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Standing Meditation Explained - Wing Chun

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

The following is based solely on my subjective understanding and experience of CST’s Wing Chun and should not be taken as an attempt to invalidate anyone else experience or beliefs. If I have learned anything in my 20 years of training, it’s to keep an open mind and to be curious before passing judgement – you can never know what you don’t know. Also, for ease of reading I will be referring to Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin simply as CST.

Like many forms of meditation, the standing meditation that has become a hallmark of CST’s teaching method and lineage (which he talks about here) is initially about quieting the conscious mind and turning your curiosity and awareness inward.

While essential to learning how to move the body and generate force without relying on muscle or pushing off the ground, done with the right intent (it is not applied focus, but the absence of conscious thought) this practice soon transforms into an incredibly satisfying and rewarding experience in its own right. In the early stages you start by going through a checklist of sorts that enables you to develop the correct posture required to properly relax, before eventually shifting focus to developing this internal thought force. What can feel awkward or silly at the start, soon evolves into a profound and deeply engaging activity as you stop fighting the process and instead become fascinated with the emerging sensations and awareness within (though if you’re anything like me or you rely on critical analysis for your job, the conscious mind can be like an overtired child who will come up with all manner of incredible distractions/excuses to avoid going to bed - the more overtired/overactive, the more it resists).

This stage of your training can feel like your teacher has told you to go and stand quietly and if you’re patient and relax a strange feeling will emerge. Most of us go and stand for 30 seconds or a few minutes before, out of a mixture of boredom, excitement and enthusiasm we start problem solving and trying to optimize our chances of triggering this feeling (I must prepare!); what should it feel like? How long will it take? Does it even exist? Is this it? Have I joined a cult? Am I standing correctly? Is everyone looking at me? What did they say it felt like again?... and so on, until we eventually give up - or worse, we crave it so much that we fool ourselves into thinking we’re feeling it (at which stage self-awareness becomes the only path forward and why the ego needs to be overcome).

This is where the majority either give up entirely or fall into the deepest trap of all - believing they just need to analyze the problem more (gather more information, think even harder etc.).

“There is a chasm between what the brain knows and what our minds can fathom” - David Eagleman, PhD

Most of us have developed a belief that to do something we must first understand it. As neuroscientist David Eagleman recounts in his fantastic book Incognito this is not the case. Citing the story of British WW2 plane spotters and Japanese chicken sexers (who had the notoriously difficult job of identifying a chicks gender by sight for the poultry industry), Eagleman explains that we’re capable of developing unconscious competence without conscious understanding. In the case of the plane spotters, while a group of aviation enthusiasts proved very competent at identifying whether an aircraft was friend or foe, when they tried to teach this valuable skill they found they were unable to explain what informed their determinations. What both the plane spotters and chicken sexers discovered was that they were able to train their students but only by sitting with them as the students guessed the answer and then providing simple real-time feedback of “yes” or “no”. At no stage did the student or master have a conscious understanding of how. Wing Chun is no different – while some conscious understanding is necessary (correct intent is important) and helps with troubleshooting issues, we spend way too much time trying to understand it and way too little time trying to do it or getting feedback from those who can.

To paraphrase Chu Shong Tin, Wing Chun is incredibly simple and yet incredibly difficult for most people to do. The trick is simply to do less, not more.

“Ask less, practice more”. – Chu Shong Tin

It took me 15 years to realize that you cannot critically analyze your way to the required state of mind, no more than you can critically analyze your way to creativity, joy, arousal, enlightenment or than you can critically analyze your own way out of anxiety, depression, psychosis or grief (though we can critically analyze our way to getting help with these issues). This is like expecting to move a piece of wood with a magnet.

Nim Lik/thought force is an emergent property that arises from quieting and then applying your conscious mind correctly (much like we focus on a single point to balance on one foot while delegating everything else to the unconscious) - not the result of the “correct” conscious understanding as evidenced by CST achieving it without realizing it; having seen his master Leung Bik do similar things, Ip Man recognized it and informed CST.

Craving, analyzing, worrying, critiquing or proactively “trying” will only smother it. As odd as this may sound, in some respects it is very similar to physical arousal – the more you think about it, worry about it or focus on it, the further away it gets.

