Novemeber 2000 (Part 2)


combat sequence

Practising combat sequences is an important part of sparring. In this sequence, Tai (right) executes a thrust punch at Mogan (left). As soon as Mogan responds, Tai moves in with an elbow strike. Please continue with the illustrations below.

Question 1

I have read in your question/answer section about the "qigong state of mind". Is time distortion a manifestation of this state of mind? I ask this out of curiosity, and with no intention of going out and trying to achieve it, since it seems the harder you consciously try to achieve this, the less likely you are going to achieve it.

— Chris, Australia


The qigong state of mind is a general term and there are many manifestations of it. The most basic manifestation is that the practitioner is both focused and relaxed. In other words, if one is not focused nor relaxed, he cannot be in a qigong state of mind.

Perhaps the nearest English equivalent term for this qigong state of mind is "intuitive mind", as a contrast to the ordinary thinking and questioning mind. Hence, when one starts to think intellectually or question, he is not in the qigong state of mind. This explains why the harder you consciously try to achieve the qigong state of mind, the more difficult you will achieve it.

To most western educated persons, this "non-thinking or non-intellectual mind" may have a negative connotation. While this description of a "non-thinking mind" gives a provisional explanation and is very helpful, it is nevertheless not exact because at a higher level of the qigong state of mind, the practitioner can think. This "thinking", however, is different from ordinary intellectual thinking. For convenient, I call it "intuitive thinking", and is close to visualization.

The thinking or intellectual mind is very important and has contributed tremendously to our progress, but the intuitive, non-thinking, non-intellectual mind is actually more important. All our activities that sustain our lives like breathing, digestion and natural defence against harmful pathogens, are carried out by our intuitive mind.

In fact intuitive thinking is of a higher level than intellectual thinking. Most of, if not all, the greatest break-thoughts in science, arts, philosophies and religions have come from intuitive rather than intellectual thinking.

Yes, time distortion is a manifestation of the qigong state of mind. For example, at the end of a 15- minute chi kung session, some students may think that only three or four minutes have passed, whereas others think may it has been half an hour or an hour.

You can try to achieve a qigong state of mind -- it is very safe to do it on your own, but you must proceed gently. One very effective method is as follows.

Stand or sit upright in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Close your eyes gently. Open your mouth gently as if smiling. Breathe naturally. Then listen to your breathing. Just listen to your breathing. Soon you will be in a qigong state of mind. You will feel pleasant and peaceful. If you continue your qigong, Taijiquan or any other practice in your qigong state of mind, you will find that your results will be many times better.

Question 2

My teacher has on a few occasions said that I should start instructing students under his direction. Of course I help him when the class is busy, but I am reluctant to start instructing. I have just completed four years of instruction. I train six nights a week, and at two hours each time.


I agree with your teacher. You should start instructing students under your teacher's direction, and you will find that as you teach, your own practice and knowledge of the art will improve tremendously.

Being reluctant to teach even though one is ready is often the mark of a promising good teacher. Many of my disciples who later proved to be excellent teachers, were at first reluctant to teach when I asked them to. On the other hands, those who are so eager to teach because they want to help others, or so they fancy, often prove to be bad learners who do not even want to put in the minimum required training.

In the past, one did not dream of teaching others unless and until he had attained a reasonable high standard in his art, and this normally took ten or more years. But our conditions are different. The standard demanded as well as required is much lower than that before. I consider that when one has correctly trained about an hour a day for three years, he would have attained a reasonable high standard. As the standard today is so low, this person would probably be among the top 20% of the practitioners.

Question 3

I was wondering if you could give me some insight into what makes a good kung fu teacher. What other considerations someone must have if he wants to become a respected teacher. I know eventually that I will have to carry on the legacy of my art, and I don't want to do it any disservice.


Besides being proficient in his art, a teacher should have other qualities. Two fundamental qualities are being professional and being ethical, i.e. he must know what he is teaching, and he must teach to the best of his students' benefits. For example, if he teaches gymnastics and calls it kungfu, or if his students sustain injury from their training but the injury is left unattended to, he is being unprofessional and unethical.

A teacher must also be an example of what he teaches. If he teaches kungfu, he should be able to defend himself decently, and be reasonably fit and healthy. But the most important quality of a teacher, especially a great kungfu teacher, is to have a high moral character, not just to be spoken about but to be expressed in his daily living.

combat sequence

Mogan pushes aside Tai's elbow strike. Following Mogan's momentum without a break, Tai lowers his stance and executes a reversed palm strike at Mogan's groin. Please continue with the illustraions below.

