A Path to Zhong Xin Dao
This month I want to give the floor to a longstanding student of GM Sam F.S. Chin in a guest editorial. Sifu Rich Kelly presided over the first two Zhong-Xin-Dao assistant instructor seminars, and describes his way to and within Zhong Xin Dao below.
Enjoy your read!
Your SiFu/SiGung Keith R. Kernspecht
I've loved martial arts from my earliest memories. Training through childhood, I worked to challenge my physical potential, confidence and resilience. Growing up, it was a formative experience and I was fortunate to have a quality school with talented and genuine classmates. As I grew older and progressed, I began to realize that the emphasis in Taekwondo, on athletic skill for competition and sport, somehow fell short of my authentic motives. I felt something was missing, but didn’t know exactly what, or where to look.
Eventually, I realized that my true aspiration was to be a skillful person. Through martial arts, I aspired to awaken my most dynamic qualities … to grow confident, sharp and purposeful in all endeavors. I wanted to become expressive and intentional, thinking and acting in congruence with a clear purpose and proficiency. I had a deep, intrinsic motivation to live and act with a sense of clarity, understanding, and skill. To be calm and wise under stress, to be controlled and adept despite my fear or anger.
Competing, and working to prepare for competition, definitely created a challenging and efficient atmosphere that proved essential to my growth. However, regardless of how hard I trained, the philosophical and mental features remained disconnected, incomplete, and lacked a profound credibility. As opposed to a supporting, comprehensive path to reference for guidance, it seemed like I was being given a directionless mix of motivational ideologies. Despite my teacher having trained and competed at a very high level (US Olympic team trials Gold medalist), he did not have the tools to take me down this road. Without clearly understanding the ideology, and path of philosophy, my progress was stalled. So I began to try different things, exploring to see the vast scope of what I didn't know, driven by a quest for Mastery of myself.
This search for clarity eventually led me to the basement of a Buddhist Monastery where I met Master Sam Chin. However, I didn’t understand exactly what I had found. I was baffled. I had no idea what he was doing or how. I had never seen an art of this kind, or a teacher so skilled. He demonstrated the art’s potential by easily controlling me on contact, without forcefully overpowering me, or harming me at all. He was, through action alone, demonstrating a seamless mastery that I could appreciate, but did not understand. He expressed clearly, during continuous movement, qualities I believed were intangible and abstract, … things of martial arts lore.
Afterwards he said, "I beat you because my awareness is better." … That seemed completely amazing and perplexing to me. So I started showing up to his class in an effort to understand. Studying Zhong Xin Dao with Sam Chin, at the Chuang Yen Monastery, introduced me to a larger world and the genuine profundity of Taoism, and Zen Buddhism. Such depth is a rare opportunity.
So, after 14 years in Taekwondo, I committed fully to the path of Zhong Xin Dao. I did this primarily due to the authenticity and integrity of Master Sam Chin. Every aspect of what he explained and taught lined up with what he did in action, down to the smallest movement. I had never seen a philosophy directly applied like this. As we went further into refinements, each detail continued to characterize and embody what the philosophy was.
As I trained, I began to realize that genuinely comprehending and observing the relationship of the practice to the philosophy, wasn't just possible, it was essential. It was necessary as an accurate reference to cultivate the mind in conjunction with the body, and proved to be prerequisite to progress. All training in Zhong Xin Dao is a tool to balance the body, maintain the equanimity of the mind, emotions, and grow by honestly looking inward.. potentially becoming a better person.
Interconnecting these subjects of practice, a different perspective of martial tradition began to come into focus. The Shaolin monks used Kung Fu to train Zen philosophy. These practices were born together, naturally complimenting and enhancing each other. This was the skillful life and self mastery I had always felt called to.
Master Chin had reintegrated the depth and integrity of truly expressing the philosophy through movement. He had not only realized this in his own practice, but found a way to use this paradigm of recognizing the inherent qualities of Nature, mind, and body to unify the mental and physical. He and his father formed a method to allow students to recognize and utilize the symbolic/abstract interrelationships of the qualities of nature (Yin & Yang, five elements), actualizing them through specific exercises, meditation, and mindfully observing the present moment. Incredibly, he accomplishes this using the support of modern academic explanations, via vector physics, body mechanics, and cultivation of attention.
This is the exciting frontier of the method illustrated through Zhong Xin Dao. A brilliant marriage of applied ancient philosophy, validated through the lens of physics, while growing mindfulness, in order to realize skillful integration of force, awareness, nature, and balance with the process of change.
