Kung Fu on the Autism Spectrum

Erik Larson Kung Fu Fxbg Fredericksburg Moy Tung Ving Tsun wing chun Kung Fu martial arts for health self-defense autism
Erik Larson Kung Fu Fxbg

My Autism and Moy Tung Ving Tsun (wing chun) Kung Fu in Fredericksburg, Va

I’m an adult-diagnosed (2018, age 50) Autistic man, and I recently began teaching Ving Tsun (wing chun) Kung Fu in Fredericksburg, Va (online or outdoor classes only, currently). I’ve been training Ving Tsun off-and-on since 1991, under my Sifu, Moy Tung, founder of the Richmond Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy. My whole life, I and others have known I’m different – including friends and acquaintances, and my bio and Kung Fu family – but most doctors and even teachers missed it; none, until one suggested testing for ASD in 2018. Much is still unknown about Autism, but I know Moy Yat Ving Tsun (wing chun) Kung Fu has helped me tremendously. Many who’ve known me or who meet me these days are surprised to learn I’m on the spectrum. I am on a part of the Spectrum where it’s possible to blend in, or just seem merely weird or ‘different.’

I credit Kung Fu with keeping me from killing myself, and from doing stupid things that might’ve gotten me killed, by accident or other people. Ving Tsun has saved me time & trouble, and helped me survive stupid things I did do. Besides these blessings, it’s brought many others into my life, including better health and Kung Fu energy; self-discipline, self-knowledge & confidence; and improved communication & social skills.

Physically and mentally, Ving Tsun training and Kung Fu life has made me stronger and more relaxed, more able to focus and work hard. It’s whole-body-mind fitness. A core Ving Tsun principle is economy of energy and movement; doing more work with less effort. Ving Tsun uses the physical structure of the body and the nature of the mind to advance the practitioner’s life.

Training Moy Tung Ving Tsun develops a relaxed power that’s there when you need it. Strong legs that can keep you on your feet in a fight, or even if you just slip, before you fall. Hands that can block and hit vital targets on attackers at the same time, with horse-power and Ving Tsun Centerline control – or just catch people or objects before they fall.

Ving Tsun (wing chun) Kung Fu training is self-improvement. It takes discipline, and develops self-control. The character and life lessons have been some of the most valuable for my personal development. I can better accept change and confusion, deal with it, and find solutions to problems, including dealing with people. It’s given me greater mental clarity and insight to myself and my life. It’s brought me enjoyment and happiness. Going through the trials of Kung Fu life and training has tested and strengthened my character, brought me greater peace of mind & deeper joy in life, helped me overcome challenges and loss, and find meaning in all of it.

As I noted above, people are often surprised to learn I’m on the Autism Spectrum, though they can tell I’m different. Part of this is due to autism stereotypes and public lack of understanding, part my perceived ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-support needs’ version of Autism, and part my personal self-development, much of it thru Ving Tsun training, and Kung Fu life with my teacher.

The Ving Tsun system is both art and science; it’s not a magic pill or a religion. It’s a system for developing Kung Fu, and it reveals who we are in profound ways. It shows us how to develop our human potential, including martial and life skills, which we can apply to make the best of bad situations, and our life path.

‘Kung Fu’ may be translated as ‘hard work’ or ‘time and energy’. Fighting skills come easily to those with common sense and a will to fight/survive. Gaining expertise or mastery in Ving Tsun takes discipline, effort and dedication. Through training, students develop their own Kung Fu, which no one can take away, and which lasts and serves for life.

Ving Tsun (wing chun) is not for everyone. There are aspects of Moy Tung Ving Tsun Kung Fu training that particularly appeal to me, that may or may not also appeal to neurotypical people, or others on the Spectrum. Ving Tsun is beautifully simple. Learning it requires a lot of repetition of simple movements in sequence, with great attention to detail; form. Some find it maddeningly boring, while others (including me) find it incredibly fascinating.

Those who like – or who discipline themselves to practice – Ving Tsun forms (movement sequences) and conditioning/technique drills can develop powerful Kung Fu. Ving Tsun has a system of contact training as well, but the forms and drills are the foundation, the essential exercise of the Ving Tsun (wing chun) Kung Fu system.

As a martial art, Moy Tung Ving Tsun Kung Fu is simple, and it’s also direct, straight-forward, practical and sensible. What we do, we have good reasons for. Students can test the truth of what they’re taught by applying it to training and life. The principles and techniques work, for fitness and self-defense.

The Ving Tsun (wing chun) system is nicknamed ‘The thinking person’s Kung Fu’ because what we do makes sense for self-defense. It’s also nicknamed ‘The lazy person’s Kung Fu’ because we expend no more effort than needed. In class, though, we train for overkill, so if we’re attacked and have to fight, we can end it quickly – then call 911. This resonates with people who are logical, like many on the Autism Spectrum, and otherwise. Ving Tsun is good anti-bullying training, and many on the Spectrum are targets for bullies, often being ‘different’ and socially-isolated. Ving Tsun training is not for bullies, who lack integrity, and, if they enroll, reform or wash out of the training program.

