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Nima King says wing chun has transformed his life for the better. Photos: Jonathan Wong

Martial art sets Hong Kong Iranian immigrant on a better path

An angry child and troubled teen who became a centred adult thanks to martial arts, Nima King opened a wing chun studio in Hong Kong to inspire others

Compact and lean. Graceful and efficient. Open, measured and thoughtful. These are all traits Nima King proudly possesses today. And he’s a long way from the “angry” kid he was 22 years ago.

“Born and raised in war-torn Iran, I arrived in Australia aged 10 as an angry person. I would easily lose my temper,” he says.

The angry child grew into a vexed teen who often got into fist fights. He credits his transformation to a decision he made at the age of 15.

“I decided it was time to learn how to defend myself,” he says. “I opened the Yellow Pages and picked the biggest and brightest ad in the martial arts section. I’m just lucky it was wing chun.”

His journey soon led him to Hong Kong, where he trained under grandmaster Chu Shong-tin, the third student of martial arts teacher Ip Man. In 2009, King opened the Mindful Wing Chun School.

Nima King at Mindful Wing Chun in Central.

For the past 17 years, 32-year-old King has been training in the art for up to 50 hours every week. He starts his day with two hours of self-training and ends it with the same ritual for a further three hours before going home for “a late dinner and family time”.

“[Wing chun] has given me a better understanding and control of both my mind and body through mindfulness. It has also given me the ability to use my body in a much more efficient way, meaning I have much more energy, power, stamina and reflex all with minimum use of brute force,” he says.

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“It sounds too good to be true, but this is the reason why I have literally dedicated my life to training and teaching the beautiful internal art of wing chun.”

What happens in an hour of wing chun?

Every class begins with a minute of mindful, correct postural standing to “awaken the body” and release unwanted tension. Then we go through a light warm-up to mobilise the spine, shoulders and hips. Next, we go through wing chun’s first “empty hand form”, known as siu nim tao (“little thought”) – a set of basic hand movements performed slowly and mindfully. After this we break up into different groups and work on technique and self-defence. The class finishes with some exercises to raise the heart rate and get the sweat flowing, and then a standing meditation so we leave with a balanced body and mind.

King says wing chun gives him more energy, power and stamina.

What are you thinking about during practice?

I try to be completely and fully in the present moment by completely infusing the body with the mind. In this mindfulness lies the true essence of wing chun. It’s such a nice feeling and a very addictive state.

Wing chun is a martial art – why so much emphasis on relaxation?

Your body needs to be relaxed for energy, so that force can travel freely through it. Tense muscles have the same effect on the joints as a handbrake has on the wheels of the car. But when you relax, the joints have freedom of movement. Look at cats – they are so relaxed and springy, which is why they can comfortably jump off remarkable heights. And if the mind is free, the body is free.

Apart from the benefits for the mind, how else does wing chun work?

Another key focus is posture. You must have an open posture to use your body to its full potential. You see so many people these days walking around the streets mindlessly bent over a device. Over time, the posture starts solidifying; the joints start giving in to gravity and compressing. A lot of what we do here at Mindful Wing Chun is relieving aches and pains related to bad posture.

King demonstrates the centreline punch.

How has the workout changed your life?
Training has transformed my life completely. I have much better control of my emotions and the workings of my mind and body, which I think makes me a better husband, father, and in general, a better person.

For example, eight years ago I lost my father and my teenage sister in a very merciless way. I know that if it wasn’t for my training, understanding and outlook on life gained through wing chun, I would have spiralled into depression. My training is not something I just do a few hours a week to stay or look fit, it is a way of life.

King demonstrates the heel kick.

As a teacher, what are your goals?

There’s a quote by [master of wing chun] Ip Man which says, “We must use our wing chun skills for the betterment of humanity”. And I believe that means passing on wing chun to help people find a calmer, more confident and relaxed life. This year I plan to run seminars around the globe and start an instructor internship programme for young Hongkongers to give back to the community and develop more future teachers to spread this beautiful art. Locally, our team’s aim is to introduce 300 new people to wing chun this year – and we’re already halfway there.