Question 4

I have noticed that throughout history the great masters of kung fu always had knowledge in healing the body. My teacher's sifu is also a master of tui na, Wong Fei Hung was a noted herbalist, and I hope I can categorize you as a qigong healer of great repute. Does knowledge of a healing art enhance your kung fu skill, or is it something that the masters either learnt from their parents, or as a tool to help repair themselves in case of a serious injury in a duel?


There is a kungfu saying in Cantonese as follows:

	mei lean khuen, seen hok chap ma
	mei lean kung, seen hok tit ta

It means:

   Before learning kungfu techniques, first learn the stances 
   Before learning kungfu skills, first learn kungfu medicine

Indeed all traditional kungfu masters were experts in "tit-ta". On a personal note, all my four kungfu teachers were famous tit-ta experts, and I spent a substantial part of my kungfu training in tit-ta.

Literally meaning "falls-hits", "tit ta" ("die da" in Mandarin pronunciation) refers to a specialized branch of Chinese medicine that deals with injuries. For convenience, I call it kungfu medicine or traumatology, and it includes (or makes use of) tui-na, herbalism and chi kung.

Although one can still become a formidable kungfu fighter without having to know any healing art, knowing it enhances one's kungfu skills. At a low level, a knowledge of tit-ta enables a kungfu practitioner to better appreciate the positions and significance of joints and vital points, thus enhancing his fighting ability. At a high level, it enables him to understand Chinese physiology and energy network, thus enhancing his force training.

Kungfu masters normally learned tit-ta from their own kungfu teachers, and not from their parents or Chinese physicians. Indeed, tit-ta is more associated with traditional kungfu than with mainstream Chinese medicine that even today the Chinese would seek the service of a kungfu master rather than a Chinese physician when they want to be cured of injuries from hits and falls, such as internal injuries and fractures.

Apparently instructors and students of modernized kungfu as well as of other martial arts know little about the principles and practice of tit-ta. Had they known its principles, they would have realized how damaging their generous exchanges of blows and kicks are to their health. Had they known its practice, they would not allow such damages go unattended.

Healing themselves or their opponents in case of a serious injury in a duel is only one of the functions of practising tit-ta. Tit-ta is excellent for curing injuries of all kinds, not only in combat but also in sports, accidents, work and other aspects of daily life.

When a sportsman injured his backbone or sprained his knee, for example, it would take a few weeks of orthodox treatment for recovery, whereas tit-ta could get him back to active play in a few days! If not for prejudice, vested interest as well as ignorance of its true benefits, tit-ta or traumatology would be the choice treatment for injuries in world sports.

Question 5

I read in your question-answer section about showing mercy to an opponent or assailant. I have been taught that once you have refused to fight someone, and they still are intent on doing you harm, then you have already shown them mercy, and now you should give them a beating. Where do you draw the line?


At an ordinary level, one usually shows more mercy to a child in pain than to an adult assailant. But at a high level, showing mercy depends on you, and not on your opponent. This means if you wish to show mercy, it does not matter whether your opponent is a crying child or an adult welding an axe at you.

Initially refusing to fight may or may not be an act of mercy. On the other hand, if you fight at the first instant, it does not mean you may not be merciful. Indeed, mercy is often shown while in combat, such as merely touching his skin when you could have caused him severe injury.

Mercy could also be shown in killing! For example, in the past when a master had no choice but to kill a person, such as to eliminate a public enemy, he would kill him quickly so that the person would feel as little pain as possible. This was an act of mercy.

Question 6

If the opponent has a knife, does he deserve more of a blow than someone who is trying to beat you with his fists? And in multiple opponent combat, should you be aiming to stop your opponents completely (I don't mean to kill them), so that they don't jump up after a while and try and hit you again?


While showing mercy, you must of course not neglect your own safety. If your opponent is holding a knife or other deadly weapon, you have to disarm him first. Then you show mercy by pushing him away or holding him to the ground. If he persistently attacks you, you could show mercy by dislocating his finger rather than breaking his skull.

Qin-na, the unique kungfu art of gripping, is an excellent method to use when fighting with mercy. Obviously if you wish to show mercy, you have to be more skilful than your opponent.

Irrespective of whether you fight mercilessly or mercifully, fighting multiple opponents is certainly more difficult. But the same principle and practice of showing mercy apply. Leaving mercy aside, you could stop their attack by inflicting such severe injury on them that they could hardly stand up. Alternatively, you could show mercy and also stop their attack by skilfully causing them to fall one on top of another in a pile.