Instead, relax, clear you mind and bring your attention back to the feelings, not the meaning you’re attaching to them. Smile, be playful and kind to yourself. Notice when your mind starts to wander or get distracted and instead of getting frustrated, just smile and laugh it off - it’s just another opportunity to practice letting go.

Ironically, most of us learn this ability to quiet the conscious mind as children but underestimate how profound a lesson it is; counting sheep to get to sleep basically relies on the same process as meditation. Unfortunately when we attempt this process as adults, our bias for understanding leads to a fixation on the sheep - how many should there be? What color are they? Should they move left to right or right to left? What is the optimal size of the sheep? etc. and we quickly lose sight of the important part - the process. This negates most, if not all of the benefits and worse, often leads us to become fundamentalists about our particular flock of sheep.

While you may need to force yourself to do the standing meditation initially (standing still for longer than a few minutes can be awkward or uncomfortable to begin with), the goal should be to keep it light hearted. In CST’s words, the feeling you’re aiming for is “like someone has just paid you a lovely compliment” - a kind of joyful contentment.

So what is this feeling and how do you find it? The instructions were very clear - stand still, relax and wait patiently. Instead we make it way too complicated. It turns out that the feeling was there the whole time, we were just too distracted to notice. Once you eventually quiet the mind enough you’ll begin to feel something different, something completely new and unmistakable in its uniqueness. This is your first interaction with this mysterious feeling and the beginning of an entirely new and incredibly fulfilling part of your journey.

What began as just waiting around, transforms into a deep and pleasurable interaction (communicated by feelings) that to me feels like reconnecting with an old friend. I believe this is us re-establishing a peer relationship with the unconscious mind (or what the more spiritually inclined might refer to as the spirit/gateway to the divine) and through it, the body.

Like a rally driving team, the navigator (conscious mind), the driver (unconscious mind – all that we’re not consciously aware of) and the car (body) work in perfect harmony to produce this heightened state of awareness and ability. This state of being is significantly different from most people’s minute to minute “hierarchical” experience which I liken to riding in a limousine; Me, the boss (conscious mind), is sitting in the back doing all the “important” work with the partition up, barely even aware of the driver (unconscious) or their unique needs and therefore completely detached from the car (body). The more we rely on our conscious mind or intellectualism, the more we seem to view ourselves as just a brain/mind perched atop a meaty machine.

Once you’ve re-established this connection, you’ll begin looking forward to these interactions and will happily spend time standing and trying to do the forms in this collaborative way (though don’t be deterred or hard on yourself if you have relapses into your old habits – if I spent half the time actually standing as I do talking/thinking about it I would be 10 times the martial artist).

When I finally let go enough to experience this (for me it required deep vulnerability and the letting go of all insecurities to get my vigilant ego to switch off, hence the importance of practicing this in a safe and secure environment amongst people you trust), it was and still is one of the most meaningful experiences of my life – more akin to my understanding of a profound religious or psychedelic experience than anything else (or similar to a long orgasm). With this came a renewed sense of connection with the world and especially nature; in the days after I found myself moved to tears out of compassion or from being lost in a beautiful piece of music etc.

Since then I continue to experience significantly less distress, anger, frustration, jealously, anxiety, fear etc. than ever before. Instead I feel a greater sense of engagement, general contentment and significantly more empathy and compassion for others.

While I have only just begun this journey in the scheme of things (for every answer I walk away with more questions), this improved self-awareness has enabled me to overcome many of the insecurities (“I’m not _____ enough”, “I hope they never realise I’m ____”) that were driving my most self-destructive thoughts and behaviors that drove me towards less fulfilling flow states triggered by drugs, alcohol, video games, social media etc. By reacquainting myself with this non analytical state of being, I also re discovered my passion for creativity and the ability to experience and enjoy all forms of art, singing, dancing, religious ceremonies etc. without it needing to “make sense” - I can just be present and enjoy the experience and feelings without them being a means to an ends or meeting some preconceived idea.

These are some of the reasons why I believe standing meditation is by far the most important aspect of Wing Chun and the most effective way of improving all other aspects of the art or your overall wellbeing. Having spent roughly 15 years teaching and training using the “mindless” approach, I can say with confidence that an hour of proper standing meditation is worth at least 50 hours of mindless training.


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