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

 

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Sunday Siu Nim Tau

cropped-dsf4070-1.jpg

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, February 17, 2019

 

I’ve taken up photography.

My wife is a wonderful photographer and she’s showing me the ropes.

I’m not good at it just yet but I do my best and I’m having fun. And the fun? That feels like the most important part right now. I have this great Fuji X100 and I admit, I feel like a guy who’s got  great car, a Ferrari, but doesn’t quite know how to drive it yet.

There’s f/stops, shutter speeds, “film” speeds. I do a lot of experimenting.

Then there’s this whole business of looking, of seeing.

It’s interesting learning what takes my eye, what makes me want to take a photo of something. To learn that and to learn about photography in general, feels a lot like the learning process of kung fu training. You must have what’s known as beginner’s mind, a concept from Zen practice. Beginner’s mind  is a state of keeping the mind in a fresh, learning, open state. It’s  about forgetting or putting down what you thought you knew about something.

This kind of mind can be applied to anything and everything.

With beginner’s mind, you cast away assumptions, prejudices, any preconceived ideas.You’re always in a place to take in new information. In Zen practice, it’s always a process of going back to beginner’s mind.

Beginner’s mind.

Students hear me say all the time that in order to be good at kung fu you must always go back.

Back to the start.

Back to the fundamentals.

You must also go back on the inside.

Do the inner work on yourself, on your ego. On all the mental things that will keep you from getting any better. You may have fear, anger, lack of confidence, a fragile sense of yourself or an overblown sense of yourself.

If you can’t go back into yourself to do this deep inner work, you will never get better at the physical techniques.  

Unexamined internal life holds us back.

Our ego holds us back.

These character issues? Ditto.

Because that’s the process. Train the physical skill long enough to get good, then go back: back to the beginning or the basics, and back into yourself.

Going back is key. Those that do the inner work find themselves not only better at the techniques, but becoming a better people as well.  And THAT is what martial arts training does best. It makes us better people. Better physically and mentally. Better members of society.

And now, I’m going back again. This time to learn photography. And I’m fine with that because I trust this process. I’m very curious and don’t know where photography will take me. Maybe I’ll be able to show my pictures some day. But that’s down the road. Right now, I’m enjoying the journey.

I’ve always enjoyed the process of going back. I’ve seen the results in my Ving Tsun and in my life. Ving Tsun teaches me something new every day. And it will teach you too if you’re listening and looking.

 

Sunday Siu Nim Tau: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

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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

February 3, 2019

_DSF4129photo by Hillary Johnson

Recently my wife got the job of taking photos of a remarkable man named Jack. He’s 91 years old and still plays tennis nearly every day. My wife needed an assistant but nobody was available so I went along.

This guy really impressed me. First of all, he didn’t look anything like 91. More like 61. Watching him play tennis was like watching any master. He made it all look easy. He moved across the court with the grace of a man who’s taken most of his life to master this game. I was blown right out of my shoes watching him.

We had lunch after the photo shoot, so I was able to sit and talk with him a bit. During our conversation he said something that’s stayed with me ever since. We were talking about the game of tennis and he said, “In tennis it’s all about keeping your eye on the ball You take your eye of the ball and the game’s over.”

Wow, I thought. Isn’t that true.

Later when I was sitting at the cafe having my usual cup of coffee before teaching my evening class, those words came back to me with such force I had to write them down in my journal to reflect on.

“Keep your eye on the ball.”

My dad used to say the exact same thing to me when he was trying to teach me how to hit a baseball. I was very young, maybe seven or eight years old. We stood together in the front yard, in the pools of shade of the giant red maple my dad had planted years before. I clutched a yellow plastic bat in my hands. He stood about six feet away and would toss the white wiffle ball to me underhanded. “Don’t take your eye off the ball,” he’d say as he tossed it. When I would miss it, I’d get frustrated. He’d say, “ Don’t get frustrated, that won’t help. You just have to keep your eye on the ball.”

So, it’s not like I hadn’t heard it before.

But this time, when Jack said it, it was different. It resonated deep within me. It occurred to me that this is something that applies not only to sports like tennis and baseball but to everything, to life itself.

Setting goals and having the discipline to go after them is one way of keeping your eye on the ball. Staying focused and not letting anything pull you off the path you’ve set for yourself is keeping your eye on the ball.

In kung fu practice, keeping your eye on the ball means making sure you make the time to practice most, if not all days of the week. It must be something you do every single day. Skill in kung fu is cumulative. It builds slowly over time with consistent practice. To have good skill, one must make it a daily routine. You must keep your eye on the ball. This is how you progress in Ving Tsun. And this is how you progress in all aspects of your life as well. 

Because the way we do one thing, is the way we do all the things.

DSCF5691photo by Hillary Johnson

 

 

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.”

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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Just Enough

The other morning at breakfast, my wife said this little throw away comment.

She said, “You know I find that when you eat slowly whatever you have is plenty.”

I didn’t think much of it at the moment. But it came to my mind again while I walked to the gym to train.

“When you eat slowly whatever you have is plenty.”

Is this not true for our whole lives?

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When we slow down and live more mindfully, putting an end to all the ceaseless craving, wanting and chasing, we can realize that whatever we have, right here, right now, is plenty. And in keeping our lives simple and straightforward we can be happier and more free.

When we make our lives more complicated, with all the doing, with all the many possessions, life becomes more burdensome. We spend all our time working and chasing the dollar to keep it all going. Life feels less simple and we find ourselves more stressed and live less mindfully.

I look at it like I look at the art of Ving Tsun. It’s a simple art and should be kept that way. You do only what’s necessary in terms of offense and defense. You economize everything. Your motion, your energy, your time, your footwork, everything. You do just enough to get the job done. No more, no less.

As the years pass in your training, you should be trying to make your Ving Tsun more and more simple. Not more and more complex. If you are making it more complex you are doing it wrong.

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This is true in our lives as well. As we get older we should be making it more and more simple. Not filling it up with things that make it more and more complex. Things that make us have to run around and keep the juggling act going. We should have and do just what’s necessary. Have and do just enough. Realize that whatever you have is plenty.

When you put this simple Ving Tsun philosophy into your daily life you will be able to get down to what really matters to you. Whatever that might be for you.

In Ving Tsun we have a very simple formula that tells us how to use the system. A formula that teaches us simplicity.

Try to bring this formula into your daily life and see that what you have already is plenty.

Three simple rules:

  1. Accept what comes
  2. Follow what goes
  3. When the way is open always go forward.

 

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