Besides the physical, mental and character benefits, Ving Tsun training and Kung Fu business has helped me develop personal life skills. I have been blessed, I’ve had help from bio and Kung Fu family, my Sifu’s been an inspiration, and I’ve also done a lot of work on and for myself. I deal with stress and confusion, I get along with most people to get things done, and I’ve learned how to navigate many of the myriad social processes and interactions required to live in a complex civilized society. I’ve been able to work and hold jobs off-and-on thruout my adult life, manage my affairs, get a BA in Sociology, and become a Virginia Certified Massage Therapist (since 2013), besides working on my Kung Fu and business education, and other research & writing, art & music. All before learning in 2018 that I have an autistic body and brain, which made sense of my life, which has been different in many ways I’m not describing here.

Ving Tsun has also helped me develop better interpersonal and relationship skills, though I still have a way of rubbing some people the wrong way, or missing social subtexts, to my own and other’s confusion. Ving Tsun’s system of two-person exercises, which we are currently not doing at Kung Fu Fxbg due to the CDC social-distancing recommendation, has been a significant factor in the abilities I have developed.

This system of partner exercises, called Chi Sao (Sticking Hands), brings people face-to-face, physically close enough to ‘stick’ hands and do cooperative, challenging exercises together, where you’re working on trapping the other person’s hands, hitting their chest and pushing their horse, while they work on doing the same thing to you. Being this close to other people can be emotionally confronting – besides the confusion and challenge of working on these exercises productively with other human beings, who have their own experience levels, blind spots, egos and issues. As a result, I’ve learned to relax more, not respond to provocation, take things less personally, and see other ways of doing things, including how to better express myself, communicate and get along with others.

As I’m discussing Autism, I want to note that, while my own life before and after Kung Fu has been both blessed and difficult, and while some on the Spectrum have accomplished amazing things, many are profoundly negatively affected by Autism, much more than I have been. Millions worldwide are unable to talk or care for themselves. Some on the spectrum are blessed to have caring, competent family, institutional and financial help, but many others aren’t. Some suffer tremendously, especially with co-morbid conditions.

However, Autism does not necessarily mean an unfulfilled or even unproductive life. Many on the Spectrum, even non-verbal, are glad to be alive. Indeed, one of the major factors in the higher suicide rates, depression, anxiety and stress of Autistic people is not the Autism itself; it’s the discrimination, abuse and rejection we may face from other people, groups and society, due to our not meeting social norms and expectations.

As I noted above, what causes the brain and body to develop in ways labeled ‘Autism’ is currently not well-understood. Over 100 genes have been linked to Autism, some predate the human-chimp split, and others are shared with other mammals. For some, ‘autism’ can be a blessing and/or a curse, or more one than the other – including for others – maybe depending on context, place, time & people. There are difficult ethical questions that affect real, live, feeling human beings on the Spectrum, that are confronting policy makers, health professionals and parents. I don’t have the answers, but I support humanity and being humane. Ving Tsun training may not be right for everyone, but we can make the best of what we have.

The same sensory processing and motor control issues that make certain light, patterns, details, sounds and tactile sensations unpleasant or unbearable have also helped me develop kinesthetic sensitivity and awareness in Kung Fu training. Subjecting myself to overstimulating environments in Kung Fu life and training, and other ways, has helped me develop tolerance and compensation/coping skills, though this takes energy.

Even before Coronavirus, I routinely self-isolated due to lack of social interest and ability – but I also invested more time in studying things I’m interested in, like Kung Fu. But participating in Kung Fu training, events and activities over the years has meant being in environments where I interacted with new and familiar people, and conversations and relationships developed. I’ve learned from all these situations – studying the phenomena and pondering the mysteries as a fascinated alien outsider.

My brain gives me a different perspective on Kung Fu training, relationships and life; it’s been both helpful and a hindrance. I’m ok with it, but not everyone is. Life is unpredictable, but Ving Tsun training has helped me deal with the chaos – and the people. I’m glad to share Ving Tsun with good people.

I’ve not written here about specific bad or good experiences I’ve had due to being autistic or just human, with social or individual causes – there’ve been many, and I have a lot of personal stories I might write or talk about sometime. What I think is most interesting and important, and what I hope people will take away from this article, is that Moy Tung Ving Tsun Kung Fu has helped me make myself and my own life better, in my view. Moy Tung Kung Fu is real Kung Fu for real people. I recommend Ving Tsun training, and I teach the system to good people, on the Spectrum or not.

There is a saying in our Kung Fu clan; Wa ha jun hung fun – Ving Tsun is for ‘making the whole nation strong.’ Grandmaster Moy Tung founded the Richmond Academy in 1986, and today there are well over 20 branch schools in his lineage, in three Kung Fu generations, around the US and the world. And now I’m teaching the Ving Tsun system in Fredericksburg, Va, giving this community the same opportunity to learn Ving Tsun.

* Kung Fu Fxbg currently only offers online live video classes and outdoor classes, for groups and individuals. Indoor classes are on hold due to COVID-19 Coronavirus orders. The live video and outdoor classes consist of instruction and practice in forms and conditioning/technique drills. Outdoor groups are limited to <10, with 6′ distancing. For online classes, no equipment or experience is needed, just standing space and a fast web connection. Indoor classes with hands-on Chi Sao training will resume asap. *

For those on the Spectrum or family members in Fredericksburg, Va, I’m offering a free first class, by video or in the park (at this time), and 20%-off all regular training programs. For more info on Ving Tsun Kung Fu and Kung Fu Fxbg, to contact me or book a lesson: Visit kungfufxbg.com or Facebook.com/KungFuFxbg.

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