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).


  1. I have been learning introductory basics for 3 months. My first real class starts in a week ( siu lim tao). I only hope that my passion will lead me in the same direction as you :)

    1. Just train with your whole heart! :)

      You can also try doing an intensive practice once you have the basics down and have been training 2-3 times a week for a few months - such as taking on the personal challenge of an hourlong siu nim tao each day for 10 days - it can help expedite a huge mind-body integration if the student practices sincerely. The Moy Yat schools tend to offer such "old school" opportunities for intensive training. 1000-10000 continuous punches can also be quite a heart-opening experience, if the student intends it to be :0

  2. Thank you very much for such a well written piece. Keep up the good work and please continue to share more in the future. Best of Luck on your journey that is Ving Tsun.

    1. So glad you like the article, Colin, and thank you for your kind words.

      We're all alone in this journey together, and that's pretty wonderful :)

  3. This is a central truth to all Martial Art, Love is indeed the power of true warriors. That line, Love Conquers All was the first lesson taught to me by my first Sifu, Thomas Senora. He learned under Ho Kuen Ng in Tapei for almost 20 years. Si Gung Ho has a popular saying, "Love is hidden in the fist." This reminds us that if we are to fight, we do so for what we love, not for what we hate or dislike.

    1. Martial maturation shows when we turn a fight around before it happens, and avoid a fight. However - "If we have to fight, we do so for what we love - not for what we hate or dislike." Excellent point, thank you!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Brother, thank you for sharing your experience of Saam Faat. This article has opened my heart to new possibilities.

    Josh Cortes
    Moy Bah Hugh Clan
    MYVTMI - Philadelphia

  6. That's awesome Josh. You can send your thanks to Sibakgung Lee Moy Shan directly too.

    Your mentioning of the heart opening to the new reminds me of the discovery just a month or two ago by medical anatomical scientists that the heart actually is a folded organ with a spiral order that is the same spiral that is the shape of our galaxy - rather than a mere chambered box. The heart does unfold, and open.


Thank you so much.