May 2000 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Wing Chun Kungfu

An old picture taken more than 20 years ago showing Sifu Wong practising Wing Chun Kungfu

Question 1

You stated in your web page that kungfu without chi kung is low-level kungfu. Does this mean you see Wing Chun Kungfu at the same level as karate or taekwondo?

— Noel, Holland

Answer

There is chi kung in Wing Chun too. The two most famous chi kung manifestations in Wing Chun are “Sticking Hands” and “Inch-Force”. An expert in “Sticking Hands”, even when blind-folded, can sense an opponent's movements and emotions. An expert in “Inch-Force” can cause serious damage to his opponent from a very close distance. The celebrated Bruse Lee often demonstrated his “Ince-Force” in his famous “inch-punch”. To me, Wing Chun Kungfu is far above karate and taekwondo.

But the way some people practise Wing Chun is like practising karate or taekwondo. It suggests to me that their teacher knows external Wing Chun forms but does not know its internal dimensions and its traditional methods of combat training. Hence he has incorporated karate and taekwondo methods into his external Wing Chun forms. This is typical of many modern kungfu instructors.

Question 2

It is important to be relaxed when doing Wing Chun. My teacher has a relaxed punch, which is really heavy. He says we must relax our shoulders. But we don't learn how to relax.

Answer

Being relaxed is very important not only in Wing Chun but in all styles of kungfu. Your teacher is right. If you do not relax your shoulders when you punch or perform any knngfu movements, you will lock up your energy at your shoulders.

Although there are mehods to relaxation, bascially you relax by relaxing, just as you walk by walking — not by worrying how to relax or walk.

One major contributing factor why you find it hard to relax is because your frequent haphazard sparring makes you tensed. Had your sparring been systematic, and you know what to do and are able to do it when your partner attacks, you will be in a better position to relax even when sparring.

Question 3

Sometimes after a though warming up/work out my muscles are hard and stiff instead of flexible. My legs start shaking when I do my stance and I can't punch normally. I'm wondering whether I have pushed myself too hard during the work out. My teacher says I might have weak leg muscles.

Answer

In traditional kungfu training, including traditional Wing Chun training, there is no need to warm up! This may be a big surprise to many people who are used to the western concept of muscular exercises, just as those used to European langauages will be very surprised to be told that in reading Chinese one does not have to know spelling.

But it is quite normal for your legs to shake if you stand at a stance for some time. After prolonged practice, when chi can flow smoothly to your legs, your shaking would disappear.

It is a very important kungfu tenet not to over-practise. When you feel tired you should rest. In the kungfu training in my school, my students go into a spontaneous chi flow movement after some vigorous exercises. In this way they do not feel tired easily. They can train almost non-stop for two hours, yet feel fresh and relaxed after the training.

Stance training and spontaneous chi flow are very useful for strengthening your legs, amongst many other benefits. Even if your leg muscles are weak to start with, after some months of training they will be strong. You will then be able to walk for ten miles without feeling tired, and break a brick with a kick.

Light like Feathers

Grandmaster Wong demonstrates how to be light like feather, solid like mountain while moving

Question 4

I practice my Siu Lim Tao for about 20 minutes every morning and night. I try to stand still and relax before and after I do my form. But when I stand still to relax after the Siu Lim Tao my legs start to shake and the only way to stop it is to walk.

Answer

Walking is a good way to follow when your legs start to shake. If you know chi kung, instead of waking you can channel your chi to your legs and enjoy spontaneosu chi flow.

Alternatively, try the following approach. Practise your Siu Lim Tao for about 5 minutes, then stand still and relax. You need not complete the whole set; stop at whatever convenient point. Gradually increase your form practice to 6 minutes, 7 minutes and eventually to over 20 minutes, but each time you stand still you should be calm and relaxed.

If even the 5-minute form practice is too much for you, i.e. your legs still tremble, then start with a shorter time. As you progress, you gradually increase your practice time. This is the principle of gradual increase, and is a very importnat principle in kungfu training.