Question 7

Since starting martial arts, I don't go into the city late at night, I don't go to parts of the city where trouble may occur, I don't go to parties where I know drinking will occur. I do this all to avoid possible confrontation. Am I doing the right thing or am I limiting my social experience?


You may be doing a right thing but you are also limiting your social experience. There are more than one way to do right things. The one you mentioned is too restrictive.

While you need to be careful, such as not going to parts of the city where trouble is almost certain to occur, you should let your kungfu training enrich your life and the lives of others, and not let it enslave you. This includes enjoying wholesome social life, like going to the city late at night with your friends once a while, and going to parties where drinking may occur but you do not get drunk.

combat sequence

Mogan intterseps Tai's reversed palm attack with a taming-hand. Instantly Tai hangs a reversed fist at Mogan's temple. When one has practised this combat sequence adequately, he can proceed to practise the same sequence with an imaginary opponent. He should practise both the attack and the defence mode. He can also add one or two appropriate patterns at the end of the pre-arranged sequence.

Question 8

Our sparring consists of drills, which are similar to Wing Chun chi sau, but are done while moving, and with chin na. We also use elbows and knees and head butts in these, though these are controlled. We also have drills where we put someone in the middle of the ring of five people, and then this person is attacked randomly.. We also do application drills, where we break our forms down and apply the movements to the combat situation. My question is how does one get the same benefits of sparring, when there is no one to spar with?


There are many types of sparring, and practising the various forms of drills like what you have described is one important type. Another important type is sparring with an imaginary opponent or opponents. In fact, sparring with an imaginary opponent is probably the most important type of sparring masters use for their practice and advancement.

There are many ways to spar with an imaginary opponent. One effective way is as follows. Choose a few combat sequences you have learnt. Go over the combat sequences as if you are sparring with an opponent. Practise one sequence at a time, and repeat it many times before going to the next sequence.

If you do not have any combat sequences, select suitable portions from your kungfu sets for this purpose. Many kungfu sets are composed of combat sequences.

Another way is as follows. Imagine an opponent attacking you in one or two movements. Respond to the imaginary attacks accordingly, making sure that you apply kungfu techniques and you move elegantly and with appropriate force. Repeat the same attacks many times before proceeding to other attacks. Gradually increase the number of attacks and responses.

Question 9

I have always been taught to breathe in as I strike. Is this correct? I have read some texts where the practitioner is required to shout when they strike. Is it true that you can alter the severity of a strike by changing your breathing accordingly?


Here is one example where a knowledge and practice of Chinese medicine, especially chi kung and tit-ta, is very useful. When you strike you expend energy. If you strike mechanically, your energy comes from your muscles and momentum. If you use internal force, your energy comes from your dan tian (or abdominal energy field). In both cases, energy flows outward.

Hence, you can alter the severity of a strike by changing your breathing accordingly. If you breathe out, especially with an appropriate shout, you add power and momentum to your strike. If you breathe in, you restrict the flow.

As energy is expended, toxic waste is produced and has to be disposed off. The disposal of toxic waste is enhanced when you breathe out. If you breathe in when you strike, you severely limit the disposal of toxic waste.

If you observe carefully, you will notice that all world class sportsmen and sportswomen have their mouth open while engaging in their active sports. Martial artists often shout when making a strike, forcing their mouth to open wider and disposing off more toxic waste. If you habitually breathe in or close your mouth when making forceful strikes, some force may "bounce" back leading to internal injury, especially at your lungs, heart or back.

There are some occasions when an exponent may close his mouth when making a strike. For example, in the art of Iron Head an expert may take a deep breath, close his mouth tightly, hold his breath, and then strike his head against a piece of granite breaking it in two. Even here, he does not breathe in when striking -- he holds his breath. His purpose of closing his mouth tightly is to prevent air escaping, thus reinforcing his energy in his head for a strike.

Question 10

I have been studying Tai Chi Chuan for several years and have attempted to continually deepen my understanding and meditation. I generate much heat, especially in the hands and feet, but not much more.

— Mike, USA


It may be a matter of semantics, but it is significant when it comes to arts like Tai Chi Chuan, chi kung and Shaolin Kungfu. You should change "studying" to "practising" Tai Chi Chuan. Once you have made the change, you would have a better appreciation of the approach and direction of your training.

