Four New Ving Tsun Videos

1. Chi sau in honor of our ving tsun family and friends in Hong Kong

2. Why keeping a notebook is important to your ving tsun practice

3. Why these two students use notebooks for their Ving Tsun training and you should too

4. Why learning the Cantonese terms for Ving Tsun is essential for passing the art on correctly

Thank you for stopping by. We hope you enjoy the videos. Please share them if you do.

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Sunday Siu Nim Tau

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Sunday Siu Nim Tau

In Ving Tsun we have Siu Nim Tau, the first form, which can be translated to Little Idea or Little Beginning. It’s from this first form, this little idea, that everything else in the system comes.

Every week Sifu Matt offers these blogs, these little ideas, as reflections from his practice to help support yours.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Last weekend was the first of four training camps at the academy. There will be one each season. Last weekend was the winter camp. Next will be spring, summer and fall camps. I put these on so students can have two full days of total immersion in the practice of the art of Ving Tsun. Two solid days of six to eight hours spent in deep practice. No phones. No Distractions. Just ving tsun.

When I’ve trained like this in my own practice, I’ve always gotten better. A LOT better. Sharper. My skill grew noticeably.  So I knew that by creating an experience like this that my students would have the same experience. And they did. Many good questions came up that, when answered, took everyone in the room, to a deeper level of understanding. We went through all the forms in the system and went very deep in our practice.

In the camps, I try to give students an idea of how I train. I don’t do six to eight hours every day, mind you. But I do get in a good three to four hours every day. Students ask what I do with that time. Is it all ving tsun? Sometimes, yes. They ask,  what else do you do?

Well. That’s complicated. Certainly a lot of time is spent polishing my Ving Tsun. But, I do many other things as well.

It’s my belief that a martial artist should be fit and healthy. It does take a certain level of fitness to perform any martial art. But being fit and healthy is its own reward. One of the major benefits of Ving Tsun practice is that it helps us get to that more fit and healthy place, physically and mentally.

In fact, every single master I’ve ever been around here in the US, in Hong Kong, or China, says that kung fu practice is first and foremost meant to be a health regimen. It’s meant to protect us from physical violence, yes, of course, but even more to protect us from poor health.

It’s time for strengthening the body as well as the mind.  Daily practice of forms, weapons, sparring, chi sau; all of these will certainly help keep you fit and healthy. But a practitioner should do more to enhance what they are doing in the kwoon. (school)

Things like cardio work, weight training, go a long way to help not only with performance in martial arts, but fitness training also has other benefits like fighting depression. As we age, we lose muscle tone and strength, bone density, joint function, and so on. Exercise in the martial arts and in the gym fights all of these.

For me, daily and weekly routines, encompass many forms of exercise to keep me fit and healthy. In addition to my my daily Ving Tsun practice, I do my best to walk 10,000 steps every day. Every week, I incorporate two sessions of weight training at the gym, I do three or more HIIT (High Intesity Interval Training) cardio sessions. Some days I swim. Some days I run. One way or the other, I’m always moving. In fact, aside from my daily meditation practice (which I highly recommend for everyone) I really can’t stand sitting around.

I love all forms of movement and exercise. I believe these are keys to a happy life. At 51 years old, I weigh what I did in high school and am down to the same pant size as well. I feel like I’m 25 again. And I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

I’m always moving. In fact, before I sat down to write this, I went through all of my ving tsun forms. I can’t wait to be done writing because I want to do more, go for a long walk, or do more work on the wooden dummy…anything that will get my ass out of this chair and moving.

Sometimes, people are taken aback at my level of activity and ask where I get the energy for it all.

My answer?

Simple.

Diet.

I follow a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

I feel that it’s an optimum form of nutrition that gives me all the energy I need. I love eating this way. I eat almost zero animal products. There’s the occasional bit of cheese or chicken or perhaps fish, but 95% plants. Lots of fruit.

I always get asked the same question: But where do you get your protein!?

That’s no problem.

Everything we eat has some protein.

Some of the largest, strongest animals on the planet don’t eat anything but plants, so I’m not worried. We can get all the protein and nutrition in this way of eating.  The science is out there. This mode of eating reduces and prevents and can reverse several of the major health issues plaguing western society which eats a standard American diet (SAD) comprised of junk food, fast food, soda, etc. and which causes health issues like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive issues and a serious killer, obesity.

Eating plant-based is also better for our planet. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of pollution and a major contributor to global warming. If you are a person who cares about what’s happening to our planet, like me, know that making the change to a more plant-based diet makes an immediate positive impact beyond our own personal health.

