Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Acorn & Siu Nim Tao (part II)

by Sifu Aaron Vyvial 
and Mary Ceallaigh

"The purpose of Ving Tsun Kung Fu is to lead you to be free and relaxed. This can never be achieved if you are tied physically and emotionally to techniques. You must free yourself from dependence on mechanical expression
 and trust your body, your kung fu to protect yourself..."  Grand Master Moy Yat

In the view of eastern wisdom, a student is an acorn sprout that is connected to both the past and the future, with commitment as its taproot.  In Ving Tsun, this root is also experienced as the horse stance.  Different students may have different learning styles, and any given individual's practice on any given occasion may fluctuate according to a variety of conditions such as weather, diet, hormonal cycle, biological cycle (circadian and lunar), metabolic state, etc.  Some students may fluctuate more than others, but eventually, every acorn that sprouts and grounds grows a stabilizing tap root that can endure much and stabilize itself.

A Sifu who teaches students to cultivate their Siu Nim Tao may have the opportunity to see the process of a human version of a whole new oak tree unfold within their own lifetime.  As to the students who may not commit to practice, the acorn laying dormant for whatever reason, the Sifu understands that everything has its own time and that it is all connected like the oak's unique root systems of many hundreds of miles in length.  Students find Siu Nim Tao as part of a long journey, and teachers parent the moment as it is, varying student-by-student, body-by-body, mind state-by-mind state. Teachers teach Siu Nim Tao, and trust the inherent process in each student, regardless of outcome.  Like the story of the elderly master who was planting a little oak tree:  A neighbor saw her as he passed and said, ‘Old woman, do you know you won’t have a chance to see that tree grow?’  ‘Yes,’ she replied with a contented smile. ‘I know.’

Longevity & Fertility: The steadfast oak can grow to an age of many centuries, leaving little acorns with the capacity to multiply into many worlds.  On our earth at this moment are some ancient oaks still standing in Britain and northern Europe that are well over 1000 years old.  Like that, the authentic martial artist embraces the secrets of aging well (and the fact of dying).  The elderly martial artist has a vitality, luminosity, and lucidity that outlasts many a peer, and graces their last breath.  

Preciousness:  Each acorn nut holds one fruit seed, unlike the seed-pods of other great trees like the pine, tamarind, and banyan which contain many seeds.  Each time you practice Siu Nim Tao, you experience preciousness, because you are the acorn in action.

Sustainability: The oak outlasts all trees. The more a student understands Siu Nim Tao and the path of the Ving Tsun Code of Conduct, the more that sustainability is cultivated in body and mind.  This deepens the practice of skillfulness so we understand the necessity of living the kung fu life, both as individuals and in committed partnership.  Practicing self-cultivation and relationship just like we practice Siu Nim Tao, life gets renewed rather than depleted.

Variability:  Each oak tree's production of acorn fruit can vary strikingly over a given area. Most years, only a few acorns are produced.  Many new acorns are eaten by birds or later by animals on the forest floor (or, in the case of the human tree, the conditioned self-sabotaging habits of individuals).  Like other trees, the oak tree has its super-abundant years, which remain mysterious to modern science.

Synchrony:  Amazingly, oaks across long distances have highly synchronous years of abundance, this is known as "acorn synchrony."  In Ving Tsun kung fu, a family style system and a pure form from the heart have made geographically distant schools into a closely-knit world family. 

In your own home life, experiment with cultivating a daily practice of Siu Nim Tao form each morning and evening, as recommended by our Great-Grand Master Yip Man.  Even just a quick 3-minute flow each sunrise and sunset will change your life for the better, and make you strong. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Acorn & Siu Nim Tao (part I)

Sifu Aaron Vyvial
& Mary Ceallaigh

"Whatever we do lays a seed in our deepest consciousness - and one day that seed will grow."  
"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow."

These statements reflect on the potential within people that is concentrated and carried within. The oak tree's acorn is a fruit, which contains one seed.  This seed, like Siu Nim Tao, has encoded within it everything it needs to become a strong, peaceful warrior in the forest, once the multifarious conditions of natural law are right for it Within the acorn is a powerhouse of nutrients and information for the seedling's success.  It is encoded not only with mighty strength, but also the flexibility to persevere through trials and hardships. And all the droughts, frosts, and catastrophes that can happen with life on earth.  

The acorn holds a secret map about the art of living, which reveals itself over seasons, and eons, through the ups and downs of life.  Being that human existence on planet earth in the last 100 years has been one of unprecedented wars that have killed around 35 million people, the conditions for humanity have been harsh.  And far exceeding that is the number of people eliminated by absolutist governments through genocide and forced famine that has exceeded all wars (and is the equivalent of a nuclear war in and of itself).   

