July 2000 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The Eight Immortals

The Eight Immortals -- clockwise from top: Cheong Ko Lou, Ho Seen Ku, Choe Kok Kau, Hon Seong Tze, Lui Choong Perng, Lam Choi Woh,.Tiet Kwai Li, and Hon Chong Lei.

Question 1

There is very little known to us in the West about the Eight Drunken Gods techniques. Unfortunately due to our different languages and the distance between the East and the West I am unable to find a teacher teaching these techniques.

— Rallis, Cyprus

Answer

The Eight Drunken Immortals refer to eight Taoist gods or immortals, namely Cheong Ko Lou, Hon Chong Lei, Tiet Kwai Li, Lui Choong Perng, Choe Kok Kau, Hon Seong Tze, Ho Seen Ku and Lam Choi Woh. (The names are in Cantonese pronunciation.) One of them, Tiet Kwai Li, happens to be my personal god, who has very kindly helped me and protected me in many ways, for which I will be forever grateful.

This may appear crazy to many people, especially westerners. Tiet Kwai Li lived as a person on earth many hundred years ago. Then, how could he be my personal god? The answer is that Tiet Kwai Li is an immortal. When he was a human many hundred years ago, he devoted himself to Taoist cultivation and succeeded in freeing himself (his spirit) from his mortal body, becoming an immortal in heavenly realm.

Let it be made very clear that I have no intension whatsoever to convince anyone to believe in what I am describing here. If others think I am writing non-sense, that is their business. What I wish to do is to let those who study Taoism or who are interested in metaphysics know of my own personal experience which may be helpful to them in their Taoist or metaphysical pursue. They would at least know that there are persons who have personally talked with immortals. And I categorically state that what I say here is true.

I am certainly not superstitious or gullible. I clearly remember that on seeing many statues of Buddhas and Immortals when I first entered Sifu Ho Fatt Nam's school to learn Shaolin Kungfu, I told myself, "Look, I am here to learn kungfu; I do not want anything to do with religion or metaphysics."

Nevertheless, during the course of my long kungfu training in Sifu Ho Fatt Nam's school or temple, I had many memorable, and privileged, occasions to talk with the Immortal Tiet Kwai Li. How could I talk with the Immortal? Simple! He came down from heaven and entered my sifu's body and spoke through my sifu.

Did my sifu impersonate the Immortal? I could not think of even one reason why my sifu should do it, especially when acting as a medium for an immortal is tremendously tiring and demanding. Numerous events convinced me that if I claimed to be scientific, which dictates making conclusions based on objective evidence, I have to accept that immortals are real.

I also remember that on the first occasion when I talked with the Immortal, I asked him for some advice. At first he refused, saying I was a non-believer and reprimanded me for being arrogant. My senior classmate Ah Heng, who practised Taoist cultivation from my sifu, pledged on my behalf. "He has never even offered a joss stick at the altar," the Immortal told Ah Heng about me.

That was true, and it struck me as to how he or anybody knew this. It would be unthinkable for any person to waste time spying on me to find out whether I offered joss sticks, especially when I went to my sifu's temple at any time I liked and also there were many other people offering joss sticks for prayers.

Of course after that expereince with the Immortal, I never failed to offer joss sticks whenever I attended my training. Interestingly, many years earlier when I practised kungfu from Uncle Righteousness, I was responsible for tidying the altar of the Venerable Chee Seen, the First Patriarch of Southern Shaolin Kungfu, and offering joss sticks for worship every night.

I owed to a great extent my present attainment in kungfu and chi kung to some advice given to me by the Immortal. Once I was at a loss regarding my direction in life, and was considering a few possibilities. The Immortal told me, in his typical poetic expression, "You have a treasure in the house; wherefore do you seek outside?" At first I was not sure what that treasure was. Then it struck me: my sifu was the third-generation successor directly from the southern Shaolin Monastery.