There’s also the matter of the animals we eat. As I’ve gotten further into my zen practice, my compassion for all living beings has grown. I see now the suffering the consumption of meat causes. If I can do my part to help by reducing my intake of animal products, I will.

Don’t take my word for it.

Take the time. Do the research yourself. It’s all out there, in books and on-line. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

I confess, it took me some time to make this change. It wasn’t an overnight thing. But I did the research, and over time I made changes in how I lived and ate and I felt better and better as time went on. My ving tsun performance skyrocketed. For me, there’s no going back. It’s a win on all fronts.

These are my choices.

Everyone has to do what they feel is right and best for them.

So, this is my daily life these days. Lots of ving tsun practice and lots of general exercise. And lots and lots of plants to eat.

Hopefully, this lifestyle will keep me practicing and teaching the art I love and have been so fortunate to learn, well into my advanced years.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to be fit and healthy too. So you can practice more of whatever martial art you love, and to be the best you can be.

What is the driving force in my life? the art of Ving Tsun.

And like I said, I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

And days off ?  I take Sundays off. Sometimes. Occasionally. Okay, so a few times a month. Or a year… Okay, so almost never.

Thanks for reading.

See you in class.

Matt Johnson and Ip Ching

 

Taste Your Food!

Sunday Siu Nim Tau

In Ving Tsun we have Siu Nim Tau, the first form, which can be translated to Little Idea or Little Beginning. It’s from this first form, this little idea, that everything else in the system comes.

Every week Sifu Matt offers these blogs, these little ideas, as reflections from his practice to help support yours.

Thanks for reading

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February 10, 2019

 

Why Would You Eat but Not Taste Your Meal?

Over the last several years, I admit, I’ve become a foodie. I love eating and tasting new kinds of food. Any kind of food, from any country. While I follow a plant-based diet 99% of the time at home, when traveling or out to dinner with friends or students, I’ll stray a bit from that way of eating when offered the chance to experience a local dish or enjoy or something that’s been prepared for me especially. I really enjoy myself!

I’ve also discovered the joy of cooking. I’ve got a whole shelf jammed with cookbooks. I watch cooking shows to learn even more. I read a lot about food and food cultures around the globe and how different people prepare and eat their food. It’s incredibly interesting. And yes, I loved Anthony Bourdain and I’m not afraid to admit that Jacques Pepin is a hero of mine.

One thing I’ve learned about cooking is that in order to be even halfway decent at it, you must first learn how to taste the food. You must learn how different ingredients go together, what will flavor what, which spice will give you the taste you want, how much salt, or cumin, or pepper to use, etc. You have to become familiar with your ingredients and seasonings.

I’m definitely not a professional chef, not even close. But I’m learning all the time and I cook decently. Learning how to cook has opened up a whole different approach to eating. Now, when I eat, I really take time to taste the food. I try not to gobble it down without fully experiencing what is on my plate. I’m much more mindful when I eat and consequently I enjoy the whole experience so much more. I’m learning more about food and cooking while I’m eating. Not only do I enjoy the food more but it also makes me a better cook.

You’re probably wondering, “What in the world does all this have to do with martial arts?”

In order to get the most out of your practice, you must learn how to taste your food.

  • How many times have you scarfed down a meal without taking time to taste it and really experience it?
  • How many times have you had a training session but not shown up for it mentally?
  • Yeah sure, your body shows up for the session but the mind is left at work or at home or on the bus or somewhere.

 

I know I’ve done it. And I bet you have as well.

Just as you sit down and eat without tasting the food, you blow through a form or chi sau practice without tasting it; without experiencing the moves, without feeling them in your body. I can say for sure, that if you train this way, you could practice for ten years, twenty years, and you wouldn’t get anything but exercise. Your Ving Tsun certainly wouldn’t be even one lick better.  Of course, exercise is great but you can get exercise just walking your doggie! But practicing without being fully present, you wouldn’t ever develop the skill that it takes to perform Ving Tsun. You would always be just dancing around the outside of it.

I long ago discovered the concept of deep practice and it changed entirely the way I practice and has made all the difference. If you want to learn more about it, I recommend Daniel Coyle’s book, “The Talent Code.” I learned that mere repetition will not take you where you want to go. The idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master something is a bit flawed. It takes more than dogged repetition, it takes fully engaged practice with the body AND the mind. You have to pay complete attention and feel the moves in your body. You must seek to dig deep and fully understand what makes them work and why.

