Level 9 – The Level of Mastery

PRIVATE TRAINING

The month of October the Chin family got a little bigger, welcoming the head of our Ukrainian school, Instructor Sergeii Gneushev and his students — Instructor Evgeniya Bliznyuk (Jane) and Instructor Oleksii Surik — to our home in Queens, New York. In a continuing effort to advance the Ukrainian Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan group, they’ve traveled the great distance to be here for a month of private training with GM Sam Chin. Together we went to some of the Chin family’s favorite restaurants, or sometimes we would enjoy staying in and eating meals personally cooked by GM Sam Chin and his wife, Kooi. In exchange, we also got to enjoy some delicious Ukrainian home cooked meals as well! 

WHY TRAIN DIRECTLY IN PERSON?

As GM Chin has continually explained the importance of direct transmission, the Ukrainians understood the need for this in order to grow and to validate their understanding.  So they have seized the rare opportunity of GM Chin being home for an extended period of time to benefit from intense training and to get graded. Hearing of the event, Instructor Henry Lai also immediately took the opportunity and traveled from North Carolina to train with the group for a week.  

SCHEDULE

A typical day consisted of waking up around 7:30am for their own training and warm up exercises. A Q&A session would take place at the table following breakfast; they would then train from 10am until around 2pm under the tutelage of GM Sam Chin. After a short break they would continue their training with Master Hsin Chin until dinner time. 

Grading

LEVEL 9 GRADING – THE LEVEL OF MASTERY 
Student Level 9 is a very skillful level that involves an overall demonstration of applications. Achieving this level means the student is considered to be a master level of our art.  The state of “mastery” in our family art is when one recognizes that this is truly only the beginning and that there is a continuous learning process ahead. The seeker-mind within is to always put oneself as a student-mentality. Experiencing this puts you in an understanding of “the more you know, the more you recognize that you don’t know.” At this point in the curriculum, this level gives a good enough representation of the family art. For this reason, Instructor Sergii Gneushev is acknowledged for his achievement and ability to demonstrate the art as a “Master”.  In order to maintain the integrity and quality of student level 9, it must be graded by the Chin family to be officially recognized. 

Sometimes partner training is difficult or rendered less effective if you do not have a higher level instructor present because in order to perform certain exercises there must be a specific condition. If the condition isn’t present or isn’t being fed, it becomes difficult to execute the action. The reason student level 9 is revered is because the general theme is understanding the relationship between cause and effect and how to create conditions in order for you to be able to execute the movement regardless of whether or not the opponent provides the condition. 

We want to congratulate Instructor Sergeii Gneushev for obtaining “Master” level and for successfully grading both student level 9 and instructor level 4.  Also congratulations to Instructor Evgeniya Bliznyuk, Instructor Olekseii Surik and Instructor Henry Lai for grading for student level 7.

We thank you for your continued support and dedication in spreading the art!

Carving a Boat for a Lost Sword (刻舟求劍)

Stories of Awareness
Carving a Boat for a Lost Sword (刻舟求劍)

While crossing a river, a man accidentally dropped a precious sword into the middle of the water.  To the boat rower’s dismay, the man said, “No need to stop, the water is too deep and too rapid here.”  Then the man proceeded to take out a knife, and carved a mark on the side of the boat where he was sitting.  Showing off to the rower about how smart he is, the man explained, “This mark is to note where I dropped the sword. I will find the sword on the other side of the river where the water is shallower and slower, and I will jump down from this part of the boat to retrieve my sword.”

The story is part of an encyclopedia collection that originally appeared in a book called “呂氏春秋” (Lu Shi Chun Qiu, Master Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals) compiled around 239 BC.  The story itself was meant to be used as a warning to the country’s rulers that the government policies should change over time to adapt to the constantly changing needs of the nation.

There are many morals we can infer from this short story, but let us take a look at what we can apply using our Zhong Xin Dao’s philosophies and principles.

Obviously, the man will not be able to find the sword at the other side of the river, because he was using the wrong reference to try to locate his object, and the time has already passed.  If the water was moving quickly, the sword could have been sent further downstream, so the placement of the mark on the boat was completely irrelevant anyway.  While on the boat and thinking he can get his weapon back across the river, the man’s future reference is wrong.  When he finally reached the opposite shore, the reference to the immediate need is again wrong, for both the time and space were in the past. 