Secondly, the main purpose (which will greatly determine your approach and direction) of Tai Chi Chuan practice is not to deepen its understanding and meditation, but to have good health, combat efficiency and spiritual joy. This does not mean understanding and meditation are not important, but you should realize they are means rather than ends of your practice.

Thirdly, generating much heat is a sign that you have worked on your chi or energy. It is an indication that you have practised Tai Chi Chuan as an internal art and not as an outward dance. But this is only the first step. More importantly you have to use this energy for your benefits, such as for overcoming health problems, for combat, or for your daily work and play. If this is the only achievement you have after seven years of Tai Chi Chuan, you have not spent your time profitably. Students practising high level Tai Chi Chuan or chi kung can have similar achievement in their first week of training, some even in their first day!

Question 11

In the past two years I have gotten four staph infections on various parts of my body, finger, chin, arm pit and eyes. My wife suspects my Tai Chi is the cause. While I don't think this is so, I wanted to see if this was actually possible. Could I be causing a stagnation in my body since blood and chi are so closely related? Are there any herbs or Chi Kung exercises I could practice to help "heal" myself? I am not a fan of Western medicine and would prefer to heal myself without the use of antibiotics or worse.


Your wife could be correct. For some reasons, the energy you have generated have been locked, resulting in distorting your energy field. The lowering of your immune system is a possible adverse effect. Ironically, had you practised Tai Chi as a dance instead of an internal art, you might not have this adverse effect. One possible reason was that you were tensed in your practice, another possible reason was your mind was full of irrelevant thoughts.

Alternatively, you might have practised correctly but at a very low level. Considering that you have practised for seven years, it is likely that you have performed only external dance-like movements, but due to the long time of practice these movements naturally (without your conscious attempt) generate some energy flow. However the energy flow is not strong enough to overcome germs that have entered your body causing the disease. Had you not practise Tai Chi dance, you disease would be more serious.

There are various herbs that can overcome your disease, but you have to consult a qualified herbalist. It is not just a straight-forward procedure of prescribing herb A to overcome disease X, or herb B to overcome disease Y. The herbalist has to consider your over-all conditions so as to prescribe a mixture of herbs not just to overcome your immediate disease but also other related problems as well as to strengthen you systems generally.

Unlike herbal treatment or some low level chi kung, high level chi kung is holistic. This means any high level chi kung exercise can overcome your disease. It sounds incredible but it is true. The root cause of your disease may be some glands deep inside your body, or some other factors. We do not need to know where these glands or what these factors are; once we have generated a vigorous energy flow, it will flow to the root cause to overcome it. It is like your mobile cellular phone. Your friends need not know where you are; so long as they dial the correct number and the communication lines are through, they will reach you.

The criterion determining whether the chi kung is high or low, is often not what exercise you perform but how you perform it. This is the same with Tai Chi Chuan, which is a complete set of chi kung. If you perform your same set of Tai Chi Chuan at a high level, i.e. training energy and mind instead of merely moving your limbs, you will not only overcome the disease but attain vitality and mental freshness.

Naturally you will have to learn high level Tai Chi Chuan from a master. Even if I list all the techniques for high level Tai Chi Chuan, which I actually did in my book "The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan", you may not be able to do them. For example, I may say, "Relax and let your energy flow vigorously." This actually is a very simple task, and virtually all students who have taken an intensive Tai Chi Chuan or chi kung course from me could do it on the very first day of their training.

But for the uninitiated, who are habitually used to be tensed, they are not relaxed although they think they are, and they have no way to find out without a master personally guiding them. Even when they are relaxed, they do not know how to let their energy flow vigorously. If they ask me via e-mails, I would say the same thing, "Just relax and let your energy flow vigorously." When they try that on their own and fail, they would think I have withheld a secret, although I actually have told them the crucial technique. What they do not realize or simply refuse to accept despite being told many times, is that the skill to execute this crucial technique has to be learnt personally from a master.

Now you have a good opportunity to learn such skills, and more. I am offering an intensive Tai Chi Chuan course from December 15th to 21st, 2000. Please see Intensive Taijiquan Course for details. Due to my very packed time-table, this is likely to be the only intensive Tai Chi Chuan course until 2002. If you are interested, apply to my secretary. I cannot guarantee you will be cured of your disease though I believe you have a very good chance. But I can safely say that you will actually attain in seven days what you may not even dream of attaining in all the seven years of your Tai Chi Chuan training.


Overview of the Questions-Answers Series

Courses and Classes