December 2000 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Leslie with Shi Yur Sur

Sifu Leslie James Reed (left) and the Venerable Shi Yur Sur at the Shaolin Temple in China

Question 1

I was asked to lecture on qigong and teach doctors of western medicine I have so far taught two groups of 40 doctors from all over the country and will continue with one module each month.

The results have exceeded my expectations — almost every doctor wishes to pursue qigong training and the general feeling is that qigong is excellent as a self-health process for patients to take home with them. How this will be managed practically is not yet clear but the process of educating doctors has just begun and I'm sure we'll work it out as we move forward.

I want to assure you Sifu that I am very conscious of the great amount of work I have yet to do as a practitioner of qigong and I am extremely careful to offer only that which you have given me permission to offer.

My life has changed completely since I met you, Sifu. My Taijiquan, Wing Chun and Shaolin Quan training and teaching have matured beyond recognition, all thanks to the time I have so far spent as your student.

— Leslie, South Africa

— Editorial Note:

Answer

I am very glad of your achievement and very proud of you, Leslie. I hope that you will carry on the work I have started in Shaolin Wahnam, and spread the goodness of qigong, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan

Qigong provides solutions to two pressing needs of modern world, namely intra-personal loneliness and so-called incurable diseases. It is great that the doctors wish to use qigong in their noble work to cure illness. The following information about qigong is useful for helping you and the doctors to determine the directions to take.

For convenience, qigong can be classified into the following kinds: medical, health, martial, scholarly, and spiritual. Obviously, what concern the doctors are the first two kinds. The difference between medical qigong and health qigong is that the former is used mainly to cure illness whereas the latter to maintain good health.

This classification is arbitrary. High level qigong, like our Shaolin Cosmos Qigong (Shao Lin Hun Yuan Yi Qi Gong), is applicable for all the five categories.

In medical qigong, there are two dimensions — self-healing and other's healing. In self-healing, the patient practises appropriate qigong exercises to heal himself. In other's healing, a therapist heals the patients. He does so by various means, such as channelling qi to his patients, opening his patients vital points, or teaching them appropriate qigong exercises.

Medical qigong exercises, which are the same for self-healing and therapist's healing, are of two types — thematic and holistic. In the thematic approach, the qigong therapist prescribes a particular exercise for a particular illness. A patient with kidney problems for example will need to do qigong exercise for overcoming kidney problems, a patient with rheumatism will need to do qigong exercise for overcoming rheumatism. In the holistic approach, the same qigong exercise can be used to overcome many or all problems.

From the viewpoint of a therapist, who earns his living from treating patients, thematic exercises are more suitable. Patients come to him regularly, and he modifies or changes the qigong exercises according to the progress of the patients. It would be difficult for him to earn his living, as well as difficult for his patients to believe although it is true, if he teaches the same holistic exercise to all his patients and tell them, “Right, all you need to do now is to go home and practise.”

For the therapist, learning thematic exercises to heal others takes a much longer time than learning holistic exercises. Not only he has to learn many more exercises, he also has to understand basic Chinese medical philosophy.

It may sound too good to be true but it is true that if you know a high level qigong holistic exercise, you do not need to know medical philosophy, do not even need to know the cause and site of your illness, all you need to do is to practise the holistic exercise conscientiously and you can overcome virtually all illness. This in fact is what happens in my qigong classes. I teach the same exercises to many people with different illness, but after a few months of conscientious practice they report that they have been cured.

The personal need of doctors, therapists as well as their patients for good health is similar, and qigong provides an excellent answer. Doctors also can teach their patients some simple qigong exercise to take home.

But the professional needs of doctors are different from those of a person aspiring to be a qigong therapist. The doctors are not going to throw away all their training to start qigong therapy anew. What they need are something simple and effective that can supplement their orthodox treatment.

They have two basic needs. One, to stabilize or improve the patients' mind and emotion so that they will better respond to orthodox treatment — something which conventional medicine which generally treats the physical body only, does not normally pay attention to. Almost any qigong exercise can stabilize or improve mind and emotion. An excellent choice is “Lifting the Sky”.