Question 5

When I relax I try to think of nothing and listen to my breath. I feel there is an air bubble in my throat that wants to go out but can't.

Answer

Some bad chi, such as stale air, is locked in your throat. This affects your chi flow, and feeling short of breath easily is one effect. One way to overcome the problem is to stand upright and relax, breathe in gently through your nose, and breathe out quite forcefully with a soft and long “ha” sound through your mouth. Repeat the gentle breathing in and forceful (but not tensed) breathing out about 10 to 20 times.

Question 6

I have read some articles about the Siu Lim Tao. The articles say that the first form should take about twenty minutes to perform. When the tan sau comes out or when the fook sau goes back, you should not see it visibly move. But in my school it takes only a few minutes to perform the Siu Lim Tao. How long does it take in your wing chun style to perform the first form?

Answer

I am not sure what did you refer to when you said “the first form”. Did you mean the whole Siu Lim Tao set, or just the pattern whereby you punch out the cup-fist and then change to “tan sau” and then “fook sau”?

There are different ways to practise the Siu Lim Tao set, and also different ways to practise the cup-fist pattern. Performing the set or the pattern slowly as you have described, is one good way to develop internal force. If you perform the whole set slowly it may take more than 30 minutes. But performing the cup-fist pattern slowly usually takes only a minute or two, although for special purposes you may prolong it to 20 minutes or more.

Not seeing the visible movement of the “tan sau” going out or the “fook sau” coming back may be interpreted in two ways. It may mean that the movement is so very slow that although there is movement you do not see it. Or it many mean that the movement is so very fast that you cannot see it.

In my school depending on different purposes the Siu Lim Tao set may be perfomred in 3 minutes or in 30 minutes. But usually it takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Question 7

A friend studies physics. He has a project in which he has to try to register paranormal activities. I told him about chi to explain paranormal feats. It was hard to explain to him so I gave him your book “The Art of Chi Kung”. He found it difficult to believe that Chinese scientists have proven that chi exists and that western science knows nothing about this discovery. To him it would have been a major discovery if it had been true.

Answer

It is certainly true that the Chinese masters knew about chi or energy, as well as many other fantastic things like the constant inter-transformation of energy and matter, and the subtle influence of the energy from the stars on us, long before the west. Western science knows nothing about such discoveries because communication of information has always been very imperfect.

It is also true that I have helped many people to overcome their so-called incurable diseases like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, and amongst those who have benefited in this way are western doctors and scientists. But compared to the number of people suffering from these so-called incurable diseases today, the number of people who know about my successful chi kung work is miserably small.

One would imagine that if I really have a method to help cancer patients recover from cancer, thousands of cancer patients as well as their doctors would flock to me to learn the method. But the fact is few people would bother to find out whether my claim is true. Those patients who recovered from cancer dared not tell their doctors that they practised chi kung for fear of being ridiculed.

The doctors themselves who recovered from cancer dared not tell their collegues for fear of being laughed at. Many other people dare not investigate because if they find out that it is true, they would face a difficult dilemma. They would have to pretend that my claim is not true or they have to overthrow all their years of training and practice.

I clearly remember years ago I asked my master that since our arts were so very useful, why did he not tell the world. He said I was naive. He said “let those who desire it and are deserving, come and learn”. I did not understand him them, but now I do.

Indeed I was naive. I knew I had a treasure and I wanted to share it with others. Unfortunately but inevitably I have been hardened by experience to conclude, “Why should I cast pearls before swines?” If deserving people want to learn my art, they come to me; if sick people want to recover from cancer or other so-called incurable diseases and believe I can help them, they come to seek my help. I don't have to go to them — it is their problem, not mine.

False and real leg

Distinguishing between “false leg” and “real leg”. In this Taijiquan pattern Sifu Wong's right leg is “false” and his left leg “real”.

Question 8

Please send me information about “three stars blocking” technique.