The Drunken Eight Immortals Set is a Taoist kungfu set comprising techniques characteristic of the Eight Immortals. There are many versions of this set. I have not learnt the complete set, but my sifu demonstrated and explained to me the eight characteristic techniques of the Eight Immortals. I am not sure whether my sifu had the complete kungfu set, as I had not seen this set performed in his school.

The eight characteristic techniques are as follows.

  1. Cheong Kok Lou Riding a Donkey in a Reverse Manner. This is a marvellous technique against low kicks and the Tiger-Tail Kick, and against floor fighting.
  2. Hon Chong Lei Waving a Fan. This is an effective counter against middle kicks, often locking the opponent's leg.
  3. The Clutch-Kick of Tiet Kwai Li. This is an inauspicious kick against an opponent's shin or knee while engaging or locking his hands.
  4. Lui Chong Perng Drawing Sword. This is a felling technique, throwing an opponent over the shoulder.
  5. Choe Kok Kou Playing the Clappers. This is a technique locking an opponent's elbow and wrist.
  6. Hon Seong Tze Playing the Flute. This is a gripping technique against an opponent's elbow and arm pit.
  7. Ho Seen Ku Plucking Flowers. This is a technique to break an opponent's wrist.
  8. Lam Choi Woh Carrying a Basket. This is a technique to break an opponent's elbow.

The patterns are executed in a fluid way with agile, deceptive footwork and swerving body movements. An exponent of this set seldom blocks or goes against an opponent's attack, but avoids it or flows with it, then counter-strikes immediately or simultaneously.

Another of my masters, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy of Choe Family Wing Choon, taught the Drunken Eight Immortals Set, but I did not learn it from him. However, the patterns and movements of this Wing Choon Drunken Eight Immortals are quite different from those explained by Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.

Sifu Yeong Cheong and some of my Wing Choon classmates know this set, but I do not know if they are willing to teach it. The Drunken Eight Immortals Set is quite rarely demonstrated in public.

One should not mistake the Drunken Eight Immortals Set with the Drunken Set, which is more popularly practised. The Drunken Eight Immortals Set draws inspiration from the Eight Immortals, whereas the Drunken Set, of which there are many versions, imitate the movements of a drunken mortal. There are also Drunken Lohan Set and Drunken Praying Mantis Set with their numerous versions.

Question 2

I started practising chi-kung with you in San Sebastian. First I want to thank you for offering us Shaolin Chi-kung. Now I'm learning with Inaki Rivero. He is teaching us "Shaolin Eighteen Lohan Hands". I have a health problem. My heart valves are damaged and doctors say in future I'll have to be operated on. They say I cannot do any hard work, but I hope to overcome it by practising chi-kung.

— Jose Luis, Spain

Answer

The intensive course you learned from me in San Sebastian is one of the best courses I have offered. Not only you will overcome your heart problems, you will also get many other benefits.

This course has helped many people with heart problems. Their heart specialists told them that the only way was surgical operations, but they practised chi kung instead and without the operation they regained their health. One of many such examples is Daniel, a medical doctor from Belgium whose questions and answers appeared in the June 2000 (Part 1) issue.

Inaki is a good teacher trained by me. Learning the Eighteen Lohan Hands from him will enhance your chance of overcoming your heart problem and gaining good health.

Question 3

Could any of these 18 exercises be dangerous for me?

Answer

If you practise according to what I and Inaki teach, all the exercises are safe. If someone tries to do extra things on his own incorrectly, any chi kung exercise can be harmful.

Remember not to rush or over-practise. Just follow the instructions I gave during the intensive course as well as Inaki's instructions, you will not only be safe but will also overcome your heart problem and regain good health

Question 4

I practise every day one of these exercises: "Lifting the Sky", "Carrying the Moon" and "Nourishing Kidneys". One in the morning and another one or the other two at night. Sometimes I practise the other ones I've learned. Is what I'm doing enough to get my heart healthy? Must I change anything?

Answer

What you are dong is correct, and will be sufficient to overcome your health problems. There is no need to change anything.