Two, when the doctors could not find the root cause of their patients' illness and therefore have to resort to symptomatic treatment, they may want some effective qigong exercise to help their patients. Here, holistic qigong exercise is preferred, and self-manifested qi movement is a good choice. On a personal note, I have used self-manifested qi movement to help countless people overcome so-called incurable diseases.

However, there are two problems. Unless the doctors have spent sufficient time in qigong training and teaching, they will be unable to teach and supervise self-manifested qi movement. Secondly, the resultant qi movement is generally not the kind of image the public have of conventional medical treatment.

But the problems can be overcome. One good way is to refer such patients to a qigong consultant, and the best person to take up this post is you. The qigong treatment, which will consist of self-manifested qi movement, can be carried out in your school or better still in a special department set up in a hospital. To give it some “respectability” in the eyes of those who think qigong is exotic if not primitive, they can call it “energotherapy department”, a 21st century advancement from the physiotherapy department.

Interested doctors can observe your work and take a part-time course in energotherapy, and later graduate as energotherapy consultants. Medical scientists can do research in this department, and monitor the recovery rates of patients with so-called incurable diseases.

This may not be necessary but should some people think that you are doing this for fame or money, let them know you are actually sacrificing for the sake of suffering humanity and doing a great favour to that particular hospital, which may one day be the fountainhead of many energotherapy departments all over the world. Qigong has worked successfully for centuries without the need to be labelled scientific, and you will earn many times more money teaching qigong to businessmen in a five-star hotel than teaching energotherapy in an environment smelling of medicine and full of sick people.

One does not need to know qigong theories or Chinese medical philosophy to benefit from self- manifested qi movement, but this may be needed if the hospital wants you to conduct a post- graduate course on energotherapy. Should you need information on why and how self-manifested qi movement can overcome illness, and other relevant information, please let me know. I also can help you to formulate a coherent syllabus for this energotherapy course.

Question 2

I have read your book on Zen, and found it most enjoyable. I am curious whether there was an error made in the listing of descendants of the five schools of Ch'an teachers. I was looking at Charles Luk's (Kuan Yu Lu) series of books called “Ch'an and Zen Teaching”, in which he makes a similar listing based on the master and the school (usually a mountain name). In your list the name and the school seem to be used interchangeably.

— Dietmar, Canada

Answer

My listing is based on the generation lines provided by the respective masters themselves, and therefore should be the most authoritative. What I mean is this. If the masters themselves, as recorded in their own writings which fortunately are still extant in Chinese, mention that their line is A, B, C, D, E, but some scholars or historians say that it should be A, B, F, D, E, I would choose the one mentioned by the masters as authoritative.

Some misunderstanding may arise as a result of a Zen convention in names. Take for example the famous Zen master called Dao Yi. He taught at a place called Ma Zu, which eventually also identifies the school of Zen from him.

People during his time would refer to the master as Dao Yi of Ma Zu. In the Chinese language, the participle “of” is not used, and the place name is mentioned first. Hence the master was addressed as Ma Zu Dao Yi. Gradually this was shortened to Ma Zu.

It is an interesting convention in Zen that masters are more popularly known by their place names than by their personal names. In my Zen book I usually follow this Zen convention, but sometimes I use the masters' personal names. Hence, the masters' names and the names of their schools, which often are the names of the places or mountains where they taught, are used interchangeably.

This placing of place names before personal names is inherent in the Chinese mode of address. Take for example my name Wong Kiew Kit. “Wong” is my surname, which is derived from the place my original ancestors lived. “Kiew Kit” is my personal name. Hence, people address me as Sifu Wong; “Sifu” meaning “Master”, on account that I am a Shaolin master. Calling me “Kiew Kit Wong” or “Mister Kit” is incorrect.

Similarly the two great Chinese leaders Mao Ze Dong and Zhou En Lai were addressed as Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou, and not Chairman Dong and Premier Lai. However, some Chinese, especially in the West, have adopted the Western way of address. For example, the Chinese name of Charles Luk is known more popularly as “Kuan Yu Lu” although actually it is Lu Kuan Yu.