In “Martial Art of Awareness-System Guide, 3rd Edition,” GM Sam Chin includes a chapter titled “Why Zhong Xin Dao” (page 54) which describes the how, why, and what we are training, and that is to see the present moment, and how to “change with the changes”.  One should not apply a preset method if the condition does not fit, and the reference is incorrect.

What other morals of this story do you see?

By Jeffrey Wong

Embodying the Viewpoint

ONE INSTRUCTOR’S REFLECTIONS ON RECOGNIZING AND REALIZING
THE ZXD APPROACH TO TEACHING & LEARNING
 

By Lan Tran (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: student level 4, instructor level 1)

In the 7 years that I have been training in the Martial Art of Awareness, I am only now coming around to understanding the process of change, and what GM Sam Chin means when he describes the Approach to the philosophy, concepts, and principles as seeing what the means “To change with the changes in order not to change.”  In 2014, I met GM Sam Chin right when I was about to quit training in the martial arts altogether.  I reluctantly went to a workshop he was holding in Boston, mostly at the suggestion of others, and I didn’t have high hopes.  In my view at the time, I figured the event was just going to be another internal arts master who was going to waste my time and have me wave my arms around for a day.  I showed up at the workshop and sat down on the ground to GM Sam Chin’s opening talk. This talk was almost two hours long but by about 3 sentences in, I was hooked.  

As GM Sam Chin talked about his approach, I was thinking to myself, this is fascinating.  He was explaining how the system was based in Zen and Taoism, and how one should approach training.  Once the talk was done and we took a short break, Sifu came up to me and asked me to show him what I know.  On the touch, my world crumbled like a house of cards.  It was probably the biggest lesson in humility that was ever dished out to me in my life.  In that moment, I realized there was no skill in my skills.  I was frozen in space with nowhere to go.  As excited as I was to learn this art, I was also discouraged because if it took me 40+ years to have “no skill”, I couldn’t even imagine how long it would take to acquire a modicum of real skill. The cost-sunk bias I confronted was real: could I “give up” the four decades of training and start over again?

Being a long time martial arts instructor, the way I learn best is when I am teaching.  I enjoyed taking a concept and conveying it to students in my own words.  Teaching, in a way, was my way of validating to myself if I got the information across.  Having signed up at that Boston 2014 workshop to be a ZXD life-time member, I thought I could take the “fast track” to Instructor level 1, imagining “once I get to that level, I’ll know what I’m doing. “ Well, I had no idea how deep this rabbit hole went—and clearly hadn’t yet grasped Sifu’s process of learning how to learn, much less learning how to teach this ‘learning how to learn!’  

Certain aspects of the training, even in the first three levels, do impart real usable skill, a reality which even stumped me more.  How was it that even with the newfound skills, my senior brothers and sisters shut me down with a level of effortlessness I couldn’t fathom, much less figure out? What was I doing or not doing?!  My confusion—or lack of mental clarity—got to the point about 2 years ago that I didn’t even know what I was doing anymore.  I couldn’t figure out why my “skills” were so intermittent.  It couldn’t be my coordination, I reasoned, so I was again lost. That low point, in retrospect, was the beginning of a turning point. 

Of course, all this time, GM Sam Chin had been consistent with his message, constant in delivering his viewpoint in that direct, neutral manner that IS the embodiment of his entire Approach,. And he remained unwavering in his willingness to share his art by guiding students to see things for themselves.  In all honesty, though, it has only been in the past 2 or 3 weeks, that I can say I have begun to understand Sifu’s approach TO the approach. Over the course of 7 years, it has been a revolving cycle of me letting go of my current mental constructs, letting go of my identity, realizing my ego, and facing myself on a deep psychological level. I came to realize that I couldn’t just “understand” the viewpoint intellectually and still run the viewpoint through my own filter (which I HAD been doing). After all, the resulting effect of me having done that was that I was still seeing Sifu’s viewpoint through my own filters—in essence, I was changing the viewpoint to MY viewpoint. Although I heard Sifu repeatedly tell me “it’s all about attention, it’s all about constantly balancing,” and him patiently asking me, “Where are you placing your attention?”  I realized I had to embody the principles. I had to change my approach.  I had to change my understanding of the viewpoint—and how I go about in the world, how I see things, how I process information, how I related to other people, how I understand change. All these transformations have had to come through the Zhong Xin Dao viewpoint. Only now could I embrace dropping my viewpoint to really step fully into my role as an instructor of the system — to spread Sifu’s message in the way he needs it conveyed. Otherwise I would be stuck in still just ‘teaching my thing.’ 