This is particularly important when practicing Ving Tsun, since it is a principle-based art, not a techniques-based art. Technique-based arts have many forms to practice; many techniques and combinations that have to be memorized. You have to build this HUGE catalog of this technique vs that technique approach to learning.

The art of Ving Tsun doesn’t have that many techniques. We have 18 empty handed techniques. Instead, Ving Tsun is based on a set of principles that teaches us how to use the techniques we do have. This requires the practitioner to absorb these into the body and mind. You must learn to embody the art itself.

You must learn to think in the Ving Tsun way.

To think in the Ving Tsun way successfully requires deep practice. It requires that you slow down. Feel the art in your body. You must taste the art.

Doing it this way means that every time you practice, you get a little bit better. Each and every time. And all that adds up in pretty short order. That’s what we all want after all, isn’t it? To get better than we were yesterday, even if it’s just a little?

When I practice, I always do it alone. Just me and the wooden dummy. Just me and Ving Tsun. No other people.

Very rarely, I’ll have some music on, but not usually as I find it distracting. I need to be quiet and alone. Because alone I can practice deeply. I get and keep my mind in a certain state of concentration. I’m fully involved and engaged with what I’m doing. I feel the art and moves in my body and I go very deep.

Being around others distracts me and since I know this about myself, I don’t practice that way.

I practice in a way that supports my best possible effort and attention.

I’ve tried practicing around other people but I get so much more out of it alone. Students ask from time to time if they could practice with me. My standard answer is a big NO. It’s nothing personal. It’s how I am. It’s how I practice.

As a sifu, there’s not much that’s more important to me than maintaining and improving the art I’ve devoted my life to. I find that every time I practice in this deep fashion, whether it’s forms or chi sau, (Chi sau is another aspect of ving tsun that requires deep practice. If you are not fully present and concentrating in chi sau, it will not work out well for you) I get better. Just a little bit better than last time.  I’m sharper, quicker, my energy is better, I’ve got better sensitivity etc. It ALL gets better.

If you want to have good kung fu, good Ving Tsun, you must learn to slow down and taste your food. Slow down and taste the art of Ving Tsun. You’ll get so much more out of it this way.

After time spent with deep practice in Ving Tsun, you naturally begin to bring the same attention into other areas of your life. You learn to be fully engaged with what you are doing, be it work, washing the dishes, being with your loved one, anything.

And being fully present, you get better at those things and have better relationships. And your whole life gets better. Better than it was yesterday. Not a lot. Just a little bit

And isn’t that too, what we all want?

Sunday Siu Nim Tau

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In Ving Tsun we have Siu Nim Tau, the first form, which can be translated to Little Idea or Little Beginning. It’s from this first form, this little idea, that everything else in the system comes.

Every week Sifu Matt offers these blogs, these little ideas, as reflections from his practice to help support yours.

Thanks for reading

 

JANUARY 27

Iron is full of impurities that weaken it: Through the forging fire it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion.
Morihei Ueshiba

Kung fu training is a transformative practice. Over time it it has a unique way of transforming our character. Not only have I seen this in many, many students, I’ve seen it in myself.

Through the time spent training and teaching, I’ve seen lazy people who used to give up easily, transformed into people with strong determination. They are no longer lazy. I’ve seen fearful people become more brave. People that lacked self confidence become strong, empowered, and confident.

The transformation that occurs takes place over time as a person practices; as the days turn to weeks, the weeks turn to months, and the months to years. The fire of training forges our spirits, our bodies and our minds, in the same way fire forges steel.

Training forces us to go onward to face ourselves: our fears, prejudices, anger, etc. It shows us where our triggers are and in this process, doing the inner work that’s necessary to grow and get better, not only as a martial artist, but as a person as well. This is how kung fu training enriches our lives and makes us better people.

So, when people ask me if I’ve ever used my kung fu, my answer is simple, “Yes,” I tell them, “I use it every day.”

Weekly Siu Nim Tau

Weekly Siu Nim Tau

January 20, 2019

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In Ving Tsun we have Siu Nim Tau, the first form, which can be translated to Little Idea or Little Beginning. It’s from this first form, this little idea, that everything else in the system comes.

Every week Sifu Matt offers these blogs, these little ideas, as reflections from his practice to help support yours.

Thanks for reading,

Sifu Matt

 

When you understand one technique, you know one technique. When you understand a concept or a principle, you know a thousand techniques.