Chinese names are both meaningful and poetic. It might be interesting to know the meaning of these names. “Dao Yi” word for word in Chinese means “Way One”, which may be meaningless and prosaic when translated literally. But figuratively it may be interpreted variously as “Having one mind to seek the Tao”, “the Way points to Cosmic Reality” or “All teachings which may appear different are actually the same”. “Ma Zu” literally means “Horse Ancestor”. I would leave you and other readers to interpret the meaning figuratively.

If one thinks that these various interpretations cause confusion, it is from the Chinese perspective rigid thinking, or from the Zen perspective a manifestation of dualistic mind. But will it cause confusion to the Chinese or to Zen practitioners? No. The Chinese as well as Zen practitioners (but not Zen scholars) are pragmatic and at the same time imaginative.

A rough analogy is as follows. When you call a woman a man, everybody knows that you mean, depending on your tone and the situation, that she is courageous, or rough, and not that she has male sex organs. But should you mean that she was biologically a man although she appeared in a woman's attire, this would be indicated in your manner of speaking.

Dualistic thinking means viewing reality phenomenally, in contrast to viewing reality transcendentally. In everyday situations, it means if you call something a table, it cannot be a chair; if you call a colour black, it cannot be white. Non-dualistic thinking (which may be phenomenal or transcendental) is different. When you put your arms on it you call it a table, when you put your buttock on it you call it a chair, when you burn it for fire you call it wood, when you eat it to prevent starving you call it food.

Another cause of misunderstanding regarding Chinese names is how they are transcribed from Chinese characters to Romanized alphabet. “Ma Zu Dao Yi” is also written as “Ma Chu Tao I” and “Mao De Dong” as “Mao Tze Tung”, depending on whether the Romanized Chinese system or the Giles-Wades system of transcription is used.

This problem of transcription is further compounded by the dialect the names are called. “Ma Zu Dao Yi” is in Mandarin Chinese, but in Cantonese Chinese (the dialect most popular among Chinese in the West) it is “Ma Choe Tou Yit”. This problem is particularly significant in kungfu terms. Due to historical factors, most of these terms are known in the West in their Cantonese pronunciation, such as “kungfu”, “Wing Choon” and “Hoong Ka”, which in Mandarin will be “gongfu”, “Yong Chun” and “Hung Jia”.

There is at least some semblance between the two pronunciations in the above terms. But sometimes the difference can be far apart. I am Cantonese, so my name is known by Cantonese pronunciation as “Wong Kiew Kit”.. If someone sends me an e-mail addressing to “Huang Chiao Jie”, which is my name in Mandarin pronunciation, I may have to read it a few times before recognizing it.

Question 3

Many times in your books and on your website you mention breathing out through the mouth. My instructor taught us to breathe only out through the nose. This, I believe came from his Yoga and Zen training. What are the benefits of breathing out through the mouth vs. breathing out through the nose?

— Carter, USA

Answer

In chi kung, breathing is categorized into two broad types called wen xi and wu xi , or “scholars' breathing” and “warriors' breathing”. Scholars' breathing is gentle whereas warriors' breathing is forceful but not forced.

Scholars' breathing is useful for quiet activities, such as meditation and intellectual work. Warriors' breathing is useful for vigorous actions, like combat and sports.

Breathing out through the nose is usually adopted for scholars' breathing. With the mouth gently close the rate of breathing can be slowed down tremendously, resulting in a deep, gentle breath that is conducive to mental focus and serenity.

Breathing out through the mouth is generally used for warriors' breathing. With the mouth open it is more efficient in disposing off the toxic waste produced by vigorous actions.

When force is exerted such as in a strike, the exponent not only breathes out through the mouth but gives a shout, not so much for scaring the opponent but for exploding internal force. By using appropriate sounds, a skilful exponent can channel internal force from relevant parts of his body.

For example, by using the sound “her-it” he can generate internal force from the qi-hai (abdominal energy field) for a powerful punch or palm strike; by using the sound “yaaaah” he can generate energy from his tan-choong (thoracic energy field) for a forceful tiger claw.

If a martial artist habitually closes his mouth when exerting forceful strikes or kicks, some force may bounce back and become locked, usually at the chest or backbone, causing internal injury. I have treated a few martial artists, some of them are third and fourth dan blackbelts, for this problem.