It’s not surprising that I have had to change my approach to teaching in my regular weekly ZXD classes with my students so that I could model the viewpoint by giving instructions through the viewpoint. In this more aligned way, what my students see is TRULY about the viewpoint—guiding them to observe for themselves where (and how) they are placing their attention.  

My 30 years of teaching had been getting in my own way—so much so that I couldn’t even see I was going off on a tangent. And my own ego, and my own pride, of my past way of teaching didn’t allow me to ‘let go’ to embrace Sifu’s approach to how to give neutral instructions, or be a ‘finger pointing to the moon’ in a way that effectively guides students to their own learning.  I realized once I embody the viewpoint, Sifu’s approach manifests a quality of simplicity. That elegance has brought a smile to my face and renewed enthusiasm for teaching.  I’ve taught 3 classes so far maintaining this approach, and can witness the students immediately recognizing for themselves the meaning of “The Neutral Touch”.  I am so grateful for Grandmaster’s constant instruction, and for the instructors, too, working so diligently, to uphold the family’s system of cultivation. In this art, the direct experience truly does produce direct results.  

 

 

Reflections On Formlessness

GM Sam Chin & students demonstrate the 21 Form

Stories of Awareness From “The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber”

By Inst. Jeffrey Wong, Edited by Prof. Nancy Watterson

The Heaven Leaning Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber

In a famous Chinese martial arts novel titled The Heaven Leaning Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber,  (倚天屠龍記 published by Jin Yong in the early 1960s as the final part of the Condor Trilogy), there was a story about how Zhang San-Feng, the fictionalized creator of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), transmitted his “grand ultimate fighting” style to his grand-student, Zhang Wuji.

sunrise at WudangThe story goes as follows: Wudang Temple was under siege by a gang in possession of the sharpest sword on earth called the Heaven-Leaning Sword. 

Zhang, Sanfeng was still recovering from a previous injury, but was challenged to a duel by a sword expert from the gang. 

Sanfeng’s grand-student Zhang, Wuji volunteered to take on the sword master in place of his injured grandmaster.  The only “weapon” Wuji had was a wooden ceremonial sword in the temple. 

Before the battle, the gang allowed Wuji one hour to learn the newly created Tai Chi sword methods from his grandmaster in front of everyone, because they did not believe anyone would be capable of learning all the techniques from a sword form in such a short time anyway.

Forget The Technique

Instr. Luther Burrell demonstrates a movement from the 21 formUsing the wooden sword, Zhang Sanfeng demonstrated a 54-movement sword form, while Wuji purposely only observed the principles of the form, but did not try to memorize the movements. 

After the demo, Sanfeng asked Wuji whether he had memorized them.  Wuji answered, “I forgot almost half of it.”  Sanfeng replied, “Good, think about it a bit more.” 

After a while, Sanfeng asked again, “What about now?”  Wuji replied again, “Already forgot more than three quarters of it!”

Sanfeng smiled and said, “Good, I’ll repeat once more.”  

He then demonstrated the form again, but this time, none of the movements were the same as the last time he had shown them.  After Sanfeng finished his second demonstration, he asked Wuji again, “Child, how do you feel now?”  Wuji answered, “I still remember three techniques.” 



We should not be just copying or applying the instructions and basic movements rigidly, but changing with timing and spacing appropriate to that moment.click to tweet


Sanfeng nodded and sat down, while Wuji paced around the great hall of the temple a little longer, then happily told the grandmaster that he had completely forgotten the entire form. 

