September 2000 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Bruce Lee

The celebrated Bruce Lee and his famous kick

Question 1

I was wondering (I know this sounds very crazy and ridiculous) but is human physical invulnerability possible through chi kung or metaphysics?

— Jay, USA

Answer

The answer is "yes" and "no", depending on how we interpret "human physical invulnerability".

In relative terms, it is possible to achieve physical invulnerability through chi kung or metaphysics training. Some chi kung or metaphysics adepts can take weapon attacks on their body without sustaining injury.

But in absolute terms, the answer is no because such "invulnerability" can be broken by a master who is overwhelmingly powerful, or who knows the "coup de grace", i.e. the secret techniques that neutralize the "invulnerability".

Question 2

I know as a fact that many amazing feats can be performed by chi and I have heard that it is possible that one who has dedicated a life of solitude in training empty force chi kung (or some other types of metaphysics) is able to produce a "shield" of psychic/chi substance strong enough to barrier any physical force no matter the velocity. I know this sounds very crazy, but due to other feats I have personally seen, I feel many, many things are possible now.

Answer

You are right. Chi kung and metaphysics masters can perform feats which ordinary people would think impossible. I know for sure that this is true because some of my disciples and I have performed such feats.

My senior disciple, Chan Chee Kong, for example, transmitted chi to ordinary water for a patient to drink to help him overcome his chronic disease, and it did. Another senior disciple, Cheng Shang Shou, transmitted chi to the sky to disperse clouds in a public demonstration in front of hundreds of people.

Although these feats are incredible, they are actually natural abilities and can be explained by natural laws. Almost anyone can achieved these feats if he learns from a master and is willing to train hard and long enough.

Almost any type of chi kung can develop a shield to withstand physical force. But it is not true to say that it can stand any physical force no matter its velocity. After about a year of training, the practitioner can withstand punches or kicks from ordinary people. After a few years, he may withstand weapon attacks. But even a master cannot withstand a shot from a pistol.

Question 3

This was also a goal (or rather illusion?) of I He Chuan (Boxer's Rebellion) to be able to train invulnerability toward bullets. Many Chinese secret societies have been known to try and achieve such powers including the White Lotus Sect, Triad Society, and Small Red Lantern Society. I feel they are all illusioned, but what do you say? Are such powers actually possible?

Answer

Yes, they were illusioned. And they committed a serious mistake in combat, namely they under- estimated their enemies. They had no idea how tremendously powerful gun shot bullets were. I even doubt whether their shielding force could withstand arrows -- with bullets they simply had no chance.

There was no question about their courage and love for their motherland, but unfortunately they lacked wisdom, and showed little knowledge of combat strategy. "Know thyself and know your enemy, and you will win every battle", advised the famous military strategist Sun Tzu many centuries ago.

"Avoid the enemy's strong point, and attack his weakness" is a basic principle in combat. Had these patriots known and put into practice these combat principles, they would not have died in vain. In fact they did the reverse -- by offering their bodies against bullets, they used their weakness against the enemy's strong point.

Had the fighters of Yi He Tuan (pronounced like "Yi Her Thuan", meaning Righteous Harmonious Troops) considered these combat principles, it would not be difficult to see that the strong point of their enemies was firepower, and their weakness the lack of local support. Hence, instead of meeting the firepower head on, the fighters could surround their enemies, which were not of a big number, to cut off their water and food supplies. The Yi He Tuan had many brave men, but few strategists.

Winning a combat, whether in individual sparring or mass warfare, calls for not only brawn but more importantly brain. Modern free sparring strikes me as an example where combatants use little brain.

Question 4

Another question is about your opinion on Lee Shao Long (Bruce Lee himself). Do you feel his art of Jeet Kune Do is a good method for training in fighting? He seems to merely emphasize mechanical external prowess and no internal training.

Answer

Bruce Lee, or Lee Xiao Loong as he was called in Chinese, was a great martial artist who brought dignity to the Chinese. It was Bruce Lee who made kungfu well known in the West. The world history of kungfu would never be the same without him.

Nevertheless, despite my great respect for him, both my concept and practice of kungfu are very different from his. To me, his characteristic art, which undoubtedly made him a great fighter, was not traditional kungfu! If we did not know his background or his fame but just witnessed his performance, we might call his fighting art Taekwondo or free-style fighting, but never kungfu. Even his formative Wing Choon features were not found in his typical fighting.