I began to appreciate that this unique approach to training fostered an understanding of how to self-correct and evolve out of apparent limitations. Many other Martial Arts have resolved to training techniques and formations. These movements, though based on an approach, are merely a single example of a that approach and may or may not convey it clearly. There can be limitless formations, so for fighting application, these are usually simplified to what is most effective within their training paradigm. These techniques are repeated for efficiency, muscle memory, fast reflex. This is an effective model to prepare people to use applications in a short time frame. However, this training of reflex does not emphasize sensitivity, awareness or the natural qualities that apply to all movements. They do not reveal what is most appropriate to the conditions.
In Zhong Xin Dao, these qualities are realized as we clarify the nature of the mind, body. When trained to their potential, they turn all activities which incorporate this awareness (of mental and physical qualities) into training that is constantly evolving, and becoming more precise. It is freeing us, through balance, to be able to change instantly while keeping powerful, integrated, mindful movement.
Unconscious reflexes, while useful, can become a liability. For instance, if we cannot adapt to change, or struggle to unlearn a mistake, or we create, through routine, a predictable skill set. Reflex can have a low ceiling, if we want to keep refining your skill, you cannot escape developing our awareness, so why not include it from the beginning? The less conscious we are during training the more you increase chance of injury, the danger of becoming predictable, inefficient, a slave to our patterns and habits, or unable to adapt our training to variables such as surroundings, an opponent's size or our own aging body.
Truthfully, every emphasis, over-emphasis or bias, during training, creates a tradeoff. Of course, we all strive for balanced, conscious training, but we all have to make choices about how we allocate training time. To avert the trap of preference, this art prioritizes 'how' we do a movement, instead of which movement.
The Zhong Xin Dao system and curriculum, establishes concepts and principles that allow the philosophy to be realized. With this emphasis, the essence that is common to all martial arts and natural movement can be recognized.
Exercises are done through certain ranges of motion to recognize certain qualities and mechanics by sustaining the balance & coordination necessary to be able to manifest the principles with and within the entire body, in every direction.
We then reinforce and verify these qualities through partner training. This introduces changing conditions and gives an opportunity train sensitivity and precision while receiving instantaneous, stimulating feedback from your partner to help you stay present (like getting hit). These partner exercises are meant to create enough variation that balance, adaptation and change are the only constants. If you're balanced and present, you will see that your only limit is what your awareness will allow.
Perhaps there are other arts that are a vehicle for the unequivocal cohesion of a philosophy. Theoretically, Shaolin monks and Tai Chi masters should practice this. However, after 30 years in martial arts, I have never seen another teacher who is directly applying it with the depth and purity that Master Sam Chin is, through his unique approach.
Zhong Xin Dao is a vehicle to train your mind and body for skillful movement, and the wisdom to realize your potential. As you accept the body's nature and grasp the principles and concepts of martial movement, you will recognize them everywhere.
Master Chin once called it, "They key to unlock all the doors.”
Implying that a deep recognition creates a reference to understand any art or movement, and Zhong Xin Dao is that 'skeleton key'.
In conclusion, I train Zhong Xin Dao because instead of simply learning movements, exercises, and fighting, we learn to distinguish and explain the principles behind movements. We observe how to use attention to adapt and optimize them, and how to apply this understanding to all action, to any martial art.
We train to be balanced, aware, and ready for uncertainty. We learn to harmonize with changing mental and physical phenomena by maintaining our natural limits, of the body and emotions. We learn to be calm, alert and mindful in the face of conflict and stress. We recognize the simple truth that in order to act with full attention, empowered by your body’s natural potential, sensitivity, and understanding, you must train to sustain mental and physical neutrality.
Only then can you change instantly with power … Only then can you act with wisdom. Only then can you harmonize with an opponent’s force, changing conditions, the intentions of others, and the nature of reality itself (Tao). This applies to everything, from merging into traffic, to maintaining healthy relationships, dealing with conflict, balancing the stresses of life.
The beauty and potential realized through Zhong Xin Dao stretches far and wide. Applying it’s philosophy gives us the tools to be skillful, keeping our boundaries and integrity while interacting with the extremes of life. A martial art that is only limited by our mental clarity, that can been trained an any age.
This is a wonderful and multifaceted practice. Esoteric amidst a martial arts community dominated by sport, it creates its own niche.
Though it was exactly what I was seeking, each practitioner must realize this for themselves. This path might be impractical for the short term functions of many martial arts. Such as those who only want a quick way to learn to fight, are looking for a hobby, or just a fun way to stay in shape. Though, in time, it can be anything you make it, it's greatest benefits come through diligence and relentless commitment to work and realize your potential. It requires independent motivation, humility in struggle, tenacity in practice, and a creativity to fully appreciate.
It is for those who wish to open their heart, in order to keep listening, and continually rediscovering the depth of philosophy, it's application, the nature of the mind, body and movement. It is for those with the determination and honesty to look deep within themselves over and over again, willing to let go of their perspective and keep looking for truth throughout a lifetime, on the road to mastery.