Sanfeng was overjoyed, “Not bad, not bad! You are ready now!”

Armed with only the ceremonial wooden sword given by his grandmaster, Zhang Wuji proceeded to defeat the gang’s sword master who was wielding the sharpest sword in the world, doing so by sticking constantly to the ridge and avoiding the sharp edges of the real sword, and when the sword master was finally exhausted and frustrated, he admitted defeat and the gang retreated from the temple.

Remember The Principle

So what can we learn from this fictional, but fun story?

Formlessness

Not only literally about forgetting the sword form itself, but about understanding the nature and principle of things, and not being fixated on either a set of  techniques or any rigid preconceived formation of ideas.

Such an understanding of formlessness is one of our “Three Mental Factors” in the System of Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan, along with “present”, and “neutral”. 

In the story, Wuji learned not by memorizing preset movements that he was shown, but by using his power of observation to realize the principles behind the sword form.  Our own study of the ZXDILC art requires the same learning process:  observing ourselves and the way things are. 

We do train forms and basic movements, but those are instructions — pointers to the principles. 

Do Not Imitate Or Accumulate

I liq Chuan students in AustriaWe should not be just copying or applying the instructions and basic movements rigidly, but changing with timing and spacing appropriate to that moment. 

Only the principles themselves should be constant, then countless movements and applications will emerge — much as Zhang Sanfeng demonstrated 108 different impromptu movements to showcase the sword form to his grand-student, intentionally for them to be forgotten within the hour.

Of course, Grandmaster Sam Chin would not want you to forget his teachings of the 15 Basics, 21-Form, Butterfly Form, and Nine-Point Fists, but it is guaranteed that he would be happier to see that a student can retain the unchanging principles of Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan, even when his movement sets are done differently than what was demonstrated.

The principles should remain the constant center within the infinite changes.

Another interesting part of the story is that the strategy for stickiness—adhering to the ridge of the sword to avoid the sharp ends—is quite similar to our control of the Point of Contact in our level 7-8 top and bottom hand training! 

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The Flight of Icarus, From the ZXD Point of View

image of a feather

image of a feather

Stories of Awareness

by Instructor Jeffrey Wong

According to Greek mythology, there was this man named Icarus, whose father Daedalus was a very talented craftsman. Daedalus built the “Labyrinth” (a maze that no one could exit) for King Minos of Crete to imprison a half-man, half-bull monster called the “Minotaur”.
 
After the labyrinth was finished, King Minos then imprisoned Daedalus and Icarus inside because Daedalus gave the king’s enemy, Theseus, a clew (clue, a ball of string) to find his way out of the maze after defeating the Minotaur.
In order to escape the labyrinth, Daedalus caught many crows waiting for them to die inside the maze, and used their feathers to create two pairs of large wings for himself and his son Icarus.
 
Before escaping the labyrinth island, Daedalus warned his son to not fly too close to the sun because the wax he used to glue the wings together would melt, and not fly too close to the sea because the feathers would get wet.
 

Then, they started their flight to escape the island. As soon as Icarus got used to using the wings, he was eager to show off his newfound flying skills. As he kept soaring higher and higher and too far to hear his father’s calls, the wax on Icarus’s wings started to melt as he flew too close to the sun, and he fell into the ocean and drowned.

Lessons For Zhong Xin Dao Students

 
There are two lessons we can take from this legend and see them in our Zhong Xin Dao philosophy and practice:
  1. The most obvious lesson that is congruent to our philosophy, we should seek the center path. To not stray too high near the sun, nor too low near the water like Icarus, and we need to stay in the middle; not be blinded by our egos, or by our own preferences, and do not lose awareness of the neutral path.
  2. During the learning process, students need to first follow the path set forth by their teachers/instructors. However, instructors themselves are also never perfect, and they are also students for life. There is no reason to think a student cannot surpass a teacher.

    So when the students understand the principles further, the path set by the teachers may no longer seem the most efficient, then they can adjust it to be more precise to be in the center. But, was the teacher’s planned path not the best route because they are imperfect, or is the student’s view biased to think he/she has found a better way?

