Practice of Wing Chun brings mindfulness to SPHS students

A new club at South Portland High School is offering mindfulness through the practice of Wing Chun, a martial art developed specifically as a way to improve awareness, balance, physical poise and relaxation.

The practice will be taught to students, faculty and staff by Al Guisto, the school resource officer, who said this particular form of martial arts is “great for kids because it’s not about strength or size.”

The club, which kicked off this week and will run through the end of the school year, is a longtime dream of Guisto’s, who’s hopeful the club will catch on and be offered year-round from now on.

Initially Guisto plans to offer Wing Chun training, which translates to “beautiful or eternal springtime,” twice a week, as long as he has interested students and the time. The goal, he said, is to hold sessions each Monday and Wednesday after school.

What he most likes about Wing Chun is that the focus is on technique and “facilitating a feeling of calm and mindfulness.” Guisto also said the practice is defined by “very specific scientific principles and is big on body alignment and geometry.”

He said both kids and adults could benefit from learning Wing Chun, because at its core the practice is “about developing a sense of peace” and incorporates meditation as a key skill.

Guisto said unlike some martial arts forms, which are about learning to fight, Wing Chun is based on redirecting or countering strikes. “Anyone can do it, no matter your size or athletic ability,” he added.

So far, Guisto said, about 15 students and a couple teachers have expressed interest in learning Wing Chun, which he first encountered while learning the practice of Fung Do Bo.

In addition to the “internal factor,” he said another bonus to the art is learning “some self-defense techniques,” which can build self-confidence.

According to legend, Wing Chun was first developed in 19th century China by martial arts master Shaolin Nun Ng Mui. It’s named after a student of Ng Mui – a young women who wanted to ward off the romantic advances of a local gangster.

This man threatened to destroy her family’s livelihood if she did not marry him. Wing Chun agreed to the wedding, but only if the gangster was able to defeat her in hand-to-hand combat, which he could not do.

Bruce Lee, the internationally famous martial artist and film star, may be the most well-known practitioner of Wing Chun, as he had several years of formal training in Wing Chun as a teenager.

Andrew Atripaldi, executive director at Riverview Martial Arts in South Portland, said that although Wing Chun incorporates strikes, kicks and blocks, the focus is on balance and physical poise and there are no high kicks, spinning, or other acrobatics involved.

Another key factor of Wing Chun is that students spend a lot of time doing partnered drills “and less time practicing empty hand movements, also known as forms or Kata,” Atripaldi said.

He agreed with Guisto that Wing Chun could be a good practice for teens to learn because “it emphasizes awareness over power” and “can also help teenagers learn how to treat each other with discipline, respect and patience as they work together.”

Overall, Atripaldi believes that martial arts is a great tool for “helping youth prepare for adulthood and lifelong success. We love what the martial arts do for humans worldwide and cannot say enough good things about its many benefits. We have had thousands of success stories and lives changed (through) teaching martial arts.”

The legend is that Wing Chun was first taught to a young girl whose goal was to ward off an unwanted suitor.

Wing Chun, a martial art, means “beautiful springtime.”