Wing Chun: Insights of a Community Acupuncturist

“What’s Wing Chun? Oh, you mean its a type of Kung Fu? Oh really? I thought acupuncturists were all mellow and Zen and stuff. So you mean you don’t do yoga?”

As a community acupuncturist, my work is intentional, carefully calculated, supportive and oh so vewy, vewy quiet. I spend my week using my inside voice, tip-toeing around, being accommodating, doing my best to be compassionate. The trials and tribulations of running a grassroots business and the interpersonal dynamics of being a practitioner can be frustrating. All my co-workers are women. My client-base is 80 percent women (geez, why is that?). So much nurturing, so much care giving, so many lady hormones flying around, so so yin. Too much yin work can stagnate and drain our qi, life energy.

So how does one get their ya-yas out and balance this oh-so-yin work? To do something completely different – I picked Wing Chun.

In Chinese Medicine, the objective is to strike a balance. To counter activities that are overly yin in nature, simply complement them with activities that are yang in nature. Actions that increase the heart rate, break a sweat, flex the muscles and involve explosive movements are an expression of yang.

Historically, martial arts (including disciplines of tai chi and qi gong) were the gateway into Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many practitioners of martial arts, including many instructors I have studied with, are also practitioner of herbology, tui na (a style of Chinese massage) and acupuncture. The study of martial arts is an ideal compliment to the body of knowledge and theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine and it would further enrich one’s understanding and application of their practice as well as a means for physical, mental and spiritual fitness. For instance, consider this traditional Chinese idiom:

The Door Hinge Never Rusts

Stagnation is the enemy of health. Activity, the great remedy.

Movement Quickens the Blood and Scours the Vessels; permitting the free flow of blood and qi. Exercise extends the blood to the smallest vessels, deeply nourishing the body. This same circulation clears waste. When you are lethargic, your cells wallow in their own excrement.

Wing Chun (alternatively, Ving Tsun), is a style of Chinese Martial Arts known for its economy of movement and physical efficiency. Named after a female martial artist (as translated, Spring Chant), it is a style originating from Foshan, Guangdong Province in China and made popular internationally by Grand Master Ip Man (aka Yip Man) and later by the revered Bruce Lee. Practical in application, it is an effective form of self-defense as it is based in physics (the shortest distance between two objects is a straight line) and its foundation is disciplined practice of basic techniques.

I’ve trained with West Coast Sunny Tang Victoria since February 2012.
I love it and here are reasons why:

Change of pace. The daily grind of running my own business and providing customer service has it rewards and of course its challenges and frustrations. I’ve worked on softening over the years, but as patient and compassionate as I can be, I am still a type-A perfectionist at heart. It’s important for my well-being to take the opportunity to regularly blow steam. Being in a class consisting mostly of men, sweating together and focusing physical intensity is a welcome change of pace from my weekly schedule and that little injection of yang energy.

I know many practitioners that practice yoga and I can truthfully say yoga isn’t a fit for me. One of my clients once said, “Yoga is like medicine. I know it’s good for me, but it doesn’t mean I like it”. If I need to blow steam, nothing is better than hitting something with my fists.

Kind to the body. I have trained in a variety of martial arts since the age of 10 – karate, jiu jitsu, capoeira. Each were enjoyable in their own way, but each of them took their toll on my body from sprains, strains, blisters and whiplash. Being in a profession where your hands are the money, I had to consider that the next martial art I would pick would need to be safe and I could train with intensity, but avoid the risk of injury. Wing Chun was designed based on structure and form and very little on brute strength, physical size or flexibility.

I also appreciate its similarities to my style of acupuncture. Simple, utilitarian and economical. It ain’t flashy to look at, but it is damn effective.