    I personally absolutely understood Icarus’s excitement once he felt he has achieved some success, and started thinking I have understood all that there is to know and I can fly my own path, only to be humbled by many failures in applications, and needed to retrace the principle which ultimately should be the most correct path and not according to any person’s opinion of the proper way. We then can start the process again, while hoping the next journey would be more precise. Luckily, our failures in training usually do not have fatal consequences like Icarus’s fall.

The Chin Family as told by the Granddaughter: Part 2

Training In The Living Room

“Push the hips!”
My Gong Gong (grandpa) would comment to the 7 or 8 year old me as my brother, Chih and I carry out one of our favorite childhood games.

My Gong Gong, Grandmaster Chin, Lik Keong, was not formally educated but he was a genius. He’s a well-respected Grandmaster, the founder of a martial art that’s being practiced by students globally.  As mentioned in part 1, he had the ability to memorize martial art forms even after seeing them once, and he’d be able to distill the essence of the moves. Just like those fictional characters that you see in kung fu films, except Gong Gong was real.

Of course, I had no idea then.

Growing up, I saw many people, mostly men, come and get beaten by my Gong Gong. Then they would show up every week after that and get all sweaty in our living room, pushing and pulling with other students who also were beaten up by my Gong Gong. All these people crammed in a hot and humid living room. As the night would go on, I sometimes wish they would just stop and go home. Why? Because they’ve made the living room smell so bad!

Students training in the living room at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

For many years, I thought this was common in every family.

One good thing about their weekly training, though, was that I did enjoy seeing my Gong Gong teach all the “tips and tricks” so I could try to apply them when it’s the turn for Chih and I to regain access to our playground – our playground. We would take turns pushing each other across the living room. Gong Gong would often join in giving instructions. I remember I’d get jealous sometimes because he’d give more tips to my brother, teaching him how to beat me in the game.

“Push the hips!” “Stronger” “Lift off the ground!” etc…

You could see the passion in Gong Gong, for he loved sharing what he knew. Even with kids like myself and my brother who’s probably still attending Kindergarten then.

Lifelong Dedication

For decades, before the crack of dawn, both my Gong Gong and Ma Ma, a.k.a. Grandma would drive to the nearby national stadium, the locals call it the “Mushroom Park” because there is a huge mushroom overhead. They go there to exercise, do qigong, and train martial arts. While Ma Ma dances with the bunch of other grandmas, Gong Gong would volunteer his time to teach whoever was interested.

Gong Gong with Chih Chin at 12 years old training at the “Mushroom Park”

Sometimes Chih and I would go along with them and play around the park. I’d follow along with other martial arts masters doing the fan dance, or participate with the group of grandmas along with my Ma Ma to a voice blasting through the stereo counting from 1 to 10, or simply go and pick flowers while Chih hung out with our gong gong. Several hours later, we’d drive to a crowded Passar (morning market) to “Yam Cha” which means “drink tea” – a.k.a. to get food. This routine went on until the day before my Gong Gong passed away at the age of 80.

Growth Through Sharing

Everywhere Gong Gong went, people addressed him as “Sifu.” 

He was well respected, people that would come and pay visits to him from all over and he would share passionately. During holidays, especially Chinese New Year, our house would be filled with visitors and gifts. He just loved teaching, a characteristic apparently common with my father as well. It’s their passion. They want everyone to have the same treasure that they recognized. It makes them happy to see other people benefit from the art.

This very reason drove my father to continue teaching even when he was battling cancer and being treated in the hospital. When students visited him, you could see the drive in him ignite. It gave him energy and he would then share his most recent recognition from the time that he spent recovering at the hospital – his explorations and deeper understanding of the mind in connection to the body. It was then that he structured “The Path of I Liq Chuan”, from his hospital bed.

Giving Back

Positive design by volunteers at WBA.
Positive design by volunteers at WBA.

The culture of our organization, led by example from both my Gong Gong and father, is based on sharing.

Despite the hardships, this gave me the fire to continue coordinating our daily public martial art sessions during the peak of the pandemic.  I’m grateful to our instructors who volunteered their time for these sessions. Our intention is to bring people together during the quarantine. Perhaps we could provide a bit of normalcy and change the day for the better for some people.

