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The Eternal Sound of “Om” – Learning Meditation in the Himalayas

himalayas

meditationThe Indian Himalayas! What better backdrop for my first introduction to meditation than the majestic peaks of the tallest mountain range in the world. Shortly before this trip, I got myself psyched up by reading Autobiography of a Yogi. After several days of hiking in the foothills of Himachal Pradesh, through some spectacular scenery only a stones throw from the Afghanistan border, and passing through Dharamsala, current home of the Dalai Lama and hotbed of Tibetan culture, I arrived at a small cottage on the side of a hill, where I was greeted by the host, Mr Prakash. The purpose of this stay was mostly for R&R after some hard hiking, to enjoy the crisp air, taste the pure spring water, and to eat some organic vegan curries. However, the part of the stay that really stayed with me until now was the early morning meditation, which took place in a small cellar, sat on cushions breathing the dawn air through an open window.

The form of meditation taught was very simple, it was chanting the Sanskirt word Om. I had tried to meditate by myself many times before, but had always been unable to really quieten my mind, I ended up either getting frustrated, or falling asleep. I had never been considered that I don’t need to be silent, or “do nothing”, rather, I could focus my mind on a certain task, in this case chanting the word Om. We were instructed by Mr Prakash to start as loud as we could, and hold each Om for as long as we could, each time getting progressively quieter until it was under our breath. The atmosphere was energetic with a group of more than ten people all chanting the same sound at the same time, and it was impossible for your mind not to sink into a trance. On top of that, the vibration produced by the sound in your diaphragm resonates throughout your insides, and feels amazing, stimulating your entire body (random
fact: studies have shown that cats’ purring actually aides in healing their injuries and strengthening their muscles and bones).

 

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Yuen Kay San Wing Chun with Kwok Wan Ping

I had been living in Xi’an for three months when I found out that I had to go to Hong Kong to extend my visa. At this point I was still training the Wing Chun I had learnt in the UK, and as Hong Kong is a Mecca of Wing Chun, I jumped on the opportunity to go there and do some training. After looking around online, I came into contact with a student of Kwok Wan Ping, and arranged a few days of training.

Kwok Wan Ping has a really interesting story. He was born in Indonesia, moved to Guangzhou at a young age and majored in PE at Wuhan University. During this time he practiced Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling), modern Wushu and bodybuilding. Later he made the aquaintance of Sum Neng, top student of grandmaster Yuen Kay San, as well as learning Fu Style Taiji and Bagua. Due to the cultural revolution, he relocated to Hong Kong, where he had to make a reputation for himself, fighting many of Ip Man’s well known students to win the right to open his own school.

Yuen Kay San Wing Chun

Yuen Kay San Wing Chun has some unique differences to Ip Man Wing Chun. The first thing many people notice is the forms are more complex; it is said this is an older and more complete version of Wing Chun, and that Ip Man simplified a lot of stuff when he taught in Hong Kong. My training in the early Foshan transmission of Wing Chun (via Lun Gai & Kwok Fu) confirms this. To learn more about this lineage I highly recommend reading Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun: History and Practice or Complete Wing Chun: The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions (Complete Martial Arts).

I arrived at his apartment in the early evening and was greeted to a delicious meal cooked by his wife. Feeling ready to burst, Kwok then led me onto the rooftop to start training. As I was coming from an Ip Man lineage background (via Lun Gai & Kwok Fu), there didn’t seem much point learning forms, so Kwok decided to teach me the Sap Yee San Sik (12 free hands), and do a lot of Chi Sau with me.

Sap Yee San Sik

Sap Yee San Sik are twelve basic hand techniques which can be practiced solo, or as fixed drills with a partner. They teach the basic structures of Wing Chun, condition the forearms, and develop reflexes. Some of these are present in the Ip Man Wing Chun I had learnt, but some were totally new to me. Kwok had a very different feel too, he wasn’t soft and yielding, but hard, aggressive and applied constant forward pressure. Practicing even the basics with him was quite overwhelming, but I made huge progress, not only in my Wing Chun, but having him transmit his method of force to me has stayed with me and helped me in my Mantis training which I continue to now.

Chi Sau

Practicing Chi Sau with him was the most rewarding part of the training, and was something we spent a lot of time on. Unlike many people I have Chi Sau’ed with, Kwok didn’t move around or change angles a whole lot, instead he faced me square on, and whenever I made any move, he would send a huge shock-force right into me, knocking me right back. Even just while doing regular rolling, his arms were heavy and immovable, constantly pressing forwards. My arms and shoulders started burning after just several minutes of Chi Sau with him!

Training with Kwok taught me a lot, and it was definitely worth it. Sometimes you meet a master, and although you only spend a short time under their tutelage, you grow in leaps and bounds. This trip for me was exactly that, and the next year I went right back to train with him again.