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Arts of China
Well known by our readers, as much for his work as an actor in action and Martial Arts films as for his skills as a teacher of the Martial lineage he received from his family, Vincent Lyn is one of the warmest and deepest people that one can find these days in Martial Arts.
In the interview that he granted us, he speaks about some aspects of Kung Fu that are not very common in the West, and about his experience with them, elements like the internal practices that he learned from his uncle and how this later treated his own cancer with internal techniques.
For Vincent, the true self-defense begins with oneself, and to know the health-building techniques of Qi gong, Chi Kung, etc. is something essential, as he already gave us a glimpse at in his first, magnificent video.
However, for those who think that Kung Fu is a not very efficient and complicated form of combat, Vincent has made a new video. In his techniques, the essence of a style that undoubtedly inherits aspects directly from Wing Chun are clearly visible in the magnificent way of handling the arms, as well as possessing a variety of surprisingly direct and formidable techniques where the economy of movements is paradigmatic.
This is a most interesting interview with a man who is undoubtedly one of the outstanding figures in Martial films, but above all, an excellent human being, and a worthy instructor and master with true and important things to teach.
Fit for Life?
America has a love/hate relationship with health and fitness. At no time in our history has America been more health-conscious. Many adults casually know more about cholesterol levels and blood pressure than most of the medical profession did a generation ago. Yet ironically, never has America been so out of shape. Government surveys estimate that between 68-75 % of adults and children are defined as seriously overweight or obese. Most are 10 to 20 lbs. above the suggested weight for their health/ body type. Fewer than 20% would pass the basic President’s Physical Fitness Test for their age group.
The principle reasons people have for studying Martial Arts are to get in shape and for self-defense. Realistically though, few people stay with it more than a few months and only about 10% of most Martial Arts schools’ enrollment is women. Therefore, the role of Martial Arts in modern America, in terms of health and fitness, poses some interesting and uniquely relevant questions, which few people can answer. Readers have been introduced to Vincent Lyn on numerous occasions as a Martial Artist, movie star, model and musician. The glamour of his accomplishments in the entertainment industry often overshadow aspects of this talented teacher and student of the Martial Arts. With all of his expertise, Sifu Vincent Lyn feels he is one of those few who can answer health-related questions. Therefore, he held an interview at both the Lyn Academy of Martial Arts and at Lyn Health and Harmony in Stamford, CT. Sifu Vincent Lyn and a number of his students thought it was time to take a critical look at some of these questions.
Budo Int.: Why do you, after 35 years of study, think of yourself as a beginning student?
Vincent Lyn: Perspective. My uncle was a grandmaster in Ling Gar (his family’s Martial Art system). He was also a master of Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong. He passed away 7 years ago. I can honestly say that it has only been since his passing that I am able to even fully appreciate what my uncle was capable of. It might seem strange by western standards, but things he did would be considered extraordinary.
Budo Int.: Of course, I have to ask for an example.
V.L.: In keeping with the theme of health and fitness, my uncle was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor the size of a small tangerine. It had started to protrude from his skull. They gave him 6 months to live and he was about 77 then. He went to see his teacher back in China and the teacher automatically knew why he had come. My uncle’s teacher told him, “If you don’t already know what to do, then my teaching has been a waste for the last 70 years.” The whole conversation took less than 3 minutes. For the next 6 months, my uncle dove into self-meditation and Qi Gong. When he returned to the doctors, they re-did the X-rays and tests. No trace of the tumor could be found! This is a physical impossibility. The doctors refused to believe he was the same person. The point is, in China the healing Arts are often considered an integral part of the Martial studies. Pressure points and energy channels are central to much of Chinese medicine as well as for the use in many Chinese fighting methods. Besides being practical knowledge for a Martial Artist, there was also a much deeper connection. My uncle used to say, “Anyone can hurt someone; the real skill is in healing!” To hurt someone, only to turn around and heal the same person without malice, prejudice or pretense, was the real teaching of Kung-fu. He would often say, “Making a friend of an enemy was the surest way to defeat them.”
Budo Int.: Having studied for over 35 years, and being a teacher yourself, why do you think so few students stay with the Martial Arts?
V.L.: In anything that requires discipline, there is a certain percentage of instant attrition. On a whim, people decide it would be nice to play the piano, or move like Bruce Lee. When they see it won’t happen by the end of next week, they lose interest and move onto the next ‘thing’. Everything is a question of priority. We only have so much time, and how we decide to spend it pretty much determines the quality of our lives. If learning a Martial Art is only kicking and punching, then it may only hold interest for so long. In the West there has been an obsession with Martial Arts, solely for self-defense. Not that this aspect is not relevant, but in the final analysis, the preoccupation has blinded many to entire worlds of knowledge. Learning more self-defense techniques, or weapons, or forms can easily get old, and not seem very pertinent to one’s life.
