOUR VAN RIDE to come…. We stopped at the house and Sifu-Simo had a goodbye visit with Sigung, and then we were off, headed to North Carolina. Later, driving through the night’s hills and tree-lined highways, Sifu DJ-d some great tunes and indulged my request for Cibo Matto, even though it made him sleepy. The trip home seemed a lot faster, due to our supercharged SNT energy and enhanced Kung Fu. We drove through a rainstorm in Louisiana, listened to lots of Clifton Chenier, and arrived back in Austin in time for Monday evening’s class.  



This is just one angle of our epic adventure - as a lot more happened as those who were there well know. Personally I have experienced this journey's positive impact on my training life - it has made a regular weeknight class shimmer and fly by quickly - Life is even more alive.  My internal Kung Fu had a huge growth spurt through this experience, and body & mind have opened to whole new foundations.  I love my training even more.  How can this be?  You have to figure that out for yourself, just like the rest of Kung Fu.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moy Yat Academy Austin's 10th Anniversary Victory

by Sifu Vyvial
and Mary Ceallaigh

Back in June we began to get busy with preparations for our upcoming 10th Anniversary with an  interesting convergence of meaning around the number 10:  Moy Tung's school number given to him by Moy Yat is the number 10, Sifu's kung fu name given to him by Moy Tung is the number 10 and this is our tenth year in Austin.... That makes 3 number 10s and in Ving Tsun the number three is very auspicious.  So we collaborated and improvised in anticipation of the weekend, to make it one of great training and memorable celebration for our kung fu Family Reunion August 10-12.

Time flew by, and the day came when our Sigung Moy Tung arrived in town, along with Sibak Hayleigh and Sisuk Ryan from Richmond, VA and Owen, Sifu of the Detroit school, for a weekend of digging deep into training.  Joining our faithful Austin crew and local Dai Sihings Neil and Heath were Nic & Beebee, Sifu & Simo of the Houston school along with several Houston students.  We were also really happy to be joined by early Austin Dai Sihing Anne from Austin, and Dai Sihing Galen from North Carolina!  The seminar went from Friday evening through Sunday evening, with a candlelight dinner party on Saturday night at a rented hall across the street from the school. 

Opportunities such as the weekend immersion experience are the equivalent of a month of training in a few days - or, as you may have experienced, a month of sweat in a few days!



For students who attend all seminar days, it is definitely a transformational experience on various levels.  Along with our old students in grey and white shirts, there were plenty of redshirts (around 30 officially registered), all ardently training onwards into intense new ground. 
Though we gathered as a mixed group several times in one room, we also utilized both studio spaces for specific training groups as well, which was of great benefit.  
Throughout the weekend, Sigung Moy Tung conducted the schedule/curriculum in communication with the various Moy Sifus (including many hushed phonecalls) and while students trained in both studios, the Sifus and Sihings all had individual mentorship sessions with Sigung.  

And, in the middle of this massive sweatfest, we took time out for a catered banquet at the church hall across the street.  
Thanks to the creative improvisation, donations, and physical efforts of Simo, Mary, Jessica S., Neil, Heath, Rubin, and Stina, the church hall was touched with magic and rose petals. 
While awaiting the arrival of Sigung that evening, our Sifu and various guests arrived all cleaned up/dressed up.
We admired the spectacular plum blossom cake:
and relaxed to music from saxophonist Raymond Johnson (also of the band First Flight) and guitarist Andy Schneider (with a song sung by first year student Marina Schneider).  
By the time Sigung arrived, the vibe was high and then the feasting began (with some definite catering glitches despite a contract otherwise, but thankfully you were all understanding). 

The highlight of the evening?  Sifu Vyvial and the giant plum blossom cake with a big "10" on it ("sup" in Cantonese) – and he cut it with a bot jom doa knife...  
The cake was a very tasty Hong Kong whipped cream cake and it paired well with the Fujian Golden Monkey tea we had brought in from The Steeping Room.  And it was followed by a very touching surprise presentation of a framed inscription plaque for Sifu with a beautiful message on it from Dai Sihings Nic, Beebee, Neil, and Heath.

