The opportunity to practice Chinese martial arts with a learned and passionate master is perhaps one of Wellesley’s best kept secrets. Fulfilling your physical education requirement can be a drag, but Master Calvin Chin’s Kung Fu and Tai Chi class will make the physical education requirement fun and worthwhile. In this class, students are encouraged to achieve spatial awareness, fitness goals and movement. For fourteen years, Master Chin has guided students of all experience levels with patience and insightful commentary to understand the physiological and philosophical benefits of Kung Fu and Tai Chi.
Chin owns Calvin Chin’s Martial Arts Academy in Newton Highlands and has fifty years of experience in Tai Chi and Kung Fu. He was a top disciple of the Fu Hok Tai He Morn system which was devised by his longtime teacher Kwong Tit Fu to discretely encompass three traditional systems of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Chin has risen to become Ambassador and Regional Officer for the Eastern United States for the World Hung Kuen Association. In 2014, Chin also led his Hung Kuen Kung Fu Team in the World Competition to outcompete 21 representing countries for eight medals, the most wins for any team. He recently released a DVD entitled “The Tai Chi Paradigm,” a “modern path to an antiquated way.”
The term Tai Chi stems from Taoist philosophy, which claims a state of wu chi, meaning no polarity, predominated in a time before the universe came into being. From this void or condition of nothingness came a new state of differentiation called Tai Chi, where the wu chi became distinct from another, changing part. These concepts came to be known as yin and yang. The name in its entirety is Tai Chi Chuan, referring to the practice and discipline of the state of Tai Chi. Thus, students that practice Tai Chi Chuan are studying the physical, mental and spiritual balance of yin and yang, in their own amateur way.
According to Master Chin, the primary benefit of Tai Chi is a certain mindfulness achieved by practicing slow, gentle movements. In other words, Tai Chi achieves a conscious state in which body and mind are focused on the action at hand, bringing consciousness into the present moment. Forms like “grasping the bird’s tail” and “single whip” demonstrate crucial concepts to achieve mindful movement such as refinement and integration.
“Grasping the bird’s tail” begins with the left foot forward and weight centered on the right leg, still in line with the body. Both arms circle to the front with palms facing inward. From this position, the right foot pivots so that weight is concentrated in the heel as the left foot pivots with weight concentrated on the toes. This juxtaposition of weighted and “empty step” is symbolic of the interplay between yin and yang. The right palm, oriented horizontally, hovers close to the face as the left hand meets the right palm, oriented vertically. The body shifts backward, turns westward, and finally shifts forward so that weight is maintained predominantly on the right foot. The left fingers rest against the right wrist as the upper half of the body turns to the right before moving both arms and body backward so that the left hand slides past the right arm. Through practice and focus on conscious intent, students become intimately familiar with Grasping the Bird’s Tail and come to understand the deeper meaning behind each movement.
“All of these drills are directed by mindfulness of movements with a focus on conscious intent. That is, always being aware of having functional and structural integrity of our skeleton. The systemized approach to consistent postures created by our body’s skeleton is how our proprioception can be impacted,” claims Master Chin of such sequences.
Like Tai Chi, Kung Fu targets spatial awareness and mindfulness of movement through mastery of form. Yet Kung Fu differs in its reliance on a more active, strength-focused method.
“It’s similar to Tai Chi’s approach with the same benefits of spatial awareness, exercise, fitness, movement and function. However, the execution is faster more physical,” says Master Chin.
Kung Fu translates from Chinese into “hard work” and is notable for its physicality and emphasis on vigor, giving it a reputation for being predominantly “external.” Martial arts are often characterized as being “internal,” referring chiefly to spiritual, mental focus, or “external,” referring to a predominantly physical focus. Despite this misleading generalization, Kung Fu is highly internal as well as external, offering a range of health benefits. Master Chin teaches Hung Gar, a southern Chinese Kung Fu style that, according to calvinchin.com, emphasizes “strong stances [and] long and short hand techniques, which involve “straight, circular, and angular movements.”
Hung Gar’s emphasis on strength manifests in its characteristic low stances, the most famous of which being sei ping ma, or “horse stance.” Horse stance requires a wide stance with a fairly low center of gravity. Legs are oriented so that thighs are parallel to the ground and feet face forward. This is the foundation for many other variations in form. The many variations of kicks grounded largely at the waist demonstrate Kung Fu’s ability to improve efficiency of movement and coordination. While Master Chin’s course offered at Wellesley teaches only the basics, advanced level Kung Fu is one of the most complex martial arts systems.
On being asked what taking a martial arts class with Master Chin was like, many students said that they had a very positive experience and were able to achieve mental and physical balance as a direct result of participating.
“Professor Chin was a great instructor, always immersing us completely in the movements. The class was very grounding…” said Grace Purdy ‘19.
In addition to the obvious and intentional rewards in fitness, coordination and philosophy, Chin advocates for the unanticipated rewards that martial arts have to offer.
“As someone who has practiced Martial Arts since my youth and all of my adult life, I can truly say that there are tremendous benefits beyond what meets the eye. It is impossible to learn all that is offered in a single semester, but I try very hard to be informative… We are creatures of habit. To do anything well, one has to be disciplined, practice frequently, consistently, mindfully, and analytically. This is the way to success. Repetition! Repetition! Repetition! My philosophy is to lead by example. I practice what I preach, and please do as I do. It’s that simple.”