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?

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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: 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

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.