We celebrated ten years in Austin, and the evolution of a thriving Moy Yat Ving Tsun kung fu community out of simple beginnings.  
We celebrated the journey of Sifu Vyvial's early days and the arrival of Simo and then Kingsley Vyvial, the opening of the Houston school, and the growth of two locations in Austin.  We celebrated old students, and new students, and a flourishing women's program (the only one of its kind in Texas).  
We celebrated the Ving Tsun Kuen Kuit, and the Ving Tsun Saam Faat.  


And then we cleaned up (many thanks to Stephanie, Camden, Justin, Joshua, Rubin, and Stina's husband Dane), and the next day began.
On Sunday, Sigung personally visited the training studios and at one point directed that the women and men be divided into two groups, saying that it is better that way for best learning.  He mentored some first and second year students in Tan Sao-Gaan Dar grab releases, and referred to the women's section as 'master killers' - to their delight.  By the time of the advanced training session at 7:30pm, we were down to 4 redshirts and 6 senior students and the Sifus and Sihings and, as they say, the best was saved for last as those who there got to experience.  At 10:30pm the radiant new students were released and senior students closed out the evening in an advanced-advanced session that only they know about.
Ving Tsun has now been in Austin for 10 years, and we feel very fortunate for our beautiful school and for having such an amazing community of Moy Yat Kung Fu peaceful warriors who are making the world a better place, together.


P.S.  We took hundreds of photos over the weekend, and will be posting an online gallery for our students soon.



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ving Tsun Saam Faat: The Way of the Heart

by Mary Ceallaigh

Love Conquers All


The Essence of the Ving Tsun system is Saam Faat (The Way of the Heart).   You can learn all the Ving Tsun Kuen Faat 
(Fist Techniques) you want – but one day you cannot use it.  Saam Faat you use until the day you die. 
It is the most powerful area of the Ving Tsun system.” 
Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

After a class recently, my Sifu (Moy 10 Tung) and I were talking about Ving Tsun history and the roots of Ng Moy’s approach, and Sifu mentioned that one of his Sibaks, Lee Moy Shan, had in his possession Chinese books that contained Ving Tsun spiritual teachings – idioms about kung fu life and the permeation of practice into all areas of living – and none of it translated yet into English.  This immediately sparked my interest, as a longtime student of women’s studies and eastern philosophy.  Then Sifu exclaimed that he had an actual video interview with Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan about these teachings that he could play, right there at his desk!  I already had a fondness for Sibakgung from reading the classic 1975 instructional text “Kung Fu for Young People,” and recognized his leadership in including female students in the book’s pictures, which was very hip and leading-edge for the time.  And so it was that I found myself watching with Sifu Moy 10 Tung the video he had filmed and stored when he visited Sibakgung about this teaching, at his Sifu’s request, one year ago. 

“All consequences develop from your first thought, your first siu nim tao.  It’s your choice.  The beginning’s gotta be right.  It’s all up to your first split second thought… You really protect yourself from the heart – and then you realize you don’t want to get hurt anymore.  After years of very aggressive, hard fist fighting, one day it changes and when that day comes, that person is a good person.  That person understands the way of the heart.  You definitely need to go through the fighting training stage, because if you don’t know what the pain is, you don’t know how to heal it.”
 ~ Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

Within seconds of watching it, Sibakgung’s authentic compassion and quality mentorship riveted me.  And I was catching words as best I could, just like catching kung fu.  My heart recognized the coherent Saam Faat teachings, and my eyes glistened with happy tears as I drank in refreshing insights.  These insights already made sense to me, but I was joyous at hearing them coming through the precious Ving Tsun lineage I'd recently connected with in addition to my years of experiences in yoga studies, midwifery, and vipassana as well as through the human relationships in both my private and worldly life.

When I began Ving Tsun training six months ago it was as much for the meditative discipline as for self-defense purposes - and I fortuitously found a beautifully cohesive system in Ving Tsun and a great school in MYKFA that honors cultural roots and high integrity.   And through the basic stance position that goes against long-held bodily habits, I have naturally been pushed to further understand the importance of where I am coming from, both internally and externally, in relating to my life and all the people in it. 