Don't worry about unnecessary details; just enjoy your chi kung exercises -- this is one of the most effective and best pieces of advice given by past masters.

Sifu Joan Browne

Sifu Wong and Sifu Joan Browne enjoying a meal. Sifu Joan attended an Intensive Chi Kung Course in 2000 to overcome a so-called incurable disease. She went on to become an instructor, then a Chief Instructor, helping many people overcome so-called incurable diseases.

Question 5

Or is there any specific exercise better for me than the others?

Answer

The important point in chi kung is often not what exercise you do but how you do it. Practising those exercises you have learnt personally from me and from Inaki is the best way to ensure you perform the exercises correctly and therefore derive the best benefits.

If I were to describe a new exercise to you, even if we presume that this were a better exercise, you would not get as much benefit because you would be unable to perform the new exercise as well as you perform those exercises you have learnt personally from me or Inaki. Moreover the exercises you have learnt are excellent for overcoming your present problem.

Question 6

My practice seems to be going fine. In fact on Thursday night just as I had slowed down to stop, my hands suddenly started moving over my head as if I was a puppet or that I had wings. I then started moving so slowly around the little space where I was practising, dipping and rising all the while my hands moving very slowly. It was sort of like Tai Chi movements. It felt exquisite and went on for at least twenty five minutes, it felt really beautiful, sifu, but so hard to explain.

— Joan, Ireland

Answer

Your exquisite movements are wonderful. Your Taiji-like movements approach what many modern Taiji masters hope to attain, but cannot!.

If you read Taijiquan classics you will find that many great masters in the past mentioned that at the highest level in Taijiquan, one uses the mind to move energy, and energy to move the form.

Because most people today perform Taiji without the benefit of chi kung, they cannot achieve what the past masters did. Consequently they mistakenly think that such statements like mind moving energy, and energy moving form, as only myths. Isn't it wonderful that you are approaching the level of the past masters!

Question 7

The only problem I have is that I still have very little energy and can feel very tired a lot of the time. I'm not sure if it is because of a deviation in practice or maybe it is normal

Answer

You feel you have little energy because now you are at the stage of cleansing. In other words, the energy flow you have generated in your chi kung training is mainly used to clear away energy blockage that you accumulated in the past. This is normal, and you have no deviation.

You may at times feel some pain as the energy flow clears away the blockage. When you energy blockage is cleared, you will progress to the next stage of building, whereby you will increase your energy level.

In the stage of cleansing, the main purpose is to clear away pain and illness, resulting in good health. In the next stage of building, the main purpose is to increase vitality, with the result that you will find zest in your work and play. After you have built up your energy, you will enter the third stage of nourishing, whereby your vital energy will constantly nourish all your organs and systems, thus maintaining their beautiful and peak conditions. As a result your organs last a long time, which means you have longevity.

Such processes of cleansing, building and nourishing operate not just at the physical level; they also occur at the emotional, mental and spiritual levels. Hence, not only you overcome pain and illness, have vitality for work and play, and live to a ripe old age -- physical benefits; you will also benefit at the emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.

Emotionally, the stage of cleansing clears away negative emotions like depression, agitation and nervousness. Next the stage of building enables you to be calm and cheerful at all times. Then the stage of nourishing enables you to have the awe and wonder of a child even at old age.

In the mental dimension, cleansing disperses mental fatigue, doubts and indecisiveness. Building enables you to comprehend difficult or profound texts, such as philosophical or mystical writings, in a way and to a depth you might not think possible before. Nourishing enables you to have a crystal clear mind even beyond the age of eighty.

Spiritually, cleansing removes negative traits like fear and loneliness. Building enables you to have spiritual wisdom and provides you with spiritual strength whereby you may feel you are as powerful as gods! Not many people, of course, believe this, and some may find this concept heretical.