— Sebastian, Polland

Answer

Three-star blocking is a training method where two students hit each other's arms in order to strengthen them. The two students sit at their Horse-Riding Stance facing each other. First they swing their right arms from outside to the centre where the inner-sides of their arms strike each other.

Next they swing the same arms upwards and outwards, also with the inner-sides of their arms striking each other. Then they swing the same arms downwards, striking the outer-sides of each other's arms. They repeat with the left arms, and continue the process.

Although this mechanical knocking of arms is popular amongst external styles of kungfu, personally I believe chi kung methods to strengthen the arms are far superior. My own experience can provide some examples.

When I was young (or when I was much younger, as some of my students would correct me whenever I make this statement), in my Hoong Ka Kungfu training, besides striking my arms against a wooden-man, I did a lot of three-star blocking. After such hard training, I would apply “thit ten choe”, or medicated vinegar with iron rust, on my arms.

I thought my arms were hard and strong — actually they were if compared to ordinary people's arms — but later when I leaned Wuzu Kungfu I found that I was nowhere when compared with the arms of my Wuzu classmates. Though they sometimes performed seven-star blocking, these classmates did not do any arm hardening or strengthening!

They derived their internal force, which they could channel to their arms when needed, by nightly practising the same set of San Zhan. Some of them could have practised the same set every night for more than ten years. I can still remember that when I did San Zhan Sticking-Hands with my senior classmate, Boon Leong, he used to lesisurely place his arm above mine, and I could not even lift up his arm.

It is worthy of note that if someone wishes to develop internal force from practising the San Zhan set, he must learn it from a master. If he learns from a book or video, he may practise the set for his whole life without any noticeable effects.

Later when I learned Shaolin Kungfu, I had to practise “One Finger Shooting Zen” every night. Gradually and without my conscious knowing then, my arms were charged with energy.

Some years later while discussing with a young instructor who taught external Shaolin kungfu, he said he did not believe in internal force, and he actually ridiculed Taijiquan, questioning how Taijiquan practitioners with their charactieristic soft and gentle movements could have any power to fight. He said that in his Shaolin training he hit wooden man and broke bricks.

To impress me he struck his arms forcefully a few times against an iron pillar supporting the porch under which we were standing, causing the pillar to vibrate. Then he invited me to do three-star blocking with him. Exactlly after the third knocking, he stopped, pretending to talk on another topic. The biggest irony was that some years later he changed to practising Taijiquan.

Question 9

Dear Sifu, I am writting to ask if you can help me with a question that one of my students asked this morning. We practice Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, and the student is also a black belt in Taekwondo.

When turing the back foot to create a forward stance or bow step, I have always pivoted on the heel and lifted the toes to create the step. I know that it is also permissible to lift the heel and slide it backward, although I was under the impression that was not as secure.

The student finds it easier to slide the heel back and he feels that it makes the application (Wild Horse Parts its Mane) stronger.

We had a practice using both techniques and I am afraid I was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, other than that that was the way I have always done it. My understanding is that to turn the toes in creates the coiling action and sends the energy from the heel and is an upwards, progressive and expansive movement and therefor makes it much stronger. Sliding the heel back makes the movement seem backward. I would be grateful for your opinion.

— Mandeigh,

Answer

There is no hard and fast rule in Taijiquan and other styles of kungfu on how a foot should be moved or adjusted. However, if one wishes to move a leg forward, for example from a left Bow-Arrow Stance to a right Bow-Arrow Stance, it is usual to lift the heel of the back right foot, then place the right leg forward with the heel first touching the ground.

This is in line with the principle “light like feather, heavy like mountain”, which in this case means that one moves forward shiftly and settles down into his stance firmly. Should he lifts up his toes instead of his heel in his forward movement, his initial action would be clumsy, and should he lands first on his toes instead of on his heel, he would be flimsy.

On the other hand, if one wishes to move backward, such as from a left Bow-Arrow Stance to a right Bow-Arrow Stance, it is usual to lift the front left heel, then glide the left leg backward with the toes gently touching the ground, and when the leg leg is in position at the back, lowers the left heel to complete the movement.