“The creator of the Ving Tsun system is a Buddhist nun who believed that every moment is change.  She believed in a Higher Force of the Invisible.  She was trained all her life in Buddhism.  What is Buddhism?  Compassion.  That’s what it is.  Help people.  Care for people.  Be concerned about people.  Ng Moy trained in this all her life.  Do you think she created the Ving Tsun system just to beat people up?  That’s completely against her way!  
Hidden in the Ving Tsun fighting system is a teaching to become a better human being.”
~ Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

The essence of the Ving Tsun Saam Faat – compassion - naturally emerges in the serious student of Life at some point (and is facilitated through meditative embodiment practices such as our kung fu forms and sparring training), usually after years of learning how to master the body.  As many of you already know, in the eastern and aboriginal mind-body training traditions, there is an extremely high value placed on cultivating the intelligence of the heart.  These teachings in the male lineages were reserved until students had spent many years in very aggressive physical training to become men (whether as hunter-fathers, shamans, married priests, ascetic yogis and/or warrior-monks) so that they would reach the crossroads where the lower self is firmly connected to the higher self, and the intelligence center of the heart is fully understood and embodied.  In traditional women’s culture,  females were taught about the innate wisdom in embodying the lunar fertility cycle and healing arts in many creative and visionary ways.  Being that woman, as mother, can carry a new human and is the first teacher of the human race through many roles, many earth-based cultures taught respect for feminine powers as a realm worthy of reverence.  Elders taught both boys and girls self-reverence, respect of life force/essence, and survival skills for basic living as well as for happy relationships.   These teachings were transmitted through living with elders, community rituals, and more formalized trainings.

If all you do is keep on fighting, all you’re training is hate – you never train love!  
Other people are in your life for you to give, to open this heart, to learn how to love human beings, learn how to help human beings.  You have to train your heart.  You’re not born with a giving heart, it needs training.  Your muscle does not grow by itself, it needs training.   Have you ever seen a guy who lifted 500 pounds without training?  Have you ever seen a guy have a big, generous heart without training?  Everything is training…. I teach love of humankind.  
I think my results are excellent.” 
~ Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

Ving Tsun Saam Faat teaches that mastery of compassion is the ultimate objective of proper stance and technique, the next level of self-awareness practices after understanding physical training.  This wisdom supports a proper approach in all our human relationships.

“You go to business – it’s a fight.  You get married – it’s a fight.  You get to know your friends – it’s a fight.  Can you win all these fights and battles until your enemy becomes your friend?  Until your competition becomes your partner?   How do you turn a fight around, to make love last forever?  Do you know how to make it up?  Wherever there’s a negative, there’s a positive.  If you don’t see how to make up, that negative will remain negative, it’ll never turn back to positive.  Or, how do you not even start a fight, and let happiness last forever.  Don’t forget that happiness and hate come hand in hand.  So simple!  All the kids should learn this, and all the kids should maintain this for the rest of their lives.” 
Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

In addition, all of the world’s religions have, at root, the core teaching of compassion and noble action.   The Ving Tsun Saam Faat is a tremendous resource for serious kung fu students in  modern westernized society, an addictive, elder-less, and materialist culture.  These teachings are readily applicable - that is, if you are ready to catch them, because they are not for the faint of heart, or for those who have not yet even activated the heart intelligence center.  As is wisdom, the Ving Tsun Saam Faat teachings are simple, yet very hard to put into practice, especially in the initial stages of developing emotional muscle.  But through practice, the Saam Faat is a way of life that brings personal and global harmony.

Ving Tsun Saam Faat is so deep, everybody thinks it’s so complicated – and it’s SO simple!  When it became a part of my life in the deeper stage I said ‘what the heck do I need to look for – I had it right here.’”
~ Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

                  My first encounter with the Ving Tsun Saam Faat teaching was not only as a new kung fu student, it was during a challenging time both physically and emotionally.  Physically, I had ramped up my training to 3-5 classes a week and was inefficiently practicing deep Horse Stance with inconsistent root muscle support, and paying for it with the oppression of semi-disabled knees and a subsequent loss of a great deal of my natural grace in certain movements in my daily life.  I was dealing with a lot of physical discomfort and awkwardness, and this was forcing me to look at myself in new ways, explore scary counter-stretches, and practice a much deeper self-compassion.  Simultaneously was an ongoing daily challenge with an emotionally troubled housemate and my decision to embark on my second house move within a two-month time period, which was not (at first) my idea of fun!

