April 2001 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Shaolin Kungfu in combat

A sparring session during an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. In the foreground, Ng Kowi Beng deflects a palm chop from Douglas. In the background, Sifu Wong is explaining a subtle point to Adalia about her sparring with Anthony.

Question 1

I've been studying kung fu for 3 years and just began Tai Chi Chuan about a month ago. Although I practice my forms for techniques, I also practice application and power for those techniques.

— Neil, USA

Answer

For better understanding and training, kungfu or any martial art may be divided into four aspects — form, force, application and philosophy.

Form is the external aspect, and includes all patterns, sets and techniques. When we see a demonstration of kungfu, we usually see its form.

Force is the internal aspect, and it is this aspect more than the others that enables its practitioners to have good health, vitality and mental freshness. It is also the aspect that is most neglected today.

Application is the functional aspect. It was basically for this purpose that kungfu was practised and developed. Practitioners did not play kungfu as a hobby, nor study it as a subject. It was practised for effective combat, and in great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan for spiritual cultivation. Today we can practise it as an effective means to enhance our daily lives.

Philosophy is the theoretical aspect. It sums up for us the thoughts and achievements of great masters of the past, and provides for us a map to guide us towards our goals.

What you have done is correct, though I would suggest that you practise rather than study kungfu, and that you should pay some conscious attention to its philosophy. Most people today, however, merely perform external kungfu forms to please spectators.

Question 2

However, I run into a problem I have read about in some of your articles in Dragonslist.com. I find when I fight or spar I revert to karate type fighting.

Answer

This, as you have rightly mentioned, is a common problem today. It developed from the other and bigger problem of performing external kungfu form to please spectators. For various reasons, the martial dimension of kungfu was lost about the middle of the 20th century.

Then karate, with free sparring, became popular. Kungfu exponents, being disgusted for being unable to defend themselves, adopted karate methods in the hope of recovering some combative function of kungfu. Their intention was laudable but their methods were incorrect. Not only they fought like karate exponents, they also traded the elegance and subtleness of kungfu for, in my opinion, the roughness and brutality of karate.

Then came the full circle. The Chinese government promoted kungfu, which is now called wushu, as a sport. Force training, combat application and kungfu philosophy are thrown to the winds. What is important is how beautifully an exponent performs its external form.

Here I wish to clarify that I am not against promoting wushu as a sport. Honestly I believe the Chinese government has done a most laudable thing in promoting wushu, thus enabling the mass to enjoy, albeit in lower qualities, what in the past was an elite art.

I only wish to point out that an elite art is for the elite. When it is shared among the mass, especially in a very fast way, its essence is lost beyond recognition. As an analogy, when one person has a million dollars he is a very rich person, but when it is shared by 10 million people, the money is often not seen as money.

What is involved here is not any moral issues whether an elite art should remain elite, or whether money should be shared. What is involved is the fact that practising an elite art, or earning a lot of money, is a rare opportunity possible to only few people, and they have to work very hard. Hence, those who want to teach an elite art to other people before they have even learnt it, or share a million dollars with others before they have even earned the money, have no idea what learning an elite art or earning a lot of money is.

Question 3

This is blocking my progress. I slow spar, practice application of my techniques and try not to use karate-style techniques. This has been to no avail and I have read that this is a common problem.

Answer

Your practice has been to no avail because your methods are wrong. Just as you become a footballer by playing football, and not by trying not to play hockey, you become a kungfu fighter by practising kungfu fighting, and not by trying not to use karate techniques.

But the most serious mistake you and most people make is to think that one can be proficient in kungfu fighting by learning from an e-mail, a book or a videotape. You have to learn from a living master who himself is proficient in kungfu fighting. If you learn from someone who himself cannot apply kungfu in combat, although he may be a good fighter using kickboxing techniques or a well-known teacher with much theoretical kungfu knowledge, you learning will still be to no avail.

Your kungfu sparring will be fast — generally faster than in using karate techniques, and the onus is not on techniques but on skills. This is another mistake people often make. They think that if they know a technique, they can use it. This is not true. You can learn techniques from a book or a videotape, but you have to acquire combat skills from a living master.