In China, upwards of 60 million of its native people were killed for the various dictatorships since 1900 (through genocide and murder through famine), referred to by scholars as the Chinese Holocaust.  Many well-known martial art practitioners chose to escape these conditions and migrate with their families to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other parts of the world. Those masters started to teach within the overseas Chinese communities but eventually they expanded their teachings to include people from other cultures, an adaptation to the conditions they found themselves in.  It is from both the incredible tenacity and aware accessibility of Ving Tsun Kung Fu that Sifu Moy 10 Tung Vyvial and the Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy in Austin and Houston came to be.

If Ving Tsun kung fu is an oak tree, the practice of Siu Nim Tao form that we do before every class is the acorn that contains all the information needed for full maturation of a student. The Nim Tao is your mind/soul for lack of English word. Siu Nim Tao trains the way of the Nim Tao. When you start your training, the little nim tao becomes big Nim Tao and your big Nim Tao eventually can become a great NIM TAO just like an oak tree.   Siu Nim Tao is the small beginning or seed that grows your Nim Tao into the oak - the acorn is the present moment becoming The Future.  

Through the 108 moves of Siu Nim Tao we train the Nim Tao, our thought process, and we develop Ding, or the vast potency of quietness/stillness, in an internal alchemy according to the moment as it is.  The way of Siu Nim Tao is about thinking just enough and restraining from overthinking so that the natural process is freed up.  Or, in other words, deepening our relationship to natural law.  

So, Siu Nim Tao is the most important component of Ving Tsun and we need to spend the time working on this acorn so that our Kung fu can grow naturally into the mighty oak that it should be.   In your own personal training try to spend a few weeks focusing on slower Siu Nim Tao practice. Make sure all of your forms are at least 5 minutes long or as long as an hour.  Relax the body and relax the mind, this will take your training to a whole new level.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Moy Yat Kung Fu Women's Self-Defense Training

Have you been disillusioned with martial arts? Have you been training according to "what if" scenarios? Martial arts means more than learning by rote to match a set number of moves to predictable situations. Nothing goes according to plan in real life. Self-defense is more than a set of physical moves. You must learn the psychology of potentially violent situations. You must learn to build confidence, but not overconfidence. 

There is a better option.  Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu Academy's Women's Self-Defense Training is a two-year program designed to help women build confidence and trust their bodies by incorporating a broad spectrum of tools into the framework of their daily lives. The result is an entirely new self-image.   We do not recommend programs that try to provide a self-defense "quick fix". Flashier situational types of training can provide a false sense of confidence that can actually work against a person if a real-life situation does not precisely match the training situation. Some other programs also emphasize fitness over self-defense. This is fine if fitness is your actual goal, but Ving Tsun is the sensible choice for women who want to build a solid foundation in self-defense. It is a long-term commitment that will pay off in many ways.

Ving Tsun Kung Fu is a system of ideas that work, a system that allows individuals to develop their own style, one that works best for them. We know what "one size fits all" really means. A style that fits everyone actually fits the majority of people very poorly. What works best for most women is an individualized style that they have developed and adapted to their own strengths, weaknesses, and body style. 
Why study self-defense at all? The answer is different for every person, and a women's self-defense system must allow for individual differences. Different people have different objectives, and other factors – age, size, body type, lifestyle – all will affect individual needs and goals. With Ving Tsun Kung Fu you will train your body, not with rote movements or a rigid style. You will develop a routine through practice, and you will train your central nervous system to respond naturally in real-life situations.   Avoidance and awareness training are key elements in self-defense and flow naturally into Ving Tsun. When avoidance is not possible, the next strategy is to de-escalate the situation. And if all alternatives have been exhausted, confrontation will be necessary with the goal of allowing the person being attacked to escape.

It is your street, your neighborhood. You have the right to walk down your own street with confidence. Learn to be confident.   The tools in self-defense are the same for everyone. There are not separate tools for women and for men. And while the tools are the same, the expression of those tools in the Ving Tsun system will depend on the individual. Anyone, including those with disabilities, can learn to use the tools. Ving Tsun Kung Fu does not rely on size or strength for success. It is a system, a toolset, not a style. Students will adopt their own style based on individual strengths and weaknesses.

You have a right to be free, but everything in life must have balance, and freedom comes with responsibility. You are ultimately responsible for your own safety and well-being. We want you to be free and to feel safe in the choices you make as you enjoy your freedom.  Ving Tsun Kung Fu is a martial art for those who value education as much as training.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

She's A Ving Tsun Woman

Mary Ceallaigh

Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy in Austin offers the only Women's Self Defense Kung Fu program in Texas. Ving Tsun, pronounced "Wing Chun," is a martial arts form originated by a woman. It teaches grounding & environmental awareness, internal strengthening self-care chi gong, highly concentrated centerline punching techniques for success across muscle mass/height disadvantage, and various tricks for supporting a powerful response to unexpected situations.  (Scroll down to see videos of this in action).