In both this backward movement as well as the forward movement described above, the “stationary” leg acts like an anchor, supporting the weight of the body and maintaining good balance. In kungfu terms this “stationary” leg is called the “real” leg or the “solid” leg, whereas the other moving leg is called the “false” leg or the“empty” leg. The expression “distinguishing between false and real in movement”, which is often mentioned in Taijiquan, often refers to a skilful useof the false leg and the real leg.

In Push Hands or in combat, for example, if an opponent does not “distinguish between false and real in movement”, a skilful exponent can exploit this weakness and defeat the opponent. Three characteristic points when you can exploit your opponent's weakness in his movement, are when he starts his movement, during the process of the movement, and just before he completes his movement.

If he in his backward movement lifts his front toes instead of his front heel, for insance, he would exhibit a weakness known in Taijiquan terms as “double yang”, which menas that as both his feet are rooted to the ground while moving, he lacks agility. It is therefore easier for you to push him onto the ground (if you are stronger) or to strike him.

But if he can skilfully “distinguish between false and real”, even though you may be many times stronger, when you ;push him, he can easily neutralize your push by swiftly moving his “false” leg backwards or sideways or to any suitable position, and exploiting your strength defeat you instead.

The above explanation deals with movement of one or both feet. The same principle is involved when you adust the foot positions without actually moving the feet away from its stance.

Suppose you are now in the frontal Horse-Riding Stance, and you want to turn left without moving from where you are standing, and change into the left Bow-Arrow Stance. So you adjust your left foot by turning about 45 degree to your left, and adjust your right foot by turning about 60 degrees to your left.

The question is whether you should use your heel or your toes as pivot when you adjust your foot positions. In other words, should you lift your left heel or lift your left toes when you turn to the left Bow-Arrow Stance. The question also applies to your right heel and toes.

Your choice will depend on your purpose, and is guided by the priinciple of “distinguishing between false and real”. But generally using the heels as pivots for both legs is preferred, because in this way you have more stability in your Bow-Arrow Stance for both attack or defence. Would this be a weakness of “double yang”?. No, because the desired quality here is stability and not agility.

Would the exponent in this position where both heels are rooted to the ground, lack agility if he is forced to defend. No, if he is skilful enough to “distinguish between false and real”. If a strong opponent pushes him, for example, the exponent can without moving his foot position transfer his weight to his back right leg and accordingly shift his body backward.into a sideway Horse-Riding Stance.

But if his choice is agility instead of stability, then he should use the left False-Leg Stance instead of the left Bow-Arrow Stance as he turns left. In this case, he should use his right heel as pivot, lift his left heel and glide his left foot slightly backward with the left toes touching the ground. In this stance where his right leg is the “real” leg and the left leg the “false” leg, he has greater agility for a wider range of movement.

Using the left heel and the right toes, and using the left toes and the right heel as pivots are also acceptable when turning left into the left Bow-Arrow Stance, especially when the former mode is for the purpose of attack and the later for defence. But using the toes of both legs as pivots are unwise, resulting in a weakness of “double yin”, where the practitioner lacks not only stability but also agility.

You are right in saying that pivoting with the heel creates a coiling action, and is an upwards, progressive and expansive movement. As your student is used to Taekwondo, whcih employs a different philosophy from Taijiquan, he may not be familiar with the concept and practice of spiraling internal force upward from the back heel. He finds the technique stronger if he uses his toes as a pivot because in this way it is easier to use waist movement to add mechanical power.

Many people may not realize its implications, but your saying that that is the way you have always done it, is a very good answer. It implies that generations of masters who have passed down the art have found that using the heel as pivot is superior to using the toes, and you are wise to practise the way the masters have taught it.

Only those who understand the art superficially and who think themselves smarter than the masters — of course this does not refer to your student who is obviously sincere in wanting to find out — would try to improve on what generations of masters have taught.

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