Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Week 2 - Who's in charge, here? (she said to her limbs)

{Prologue, Week 1}

Turns out, there's actual hitting in kung fu. Who knew?

Well, I knew. Intellectually. Up in my higher brain functions where I do things like on-the-fly calculations to double a cake recipe. But apparently the notion of sanctioned, controlled violence didn't soak all the way through to the lower levels, where my brain keeps the machinery that runs the reflexes.

Seems I have this instinct to not hit people.

Maybe it’s a deep subconscious conditioning that can be traced back to pre-school, when Toddler Me took a swing at some other kid and brought down the hellfire wrath of Mommy. Maybe it's a lifetime of never once throwing a punch or catching one, presumably with my face.

Whatever it is, every time Simo tells me to punch her, I hesitate. Which is ridiculous. It's not like she's asking me to maul her face off; in training, any punches that don't get smacked neatly aside will, at worst, land a solid thump to the center of the chest. It's harmless. It's an excellent basic skill to have, in or out of kung fu. It's consensual. And it makes a really satisfying sound. 

So I shouldn't hesitate. I don’t want to hesitate. I tell myself that on the next reset of the drill, I won’t hesitate. And then I do.

Block, block, pause … 


... punch-punch-punch.

I scowl and set my jaw and ultimately do punch her, and sometimes I even extend my arm all the way (which is another issue I’m working on), but that hesitation? That refusal of my limbs to do what my brain is telling them to do when my brain is telling them to do it? Bugs me.

It doesn't help that my left hand is a sullen teenager

No matter what I ask my left hand to do, it does the opposite. When I say punch, it says taan sao. So I say okay fine, taan sao if you want to taan sao, and my left hand says NO, I want to punch and YOU CAN'T MAKE ME taan sao, and then it stomps off to its room and slams the door and listens to moody music at top volume.

I’m a little grumpy about my lack of coordination, is what I’m saying.

The only thing my left hand has ever been asked to do with equal skill to my right is typing, which it does very well. It typed at least half of the letters in this blog post. But ask it to do anything more complicated than Hold A Thing, or Sit On Hip All Sassy, or Just Hang There, and it gets confused. Then I get annoyed. Then it gets annoyed that I’m annoyed, and down the hate spiral we go.

Sifu gave me some exercises to work on getting both halves of my brain to speak with both sides of my body without the conversation devolving into gibberish. The simplest of them goes a little something like this:
  • Hold out your fists, thumbs on top. 
  • Shift your left thumb in between your index and middle fingers. 
  • Now, switch: left thumb on top of the fist, right thumb between fingers. 
  • Switch back. 
  • Keep switching until it doesn’t make your eyes cross to do it anymore.
The exercises are helping. I might actually have a shot at winning over that cranky left hand.

This kung fu business is finding all kinds of rewiring to be done in my brain. Move the left hand. Be willing to strike another person when I need to. Wires are being uncrossed and soldered into new connections, little changes that will gradually alter the overall circuitry of my cerebral motherboard and wow am I ever beating this metaphor to death.

Basically: change is happening. Good change! But change is hard. Grumble whine mutter.

The real ongoing issue is going to be my physical endurance. Lupus puts a hard limit on my energy. Once I’m done, I’m very very done. The decline from normal to exhausted is a steep slalom through Tired And Increasingly Sloppy. However! Last week, I lasted an hour and ten minutes before I had to call it quits. This week, an hour and twenty. Measurable improvement makes me happy. Turns out, doing siu nim tao at least once a day, every day, actually does pay off.

I suspect that the key is going to be taking more frequent, shorter breaks. Which is logical, but logic has nothing to do with how much I hate having to throw up the cross-arm and call a halt. Making my partner stop their workout just because my silly lupus-brain is getting too foggy to punch straight gives me a serious case of the guilts. I’m going to work on getting over myself on this one, because everyone at this school has been nothing but respectful of my own knowledge of my body’s limits.