In honor of the countless peaceful & fierce women warriors that have lived on this earth since ancient times, let's explore the 400 year-old story of a young woman who became known as Ving Tsun and, even more interesting, the practically unknown elder Shaolin nun named Ng Mui, who gave her the teachings of a self defense kung fu that does not rely on size or strength to be effective.  It is important to remember that, in Ng Mui's time, most people still relied on the oral tradition to learn history and spread stories, so the "Legend of Ng Mui" is certainly more the truth than what high tech people consider a legend.

Another critical thing to keep in mind (and that Women's Studies scholars in universities the world over specialize in researching) is that the stories of females have often been eliminated, ridiculed, and dismissed by male lineages in religion, academia, and government. In the case of Ving Tsun's story, the very real reasons for her self defense training are downplayed by some and dubiously called her "romantic problems" which led her to seek her teacher. This disconnection from the very real social & political contexts of women's development, and the denial of sexual oppression by brute force with its general degrading attitude towards those who are considered physically weaker (be they female or male, adult or child) continues in our present global society and cuts across race & class lines worldwide. 

Taking an objective look at sexual assault against females, we see that is common around the world, and, as most readers already know, at least 1 in every 3 women on planet Earth has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime just due to being female in a man's world (east or west, urban or rural, these crimes occur everywhere). Inhumane codes of conduct are a vicious cycle of personal lifestyle & institutional habits based upon the specific values and a distinctly male-identified sexuality that excludes the true feminine force and source in us all.  This exclusively male-bodied view of reality and sexuality is not shared by all males. And neither are females blameless: the fact is that it is females who gestate males and instill a chunk of maternal DNA structure related to beliefs/assumptions, females who overwhelmingly teach young children, and often females who betray other females when resources are low and suitable partners are few. And, the male-identified view of an inhumane reality is not shared by all females.

That said, in the U.S., 1 in 6 men experience sexual assault in their lifetime, and at least double that number of women (1 in 3) will be raped in their lifetime. There were 19,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. military in 2010.  And 99% of the time the perpetrator will be male. Though over 80% of assault predators are male acquaintances, nearly 20% are strangers.

It was the latter that devastated Central Austin in January 2012 when a beloved community activist, Esmeralda Barrera, was attacked and murdered by a male stranger in a home invasion in the dark morning hours of New Year's Day. Another woman, a homeless citizen who agreed to a prostitution proposal was also murdered that morning, by a male stranger in a violent attack behind closed doors. Her body, however, was found in a dumpster. The sadness of both these stories haunted and disturbed people, particularly women, the first weeks of the year, especially those living alone with all surrounding neighbors away still on holiday through mid January (yours truly), during the long dark nights of winter. It didn't help that an additional assault and another unrelated home invasion against females had occurred on New Year's Day, or that in the following weeks a few opportunistic copycat incidents were attempted, with women waking up to a male intruder in their bedrooms.  

But a lighthouse in the storm was out there too: Moy Yat Academy's Free Women's Self-Defense training program which was being offered for two months of weekly classes for any lady who showed up (and the program later got extended to three months!) This innovative approach to accessible women's kung fu training was the first of its kind in the world, and gave the students who flocked to it usable techniques and self-training awareness from the first class on. It did so in a unique women's-only student environment, generously providing the immeasurable benefits of the refuge known as community spirit and emotional support, particularly for those students who were already part of the aforementioned 30%.

Speaking of which, back to the Ng Mui and Ving Tsun story. Because different versions of it were passed around to confuse enemies during the time of the Qing Dynasty, its folkloric effect has grown accordlingly. But we are not concerned with that. It is the beneficent female quality of this martial arts, and the ethics of the Ving Tsun code of conduct that we experience in our own bodies and minds, which embolden us and inspire us to train.

That said... let's begin with the Shaolin nun named Ng Mui.

Ng Mui was a survivor of a scary, violent raid at a Mahayana Buddhist monastery during the times of the Manchurian massacres. The Shaolin forest monastery where Ng Mui lived was in the mountain range that included Mount Shaoshi (the location of Ng Mui's specific monastery is disputed as to whether it was in Henan or Fujian). There may have been various enclaves. Historians agree that in 527 C.E./A.D. the first abbot of the monastery was an Indian saint named Buddhabhadra, who had traveled from India over 30 years earlier and taught Mahayana buddhism, the path of compassion for all beings and devotion to the ideal of monastic life in the wilderness. He settled into the Shaolin monastery, and started teaching monks to incorporate "exercises" to balance out their long hours of seated meditation. These exercises that included the usual chinese boxing and more, were a value system that played a significant part in the evolution of the Shaolin Kung Fu that Ng Mui later practiced.