Good for the body. I’ve suffered from anxiety for all of my adult life. Over the years, I have learned strategies for managing the spinning of hamster wheels and the feeling of my heart beating up in my throat. Listening to music, swimming laps, late night movies, Rescue Remedy, acupuncture and tai chi. Shortly after starting martial arts again, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the uneasy feeling that you should be somewhere or doing something was far more distant and no longer waking me at 5:30 in the morning. I felt more confident, grounded and solid in my spirit.

I also suffered from benign positional vertigo, which was aggravated by stress. It would best be described as an out of body experience while walking. I tried herbs, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, physiotherapy, chiropractic, I even broke down and took medication, but nothing would touch it. I eventually learned how to manage my stress and the episodes tended to occur less and less. And then I started Wing Chun…and it hasn’t been back since. Apart from some of the unusual fringe benefits, Wing Chun has been a excellent reminder of my posture. Even when I arrive to class feeling like crap, I always leave feeling re-energized.

Family & community. The Sunny Tang club is a family consisting of sisters and brothers from different walks of life. And although we have members who are more experienced and different coloured sashes, there is no hierarchy; there is our commitment to our Kung Fu and to each other. Older brothers and sisters teach and supervise the younger ones, the younger ones train to the best of their ability and respect the advice and instruction of the elder. I have always felt welcome and listened to. Our input and contributions to club events and organization are encouraged and valued. I am treated equally as a woman. We are a big, happy Kung Fu family. Sometimes I even take the liberty to make people laugh in class…because families also need laughter.

Empowering. I am a strong and outspoken woman of colour and I stand up for what I believe in. I realize that sometimes actions speak louder than words and I strongly feel that it is important for women to learn martial arts for self-defense. It is reassuring to know that not only am I capable of speaking up for myself, but also defending myself physically. Wing Chun is intelligent, effective and elegantly kick-ass.

When I was younger, I used to struggle with my cultural identity. I wasn’t comfortable being Chinese, wasn’t quite sure what it meant to be Canadian. I always knew I was a “banana”, an Asian out of touch with her identity in a dominant white culture, all ever confusing and conflicting. It wasn’t till I began my career in community acupuncture that I finally claimed ownership of my cultural pride. Taking the martial art whose roots were in Hong Kong, the native land of my parents, somehow made me feel whole. Presently, I better understand my culture and the intersections of being Chinese-Canadian and that little piece of my heritage I keep inside me.

Now if only Victoria had some decent dim sum…

Enriching. Those who know me well know that I am always on the move and I am at peace when in motion. I like the idea of meditation, but I have never felt suited for meditation while stationary. My community acupuncture is meditative, the dynamic balance of stillness and flow. I find swimming countless laps as a leisurely, repetitive meditation. African hand drumming, fast, furious, hypnotic meditation. My first time taking tai chi I was in love. It was an active meditation, intentional, rooting down. Wing Chun forms, coordinating breath while expanding and contracting in space, perfect.

The intentional focus on breath, stance and structure are all principles I follow while practicing acupuncture and it’s enlightening to have them reinforced through my Kung Fu. I am aware of my meridians lighting up like Christmas lights whenever my body is positioned just right. I appreciate the subtleties of my connection from hand-elbow-shoulder-hip-heel and rooted into the ground. On the walk home, I am aware of that little cloud of swirling qi floating about an inch below my navel. Hello there Dan Tian.

It has gradually enriched my practice of acupuncture, improved my quality of life and provides me with balance as I am a rampant workaholic.

Wing Chun is my outlet. It is a meditation in physical and mental health, a reason to sweat, my odd-ball family, my call to empowerment and that little spark of yang. As I am sure that acupuncture is my life long passion, I know that my Kung Fu will remain a faithful companion on my journey.

If you are also interested in how Wing Chun can benefit you physically, mental-emotionally and spiritually, I encourage you to check out Sunny Tang Victoria. And if you’d like to learn more about what Community Acupuncture is about and its benefits to community health, visit my clinic Heart & Hands Health Collective, we’re just a block away…
~Christina Chan, R.Ac.