March 2000 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
When I practice “Lifting The Sky” I start to feel “sparks” in my hands and then through my arms and neck. It's a very comfortable feeling, and I am peaceful when I stop the exercise. Then I start to practice the Yang form of Tai Chi Chuan. When I move my hands, it's like if I had ants, and I feel something that I can use, but cannot touch, it's hard to describe. Well, I was wondering if what I'm feeling is right. Is there any chance that I'm doing something wrong? What I feel, I think, is chi.
— Juan, Argentina
You have practised your chi kung correctly. Yes, what you felt was chi. The effect of your chi kung practice is felt not only while you are performing your chi kung exercise, but may be manifested later. Feelings of sparks and ants crawling are some of the manifestations; other manifestations include warmth, expansion, hot water flowing and mild electric current.
As you progress these manifestations may become less frequent. This does not means that you are not getting the benefit, as many uninitiated people may think. It is because as your energy level increases, the benefit which is actually more than before is not so noticeable.
An analogy may make this point clearer. Suppose you can carry 150 lbs. If you are asked to carry 170 lbs, you may but you would have to make some effort and you can feel the difference. Now you start a programme of training, adding 1 or 2 lbs every few days. In this way you can carry 250 lbs after one year. When you have to carry 200 lbs, you can do so easily — more easily than when you carried 170 lbs a year ago — and you do not even feel the effort.
This principle explains what happens in chi kung training. Due to various reasons, an average person operates at only about 35% of his potential capacity. Suppose that 30% efficiency is the minimum required to maintain health and fitness, which means he has little surplus to meet life's exigencies. Hence when he exerts himself in vigorous activities he becomes tired easily, and when disease-causing agents attack him he becomes sick
Now he practises chi kung regularly, gradually improving his efficiency from 35% to 36%, 37% and so on, and eventually after a few years to 90% of his potential capacity. Then he has a lot of surplus to meet life exigencies, which means he can engage in vigorous activities without feeling tired, and remains healthy even though disease-causing agents may be present — that is why during an epidemic he is not sick, or he takes much sugar but does not have diabetes. When he reaches 60, with his organs and systems working at 90% efficiency, he will be healthier and fitter than when he was 30 working at 35% efficiency.
Yesterday, I had a trouble in my work. It was very difficult to fix, and it required a lot of analysis. (I work as a computer programmer). I went home late. It was midnight when I started to practice “Lifting the Sky”. When I finished fifteen minutes later, I sat down on my bed and started to count my breathing. After counting 3 series of ten breathing, I started to “follow” my breathe, and almost five minutes later, I told my mind: “Please give me the way to solve this problem.”
I felt very sleepy. I lay down in my bed. The following morning was incredible. I woke up as a lightning and with a lot of energy. And when I arrived at my work, I could solve this problem easily! Sifu Wong, this is the way that I have to thank you for all what you are doing for us.
This is wonderful. What you did was a very simple yet very powerful method of meditation, frequently used by Buddhist monks. This method was first taught by the Buddha, and propounded by the great Chinese Buddhist master, Zhi Yi. The meditation method is known in Chinese as “zhi-guan”, which means “count-observe”.
The meditation is meant to help aspirants attain the greatest achievement any being can ever achieve, i.e. enlightenment, called by different names by different peoples as Nirvana, return to God's Kingdom, or merging into the Great Void. In this long process towards enlightenment, which may take many life times, psychic powers are developed.
It is very important to realize that anyone who is blessed enough to develop such psychic powers must always use them for good, and never for evil. He (or she) may use them for his own good, like solving problems or overcoming illness. This advice is for the person's own benefit. If he is so stupid as to use his psychic powers for evil, the effect will certainly, without doubt, boomerang to himself. This is a cosmic truth.
In your case, after counting and following your breaths you attained a chi kung state of mind, or a heightened level of consciousness, where you came into contact with the universal mind. The universal mind, which is all-knowing, provided you with the information to solve your problem.
I spoke to you recently regarding my asthma problem and hoped to meet you and attend your Qigong seminar as I know that you can help me with my asthma problem.
— Yoong, Canada
Asthma can be overcome quite easily by practising chi kung, or better still by practising kungfu which includes chi kung. Personally I have many such successful cases. Then, why is asthma considered to be incurable by conventional medicine? This is because conventional medicine and chi kung use different paradigms.
In conventional medicine, a doctor first finds out the cause of a patient's disease, then he prescribes a specific treatment against the disease. This is very effective when the cause is known, such as in contagious diseases involving germs. But when the cause is unknown, as in asthma and the whole range of so-called incurable diseases, the doctor would not know what to cure. He therefore has to resort to relieving symptoms.