It was during the last 10 days of this personal epic battle  (and the soon following total resolution of the knee strain) when I found myself sitting with my Sifu listening to the Saam Faat. This also resonated very much with my explorations in what the Buddha called intense mindfulness (samma-sati) or fierce compassion with the present moment and all the sensations that arise and pass.  So, in the following days I often incorporated the insights of Sibakgung’s words as I practiced in my daily life:  “Do you know how to make it up?  Wherever there’s a negative, there’s a positive.  If you don’t see how to make up, that negative will remain negative, it’ll never turn back to positive.”  I was in a perfect situation to practice conscious compassion and prevention of negative spiraling when dealing with a dragon (and live to tell the tale!), and to be carried by the Higher Force of the Invisible.

Saam Faat, the Way of the Heart, or Compassion-in-Action, is practiced through simple things at the exact moment when they seem contrary or hard to do when dealing with a lot of negative force around us or within us.  Saam Faat is difficult until we remember that there is no enemy – everything is inside us, the heart is a transformer, and there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.   Another way to put it is that we realize that we are our own worst enemy when we react, and other people and situations are opportunities for further self-mastery.  The Saam Faat tells us  to practice relationships as the ultimate martial arts, both internally and externally.  A few examples of the Saam Faat path that require martial mastery in order to apply them genuinely are:
  • a kind, or at least neutral tone of voice when responding to an upset or negative person,
  • generating feelings of sympathy and practicing thoughtful kindness towards others, even while disliking them or hating their actions,
  • being grateful for our elders/teachers/friends as well as "enemies,"
  • taking full personal responsibility for the energy that we carry into a space/relationship,
  • often remembering that everyone else is dealing with their own personal fight ring,
  • noticing when the tendency arises towards negativity, addiction, and/or compulsion - and redirecting it by bringing attention to the heart's sensations and wisdom, with success.
“Ving Tsun Saam Faat beats the Ving Tsun Fist.”  ~ Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan

Ving Tsun Saam Faat helps us value the work it takes to be emotionally healthy and all grown up - a terrain that has been often neglected in our current western culture (one that has been described as being stuck in pre-adolescence and addiction).  Practical application of Saam Faat may mean the logical wisdom of allowing a break in a conversation, creating retreat space in a relationship, or literally walking out of the building in order to avoid a fight, because you are committed to the way of the heart and will not proceed unless you are able to with your whole, happy heart.  “How do you not even start a fight, and let that happiness last forever?”  This is the alchemy of the peaceful warrior.  And sometimes is about having the heart to take action to change work environments or friendships that are toxic and defend ourselves appropriately.  

There is power and potency in the heart, and in the constant ups and downs of our daily lives there are tons of ways to apply the Saam Faat, including living the day as one long siu nim tao by staying close the to the beginnings of things through awareness and presence.  Staying tuned in to the myriad physical sensations of the body as we relate to our challenges and to other people is a way to do this.  The heart center/physical chest area has its sensations and states accordingly, and regularly checking in with them will help you notice a range of things such as phases of expansive openness, or flow sensations, as well as moments of tenseness, tingling irritation, etc.  Simply by applying ourselves in that way, we move in the direction of the heart and allow for healing and harmony to occur quite naturally, and for wisdom to grow.


As Sibakgung explains, authentic Ving Tsun Kung Fu code of conduct and training is ultimately designed to teach mastery of compassion after having busted the tough guy/gal ego enough and/or establishing enough self-compassion for one to be truly capable of compassion towards others - all beings.  Traditionally, the Saam Faat teachings were reserved for students after many years of training, but Sibakgung recently gave his permission to share it openly with students in the West, in the belief that it is beneficial to serious students in these interesting and precarious times in human society.   Saam Faat, the Way of the Heart, is about going beyond being just a formidable fighter - and entering the realm of the greatest mastery and satisfaction:  love power.


With Love & Thanks to Sibakgung Douglas Lee Moy Shan
Click here to watch a wonderful segment of Sibakgung's 2011 video interview




"Until I was introduced to Ving Tsun, I had never come across another martial art that was as direct and true in application, and most of all, in tune with Life itself.  I am deeply grateful for the profound change 
it helped produce in my physical, mental, and emotional structure. 
I hope my students can benefit from Ving Tsun as much as I have."  
Douglas Lee Moy Shan 
(shown above with Grandmaster Moy Yat in the early days).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Ving Tsun Kung Fu?

by Stina Leicht


That's me on the far right (front row) with the blue, purple and black hair.