While most martial artists of other styles do not pay attention to their breathing, which is a crucial factor in energy management, the Chinese masters have developed breath control to a very high level. There are seven types of breathing — not just two. They are in Cantonese pronunciation :“fu”, “kap”, “piai”, “shui”, “jeng”, “hot”, “fong”. “Fu” is breathing out, “kap” breathing in, “piai” holding the breath, “shui” letting the breath flow out spontaneously, “jeng” quietening the breath, “hot” exploding the breath, “fong” releasing the breath.

By employing these various breathing modes in suitable combinations, a kungfu master enhances his stamina, force, agility, stability, judgment, responses and decision making. For example, when observing an opponent he would take a deep breath into his abdomen and adopt the “jeng” mode of breathing. If he has to jump up or away, he would take in a quick breath to his chest “to be as light as a feather” , and as he lands he would use the “fong” mode to lower his remaining breath to his abdomen “to be as solid as a mountain”

If he has to make a series of movements, such as fighting a gang, he would take in a gentle breath, employ the “shui” mode while executing many fast attacks, and complete the cour de grace on the gang leader with the “hot” mode — all in one long breath. This is one of many reasons why while many other martial artists may be panting for breath after ten minutes of action, a kungfu master is still fresh and relaxed after sparring for an hour.

Question 4

In your latest Q&A you mention breathing out through the mouth in Chi Kung to achieve a meditative (Chi Kung) state of mind. I find I can achieve a meditative state of mind breathing in and out through my nose. Again, this is from my Zen training, and re-inforced by my T'ai Chi Ch'uan/Chi Kung training.

Answer

A meditative state of mind can be achieved by any mode of breathing, and the breathing can be through the nose or the mouth, or at an advanced stage through an energy point or through the skin. In the example above, the kungfu master while fighting a gang is in a meditative state of mind different from his ordinary level of consciousness. If his opponents defend in ways different from his expectation, he does not need to think what changes to make. His appropriate changes flow spontaneously from him, and sometimes he does not actually know (in the ordinary sense of everyday conditions) what his actions are or will be, until he has completed them. This is Zen in action.

At the beginners' level I teach my chi kung students mainly three modes of breathing, namely “fu”, “kap” and “jeng”, or breathing out, breathing in, and quietening the breath. The breathing in is made through the nose, the breathing out through the mouth, and quietening the breath can be made with the mouth gently open or gently close.

Here, achieving a meditative state of mind is a means, not an end. The objective, with a meditative state of mind, is to generate an internal energy flow.

The mouth is used in breathing out because this is the natural way. The first thing you ever did when you were born was to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. If you didn't, your doctor would whack your backside to make you do so. Many people forget that the mouth is the most important organ for disposing off toxic waste.

If your objective is to achieve a meditative state of mind, breathing in and out through the nose is a very good choice. However in Tai Chi Chuan, particularly if you practise it as a martial art, breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth is preferred, although today many Tai Chi schools use the nose for both breathing in and out.

Many patterns in Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan are executed with a shout. “Fa-jing” or exploding internal force should be performed in any style of Tai Chi Chuan with the mouth open. Closing the mouth may result in bouncing back of force causing injury to the exponent.

Generally in low level chi kung where gentle physical movement is extensively used, both breathing in and out may be carried out through the nose. But in high level chi kung where a lot of energy is generated, breathing out is usually carried out through the mouth. If the mouth is close, the toxic waste that has been cleared by the internal energy flow may float to the head, making the practitioner giddy or dull.

Carrying the Moon

"Carrying the Moon" is a form of standing, dynamic chi kung

Question 5

I have no problem feeling the Chi flowing through me (although this isn't constant yet), and even feel a hot-spot over my dan tian when I perform what my instructor called pre-natal breathing Chi Kung (imagining energy flowing in and out of your navel into the dan tian). If I am feeling many of the benefits promised through the techniques I learned, do I need to modify my techniques to fit the more traditional styles?