You can learn a technique (even a complicated one) and the relevant combat skills in five minutes, but you have to practise for 5 hours to be competent enough in applying the technique skilfully. The crucial part of the master's teaching is not in showing you the technique and the skills, but after you have learnt them, in showing you the subtleties in their application.

For example, in a given combat situation whether you point your front toes at an angle of 60 degrees or of 90 degrees, and whether you apply the technique immediately or allow a second to pass first, may make a difference between a success or a failure in applying the technique..

Taijiquan in combat

Sparring is an essential part in all kungfu training, including in Taijiquan. Here a class of Taijiquan exponents are engaged in sparring practice, while Sifu Wong looks on.

Question 4

In many of your articles you address this topic and say that there are certain methods to remedy this problem. I would greatly appreciate any methods you could provide me with or any type of response that would help to guide me along my path.

Answer

The crucial point in not merely knowing the methods but acquiring combat skills from a living master. Different masters may use different methods, and produce students who are combat efficient.

Of course the methods, while different, must be correct. If you, for example, rush into free sparring, or go over some combat application with a partner in slow motion, you would not be able to use kungfu effectively for combat even if you have practised for years.

The approach and methods we use in our Shaolin Wahnam School to train combat efficiency in Shaolin Kungfu as well as in Taijiquan are as follows.

  1. Attaining a focused and relaxed mind.
  2. Breath control and internal energy flow.
  3. Stance training and basic footwork.
  4. Basic attack and defence patterns.
  5. Combat sequences.
  6. Tactics and strategies.
  7. Free sparring.

Many people may be surprised that in our programme to train combat efficiency, only two out of the seven stages involve sparring directly. They won't be surprised if they have access to records describing how kungfu exponents in the past trained.

Masters throughout the centuries have emphasize the importance of good foundation. Even if you have many techniques and useful skills, but if you become tensed when facing an opponent, or easily short of breath, you can't be a good fighter. If you only fight for the immediate situation, without any knowledge of prior planning or ability to lead your opponent to positions unfavourable to him, you won't be a great fighter.

Question 5

I also am training to eventually become a doctor of western medicine. However I feel there is a strong connection that should be developed between eastern and western medicine. I also request that you provide any information you can on eastern medicine, how to learn eastern medicine and any thoughts you have on the possibility of a connection between the two.

Answer

A very big difference between eastern medicine and modern western medicine, although this difference is often under-estimated, is that eastern medicine as well as ancient and medieval western medicine treat man with a soul or psyche, whereas modern western medicine treats man with only a physical body.

In Chinese medical philosophy, a person is made up of three components, jing . qi and shen , which are “physical body”, “energy” and “mind” or “soul”. Many diseases are illness of energy or mind, and not of the physical body. For example, diabetes is due to energy failure to digest sugar, and phobia is due to mind failing to contain fear.

It is significant to note that the forte of modern western medicine is in overcoming illness of the physical body, such as fractures and infection, but when it comes to illness of energy and mind, which include the whole range of organic and psychiatric disorders, modern western medicine is quite limited. Because of its limitation to the physical body, western medical doctors also lack the conceptual framework and vocabulary to understand why and how so-called incurable diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases can be cured.

By connection of the two, I reckon you mean the co-operation between eastern, such as Chinese, medicine and modern western medicine. Ideally the two should combine to give the best medical and health care to the world, but in practice it is not feasible.

Traditional Chinese medicine and modern western medicine use totally different paradigms. Wittingly or unwittingly, orthodox western doctors think that their paradigm is the only correct one, and insist that any proof of cure must satisfied their terms. For example, when my students overcome cancer or cardiovascular diseases, orthodox western doctors would not accept that until we can substantiate with tests and statistics.

The interesting contrast is that while these tests and statistics are essential to western doctors, both my students and I know or care little about them. What is important is that these students get back to healthy, normal lives — without any more need of medication.

Question 6

I would greatly appreciate any advice you could provide me with on martial arts, tai chi, chi gung, Chinese medicine and the philosophies that surround these arts.