Early in life I discovered all the things that women couldn't do. The message was made clear in a variety of ways both at home and outside it. Women can't be too intelligent, too successful, too active, or too strong. Women can't stand up for themselves. In particular, women can't be angry or have control of their lives. I'm not saying that any of these opinions are correct -- they absolutely aren't. However, they are the concepts that I was barraged with as a young woman. It should come as no surprise that not long after that I hit a self-destructive phase. Luckily, I was seeing a therapist at the time. We tried a couple different drugs, but none worked very well. I was still having panic attacks. So, she told me to find a physical activity that contained an element of self-discipline in order to help me work my way through the anxiety. Naturally, martial arts sprang to mind. Kendo sounded like a good fit because I'm a bit of a geek, and well, I like swords and have always wanted to learn to use one. UT offered semester long courses. So, I signed up. Interestingly enough, the panic attacks vanished the instant my hand wrapped around a shinai. However, late into my second year of study I decided Kendo was too aggressive for me. It wasn't that I couldn't handle being so forceful -- I could, but long term, I didn't like the energy it brought out in me. I needed to feel calm and grounded, balanced, not agitated. So, I quit and moved on to European style fencing. That fit for a while because western fencing isn't nearly as confrontational as Kendo. Four years went by, and then I decided to focus on other things -- my writing career among them. Martial arts slid off of my list of priorities.

And then last December there were a series of attacks on women in my neighborhood. The attacks escalated, a home invasion was reported and soon two women were found murdered, one inside her home. This was the second time in four years that a string of crimes against women had happened in my area. I stopped feeling safe, and no longer wanted to be outside once the sun went down. Being home by myself was uncomfortable. Other aspects of my life began to feel out of control. That's when I decided a self defence class was in order. While I was confident I could protect myself with a sword, if the need arose, I didn't know what to do if I didn't have a sword to hand. That was when I saw the discussion on my neighborhood email list about self defense courses. I was told that the Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu school offered the classes for free. It felt terrific to do something active about my fears rather than sit confined in the house, hoping nothing bad would happen. And that was the thing: I needed to feel I was doing something -- taking some form of control of my life again. I needed structure. I needed self-discipline.

I'm a writer. So, words, their meanings and relationships are important to me. Interesting thing about the word "discipline" -- it's related to the word "disciple." A disciple is a student who learns from someone (a mentor or a wise person) or something (a philosophy or belief system) that they care deeply enough about to follow. Self-discipline is about incorporating that belief system into your life. Kung Fu does, like all martial arts, have a belief system of which it is a part. So far, I've learned that Kung Fu involves honesty, heart, and stillness or peace. These are things I've been looking for all along, peace in particular. Kung Fu aims for a balance between defense and offence rather than mere aggression for aggression's sake. While Kendo appealed to me because if its emphasis on the warrior-artist -- or the balance between the creative and destructive forces, Kung Fu seems to be more about the balance between peace and aggression. When class ends I feel calm and centered in myself, not agitated. And it's peace that I most need.

Friday, May 18, 2012

About Conditioning... Part II


by Sifu Vyvial
and Mary Ceallaigh


If you have been challenging yourself through regular training and endurance conditioning, you are probably noticing that you are building mental toughness that is helping you in all areas of your life.  As for the physicality of conditioning, your fighter's fitness development is reverberating after class through a variety of bodily sensations and brain states.  Let's explore this in a little more detail.

SENSATIONS & DELAYED SORENESS

Tough conditioning in Ving Tsun is diverse, and it may mean many minutes of non-stop punching, standing in Jin Ma (wide legged standing squat) intensively, or circuit training resistance movements that mimic the non-sedentary lifestyles of ancient human movement.   Through training in the uncomfortable zone (involving extreme discomfort but not sharp pain), this will, over time, actually rewire your neural circuitry and increase your energy levels and coping abilities. The sensation of pain does not necessarily mean injury, but if you push too hard through sharp pain you will be setting up for injury, so practicing self-compassion means knowing your limits.  Acute or sharp pain should never be ignored, and activity should be ceased if that occurs.  In other words, muscle soreness should make you deeply ache, not gasp in pain.

