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.

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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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THIS WEEK IN VING TSUN

Lots pf great training at the school last week. Here are a few snap shots of what folks were up to. Notice, the notebook! Taking notes is a really good idea.

 

Also note the long pole, which is very advanced practice.

 

Photos by Hillary Johnson

Chi Sau Seminar Success and Events!

We really want to thank all of you who came from near and far for our January Chi Sau Seminar. It was a great way to kick off 2016. A lot of Aaron Heath’s students came from our Champaign school which was super cool.

We had a lot of fun and everyone learned a lot. So stay tuned because there’s much more to come!

We’re thinking the next seminar may be a combination of Wooden Dummy material, Mo Duk (proper code of conduct for martial arts practitioners) and kung fu culture.

And as always, we appreciate you sharing our news, events, Intro classes and so on. Don’t forget to tell your friends that they can come in and visit us anytime. Just call Sifu Matt Johnson at  773-301-6257 and we’ll get you set up.

You can follow us on Facebook too! This is a great way to hear about our monthly events like pot luck suppers, movie outings, (we went to see Ip Man 3)

or this Saturday’s celebration of Chinese New Year. (Year of the monkey!)

Or our Jan. 29th Haiku Writing Workshop
 led by William Seiyo Sheehan and reading by Gerry Stribling author of Buddhism for Dudes. (and please note, you don’t actually have to be a dude to totally love this book.)

The school is located in the heart of the Chicago Arts District at:
1839 S Halsted St. Chicago, IL 60608
Phone us at: 773/301-6257
Please note the CTA bus Route 8 stops right in front of the building.
There’s also plenty of free street parking all within short walking distance.

 

Overcoming Obstacles in Kung Fu Training Through Teaching

 

Almost inevitably, as time passes and kung fu training continues, day after day, hour after hour, after endless sweating and working of sore muscles, a practitioner may feel they’ve run into a brick wall or a plateau in terms of building and improving their skills. This is likely to manifest differently for each of us. We might experience a feeling of staleness, of boredom, or sense of lack of excitement which we associate with progress.

These plateaus are crucial times. When we don’t progress, we may have a tendency to worry. Many a kung fu player simply throws in the towel and quits. I’ve seen it time and again. During the last 27 years I’ve spent immersing myself in the art of Ving Tsun, I’ve definitely experienced some of those moments myself.

So what did I do? Well, in the years before opening up my academy and teaching students, it was sheer determination that kept me going. But in the years I’ve been teaching when it’s happened I find that just teaching to the best of my ability, breaks me through any barrier. Partly, it’s a matter of inspiration. Teaching inspires me because it always sends me and the student back to the basics. Revisiting them makes our kung fu better. Every. Time.

The Chinese have a saying, “to teach is to learn twice.” By going back and teaching beginners a practitioner teaches themselves as well. This is one of the keys to constant forward progress. Help teach. I know it works. I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve seen it in many students. So my advice to mid-level and advanced practitioners when they come to me with this problem is this: come into the class and help teach the junior students. Sometimes when I offer this advice the students don’t understand. They may wonder how teaching a student more junior to themselves will help them get better. But I tell them to just trust me, to trust the process.

Helping beginners helps us find where our own understanding of a technique or form may fall short. That leads us to ask our Sifus questions that gives us the missing concept or understanding and fills in that gap. And this can start a whole new growth spurt for you. So if you are an advanced student don’t be selfish with your knowledge. Help teach the junior students and watch your own kung fu take off again!

 

Never Miss an Opportunity to Learn From Your Sifu

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No matter what style or family of kung fu training you follow, the path can be a long and hard one. In our school, we’re on a  ving tsun (wing chun) kung fu path. As the days go by and our training continues, injuries and setbacks, possibly arising from training or from conditions outside of school, are inevitable. However, they don’t need to keep you from learning from your Sifu. I always tell my students, even if you’re injured or sore, or just tired, you should still attend class. 

Why? Sitting, listening and watching we can still learn a great deal.

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A lot of what we learn from our teacher in kung fu, has nothing to do with martial art technique. Students need to learn to live the kung fu life; to learn about kung fu culture; to learn to apply the art of Ving Tsun in daily life. Students need to learn how to live according to the Ving Tsun Jo Fen, or the rules laid down by our ancestors in the Ving Tsun system. These rules show us that kung fu is mostly about how to live a good life and use kung fu to make ourselves better people and for the benefit of society; Not to create more trouble.

These ideas involve subtlety and detail, which can only be passed on in close relationship with your Sifu. Spending a lot of time around him or her, is essential to your learning and absorbing these ideas. Of course, there’s all the physical techniques a student needs to learn as well. 

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You’d be surprised what you pick up by just sitting by and watching the way your Sifu teaches. You can pick up subtle things that maybe you overlooked before, or forgot about or maybe didn’t catch the first time it was taught to you.

There have been several times in my years traveling to Hong Kong that I was injured or sore from the long hours spent training, or maybe I was just plain too tired from jet lag or whatever. ( it seems every time I go it gets harder and harder to get over the jet lag and time difference.) At these times, I always still go to my Sifu’s classes at the Ving Tsun Athletic Association. I’d just sit and talk with my other kung fu brothers, or I would talk with Sifu Ip Ching at his desk. Many times the conversation would not be about kung fu at all. We talk as friends about life in general. Sometimes he would tell a story about Ip Man, or something from his years spent closely with him. I would ask about Simo. He would inquire about my wife and life back in the United States, how my school was going etc. he’d offer tips on teaching gleaned from his own years of experience.

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Sometimes we’d talk about kung fu. If he got up to teach or show something, I’d be close by to watch the way he’d teach. I’d Listen closely to his explanations. Every time this deepened my own understanding, or spark a question for me to ask him when we sat back down.

Times like these are invaluable. I’m always glad I went to those classes because of the things I learned.

Whenever I’m in Hong Kong I spend as much time around Sifu as possible. Sometimes going for dim sum after training in the morning. Sometimes going to his home to sit and have tea and talk. And when we traveled to Fatsan to visit the Ip Man Tong and other places, we had three meals a day together. Plus spending all the rest of the time together for two or three days. It was good times and I wouldn’t change any of it.

I know that I’m a better teacher because of the time spent closely with him.

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So to get down to the real Kung fu and Kung fu life you must learn to cultivate your relationship with your Sifu. Try to attend class at every opportunity. Try to be around your Sifu whenever you have the chance. You never know when he  or she will  come out with a bit of wisdom that changes everything for you.

This way you learn that to be good at Kung fu means the training and learning never stops. Even after you’ve learned all the forms of the system, etc. that’s just the start; you’ve just begun to walk the path. There is so much more to learn from your Sifu, not to mention all the hard work you will be doing to master what you’ve been taught. It’s a never ending journey. Your Sifu is your guide in that journey, and building a close relationship with him is very important. This is why year after year, even though I’ve learned the entire ving Tsun system, I still go back to Hong Kong to be with my Sifu.

So next time your sore or tired or not feeling like going to class, remember these words. Go spend time with your Sifu. You never know what you’ll learn.

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