Historians also agree that this monastery later became a refuge for many hundreds of men who were resisters of the Manchu regime that shaved their heads and became sort of undercover novice warrior-monks (not priests) in the daily schedule of the monastery (chanting, meditation, meditation, tea, work, one meal, a little exercise, meditation, tea, meditation, sleep). As is often the case with male-written accounts, the question of how many nuns were also taking refuge in the nun's compound for the same reasons, or because they were part of a revolutionary couple, goes unmentioned, but common sense would allow for a number of them. All this made for a rather non-monastic undercurrent around Ng Mui,which she certainly would have been aware of and had deep insights about, being that she was a serious meditator.

As the story goes, soon after the new monks were accepted at the temple, a disgruntled elder monk chose to tip off the Manchu forces about the situation and the temple was then attacked and burned to the ground, with many of the monks & nuns and would-be rebels murdered. It is said that senior monks, probably given warning by their informant peer, fled and hid themselves in different mountains. As to if the senior nuns got the notice, well, nobody knows.

A surviving elder nun named Ng Mui (who was probably around 4 feet tall and a very lean lady) somehow managed to survive and make the perilous journey to the White Crane Temple in Wan Nam. There she codified the Southern Shaolin kung fu system and organized her knowledge in order to pass on the tradition. While there, she saw a snake and crane fighting, which gave her the idea to modify the kung fu that she knew. With the little we know about Ng Mui, it is clear that she was a great master: of her own mind, heart, and the natural law of kung fu within her. Rather than live as a victim-nun, crazed with grief, she stayed close to her practice and her path in the world within her and around her.

This was a time when male lineages were even more the exclusive authority on most everything, inequality between the privileges and limitations of monks and nuns was considered normal and unquestionable (as it still is in much of eastern temple/monastery culture), and martial arts systems were kept secret and limited to the sect. Ng Mui did something legendary: she taught the self defense form to a young woman who was not a Shaolin nun. This woman, named Yim, crossed paths with Ng Mui (some say because her family ran a tofu shop) and asked for help after having survived a sexual-bullying situation with a warlord - the common version of "courtship" by most powerful men at the time. (And warlords have continued to lord it through the recent times - in 1928 a warlord set fire to the rebuilt Shaolin monastery, and most of it was destroyed). Yim had brilliantly responded to the warlord's announcement that he was going to force her to marry him by telling him she would only do so if he could win at a one-on-one public martial arts fight with her, which distracted the warlord's ego enough to allow her to escape being bound onto his horse! Yim needed help to prepare for the fight, and her great faith in natural law helped her cross paths with the woman warrior Ng Mui.

Ng Mui trained Yim in the condensed and concentrated self defense kung fu practices and lovingly named her "Yim Ving Tsun" (pronounced yeem wing chun) which means "Beautiful Spring/Forever Springtime" in honor of Yim's physical and emotional transformation into a highly trained intuitive warrior in the rejuvenative arts of her kung fu. Yim Ving Tsun successfully beat the warlord, simultaneously shaming him so that he would look elsewhere for pleasure. Following this, Yim Ving Tsun married a man she loved who treated her right, a fellow named Leong Pok Toa.

She taught Leong Pok Toa the art, who fully received it and passed it on to Wong Wah Po. Wong Wah Po passed it on to Leung Lan Kwi, Leung Yee Tai, and Leung Tsun. Leung Tsun passed it on to Fung Wah and Chan Wah Shun. Grand Master Yip Man learned the complete system from Chan Wah Shuen and passed it on to Moy Yat, who passed it on to Moy Tung. Who passed it on to Austin's very own Sifu Aaron "Moy 10 Tung" Vyvial.

Here are some fun videos of modern Wing Chun women. They mean business:


Washington Post article on stranger attacks and the Austin New Year crimes 
Rape Victim Advocacy Project's Sexual Assault Statistics,
ACLU article on U.S. military stats
Shahar, Meir. The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008
Inside-Kung Fu article, The Shaolin Connection written by Eric Oram
A translation of three seals from the Kuen Kuit which detail the origins and lineage of the Ving Tsun family
A translation of Grandmaster Ip Man's essay on the "History and Origin of Wing Chun"

Mary Ceallaigh has a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development & Life Cycle Studies, is co-author of a 1999 NOW Resolution on Midwifery, and is a certified yoga teacher training in the two-year Women's program at Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy.