I am very grateful to the Strozzi Institute for the training I received to become a Somatic coach last year. A somatic approach means understanding that how we move and feel is as important as what we think. The somatic approach is one of the most empowering and exciting teachings I have encountered. My experience and observation indicate that renewed levels of confidence, courage and compassion can be accessed through focused physical movement and physiological awareness.
My own somatic journey began with lessons in Wing Chun Kung Fu. I started to learn Wing Chun Kung Fu in order to be braver. Both my son and daughter had taken lessons and I noticed the quality of their Instructor Ross Sargent and how the lessons impacted their wellbeing.
I remember writing to Ross asking him whether he would consider teaching a mother who wanted to develop her physical courage. Without hesitation he suggested we give it a go. We started with private lessons before progressing to open classes where I often work with younger and physically stronger individuals.
Three things happened in my first lesson. The first was that fear took over and at one point I froze and became quite upset. I could see this was going to take me out of my comfort zone physically and I was scared. The second was the realisation that there are parallels between how we approach physical challenges and how we approach all aspects of our lives. The third was that something about the practice resonated with me at a deep level.
That was some eight years ago. I have seen students pass by me and achieve much higher grades and that’s ok. Although my progress has been relatively slow, I feel physically braver and more confident and have found a practice that I love. In addition the learning has helped me develop my leadership coaching and facilitation. For example Wing Chun highlights how we can default into focusing on obstacles rather than on our vision and goals and that a simple shift in focus can help you behave more strategically.
Although many in the West may associate Wing Chun with Bruce Lee, the legend goes that Wing Chun was designed by a woman in seventeenth century, China. A Buddhist Nun and one of five Elders of the Shaolin Temple was a skillful Martial Artist. She was the only one of the Elders to escape an attack and subsequently created a form of self-defence, which was suitable for people of any gender or size. She designed effective and efficient movements that required precise structure and minimum force and a practice that required deep awareness of the self and others. Her first student was a young woman, called Yim Wing Chun, who had been forced to marry a bandit and warlord. After mastering the art her student was able to defend herself and escape. The Nun named the Martial Art form after her student Wing Chun.
For me the following quote explains one of the fundamental premises of Wing Chun, which is to stay connected with the whole of yourself and others.
‘ So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will never lose;
If you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one;
If you do not know others and do not know yourself, you lose every single battle.’
Sun Tzu – The Art of War
All my experience and learning suggests that in order to be inspiring leaders we need:
The courage to really see ourselves as we are and the compassion to remain connected even if we are not always comfortable with what we see;
The courage and compassion to really see, connect and be responsive to others.