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, 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.

 

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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: 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.”

No One Here but the Fighters

So, confession time, we are definitely stealing a line from the great David Mamet movie, “Red Belt,” which if you haven’t seen, we highly recommend. It’s a story about the struggles of a traditional martial artist to survive in the world which devalues tradition but who ultimately comes to prevail in the same way he teaches his students to prevail.

There’s a great scene in which the instructor is working with a woman who had been raped, teaching her how to successfully turn the knife on her attacker.  He says to her, to affirm her status as a fighter not a victim, “It’s alright. There’s no one here but the fighters.”

l1120093photo by Hillary Johnson Photography

This is Matt Johnson, the teacher at the Ving Tsun Self Defense Academy. He first started studying a martial art at a very young age as a solution to intense bullying he experienced at school.

When he found ving tsun, finally, he felt all his questions had been answered in looking for an art that was complete and comprehensive. He discovered what all serious traditional martial artists eventually do, that the art would refine not only one’s ability to prevail physically against external threats but also refine the inner person to be gentler, calmer, more patient, disciplined and determined. He learned we can prevail against the inner and outer enemies.

The practice or path of ving tsun is a Way, in which the whole person comes to be cultivated, following a code of conduct and martial ethics which guides all aspects of behavior. The idea is to be a better person in the world. Be of service. Do no harm.

Many people think training in a martial art is first of all about the fist. And yes of course, there are very practical applications for all that self defense training but more important is the inner work. The fist is the way in, the beginning, not the final destination.

All students who walk through the door here are fighting a variety of battles in their every day lives. It’s part of who we are as human beings. Everyone has stuff going on; struggles of all kinds professionally, personally, spiritually.

Here at the VTSDA Sifu Matt works hard to teach ving tsun in a way that helps each student learn to prevail not only physically but in all these other areas of life too; to be able to deal with whatever comes along the way with more grace, grit, determination and resilience.

So here too, it’s alright. There’s no one here but the fighters.

We will introducing you to more of the students from the school in this series, we call, “No One Here but the Fighters.”

We hope you enjoyed reading this. If you did, please feel free to share. You can follow the school here and receive our blogs each time we publish, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Sunday Siu Nim Tau: The Backstory

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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

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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