The way he trained was most unkungfu-like. Traditional kungfu training starts with stances, which Bruce Lee had totally disregarded, and emphasizes developing internal force, which he showed little knowledge of.

Gradual progress represents a crucial principle in traditional kungfu training. It was his failure to observe this cardinal principle, compounded by over-training by mechanical means, that caused him internal injury and contributed to his untimely death. It is a big irony that being nicknamed a Kungfu King, Bruce Lee represents a glaring example of what kungfu students, in my opinion, should not follow.

Hence, while Jeet Kune Do had made Bruce Lee a formidable fighter, personally I feel that it is not a good art to train fighting. This, of course, is my opinion; Jeet Kune Do masters will think otherwise.

Here are a few reasons why I consider traditional Shaolin Kungfu superior to Jeet Kune Do. Shaolin Kungfu contributes to health, whereas Jeet Kune Do is detrimental. Its excessive mechanical training overworks internal organs and distorts energy flow, while its aggressive approach harms the spirit.

In terms of fighting competency, its techniques are limited, and its use of tactics and strategies marginal when compared to those in Shaolin Kungfu. For example, while typical Jeet Kune Do kicks are formidable to the uninitiated, they offer easy targets for the well-trained kungfu exponents.

When someone fully extends his leg in a typical Jeet Kune Do kick, with his body slanting backward and his groins exposed, his fists clenched and his muscles tensed, he is offering a kungfu exponent many good opportunities.

The kungfu exponent may strike his arm downward at the kicking leg to fracture it as in Choy-Li- Fatt or Lohan Kungfu. He may grip the kicking leg following its kicking momentum as in Taijiquan. He may grip the opponent's groins with a tiger-claw as in Hoong Ka Kungfu. Or he may squat down and sweep the opponent's standing leg as in Choy Ka or Chow Ka Kungfu.

In all these counter moves the kungfu exponent positions himself so that the attacker's kick cannot reach him. This is not difficult to do with good stance-work, and also because Jeet Kune Do kicks are comparatively straight-forward.

The attackers normally do not employ tactics and strategies to pave the way for their kicks, such as first engaging the opponent's hands, or manoeuvring him into a difficult position, or distracting with feign movements. Secondly, in their kicking poise, it is difficult for them to move to another position until they have placed the kicking leg on the ground. This makes them an easy target -- without the opponent having to do anything special.

Then, why were kungfu "masters" no match at all against Bruce Lee? First, no kungfu masters actually had fought in public with Bruce Lee. Those so-called masters (who taught gymnastics rather than kungfu) beaten by Bruce Lee, would also be beaten by masters of other martial arts like Karate, Taekwondo or Muai Thai.

Secondly, even if real kungfu masters fought with Bruce Lee, they could also be beaten. Although his techniques might be simple, Bruce Lee was exceptionally skilful. It was his speed and power, not techniques, that made Bruce Lee an ever-victorious fighter.

Free sparring

Bruce Lee's influence on kungfu has been prevalent. Using such techniques in sparring -- strong evidence of Bruce Lee's influence -- is very common in kungfu as well as other martial arts.

But during my own kungfu training under Uncle Righteousness or Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, if any one of us were foolhardy enough to spar in this way as shown in the picture above, we would surely get a good scolding from our sifu.

Although the sparring shown above is of a higher level than in most schools, and although many modern kungfu students may not realize it, the picture above shows a glaring contravention of two basic combat principles -- one by the attacker and the other by the defender.

The attacker is committing an unbelievable mistake of the "great exposure", a mistake that can cause him his life with just one counter-strike from the defender. On the other hand, the defender is committing the mistake of using his weak point against the opponent's strong point.

What should the defender do against such a high kick? There are many alternatives. One deadly counter is to squat down, place the left hand above the head for cover and simultaneously drive a leopard punch to the attacker's groin with the right hand. For mercy, however, he should drive the leopard punch into the attacker's left thigh or knee instead of the groin.

Another alternative is to move the right leg diagonally to the front and right side, and simultaneously grip the attacker's groin with a left tiger-claw. Again, for mercy, grip the thigh instead. A third alternative is to move the right leg diagonally to the front and right side, and diagonally kick at the attacker's thigh or abdomen with the left leg.

It is comparatively easy for a trained kungfu exponent to execute any one of the alternatives due to the following factors

Then, is such a kicking technique used in Shaolin Kungfu? Yes. A common Shaolin pattern to execute this technique is "Happy Bird Hops up a Branch". But the way it is implemented, i.e. the tactic or the strategy involved, is quite different.