Answer

Probably my best advice is that if you are serious about getting practical benefits from them — not merely reading about them for fun — you should practise any one of them from a genuine master.

Understandably, genuine masters of these arts are very rare today, while bogus “masters” are plentiful on the market. Almost anyone in the West today can learn so-called Chinese martial arts (including Tai Chi), chi kung and Chinese medicine for a few months, and then start teaching or treating others.

The basic philosophy is that these are serious arts, dealing with life and death, and needing many years of learning and practice under a revered master, before one can consider himself a practitioner. The underlying idea of many people in the West today is that these are hobbies, which you can pick up in weekend seminars from facilitators whom you can hug and kick about, then you can share these exotic arts with others for free.

Question 7

I learned Shuxin Pingxue Gong from a videotape. This form is supposedly practised in China to treat cardiovascular disease and hypertension, as well as to maintain general good health. I do not have cardiovascular disease or hypertension, but am interested in maintaining overall health. Do you know if this form is an effective one to practice daily for general health maintenance, aside from its cardiovascular benefits?

— David, USA

Answer

“Shuxin Pingxue Gong” is a Chinese term meaning “Art of Cleansing Heart and Stabilizing Blood”. As the name suggests, it is a modern form of chi kung developed by Chinese masters from classical chi kung specially for overcoming modern illness of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

As this chi kung type employs much bodily movement to induce chi flow, one may learn it from a videotape, but it is easy for the uninitiated to practise it as a gentle physical exercise, instead of as an energy exercise which chi kung is supposed to be. Nevertheless, even as a gentle physical exercise you will also get some benefits.

Although this chi kung type is particularly designed for curing or preventing cardiovascular disease and hypertension, you will also get some, but not much, effect in maintaining overall health. In Chinese medical philosophy, the heart is symbolized as the emperor, and blood as soldiers. When the emperor and his soldiers are strong, the machinery of the empire will work well, which means you will have good health.

But if your objectives are more ambitious, such as acquiring stamina to play football or mental clarity for intellectual pursue, the chi kung type, especially if you practise it as gentle physical exercise, will be inadequate.

Hence, you may more profitably spend your time practising vigorous exercise like swimming, wushu or gymnastics, or mental disciplines like yoga and Zen meditation. But if you have the rare opportunity to practise genuine Taijiquan or genuine Shaolin Kungfu — not their external forms only — you will have all these benefits in one art.

It is interesting to note that in the modern context, “shixin” refers to cleansing the organ heart of fat and other impurities, and the methods to achieve this objective are through gentle movements of body and limbs to exercise the organ heart.

But in a classical context, “shixin,” which also means “cleansing the heart” in classical Chinese, refers to spiritual cultivation. “Xin” or “heart” in classical Chinese refers not to the tough organ that pumps blood, but to the mind, which is called the sprit or the soul in some cultures. The methods to cleanse the mind, spirit or soul are not through gentle movements of body and limbs, but through meditation.

Intensive Chi Kung Course

Those who have attended my Intensive Chi Kung Courses know how to control and direct their chi

Question 8

I need to develop a very strong root. My Kung Fu instructor said that I should practise stances but he wasn't specific. Could you please tell me some ways to develop an immovable root?

— Yousef, USA

Answer

Why would you like to develop an immovable root?

Some masters in the past, like the Shaolin master Hoong Hei Khoon and the Taijiquan master Yang Lu Chan, had immovable roots. When they stood at the Horse-Riding Stance or the Three- Circle Stance respectively, a few people pushing at the masters could not move them.

But they did not purposely set out to develop immovable roots. Their immovable roots were a bonus. They were also very agile. Should these few people try to touch the masters, they would also not succeed as the masters could move away so fast.

If you really want to develop an immovable root, the method is very simple, but by no means easy. Just practise the Horse-Riding Stance or the Three-Circle Stance for a few hours every day for many years. That was how Hoong Hei Khoon and Yang Lu Chan got their immovable roots.

But you should not, in Chinese terms, “mistake branches for the stem”. In English, you should not mistake effects for the purpose. Hoong Hei Khoon and Yang Lu Chan spent hours daily for years on stance training for the purpose of developing internal force, and one of the effects was that they had immoveable roots.