Budo Int.: Do you feel the Western orientation towards only the self-defense aspect is a major reason for the high dropout rate at Martial Arts schools?
V.L.: No. That really wouldn’t be quite accurate. The bottom line is, most people feel Martial Arts training is not relevant to daily life. If the goal of Martial Arts training is simply to be the meanest SOB in the valley, then the laws of survival predict your career is probably not going to last long. Injury and natural selection take their toll quickly. The other end of the spectrum in the West is the wave of aerobic Martial Arts programs. Their aim is to attract a different type of student in order for schools to generate income. Here, the dropout rate is similar to most gyms or fitness centers. That certainly couldn’t be attributed to the fixation on self-defense.
Budo Int.: Why do you feel the percentage of women who study Martial Arts is so low?
V.L.: Generally Chinese Martial Arts are more accessible to women because the styles are more eclectic. Wing Chun, a fairly modern style, was presumably designed by a woman. Within Ling Gar, my family style, there is enough diversity to be adaptable to almost any disposition. This adaptability is critical. One of the great lies in Martial Arts training is that ‘size doesn’t matter’. Of course it matters. Many techniques have to be modified or abandoned against opponents of vastly superior strength or size. Whether you are male or female has nothing to do with it. It is simple physics and common sense. Instructors must also realize that women tend to have different issues, physically and psychologically, than men do, especially as beginning students. For instance, many women are initially quite intimidated by physical aggression. Women are treated as second-class citizens in many schools, because they aren’t given the tools to actually compete directly with men. They have been taught the same blocks, techniques and applications, but never how to adapt them to actually be effective.
Budo Int.: How does the Western approach to physical conditioning in Martial Arts differ from traditional training methods?
V.L.: In most traditional Kung-fu training, conditioning was done through exercises designed to develop mental qualities and internal strength, as well as physical. It was thought to be very dangerous to do otherwise. I know quite a few talented Martial Artists who have basically trashed their bodies by age 40. They have degenerative arthritis in their joints, bad backs and whatever else from poor or excessive training methods.
Unfortunately, the ‘secrets’ that they have used are often passed down to their students. Martial Arts practice isn’t low impact aerobics. It can place inordinate stresses on the body. As can Tai Chi, though in much subtler ways. Without sensitivity to that, bad practice can be worse than no practice. This is something I stress to my students constantly. It isn’t true that ‘practice makes perfect.’ The true saying is that ‘perfect practice make perfect’. The only benefit to throwing 1000 bad sidekicks or punches a day, is for the doctor. Chances are the person would be too crippled to be able to use those techniques after a while. Traditional methods combined with what we have come to define as aerobic, resistance, isometric, and plyometric training techniques are the ideal way to develop the proper balance of stamina, explosive power, strength and speed.
Exercises, herbs and meditation are also used to cultivate internal strength and a balanced, focused mind. All of it was considered essential, or the bodies wouldn’t hold up through the rigors of training. There was a tremendous amount of wisdom, intelligence and experience at work here.
Most who practice Martial Arts in the West are never exposed to these ideas. The emphasis is on the physical. The idea of chi in the West, is learning to shout loudly and tighten the stomach when punching in order to give more energy and not get hurt. A lot gets lost, even on the most basic level.
Budo Int.: On a more personal note, what major plans have you in store?
V.L.: I am glad you asked. I am planning to join with Martial Artists from around the world to be part of a spectacular global Martial Arts event. The tour will be kept small—no more that 20 people—so everyone can fully enjoy what your destination country and hosts have to offer. We will spend twelve unforgettable days of adventure and enlightenment in China. We will be participating in the Shaolin International Martial Arts Festival. We plan on going from September 5 through September 18, 2004. This once-in-a-lifetime tour presents a unique, even extraordinary, opportunity to enjoy scenic wonders while developing a deeper understanding of what has made Chinese Martial Arts the most respected in the world. The Shaolin Martial Arts Festival Tour will include visits to Beijing, Zengzhou, Dengfeng, Luoyang, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. We will visit such amazing sights as the ‘Forbidden City’, the ‘Great Wall’, ‘Summer Palace’, ‘Tianemen Square’ and even the Shaolin Temple itself. Every day we will meet the people, experience the culture, and explore the history of China; all while enjoying the best of Chinese cuisine, entertainment and hospitality. In my daily teaching I will show practical ways to protect yourself and your health through kung-fu.