And then the next day when you feel like you've been pummeled by a yeti, or that your knees are partially disabled, you have to WILL yourself to move around and practice again.  That, too, is conditioning, the kind that also builds mental toughness. Just a few hours after finishing new conditioning challenges a student will start to feel a stiffness come over them which begins with a slight twinge of discomfort, often located in the largest muscles of the body. As time rolls on, the soreness increases to true discomfort.  And this reminder of your conditioning has an official medical name:  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (surprise!).

This type of soreness affects most individuals after a bout of rigorous exercise and includes symptoms that differ person-by-person.  Muscle soreness can cause areas that are painful to touch on the body, slight to moderate swelling, and redness.  Feelings of swelling, stiffness, and loss of strength commonly occur within 24 to 48 hours of performing rigorous exercise, according to the University of New Mexico Department of Exercise Science.  

If this is happening to you, you are not alone - you are yet another warrior in training, joining your classmates and countless others since ancient times who have persevered in training the mind to connect to the body through plunging the depths of self and changing phenomena.   If you are training with your whole self, you are finding yourself challenged to go beyond just the pleasant and entertaining zones of training and showing up to the unpleasant and uncomfortable as well.  The more you do this, the more you strengthen your foundation as a responsive rather than reactive warrior.   


ACTIVE RECOVERY IS THE BEST REMEDY

The intention of Ving Tsun training is pure strength and dynamic mobility.  Post-conditioning muscle soreness sensations are often part of the process, and are temporary and tolerable with good self-care along with continued mindful movement to support circulation.  

Muscle soreness during and after conditioning exercises is unavoidable for beginners at any new exercise. Since we need to stress our muscles to increase strength capacity, some soreness simply happens because we're exercising. In Ving Tsun, the severity of the soreness is lessened with the good circulation and mind-body strength of practicing Siu Nim Tao before and after the conditioning as an active recovery practice.  In addition, we discover a new realm of positive self-discipline, that of choosing "active recovery" rather than zombie-like lounging and negative thinking.


By far, the best post-workout focus is active recovery, where we continue training, or practice movements that bring blood and circulation to the areas that are aching and reverberating.    Blood circulation is the best remedy, and active recovery will give you this without any side effects.  This may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it can clear the clouds and make a huge difference in your recovery time and general attitude.  


Some of the best physical training exercises to complement your Kung Fu training are the basic squat, the deadlift, and power clean.  Using many tools, such as a barbell, kettlebell, heavy balls, sandbags, a toddler, etc.   The movement matters, not the tool.  These exercises can be done in just a few minutes, do them with deep nostril breathing.  If done right, they train your whole body.  

If your knees are stiff, getting into a squat may seem the last thing the knees might be able to do - and if your shoulder blades feel fiery or your arm joints are aching, lifting weight with them may not seem very enticing... but the body actually appreciates this kind of complementary exercise.  Discovering the harmony created by it is pretty wonderful too.

ADDITIONAL SELF-CARE MEASURES

The natural health tradition has many helpful additional measures, such as the principle of good hydration through it all.  Hydration is essential for a strong physiology, and includes pure water (spring or filtered is even better) as well as electrolyte solutions.  Though commercial electrolyte drinks are easy to buy, many of them have inferior ingredients and even unhealthy ones.  Plain coconut water is electrolytic, and very east to assimilate (try Zico, which is super-fresh tasting, and not canned).  Much more economically, you can make your own electrolyte drinks as a daily habit, and can pour them into your travel container to take on the road with you.  

Here are a few brew recipes:  

#1 Into one big glass put:  one lemon fresh squeezed (or 1/4 cup of Santa Cruz organic lemon juice), juice of one orange, about a teaspoon of raw honey, four shakes of sea salt.  Stir it up, and add water to fill up the glass and stir it again. 

#2 Into a big decanter or empty gallon container put:  2 cups of coconut milk (not coconut water), 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of raw honey or Stevia, 1 liter of filtered water.  Mix it up.