You need not practise for hours for years. If you can practise daily for five minutes on the Horse- Riding Stance, or fifteen minutes on the Three-Circle Stance for one year, you would have developed sufficient internal force against which black-belts would find formidable. Your internal force could not make you immoveable yet, but by itself an immoveable root is not very useful. On the contrary you should at the same time daily practise leg stretching exercises so that you are also agile.

Question 9

I also need to know how to sense my chi in order to control it so as to be prepared if I want to attend your class later. I read your book on the Art of Chi Kung but I am only able to feel my chi every once in awhile (i.e: when I make a chi ball or meditate) Could you please tell me what exercises I should work on?

Answer

Those who wish to attend my intensive chi kung course need not have any prior experience, and all of them not just sense their chi but can generate an internal chi flow on the very first day of their training.

Again, here you are confused with “branches” and “stem”. Sensing chi or even generating internal energy flow are the branches, or effects; the stem or purpose is to have good health, vitality and mental freshness. If you can sense your chi or have internal energy flow, but are still sick or in pain, then you would have wasted your time.

You can sense your chi or generate internal energy flow by performing any genuine chi kung exercise. If you learn from my books, I would suggest “Lifting the Sky”. Just follow my instructions in the book. If you practise it daily for a year, you would have good health.

Question 10

I acquired your book “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”, and am amazed with how much one can learn from a good book. But I am faced with some difficulties which I hope you can help me. Although I can perform Tai Chi sets with ease I cannot achieve correct breathing. I get a stomach ache every time I perform the sets. I need to mention that I have slight asthma problems. When do I inhale from the nose and exhale from the mouth to achieve chi flow?

Another problem is changing from a False Leg Stance to Bow Arrow Stance and back to Four- Six Stance. When standing in the False Leg Stance I distribute all my weight to my back “solid leg”, but to move my front leg 2 feet away means I cannot slightly place my front leg down since it is two far away. When I return to the Four-Six Stance do I drag my front foot back or do I lift it up and then place it down? And my feet are killing me when I perform zhang zhuang patterns.

— George, USA

Answer

If you have practised Taijiquan correctly, you should have overcome your slight asthma problem, and you should not have any stomarch arch. Something is amiss.

While your questions concerning breathing and stances are actually easy and can be solved within a few minutes if you learn personally from a master, they are difficult to be explained in an e-maiL If I were to explain them, I would saythe same things as what I have described in my books.

You have read my books and have understood them, yet you still have difficulty performing the required tasks. Here is one important reason that to get good results in kungfu, especially internal kungfu, you have to learn personally from a master.

Zhang Zhuang, or stance training, is essential in internal arts, but when you learn from books or videotapes, it is easy to make mistakes, and the mistakes may lead to serious adversed effects. While it is demanding to practise, if you practise correctly you can find much subtle joy in it.

You mentioned that it was amazing how much you could learn from a good book. This is true, and many readers have kindly written to thank me for my books. Nevertheless, and paradoxically, you and also many of these readers do not realize how much you have missed.

In terms of theoretical knowledge you have gained a lot from my books. For example, you now realize that Taijiquan is not just an effective martial art, but also a complete programme for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development. You also realize how Taijiquan can enrich your daily work and play.

Yet, in terms of practiacl benefits, you have not gained much. You do not even know how to breathe and move about correctly in Taijiquan, which are actually basic things you have to know in order to reap the wonderful harvest of the art.

Why? The main reason is that you, like many other people in the West, have confused theoretical information with practical performance. In other words you know that Taijiquan can make you healthy and combat efficient, and you have read the techniques which can lead you to these results, but you lack the skills to do so. You have to acquire these skills from a master.

If you are interested to learn from me, please refer to http://www.shaolin.org/general/tjq-course.html. I shall conduct an Intensive Taijiquan Course in Malaysia from 22nd to 28th June 2001. Not only you will be able to overcome on the very first day of the course the problems which have been troubling you for some time, you will be able to perform what you might have thought was only myths, such as generating energy flow and developing internal force.

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