A traditionally trained Shaolin exponent, for example, would not simply rush in to kick randomly; he would first pave the way for the kick. Secondly, he must make sure of a safe retreat, should the opponent moves in for a counter-attack.

The picture below shows an example of "Happy Bird Hops up a Branch". Superficially, the attacking move appears to be the same as that in the above picture, but actually there are some crucial differences. For example, if I, the defender, move in to counter-attack Goh, the attacker, he can readily defend against my counter-attacks.

free sparring

Question 5

Also, he advocated against forms. What do you say about this? He went against the root of Chinese Kung Fu which has spanned a history of thousands of years, yet many felt he had revolutionized ancient arts and defied the wisdom of the sages

Answer

Bruce Lee advocated against traditional kungfu forms because he could not apply them effectively in combat like what was shown in kungfu movies. He was neither the first nor the last to simplify kungfu for fighting, and like Bruce Lee many such "reformers" were founders of various kungfu- do. But Bruce Lee was the most successful in proving his reformed art for fighting.

Strictly speaking these reformers did not revolutionize kungfu, because they actually had not practised traditional kungfu the way it was practised by past masters. Had they realized its depth and richness, they would never have attempted to simplify it.

In the same way, they had not defied the wisdom of the sages because they had neither the knowledge nor experience of this wisdom. They were not even aware of the most basic of this wisdom, "seen kin sun, hou fong sun" (in Cantonese pronunciation), which is "first be healthy, then defend yourself".

Indeed, their philosophy, without their knowing, is "strike the opponent at all cost, even if it means hurting yourself badly". Worse still, as my own sifu told me, their approach is "mei fong sun, seen sheong sun", which is "before you can defend yourself, you already have harmed yourself (by unhealthy training)".

Today the standard of kungfu is so ridiculously low that few people could imagine how combat efficient the past masters were. The following comparison may give some idea. A modern kungfu "master" may find it difficult to keep himself free from random kicks and punches in a one-to-one free sparring. In the past, 40 or 50 people with knives and spears, bows and arrows, might ambush a master, yet the master could get out of the ambush unscratched!

Bruce Lee was the best of his class. If we were to compare Bruce Lee with a kungfu master just about a hundred years ago who was also the best of his class, like Wong Fei Hoong (a Southern Shaolin master), Huo Yuan Jia (the founder of Ching Woo, the master Bruce Lee himself acted in his movies), or Yang Deng Fu (the third patriarch of Yang Style Taijiquan), in my opinion, Bruce Lee would be no match against any one of these past masters.

Question 6

I am very interested in learning about Chi Kung. I can read all the books I find on it, but I have found with other endeavours that there is still something missing. I have a Masters Degree in Holistic Medicine, but that is just the beginning. There is always something more to learn that can be helpful. The biggest problem I have is that I live "in the middle of nowhere." Do you know of any Masters in this area, or do you have any suggestions?

— Ken, USA

Answer

If you wish to learn about chi kung, my books "The Art of Chi Kung" and "Chi Kung for Health and Vitality", will be very useful.

But, as you have mentioned correctly, even if you had read all the books on chi kung, there would still be something missing, and this something is the essence. Chi kung is an art dealing with practical skills, not a content-subject dealing with theoretical knowledge. Knowledge is valuable, but the crucial point about any practical art is that if you do not directly experience its benefits, the knowledge becomes hollow.

You many know that practising chi kung gives you good health and vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy, and you may know many methods to realize the results, but unless and until you have actually practised the methods and personally experienced the results, you have missed the essence of the art. You may be a chi kung scholar, but never a practitioner.

And in an internal art like chi kung, you have to learn from and practise with a living master, not from books or bogus instructors who themselves have not experienced the benefits of chi kung they claim to teach. Many people have written to ask me to supply them via e-mails chi kung methods to overcome their illness or improve their health. As a master in holistic medicine, you will realize how naive and ridiculous these requests are.

One may read chi kung from books, just as one reads medicine in a university, but to be proficient in chi kung, medicine or any art, one must practise. A graduate from medical school needs to spend some time in internship under the supervision of senior doctors. Yet there are many people who think they can become chi kung masters overnight without even having to be chi kung practitioners.

Chi kung has much to offer the modern world. Amongst many other things, chi kung can effectively overcome two pressing problems facing modern societies, namely the whole range of so-called incurable diseases and infra-personal loneliness.

If you wish to acquire good chi kung, you do not expect real masters flocking to you. Real chi kung masters are very rare today. You have to search for them and go to them.