#3 This one is just tart:  Into a big decanter or empty gallon container put:  1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 whole squeezed orange (or 1/2 cup of non-concentrate orange juice), 1 liter of filtered water.

#4  Another awesome electrolyte brew is made from a concentrate of 64 mineral-rich himalayan salt-saturated water, 1 teaspoon added to each cup of water in your water bottle.  Recipes for this can be found online.

Additional comfort measures:  warm water immersion to enhance relaxation (a hot foot bath is more effective than a hot shower or bath for a circulation boost), and topical ointments like Arnica gel, Chinese medicine balm, or Traumeel.  When necessary, in order to maintain your commitments when your schedule doesn't have enough flexibility for the optimal remedies, pain relievers such as white willow bark capsules or aspirin which contain salicylic acid will assist in blood circulation and inflammation reduction, and give you relief so that you can do what you have to do.  

From a Chinese medicine perspective, the salicylic acid of aspirin is much easier on the liver than acetaminophen or ibuprofin.  If you take aspirin, which gives quick & easy results, be mindful of how often you are doing so and try taking it as infrequently as you can, focusing on active recovery measures as the main course.


PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Staying in the process is the goal of our training.  Traditional Ving Tsun was about an intensive commitment of 5-7 hours a day, most days of the week, training with your sifu and sihings one way or another and living the kung fu life.  Though few of us can afford that kind of weekly time commitment, we can make the most of the precious time that we do have, and live the best kung fu life we can over the years of basic training and beyond.


For the next month, try practicing Siu Nim Tao each morning and evening in the days in between classes.  This will support your circulation, energy, and post-conditioning attitude as you navigate active recovery, self-care measures, and making healthy choices.  Superior all-levels health enhances training and is a continuous process.  



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

About Conditioning... Part I


by Sifu Vyvial 
and Mary Ceallaigh



Traditional Ving Tsun kung fu techniques are based on the natural law of the body's structural power and don’t rely on physical strength. This makes the study of Ving Tsun great for people of any stature, as can be seen in the diversity of our students in the Moy Yat schools around the world.  We also train our kung fu habits through the challenges of various methods of endurance conditioning.  

Why do we do this conditioning stuff?  Because comprehensive embodiment through a variety of conditions increases our capacity to respond easily & quickly in many circumstances.  We are also exploring our training of the relaxation response that is so essential for the flow of self-defense and life in general.   Conditioning works with the truth that the human body is built for survival and will adapt to better handle sweat, stress, pain, temperature changes, emotional surges, and just about anything you can throw at it. Through challenging conditioning, you will build mental toughness, fighter's fitness. 

Physiologically the body starts to last longer, meaning we physically adapt and our muscles fail later and later until we surpass perceived limitations and are training at a new level.

The newbie student wants to know WHEN the delayed onset muscle soreness cycle (DOMS, more about that in Part II) or emotional triggers are going to lessen – and sifus will tell you it’s more about HOW we commit to stay in the process, and arranging your lifestyle to support this transformation  with good self-care, self-discipline, communication with your sifu, and the application of wisdom.  Training as a beginner in the new postures and movements of our Ving Tsun kung fu system will create soreness for sure, but once your consistent training has built up a foundation in your deep tissue and joints, you WILL be at another level and have to challenge yourself in order to feel any soreness!  In the meantime, keep in mind that the best response to post-training soreness is continued training and movement.  It will actually move you through your Ving Tsun conditioning much faster than erratic practice.  If a student doesn't experience any sweating and aching in class and/or post-training soreness, it means that effort must be intensified in horse stance and everything else.  And you can find a way to do that from the inside out.

LONG MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT
The long angular muscles developed in traditional Ving Tsun training assist the free flow of biodynamic energy.  These sinewy muscle groups are the muscles that already exist in typical female anatomy - and they tone the body into a healthy, open conduit for chi energy, fortifying the immune system and strengthening the internal organs.

These Ving Tsun muscles are flexible and characteristically relaxed compared to the lumpy, tight muscles of Calvin Klein models or developed in bulk-up weight-resistance training or hefty physical labor.  Bulky muscles are tense and inflexible, restricting the flow of power in the body, and even completely blocking it.  Typically, new students with or without muscle bulk will use strength and tension-based movements during their early Ving Tsun training until they realize that this is counter-productive to the flow of real kung fu based in the power of the body structure and joint movements - a realization that may take a year of training to arrive at, as old habits are hard to break.   