Answer

This depends much on your exposure and aspiration. If you think that chi kung is nothing more than some energy flow and feeling a hot spot over your dan tian, you can be contented with what you have accomplished. If you realize that chi kung is much, much more, and that various modes of breathing are some of the effective tools to accomplish fantastic results, you will be open to learn more breathing techniques and skills.

More importantly you are not in a position to modify what you have learned but have not mastered. Established chi kung methods — including those you have learnt from your teachers but excluding those invented by some smart Alexes who do not even know what chi kung is — have been developed by countless practitioners and perfected by masters over many centuries.

These methods are passed down to us because they have been found effective, otherwise they would have been discarded long ago. If you do not know basic things like the difference between breathing out through the nose and through the mouth, you are certainly not smarter than the past masters. Blindly modifying established methods is wasting your time, or worse, asking for trouble. If you wish to have more effective methods, learn them from a master.

Question 6

Also, is supine Chi Kung as effective as, or less effective than the traditional standing/movement Chi Kung? Many of our silk reeling and centering exercises emphasized feeling the Chi flowing through, and moving the body. I suspect these would essentially translate as a form of Chi Kung. Am I correct in this assumption?

Answer

Chi kung can be classified into four groups according to the main position adopted in training, namely standing chi kung, sitting chi kung, lying down chi kung (supine as wll as other lying down positions), and moving chi kung. Chi kung can also be classified into two broad groups according to the nature of its movement, namely quiescent chi kung and dynamic chi kung.

Each type — such as standing quiescent, standing dynamic or supine quiescent — is suitable and effective for different purposes. If a person is too old or sick, he would find supine quiescent chi kung more suitable for his condition, although standing dynamic chi kung may be more effective to overcome his health problem.

Silk Reeling exercise and Centering exercise are already chi kung, as they work on energy. Feeling the chi flowing through is a sign that you have worked on energy. Moving the body accordingly is a technique to realize this purpose. If you do not feel the energy or if you turn your body merely for the sake of turning, you would have translated chi kung into physical exercise.

But you should not confuse a sign and a technique with the aim of practising the exercise. You practise Silk Reeling because you want to develop internal force for a powerful punch. If you merely feel some energy or turn your body gracefully, but have no power in your Silk Reeling punch, you would have mistaken a symptom for the result.

Question 7

I have heard that there was an advanced form of the Yang style. It was called the long form. This form showed more of how jin was applied to the style. I am trying to learn the style on my own. I am having trouble learning certain jin emission techniques. The people around me only teach Tai Chi as a health exercise instead of a martial arts form.

— Howard, USA

Answer

There are various ways to measure advancement in kungfu training. One is to count the number or length of kungfu sets learnt — the more or longer the sets learnt, the more advanced is the student.

This is the way adopted by most students, including myself in my early days of kungfu training, despite my masters telling me that I should focus on quality and not quantity. It took me quite some time to really appreciate this tenet, which in Cantonese is “lean kheun yew lean jing, pat lean tor”.

Another way, which is the one used by masters, is to measure how combat efficient you are, and this is closely connected with how powerful your internal force is.

If we use this criterion to measure advancement, then it does not really matter whether you know the Long form of Taijiquan, which consists of 108 patterns. Even if you know only the short form, which consists of only 24 patterns, and have trained for three years, but you have developed sufficient internal force and are combat efficient, you are more advanced than someone who has trained for ten years and knows the long form but cannot defend himself. Fa jing , or exploding internal force to strike an opponent, is a skill, in contrast to a technique. If you have this skill, you can apply it to any technique.

Let us take some examples to make this clearer. Suppose you wish to push your opponent away with your two palms. This technique is called an in Taijiquan, and is one of the four fundamental techniques in “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” in Yang Style Taijiquan. If you have little jing or internal force, you cannot push your opponent far even when you apply the technique correctly. But a master who has a lot of jing and using exactly the same technique can push the opponent very far away. Fa jing can be used not just for this an technique. Suppose the opponent throws a punch at the master. The master wards off with the peng technique, and the master's jing can bounces off the attacker's arm easily. But if you use the same peng technique, you may not be able to move the attacker's arm if you have no jing .