This is also a delicate and risky stage where many people fall to their human weakness, such as becoming vain or abusing their spiritual power for evil intensions. Many people, including some of my senior students, fall at this stage. They became arrogant, and thought they were more powerful than their own teachers (who so kindly had led them, often hand in hand and step by step, to such an advanced stage). Here is one important reason why respecting the master is so very important, and it is for the students' interest.

In Christian terms, this failure is figuratively described as falling to the temptation of Satan. In Buddhist terms it is falling to the temptation of Mara. In Taoist terms it is "the good escaping, the evil entering".

Had the students realized that although they are powerful when compared to ordinary people, they are actually still very far from their spiritual goals, they would be more humble. Even when one has overcome this crucial test, the road to the ultimate goal, i.e. arriving at the Kingdom of God in Christian terms, or attaining nirvana or attaining the Tao in Buddhist and Taoist concepts, is still very long and hazardous. The stage of nourishing will provide the aspirant the spiritual strength, courage and wisdom necessary for this noblest of journeys.

Most people, especially those who practise gentle exercise but thinking it is chi kung, will not really comprehend or believe what has been explained above, though they may intellectually understand all the words. But those who have glimpses of its truth from direct experience will appreciate the Chinese saying that "learning genuine Shaolin arts is better than having the power to change stone into gold"! This also exemplifies why those who think they can learn chi kung from books and then teach others, are insulting the past masters and doing humanity a great dis-service

Question 8

When I breathe out through my mouth, I cannot put my tongue to the roof of the mouth, like I do usually. Why is this? I can feel a difference from breathing out from my nose, but cannot decide why.

— John, Australia

Answer

When you breathe out through the mouth, you should place your tongue at the base of the mouth, not at the roof. Place your tongue at the roof of the mouth only when you breathe in.

In our school, Shaolin Wahnam, placing the tongue at the roof or base of the mouth applies only when we perform "breathing" types of chi kung exercises like Abdominal Breathing and Small Universe Breathing, whereby we stand stationary at our posture. When we perform dynamic patterns or self-manifested chi movements, it is not necessary to worry about the tongue position.

The tongue position helps to link the upper gap between the Du Mai and the Ren Mai (or the Governing Meridian and the Conceptual Meridian). Holding the anus helps to link these two meridians at the lower gap.

When you breathe out you have to open your mouth, which makes it difficult but not impossible to place your tongue at the roof of the mouth. For some specific purposes, such as slowing down the outward breath, practitioners of some chi kung exercises place their tongue at the roof when breathing out.

When you breathe out through your nose instead of through your mouth, irrespective of your tongue position, your breathing is more gentle. More gentle breathing, irrespective of whether the breathing out is through the nose or the mouth, is referred to as wen xi or "scholarly breathing", in contrast to wu xi or "martial breathing".

"Scholarly breathing" is preferred when ones wishes to prolong his breath, such as in executing a long sequences of many patterns, in contrast to "martial breathing" for short explosive action, such as executing a coup de grace. Hence, in performing a sequence of a kungfu set, an exponent trained in regulating his breathing would use "scholarly breathing" for eight or nine patterns, and then "martial breathing" for the concluding one or two patterns which usually take the form of a powerful strike. The whole sequence of ten or twelve patterns are executed in one continuous movement in one well regulated breath.

Comparatively speaking, breathing in and out through the nose is used when one wishes to build up energy, such as when an advanced exponent practises strengthening exercises. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is used when one wishes to clear energy blockage, such as practising cleansing exercise. This comparison is relative. You can also build up a lot of energy when you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Breathing out through the nose when practising strengthening exercise -- which means the mouth is close throughout the training -- should be attempted only by well-trained practitioners. Ordinary students may hurt themselves seriously, particularly if the advanced strengthening exercise was learnt from books. This is one important reason why most of our chi kung exercises use breathing out through the mouth. Another reason is that, except where a particular exercise dictates so, breathing out through the mouth usually produce better and quicker results.

Taijiquan is basically a martial art

Taijiquan is basically a martial art.