As children, Chih and I fought to win our childhood games. As adults, we coordinated together in reaching out to our frontline heroes. We volunteered with Words by Amrita, a non-profit organization initiative that specializes in positive words and artwork for the healthcare professionals. Together, we delivered cards and organized Zen Day for Westside Regional Medical Center in Florida that’s part of HCA, one of the largest hospital network in America.

I was especially touched to see not only busy doctors and nurses benefit from the meditation sessions, but COVID patients as well!

Coordinating with Kilin Tang, instructor Wai Tang’s son, we are also reaching out to senior homes through COVID-19 Greater Charlotte Area Mutual Aid. This is a student run organization focusing on connecting support to the community of North Carolina. Local high schoolers jumped aboard and volunteered to personalize hundreds of cards before delivering them to the senior centers.

Healthcare professionals at WRMC participating meditation session at Zen Day
Meditation session. Photo by Westside Regional Medical Center on Instagram

 

We hope to continue reaching out to more healthcare facilities, clinics and senior centers. If you know of any facilities that would benefit from this initiative, please feel free to contact me at yen@iliqchuan.com.

Appreciating The Roots

Even with my father’s most recent knee replacement surgery, he’s been reflecting on the best ways to spread the art. He is continually seeking, searching for best ways to guide others to continue their own self-cultivation.

When I see my dad’s constant dedication to spreading the Martial Art of Awareness, even when he himself is in the middle of healing, I appreciate the roots of my own passion for sharing positivity.

The Granddaughter
-Yen L. Chin

image of Amrita cards
Cards delivered to senior centers.
image of handwritten cards
Cards personalized by local high schoolers.

The Chin Family as told by the Granddaughter: part 1

Historical 1979 interview on my family art.
The first ever I Liq Chuan interview published in an independent 3rd party book.

It gives a fair and accurate overview on what the art was based on then and how it was formed by my Gongong (grandpa in Chinese), as they referred to him as the ‘Head Instructor. Just as it states in the publication “Head Instructor Chin has learned from Master Lee Kim Chow and other Chinese martial arts. He then integrated the essence of various styles, and formed the I Liq Chuan Association…”

The interview was given by my grandfather alongside Mr. Wong who was the VP of the association then.

Gongong was a martial art prodigy who was able to perform martial art form after seeing it only once and he’d be able to understand the essence of it. Yes, believe it or not he’s much like the main character of what you see in the movies. He was also a humble man who didn’t care for titles or recognition. He was not a man of many words either. Unfortunately, this left room for those with ill intention to poke holes, argue, and to present twisted ‘truth’ against him.

Though quite frankly, none of these really matter because my dad and the Chin Family have had 30+ years of history in spreading the art internationally since the early 1990’s after my family moved to the United States. Currently our lineage has already passed down to the 6th generation. Not only has my father not stopped spreading the art, he has evolved it after his involvement at the Buddhist temple as a chef and handyman. He would teach martial arts every Saturday as the great master but all other times he’s the low handyman waiting for instructions from everyone else. And he’s also the chef who cooks and serves several hundreds of people at a time.

The pay at a Buddhist temple was next to nothing, the Chin family of six were living below poverty line but we were all very grateful for this opportunity to be closely associated with the temple. This allowed my siblings and I to be brought up in a loving kindness environment that showed us how to be trustworthy, sincere, and open hearted. Most importantly, it allowed my father to be exposed to highly skilled meditation practitioners which deepen his understanding of mindfulness. My father has always explored meditation even when he was a young teenager, however, the exposure to world renowned Dharma and meditation masters has allowed him to see clearly the linkage between the mental and the physical. Not only was he able to understand it, he was able to understand the ‘HOW’ and is able to share it. Which is I believe to be the most valuable asset.

I am extremely grateful to be in such an environment where my father has brought together a community based on openness. This allows our community to bond together as a caring family that shares with each other. As I look back at the years, the Chin family has been through good and bad times but all of which does not matter. What matters is that we observe the changes moment by moment and it is all part of a path in enriching our understanding that helps us to grow stronger!