I found this in one of my old kung fu notebooks. It was something I’d written on a Hong training trip. To be honest,  I don’t remember if it’s something that my Sifu said or what. But I know why it’s in there and I know what it’s talking about.

It’s talking about the fact that ving tsun is a concept or principle-based system of kung fu. As opposed to other systems which have vast collections of techniques.  Ving Tsun doesn’t have that many techniques. As for hand techniques, there’s only 18 or so. Only eight kicks. All very simple and and all easily learned.

So, with so few techniques, what makes ving tsun work? For us practitioners, how do we know what to do and when to do it?

To understand this we have to realize that ving tsun operates on principle and theory. Because it’s not a collection of techniques it works differently. Everything relies on principles. We talk about thinking in the “ving tsun way,” based on these principles.

Ving Tsun is not a this technique to counter that technique way of dealing with an attacker. Ving Tsun doesn’t think this way. In an approach of technique vs technique, things only work when they go according to a specific plan; as a series of actions practiced in the safety of the school.

Students are encouraged to think: When this attack happens then I do attack number 20, and so on.

But fighting is not choreography.

Self defense is not dancing.

Because the minute that first punch is thrown, everything else, all your dance moves, all your choreography, goes right out the window.

The only thing you can truly rely on is your ability to respond, built from your forms practice, from your sensitivity, built in chi sau, which is what we train in ving tsun.

What we train in chi sau, is how to put the technique into effect, in the moment, based on conditions right then and there, not as part of some pre-imagined dance choreography. Because unless you a stunt guy in an action movie, where all goes according to plan – that shit don’t fly. If the attacker doesn’t do exactly what we expect, in a technique vs technique system, we’re screwed. But in a principle based system, like ving tsun, we can prevail

We sense, even if we have not been touched directly, personally by violence, that it’s the very nature of violence to be unpredictable.

For good measure, here’s a definition of violence from the dictionary we keep at home:

Violence:

behavior or treatment in which physical force is exerted for the purpose of causing damage or injury,  intended or kill

 

So, let that sink in.

 

Let’s go on.

You never know when or how someone will attack you. It’s all just an estimation. So, if you train in a this technique vs that technique approach, you are setting yourself up for potential disaster in a real violent situation in the real world.

In ving tsun we have a formula that guides us. This formula tells us what to do. That is what we train: the formula of ving tsun. The formula is a set of concepts.

For instance, the centerline principle:

The principle state that the shortest distance between you and your opponent is from the center of your body to the center of your opponent’s body. That’s where a lot of vulnerable targets lie, along this line throughout the length of the body, which can be found in the space as wide as the eyes throughout the torso.

Another principle is of economy:

Of motion

Of time

Of energy.

We train to do nothing that’s not absolutely necessary in a violent encounter.

We don’t jump around. We don’t move until we need to.

That’s not to say that ving tsun doesn’t have foot work or movement, quite the opposite. We have it but it’s very economical; Tight. Intentional.

In ving tsun, we train not to clash our brute force against our opponents’ brute force. Why not? Because clashing force against force will ALWAYS favor a bigger, stronger opponent. As your attacker will almost always be bigger and stronger than you because that’s how they pick out a target. It’s just logical. So going force against force is a zero-win game.

This is where the beauty of ving tsun really shines. The formula tells us that it’s better to redirect the power coming at us every time. This principle says it’s ALWAYS better to deflect than block a violent force head on. Every single time.

This is one tiny micron thin slice of ving tsun theory. There’s so much more of course. But we can start here for now.

Principles like this can save your life. Better than any basket of techniques based on imagined events in the future.

I’ll take theory and principle every time.

How about you?

 

Sunday Siu Nim Tau: A Little Idea

January 13, 2019

Every Sunday a little something for you to keep in mind.

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LET GO OF MASTERY

Mastery of an art

Whether martial or writing

Is not what I seek.

I seek nothing.

There is just practice

Daily

Unending

….this is the  Way.

     – Shinzen (David Nelson)

 

The above speaks to the importance of routine and letting go of the idea that we will attain some elusive goal as if it were an end point. We must let go of the idea that we will attain mastery. Instead, it is the dedication to steady work, the love of the steady work, that is the path on a day by day basis.

WHAT WOULD THIS LOOK LIKE?

Simply, routine.

Routine effort is key. Without it we wander, aimlessly wander through our day. Having a routine keeps us on track, centered, and moving ahead. Seeking nothing other than to stay on the path we have chosen for ourselves. This is how we progress. This is how we get better at what we do. Be it writing or martial arts, drawing or painting, photography or music making. Whatever it is, practice is the way. Practice is the path and the destination. We aim to get better but release the idea that there is a final goal, a day, a moment when we say I’m a master now. I can stop working so hard.