Question 9

When I keep my tongue to roof of my mouth I can feel energy circuit up my back and round over my head and back down. With my mouth slightly open, energy doesn't seem to go round the head. Also, it feels more central.

Answer

You are right in saying that when the tongue is at the roof of the mouth as you breathe in through your nose, energy circuits up the back, round the head and down to your upper lip. When your tongue is at the base of your mouth as you breathe out through your mouth, the energy flows down from your upper lip to your lower lip, thus connecting the upper gap, then down to your abdominal dan tian (or energy field).

When one holds his anus as he breathes in, energy flows down his qi-hai vital point (at the abdominal dan tian) to his hui-yin vital point just before the anus. When he releases his hold on his anus as he breathes out, the energy "jumps" across the lower gap at the anus from the hui-yin vital point to the chang-zhang vital point at the tip of the backbone, to continue its journey up spine and round the head.

Adopting the relevant tongue and anus positions is helpful when developing the Small Universal Flow, i.e. the continuous and unending flow of energy round the Ren Mai (Conceptual Meridian) and Du Mai (Governing Meridian) circuit. When you have acquired the Small Universal Flow, you need not pay special attention to these positions -- irrespective of whether your tongue and anus are up or down, the energy flow can by itself bridge the gaps.

Hence, a master has his Small Universal Flow at all times, including when he is engaged in combat or in his daily chores. On the other hand, those who merely know the techniques but have not trained enough to acquire the Small Universe, will have no continuous, unending flow of energy irrespective of their tongue and anus position

Question 10

You said that noon is a good time for practice, but with my current work schedules I am usually travelling or in meetings at this time. Every morning I practise my forms. Is evening a good time to practise the exercise that you showed me? Sometimes, if I practise late at night I sleep 'heavy' and wake up with a stiff back/shoulders. How can I avoid this?

Answer

You have been mistaken. Noon is a very bad time to practise chi kung. In fact you should avoid practising at noon. On the other hand, sunrise and midnight are the best times. Morning before nine, and evening after five are good times.

Your stiff back or shoulders are not due to your practising at night, but to other factors which may be over-straining your back and shoulders during practice or at other times, or due to bad sleeping positions in bed. You can overcome the problem by performing self-manifested chi movement, or sending chi to massage the relaxant parts during Standing Meditation.

Question 11

At the intensive course you asked me if I had done any martial training in my Tai Chi training. I just thought of Pushing Hands at the time. Actually I have done a combination of Pushing Hands, sensitivity training and some compromising. I have not had personal experience at using self- defence applications from Tai Chi forms, but sometimes I find they just 'work' when practising some of the moves with a fellow student.

To be honest, I started Tai Chi so that I could learn a martial art and then began to find health and well-being through it, long before I could see how it might work as a martial art. That isn't to say I don't still want to study the martial aspects -- I think the two go hand-in-hand.

Answer

I do not know what do you mean by "some compromising". Pushing Hands (which will enhance your sensitivity) is only a preliminary step. If you wish to be combat efficiency you must proceed to miscellaneous techniques, short sequences of pre-arranged sparring, and then free sparring. You must also develop internal force.

Tai Chi Chuan is basically a martial art. Health is a pre-requisite and a bonus. In other words, before you train Tai Chi Chuan for combat, you must be healthy first. As you progress in your Tai Chi Chuan training as a martial art you become radiantly healthy, although you do not specifically train for health. Every move in Tai Chi Chuan is made with combat efficiency in mind, not for the purpose of health. But you become radiantly healthy as a happy by-product.

The remarkable health benefits of Tai Chi Chuan come about only if you train it as a martial art. If you perform Tai Chi as a dance, as most people do today, there is nothing remarkable about its health effects. Have a random check. Find out how many Tai Chi dancers can run up a flight of stairs or jump over a chair. Indeed it was often due to such inability that many chose Tai Chi dance. Had they been able, they might have played badminton or chosen disco

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