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.


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.   


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.


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.


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.

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). 


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.


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.  


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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Martial Arts at the Park: The 4/28 Recap

Martial arts is portable, and we train and condition in order to be able to respond well regardless of environment.  But there is a special power to practicing outside, with the dirt and grass right under our feet – maximum Chi, as they say.  Last week, Sifu Forrest Caudill, head instructor at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do, invited Moy Sifu Vyvial to guest co-host at an ongoing and FREE monthly event where teachers, students, and the general public gather outside at Ramsey Park.  The intention was to offer a taste of the martial arts that both sifus specialize in, and the unique connection between JKD and Ving Tsun through our shared Uncle, Sifu Dan Inosanto (Moy Yang Yee) and the Bruce Lee legacy.  A great idea, and a blast for those who were able to show up.  

The exchange supported by this event was community education in full effect.  Also wonderful was the diversity of the crowd in ages, ethnicities, and body types.  Some Moy Yat young masters were continuing their class practices on the fringes of the grown ups, and among the adults were some that had shown up because they’d just seen a flyer, including one elder (a basketball association organizer and retiree).  Outside of the main participants, various park-goers could be seen curiously standing around and watching the martial arts action, not an everyday thing in the park… There were also spring breezes and happy dogs, always good.  And some power-heavy metal sounds wafting out of Sifu ipods and car stereos, along with the many voices of children at a playground under the giant oak tree.

To top it all off, the event closed in a picnic, with food generously provided by Sifu Caudill and whoever else wanted to pitch in.  

Due to the short notice around Moy Yat Academy, and our same day FB announcement, our Saturday class students hustled to get to the park, two miles away from the school, and many Moy Yat students didn’t even know the event was happening – so we wanted to be sure to post the recap for your benefit, because it was a lot of fun.

The morning began with Sifu Caudill introducing JKD with an obvious love for the form, distributing a ton of protective gear that he brought for people to use while practicing.  For VT students, it made us appreciate even more the simplicity and directness of our form, while being an exercise in adaptability.

Then Moy Sifu Vyvial was introduced to the crowd, and took us through the power points of VT self defense principles, calling upon Sihings Neil and Heath for demonstrations.  The audience responded with a whole new level of riveted attention at the simplicity of the centerline, and the visuals of effectiveness as Sihing Heath nobly received Moy Sifu’s punches and pushes.  The highlight of the VT segment was the triangle headgrip crumple, for which Sifu Moy Vyvial jumped Sihing Neil to demonstrate a quick takedown.  This was followed by 6 more examples as Moy Sifu Vyvial invited all the female students to practice on Sihing Neil, and they sure did!

As one of our Moy Yat students wrote in:  “This was fantastic!!!   People recognize Ving Tsun as the real thing when they see it!”