Chi kung uses a different paradigm. It may be incredible to those used to conventional medical thinking, but in chi kung it is not necessary to know the cause of the disease! In chi kung, which uses the Chinese medical paradigm, there is only one disease, and it is called yin-yang disharmony. The task of the chi kung master is to help his sick students restore yin-yang harmony. This is accomplished through harmonious chi flow, and the forte of chi kung is to ensure harmonious chi flow. In other words, when you practise chi kung you will have harmonious chi flow, which means you will be healthy.
What happens to your asthma? When you are healthy, your asthma and any other illness would have disappeared as a matter of course. It sounds like magic, but it is true. Actually it is very scientific, but of course those who do not understand the science of chi kung may see it as magic. A few webpages in this website explains how chi kung overcomes so-called incurable diseases.
I happened to watch the movie “Iron and Silk” and I saw the Chinese Wushu coach. I took it as an indication that I could learn Wushu in Canada as he was there. I did meet him in Canada but I studied under his pupil.
There is a lot of difference between modern wushu and Shaolin Kungfu. The hallmarks of Shaolin Kungfu are combat efficiency, internal force and spiritual cultivation. Modern wushu has none of these. What is shown in “Iron and Silk” is modern wushu.
From them I did learn a lot about ethics and the basics. However, my instructor has been a disappointment to me as he did not do what he preached. I was confused and disappointed to see that this was the way a martial artist would behave. I mean my instructor no offence but I am being direct. I will never forget that he showed me the basics.
This is unfortunate. A good martial artist is judged by what he does and not by what he preaches.
He may say how effective his martial art is, or how noble martial ethics are, but if he cannot defend himself or if he behaves immorally, then he is a bad martial artist. In my opinion there are many more bad martial artists in the world today than good martial artists.
It is only an ideal to think that martial artists are noble persons. Unfortunately not many martial artists can measure up to that ideal.
Worse, the philosophy of some martial arts is actually mean. For example, I cannot see any nobility in martial arts that train their exponents to shout aggressively and attack their opponents brutally, or that train cold-blooded assassins who are ready to stoop however low to accomplish their deadly tasks.
In this respect I am happy and proud that I practise Shaolin Kungfu, the philosophy of which is so different from that of these brutal martial arts.
I practised Karate for some time and then Kung Fu. Being a bodybuilder I am somewhat heavy — thus some of the exercises prescribed by you in your wonderful book are very demanding.
— Luis, Mexico
In kungfu we make use of your weight for your advantage. But big muscles are often a disadvantage; they locked up much energy and make your movements slow.
But I know the way to success is always paved with effort, sacrifice and sometimes pain. I endure the pain I subject myself during this “basics” phase.
While endurance is necessary, you should also learn to make your practice less painful. Doggedly subjecting yourself to pain is unwise. Demanding exercise can be made painless, even pleasant. This is where having a master is a great advantage.
I find specially demanding the Horse-riding Stance — today, I can only endure it for 84 or 86 seconds at a time. I will continue practising it until I reach the goal established by you, sifu.
The Horse-Riding Stance is the most important exercise in Shaolin Kungfu. Besides giving you a solid base, it builds a pearl of energy at your abdominal energy field, and helps you to tame your mind.
If you practise the stance mechanically, as many students do on their own, it becomes a torture. When you realize and directly experience that you are developing your energy and mind, as when guided by a master, your training becomes a subtle joy.
I intend to enroll in a Kung Fu class later on, although I suspect that the way they teach and what they teach is far away from your views and teachings. But for now, I follow your training method — stances, hand forms, some patterns, pushups using Tiger Claws, and flexibility exercises.
My teaching is very different from what is normally taught in most kungfu classes. The emphasis of my kungfu teaching is combat efficiency, internal force and spiritual development.
What you have practised from my books are only the external forms, which you can also learn from many other kungfu classes. You have missed the formless aspects of the physical forms, as well as the internal aspects of energy and mind. For example, you may learn how to hold a particular hand form, but you cannot generate internal force to that hand form. You may learn which patterns can be used to counter which attacks, but you cannot perform those patterns with elegance and precision.
I love what you prescribe and the way you teach. I was hoping that before I enrolled in a kungfu class I would attain a good level — one where I can control my feelings, my emotions, where my inner strength has been developed. Do you think that is possible, only by reading what you teach, practising it, and following your teachings almost to a “T”?