Until learning this, the student’s sparring partners will not be able to experience the receiving end of “soft force” when training with this student.  (And all is not lost – there are personal training benefits to being on the receiving end of a muscle-bound or hard-force training partner, as it creates an opportunity to practice one’s own commitment to “soft force” in response, which is a likely situation in the world outside the studio). 

RELAXATION FOR WARRIORS

Ving Tsun training emphasizes the primacy of relaxation, and it applies equally to both the body AND the mind. The relaxed toned body is healthy and permits power to flow through it unrestricted.  But the mind must also be reconditioned towards an alert relaxation.  The value of aligning the mind and the body has long been known in Eastern cultures for purposes of physical healing, spiritual liberation, sexual harmony, and long-term vitality.  And today mental training is being reexamined as perhaps the only real permanent cure for stress and the many ailments and addictions that accompany stress.   Some examples of mental training that we do in class are Siu Nim Tao, the 5 minute single punch meditation, and breathing practices - all developed to train the mind to unite with the body, which is basic to self-defense conditioning.   Siu Nim Tao will warm you up and cool you down, as needed.  If you do nothing else on days you are not in class, do Siu Nim Tao.


SWEAT

One of the signs that we are working new ground is sweat.  Each student has their comfort level related to sustained endurance in certain postures or movements, as well as dealing with  environmental factors such as air temperature/circulation. Everyone comes to class having had a particular kind of day, at a certain level of hydration, and having recently eaten certain foods - the lighter and water-bearing foods being helpful for intense training. 

In Chinese Medicine, the water element is what we orient to during transformation and harvest.  Sweat is part of flow. Water's Yin energy is held in the kidneys, and its Yang is in the bladder.  When conditioning, you will notice an increased capacity to release the kidneys’ stored water through salty sweat rather than through the bladder. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are revered, as they contain the root energy of all your organs and spark the energy of the whole body.  Sweating detoxifies the liver and the whole body, which is a great health benefit.  


VING TSUN STANCES

Horse Stance

The basic standing posture of the Siu Nim Tao form, called Horse Stance or Goat Holding Stance or Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma, is one of the primary exercises used to enhance the endurance and strength of the legs and the power center (dan tien) awareness of the belly, as well as the mental training of the mind learning to accept the new sensations and new center of this posture.  Called "Horse Stance," this standing practice emanates from the hip joints and creates a unique training for the knees, calves, and ankles that is carried into Ving Tsun body motion, and is often quite strenuous during the early years of training.  It not only busts the bronco-rider of excessive ego and creates the humility required for a peaceful warrior - it also works with the internal life force or biodynamic "Chi" energy.  Life force moves into the legs as the students learns to sink this energy into the ground.  Students might start learning this by standing for only 10 minutes at first, slowly building up the time to an hour over the course of several months, according to individual conditions. This stance tones the nervous system of the entire pelvic floor, and aligns the prostate, uterus, and ovaries, which increases sexual vitality and general health.  Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma deepens your roots so that more energy can be unleashed into the circulation to express Ving Tsun with great power.

Low Horse Stance

The strenuous Low Horse stance or Jin Ma training has long been a tradition of Chinese martial arts, considered essential for full-spectrum vital energy mastery, as it develops Yang and rejuvenates Yin.  Jin Ma is phenomenal for training posture balance in all sorts of conditions, and was originally practiced for seafaring fighting legs on boats.  It brings enormous speed and grace to the feet when crab-walking and rising up from the floor.   To seriously cultivate your Jin Ma, you need to deeply relax in the process while also maintaining good body structure, and concentrating the muscles that support you in the seat and pelvis. Working Jin Ma into your daily life can begin with 3 minute stays, adding an extra minute every few days, according to individual conditions.  
"We practice for perfection."  ~ Sigung Moy Tung 
For the next week, orient your mind & body to have kung fu habits throughout your endurance conditioning.   Keep bringing your attention back to the moment-to-moment process, and your endurance will naturally increase.   Most of all, enjoy developing your purehearted strength and dynamic mobility, the essence of Ving Tsun kung fu training.