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 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?