While it is not impossible, it is very unlikely that you will achieve the essence of my teaching by merely learning from my writing. Even my own students who have learnt my basic teaching, need my personal supervision when they progress to higher levels.
Just last night when I taught some senior students sparring — I repeat, senior students — there was so much difference before and after my personal correction. Take one very simple example. Immediately after deflecting an opponent's attack, a student drove a leopard punch into the opponent's throat. I stopped the practice and asked the student to repeat the leopard punch attack on me. I could easily fell the student to the ground. I corrected his weakness — I asked him to turn his waist and sink lower into his Bow-Arrow Stance when executing the same leopard punch. Then, even with some effort, I could not fell him.
Many people think that they can learn kungfu or chi kung from books or videos because they have mistaken kungfu or chi kung to be mere physical exercise. When you read an instruction like spread out your left arm and raise your right foot, you can perform the physical exercise reasonably well if you follow the instruction exactly, and especially if you have an illustration.
But not in kungfu and chi kung. The physical form which you may learn from books or videos is only one aspect, and often it is the least important aspect. Even at this one physical aspect, the movements are often too complicated to be learnt correctly without the personal supervision of an instructor.
Indeed, it is save to conclude that (unless they are already expert) those who think they can learn kungfu from books or videos have never experienced what genuine kungfu is. Yet, the number of people who have little experience of kungfu but who ask me to send them information on how to perform the Shaolin Five Animals or how to develop internal force, is disquieting.
I would be very proud if someone, one day, called me a “martial artist”, not because I do some flowery kicks but because I know exactly what to do, I know how to defend myself, I know how to control my inner turmoil.
These are only the basic attainment of a martial artist. You should also aim for good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy.
In other words, as a martial artist you are free from pain and are never sick, can work and play energetically from morning to night, think clearly and make decisions wisely, are cheerful and have inner peace — not for one or two days a week, or when you are practising martial art, but at all times.
My knowledge about chi kung and tai chi chuan is so little. I only learned the arts from some of the books that I had bought.
— Stanley, Indonesia
If you are a beginner, at best you would learn chi kung gymnastics and tai chi dance from books. If you wish to learn real chi kung or taijiquan, you have to learn from a master.
Sifu Wong, have you heard of the Indonesian arts called Kalimasada, Sinlanba, Merpati Puith? Their exponents are able to attack opponents from a distance, throw the enemy without touching them. According to the people who learn these arts, they also do breathing exercise like chi kung practitioners do, but they hold their breath while practising and the master must open something first in their body.
I haven't heard about these arts, but I believe the feats they claim are possible. Yes, their practice is chi kung, or energy management, although they do not call it by this Chinese term. Their master probably opened their energy points to speed up and increase their students' power. Like chi kung, such advanced arts have to be learnt from a master.
My question is, can they be categorized as chi kung? If they are not, how can kung fu or tai chi practitioners handle them, especially in tai chi chuan, because we have to touch our opponent in order to sense his move?
Chi kung literally means “energy work”, or art of energy management. Many other peoples besides the Chinese also have arts of energy management. The Indians call their energy art “yoga”, and the classical Greeks call it “art of mysteries”.
The practitioners of the Indonesian arts you mentioned, work with energy, hence these arts in Chinese would be called chi kung, although the practitioners may use terms in their own language. Chi kung is an umbrella term. Even in the limited Chinese context, there are many different types of chi kung with varying levels of power. Many chi kung types are of a low level, dealing with particular health problems, some are powerful and are employed in martial arts, while some are sublime leading to spiritual fulfilment.
Most kungfu and tai chi practitioners today cannot even handle street fighters; they will be quite helpless against exponents of such fantastic energy arts. This is not because kungfu or tai chi chuan is inadequate, but because these modern practitioners practise these arts as gymnastics or dance and never as martial arts.
But if kungfu and tai chi chuan are practised properly as martial arts, the situation will be different. Whether kungfu and tai chi chuan practitioners are any match against these energy art exponents depends on numerous factors, such as the relative strength of their internal force and the levels of their combative skills.
If a kungfu or tai chi chuan master has tremendous internal force, for example, the non-touch striking power could be bounced back. On the other hand, if the master does not have tremendous internal force but he is very skilful, he can glide in without harm and strike the opponent instead.
A tai chi chuan exponent keeps in contact with his opponent because he wants to sense his movements (and at an advanced stage to sense his emotions), flows with the opponent's actions, and exploits his weakness. The tai chi chuan exponent does so if it is to his advantage. If, for any reasons, keeping in contact is disadvantageous, he should break contact. He can attack his opponent irrespective of whether he is in contact or not.