Hence if you have the skill, you can use internal force, or jing , for every one of the 24 patterns in the short form. But if you do not have the skill, you may learn the 108 patterns of the long form but still cannot apply internal force on any one pattern. Fa jing has to be learnt personally from a master. You cannot learn it from a book, a video or an e-mail.

I can tell you exactly how fa jing is accomplished. It is as follows. Lower into a side-way Horse-Riding Stance and focus your chi at your dan tian. Place your palms (or any part of your body with which you wish to explode your internal force) gently on your opponent. Use the heel of your back foot as anchor. Let your movement start from this anchor up your back leg, rotate your waist, generate the chi at your dan tian, let it travel through your body and arms and explode it from your palms, changing your stance into Bow-Arrow and extending your arms in the process, and sending your opponent flying away. All these movements are executed simultaneously in a split second.

You may understanding the dictionary meaning of every word, yet do not understand jing , let alone apply it successfully.

Not only the people around you, but the great majority of people around the world teach Taiji as a health exercise or a dance instead of a martial art.

Question 8

I have difficulty generating energy when doing the Tai Chi or Chi Kung exercises.

— Nabil, USA

Answer

If you learn genuine Taijiquan or chi kung you can generate energy within a short time, the most a few months. Everyone of those who attended my intensive Taijiquan or chi kung courses was able to generate energy on the very first day of their courses! But if you learn external Taiji or chi kung forms, even from a good teacher, you can only perform external forms but cannot generate energy even if you have learnt for many years.

This is only logical. If you play badminton but call it tennis, no matter for how long and how well you play, you still play badminton. The difference is that many people can differentiate between badminton and tennis, but not many people can differentiate between external Taiji or chi kung forms and genuine Taijiquan or genuine chi kung.

Combat application of Taijiquan

An essential part of Taijiquan training is combat application. Here Sifu Wong supervised students practising combat application during a Taijiquan course in Segovia, Spain

Question 9

However, if I sit comfortably and look at my palms and direct my mind from one palm to another i.e. from the right palm to left or from the left palm to the right I do feel distinctly a flow of movement. I am unable to certify whether it is energy.

Answer

I do not know what kind of movement you were referring to, and it is difficult to tell from a textual description whether yours was an energy movement from one palm to another. But I think it was. If you are relaxed and focused, which is the fundamental condition for a chi kung state of mind, you can generate an energy flow.

Keeping yourself in this state of mind, if you gently and slowly move your right palm to your right side, you can feel you are pulling a line of energy from your left palm. This is quite easy to do, and is safe. Try out on your own and have some fun.

It is the same principle in Taijiquan training at its low level — the level where form is used to generate energy. If you are relaxed and focused, and perform your Taijiquan movements gently and slowly, you can generate energy.

You can also try this for fun. If you perform only two or three movements in this way, it is safe. Even if you had done wrongly, it is not very harmful if you perform them for fun, but you would not have generated any energy.

However, unless you are supervised by a competent instructor, do not try this seriously for a long time. Taijiquan movements can be quite complicated, and if you persist in making mistakes for a long time, such as for a few months, it can be harmful. If you wish to generate a lot of energy you have to learn from a master or at least a competent instructor.

Again, this is only logical. It really amazes me why so many people refuse to accept this fact, and attempt advanced internal arts on their own, either wasting their time and insulting the arts or do themselves harm.

Question 10

In the event that it is energy, my question is whether this unorthodox practise is beneficial if channelled to other parts of the body and how can this be done. Please let me know if I should discontinue this practise if considered frivolous.

Answer

Don't attempt to channel energy to various parts of your body unless you have been trained. Doing so wrongly — and you are likely to do it wrongly if untrained — can lead to serious harmful effects. As mentioned above, if you perform what you described just for fun and only once a while, it isalright.

Question 11

I would also very much appreciate it if there are any exercises for the improvement of memory for the elderly.

Answer

Any genuine chi kung exercise will improve memory — for the elderly as well as all others. Chi kung is the training of energy and mind. When one's energy and mind are trained, it is natural that memory and all other functions where energy and mind are involved — which means all functions —will be better than when his energy and mind were not trained. But you have to learn chi kung from a master, not from an e-mail, a book, a video or a bogus instructor.

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