In fact if we are lucky, we may be like the famous Okinawan karate master, Gichin Funakoshi, who, the story goes, was very old, yet still teaching, sitting on his bed doing a simple block over and over with deep concentration. He shouted, I think I finally understand this block!  He loved the hard work, practiced every day with discipline until his final days.

We must make an everyday routine. Something we show up for no matter what. No excuses. This is the discipline.

Want to get better at something?

Show up. Do the work. Do the same thing at the same time, day in and day out. This process of intentional practice is the Way.

You don’t have to practice for hours on end. If you have that kind of time, great, but if you don’t and an hour is what you have, use that hour well. If thirty minutes is what you have, use those 30 minutes like the precious minutes they are. That’s enough time when you do it every day.

Every day.  That’s the challenge.

I’m fortunate. I’ve made kung fu training, ving tsun, the center of my life. I have the time to devote to it. I’ve made it my job. I must practice every day to keep my skills up and so I can do what I tell my students they need to do. Anything less would be hypocritical.

And yet… sometimes even I fail at sticking fully to my routine. And when this happens, it shows. Maybe others don’t notice but I do. The sharpness I want in my ving tsun isn’t there.

But because I’ve made a routine of daily practice, this doesn’t happen often. Sometimes, I realize I actually need to take a day off. I listen to the body and give it the rest it needs and this becomes part of the Way. Because I have this daily discipline, this routine, when I fall of the path, I feel it acutely and my dedication, my habitual energy of practice pulls me back into routine. As a result, I feel happier, more content knowing I am being true to my Way.

You can do this too. If you struggle with creating and sticking to a routine, ask yourself what do I need to do to shift this? Do you need to put it into your calendar? Do it. Do you need to tell a friend or a training partner your plans so you can help keep each other on the path? Then do that.

When you choose a Way for yourself you are making a powerful statement about the kind of person you want to be. Dedicated. Disciplined. Ready to do the hard work for its own sake. This is the Way.

Believe that You Can. Decide that You Will.

Believe that You Can. Decide that You Will

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I hear a couple of phrases from students on a regular basis:

 

I can’t.

And –

I’ll try.

 

What they don’t realize is that when the say these kinds of things they’re only defeating themselves. What we think becomes reality.

 

When we think we can’t do something, no matter what other stories we may tell ourselves, we make failure become reality. It’s a vicious spiral of frustration.

 

There are variations on this sad theme:

 

I can’t find the time to practice; I’m just too busy; I’ll try to get into class; I can’t make it in to class, etc.

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On the flip side, if we tell ourselves that  we can, and we will, that becomes our reality and we make real progress in our ving tsun.

 

It’s a fact that kung fu takes a lot of deep practice. That’s what kung fu means – hard work over  a long stretch of time, like a lifetime. It takes daily practice. In order to have good skill, a practitioner must change this mindset around their practice.

 

If you think with a negative, I can’t  mindset you’ll just keep finding things to fill your time, and you won’t practice. You can’t, “FIND” the time, you must “MAKE” the time. Change the I can’t into I can and I will.

 

I will make the time for my daily practice.

I will make it to class today.

 

If you are always waiting to find the time to practice, you never will. You have to MAKE the time to practice. Set your intention in your mind. You might ask yourself, how you’ll feel if you don’t do your practice. Because it’s all a matter of priorities. If it matters to you, you will MAKE the time to do it. All kinds of things come up that you don’t have time for, and yet you do them. Think about it. How do you want to spend your time? What kind of person do you want to be? Ving tsun has the capacity to transform every aspect of your life for the better but you have to do the work, wishing won’t make it so.

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Practice of ving tsun must be a daily thing you do, like brushing your teeth. Finding the time is self defeating. Make the time. Make that commitment to yourself.

 

I also hear phrases like this during practice:

 

I can’t do the technique.

I’ll try to do my form better.

 

Again, if you believe you can’t, you will never try harder.

 

Kung fu practice is hard. It does take a lot of time and effort. Don’t make it harder on yourself with these self defeating phrases.

 

My students hear me say this all the time:

 

“ If you want to have good ving tsun, you must take the I can’t and I’ll try out of your vocabulary.”

 

It’s true. See for yourself.

 

Remember Yoda’s famous line, “ Do or do not. There is no try.”

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