Lupus also threw me a curve with a mini-flare of my right sciatic nerve. It happens sometimes, when my roving immune system decides to pick a fight with an innocent bystander, and the nerves in my hips are common targets. Standing in horse stance did a remarkable job of relieving the pressure on the nerve itself, so hurray for less pain. But after not much work at all, my right leg felt weak and numb to the knee, so boo for questionable balance.

But hey! My legs didn’t shake this time, not once. Victory is mine!

Bonus epiphany:

I'm finding little moments throughout my day to incorporate VT. For example:

Pour a fresh, steaming hot cuppa coffee.
Play through Siu Nim Tao three times.
BAM! Coffee is now the perfect temperature to drink.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Week 1 - Watch that first impression: it's a doozy.


I’m not sure what I expected on my first day of training.

Okay, that’s not true. I know exactly what I expected. Hollywood saw to that. There would be regimented rows of students wearing matching gis. Everyone would move and ferociously shout in perfect unison while inspirational powerchords played in the background. I would be the misfit, obviously, because I am the protagonist of my own story, and someone would sweep my leg and I’d end up painting a very nice old man’s fence until I found my inner strength. Then there would be a two minute montage during which all of the hard work happens, and BAM! Kung fu.

Never believe a word Hollywood says. Lies, all lies.

There are no matching gis. There are t-shirts in various colors, and it doesn’t take but a minute to figure out that the colors denote skill level, or at least the amount of time spent training. My shirt is red, and I try not to let Star Trek make me nervous about that. It doesn’t mean I’m first to die on the next new planet we visit, it just means I’m a newbie.

The class is quiet. Like, library quiet. Half a dozen people working out in the room, and I could hear all the little sounds: two instructors having a murmured conversation, soft hum of the fan, the rustling of cotton t-shirts as a dozen arms moved in poetically precise ways, stuff like that. This is a place of study, so shush. There’s even a polite sign on the wall asking for no loud talking, ever.

My daily life is filled with small people who have turned their volume up to eleven and broken the knob off. The quiet of this place was a shock.

It would be nice to say that I adjusted quickly and got right to work, so let’s say that’s what happened. Let’s not say that I stood there awkwardly and stared at everything with too-big eyes while my brain tried to grind the rust off of my Quiet And Focused gear.

Luckily, a very patient Simo scooped me and the other students up and started leading us through the most basic form. I was suddenly too busy to be awkward. Strange to think of standing very still on oddly bent knees while slowly and carefully moving my arms as being busy, but there it is. All of my muscles were doing things, and I was attempting to pay attention to all of them at once. Busy.

It began with Siu Nim Tao, the basic form. I had done it before, as a warm-up during the Women’s Self Defense class. Simo led me through it a few times before she asked me to lead her through it, and boy did I overthink that one. I kept comparing my form to everyone around me (am I moving my arms faster than they are? I totally just turned my wrist in the wrong direction aaaaaand GREAT now I’ve lost count of how many push-wrist-forward thingies I’ve done) and quietly freaking out while my thighs burned and this mysterious liquid appeared all over my skin that turned out later to be something called "sweat".

Simo and the other ladies in the class pushed on, quietly, calmly, and to varying degrees as sweatily as I, and I grokked my first lesson: we’re all in this together.

Everyone in that room is there to learn, whether it be from teaching or being taught or both. We are not there to compete or compare. I was surprised to learn, in talking (quietly) with the other students, that many of us are there for the same reasons: to repair and reclaim our health and our bodies.

There is support and understanding in that school, trusting each other to fling fists without doing harm and murmur encouragement through the smack of hands catching hands, and respecting the cross-arm signal to halt (which I am always the first one to give). While there is no judgement for sick ladies like me who need to sit down from time to time, there is a bottomless well of kind expectation that we’ll get back up and keep training for as long as we’re able.

Once I let that concept soak in, the time flew by. New challenges were presented, and I tried to meet them. Kept on trying even when my legs trembled and my breath rasped and my hands shook. I’ve never tried like that before. Never enjoyed the process of trying for its own sake, without some shiny finish line in sight. 

I won't say call it life-changing, but it was certainly perspective-shifting - now that I've figured out how to try, it's the only way I want to try. If that even makes sense.