A heroine's kick?

This kicking technique, inspired by Bruce Lee, demonstrated by the woman here is often seen in many kungfu movies where the heroine employs it to fell not one by many opponents.

In reality, no female kungfu master in the past would used such a kick in serious combat. Not only it was ineffective -- if it were effective Bruce Lee would not be standing there unhurt -- it also openly exposed that part of her body a woman normally would not want to expose.

If she still wants to use this kick, despite it being a bad technique, the heroine here should use her toes instead of her instep as a striking point, and she should aim at his throat, solar plexus, vital points beneath his ribs, abdominal energy field or his groin.

Question 7

I would like to know about meditation, specifically in the Shaolin tradition. The monks at the temple trained both their minds and bodies equally to develop the chi. One way they trained their chi was through meditation.

— Eric, USA

Answer

Because of cultural and linguistic differences, western educated people -- which will include most if not all who read this webpage -- often talk of kungfu, chi kung and meditation as separate arts. Indeed, they are often practised as separate arts, including in the East.

But in the past in the Shaolin Monastery, the martial monks practised all the three as one art. In other words, when they practised kungfu, they were also at the same time practising chi kung and meditation. Non-martial monks did not practise kungfu, but when they practised chi kung they were also practising meditation, and vice versa.

An example or two may make the idea clearer. Let say, the Shaolin monks practised Eighteen Lohan Hands, which was the fundamental chi kung exercise in the monastery. To do this chi kung well, they had to go into a chi kung state of mind, and this was meditation.

Now, the monks did meditation, the most important thing they had to do for their cultivation. Two fundamental meditation methods were focusing on the breath, or "focusing" on nothing. When they focused on their breath, they regulated their flow of energy. When they "focused" on nothing, their energy expanded to fill their whole body. Both were chi kung.

Question 8

Since Shaolin is both Buddhist and Taoist oriented, I am not sure how exactly the masters meditated to cultivate their chi for martial and spiritual purposes.

Answer

Shaolin is Buddhist, not Taoist. This is definite. Suggesting that Shaolin is also Taoist, as a well known western author on a widely read book on Shaolin did, is a case of the mis-informed misleading the uninformed.

But this does not necessarily means that Taoist philosophy and practice are not found in the Shaolin arts, or that full-fledged, confirmed Taoists could not practise in the Shaolin Monastery. Probably the best known of the Taoist masters wearing complete Taoist attire and studying in the Shaolin Monastery was Zhang San Feng, the First Patriarch of Taijiquan.

Your concern is actually irrelevant to both the masters and the students in the monastery. Irrespective of whether they cultivated their chi for martial or spiritual purposes, they were not bothered whether their methods were Buddhist or Taoist, a mixture of both or more traditions, or none of them. What they were concerned was that their methods were effective in achieving their purposes.

Interesting the reverse is true for modern chi kung and meditation practitioners as well as scholars. They are concerned what categories their practices can be departmentalized into, what happened in their historical development, and what measurements can be applied to their practices.

But they are, rather surprisingly, not concerned whether their methods are effective. Often they are not even aware of the purposes for which they practise their arts. This is evident from the fact that many modern students as well as instructors are still sickly and weak, or tensed or depressed despite many years of (so-called) chi kung and meditation practice!

Question 9

I have read several articles in books on meditation and none of them discuss the path the breath takes through both the inhalation and exhalation process to develop this inner energy. All they really said was to expand the abdomen and breathe naturally, which honestly is not specific enough for me.

Answer

Let us take an analogy. When you first learned to walk, did you have step-by-step guided information on walking? Did you know which muscles were involved, or how many inches apart you should place each foot? Of course you didn't; you just learned to walk, personally taught and directed by your mother or someone close to you.

So it is with meditation. The common factor in learning how to meditate and learning how to walk is to learn from someone who knows how to meditate or who knows how to walk. If you have a living teacher, and not just printed words, a short instruction like "expand your abdomen and breath naturally" is both specific and sufficient. In the same way, it was both specific and sufficient for your walking teacher to tell you "step your right leg forward, and now your left leg".

The crucial point is not merely expanding your abdomen and breathing naturally, or stepping forward with one leg and then the other, but how you do it. This "how" part, i.e. carrying out the instruction correctly, has to be taught and supervised by a living instructor. Even if you carry out the same instruction but perform it wrongly, which is likely to happen if your teacher is pages of words instead of a living person, you may seriously injure your abdomen or your legs.

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