(*ahem* Sorry not sorry, if that got a bit sappy. It was kind of an a-ha moment for me.)

Speaking of my hands... I’m a lupus patient, and the primary manifestation of my symptoms has always been pain and swelling in the joints of my hands. There are days when I can’t close a fist around the inflammation. I often lose circulation and feeling in my fingers. My biggest worry about this training was that it would cause all manner of havoc below my wrists.

The exact opposite happened. Every twist of the wrist and curl of the fist seemed to free the flow of blood and energy into my hands. I walked out of that first class fluttering my fingers like a crazed pianist just because I could.

Well. I sort of walked. My knees had a less magical experience than my hands did. Hopefully that will get better with more training.

I staggered to my car, drove home, and fell into the best night’s sleep of my life.

Practical takeaways from this session:

  • If your hands are shaking, it’s already too late to take a break. Sit. Down. Get some water.
  • Take a minute to stretch out your legs before you try to drive a standard transmission vehicle all the way back to Round Rock, you fool.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Prologue: How Did I Even Get Here?

I am not the kind of person who does Kung Fu.

I’m thirty-five years old, for one thing, and at least that many pounds overweight. My two kids are just old enough to supervise themselves, and just young enough for that to potentially be a terrible idea. I’m lazy. My idea of a strenuous workout is a marathon cookie baking session, conducted in my tiny kitchen while standing hipshot in pajamas and binge-watching Star Trek. I’ve never thrown a punch in my life. Even as a kid, I was never very rough-and-tumble, relying on snark and bluster to get me out of the confrontations that they got me into in the first place.

If all of that basic me-ness wasn’t enough, there’s also my permanent get-out-of-gym pass: I have systemic lupus. My immune system is like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills all over my body instead of fighting off germs. What little energy I have each day is absolutely finite. More often than not, my joints ache and a fever hovers right around the hundred-degree mark. And it’ll be like this for the rest of my days.

So really, medically speaking, I have no business exerting myself, or touching other people, or going anywhere, at all, ever again. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The first step, the hardest step, was actually deciding to start. See, I’ve spent my entire adult life viewing exercise as something incredibly boring and uncomfortable to be suffered through in order to fit into smaller jeans. It was something that my body had to be forced to do for an hour every day (okay, thirty minutes … okay, twice a week), while my brain got to do whatever fun stuff it wanted for the other twenty-three. You can see how there might be some resentment, there. My mind and body found each other repugnant and intrusive, like really bad roommates. The only way that either could get away from the other would be rather final and unfortunate for me. Something had to bridge the communication gap, find a common ground between mind and body. Some couples’ counseling was required.

I tried meditation, but I kept falling asleep. I tried yoga, but it was boring. I tried dancing, but I have all the left feet.

In a fit of frustration, I signed up for the Women’s Self Defense Class. Then I used my pride to blackmail myself into not flaking out by telling everybody I knew that I was going to take the class. I announced it on Facebook, so it was super mega official. The possible shame of having to admit that I had somehow failed to attend free lessons in how to protect myself turned out to be a pretty good motivator. I went to the class.

It was sweaty. Crowded. A room full of strangers getting physically confrontational with each other. So far outside my comfort zone that the warm, rosy light from my comfort zone would take years to reach it.

I loved every minute of it.

Here was a project that mind and body could work on together, something that required every ounce of concentration my mind could pour into guiding my body. Limbs had to be moved in certain ways, at speed, towards other peoples’ limbs, with a specific mix of power and restraint tempered by observation and reaction.

It was exhausting. And fascinating. Total brain-candy that worked muscles that I had completely forgotten existed. That hour-long class positively flew by, and this was just the freebie lesson tailored to the average lady staying safe on the street. As I practiced what I’d been taught in the week between classes, moving through basic forms in my kitchen while I waited for cookies to bake instead of just standing there, I started to wonder if maybe ...

… despite all the me-ness and the lupus, or possibly because of those things ...

… I am the kind of person who does Kung Fu.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roadtrips & Kung Fu Life

"The Journey is the Reward."  
~ Chinese Proverb

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).