December 2002 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I am a Ph.D student at Oxford majoring in Sanskrit and Pali literature. You mention that Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism, was a former Indian prince. I guess this account is recorded only in Chinese sources, as I cannot find in any Sanskrit texts. I was wondering if you could kindly tell me Indian sources if any.
— Tony, England
Congratulations for studying Sanskrit, a great classical language which can bring much benefit to modern society by revealing the wisdom of the ancient masters, at Oxford, one of the most prestigious universities of the world.
While there is a lot of material on Bodhidharma in Chinese sources, there is none in Indian sources. This is a main reason why some scholars think that Bodhidharma is a myth. But I agree with many Chinese Zen teachers, kungfu masters, philosophers, scholars, historians and other experts throughout many centuries who believe that Bodhidharma was real. The evidence for his actual existence is overwhelming.
It is significant to note that Bodhidharma was mentioned in imperial records. In the past, giving false information to emperors was punishable by death. If it were not true that Bodhidharma came to China, imperial historians would not have written this fact in their dynastic histories.
To me, it is not surprising if there were records of Bodhidharma in Indian sources, because all the great achievements of Bodhidharma occurred in China, and not in India. I think “Bodhidharma” might not be his actual name given at birth, but a “spiritual name” given to him by his teacher just before his journey to China as instructed by his teacher. Moreover, Indians did not pay much attention to recording names and dates.
I have been practising the 48 movements of Tai Chi Chuan. I plan to complete my Ph.D and return to Thailand next year. Would it be possible for you to go to Thailand to conduct a seminar on Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung? I deeply respect you personally and I would be very happy to invite you and arrange things in Bangkok when I settle down there, possibly in 2004. I am sure many people are interested in learning Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung with a true master.
The 48-pattern Tai Chi Chuan set is wonderful, but you should also learn how to develop internal force and to use Tai Chi Chuan for combat application, even if you never want to be involved in any combat. This is because the best benefits of Tai Chi Chuan, like having radiant health and fresh, clear mind, are obtained if you train Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, and not just as a graceful but external exercise, and internal force and combat application are the two hallmarks of martial art training.
It is pertinent to point out that in Eastern philosophy, martial art training is not exclusive to intellectual pursue. In fact, practising Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art will be an excellent complement to your intellectual work in Sanskrit and Pali studies. Research into classical languages calls for much mental freshness and energy, which can be obtained from practising Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art.
Today Tai Chi Chuan is not normally taught as a martial art. It is usually taught as some gentle exercise. Perhaps in future I can help you with your Tai Chi Chuan training. Meanwhile you should focus on your Ph.D in Sanskrit and Pali literature.
The 48-pattern Tai Chi Chuan set, even if it is practiced as a gentle exercise, will still be sufficient to provide the relaxation and recreation much needed in your doctorial studies. Although there is much that our modern society can benefit from Sanskrit and Pali literature, experts in Sanskrit and Pali are very rare today. After your graduation you will be a rare contribution to our world.
It will be a great pleasure for me to visit your country and teach Ta Chi Chuan and chi kung there in 2004. When you have returned to Thailand and have settled down, please contact me on this matter.
For the time being, the following advice will be useful for your situation. For the time being, do not worry about internal force and combat application. Do not even worry whether your Tai Chi Chuan forms are correct or not. Just perform your 48-pattern Tai Chi Chuan set leisurely and gracefully, and enjoy it. The key point is “enjoy it”.
Do not use any strength or think of any things while performing your Tai Chi Chuan movements. After completing the 48 movements of the set, bring your feet together, close your eyes gently, stand upright in a fully relaxed manner, thinking of nothing and doing nothing. After some time you may find your body sway gently. This is because you vital energy inside your body starts to flow smoothly. Relax and follow the gentle flow. If you practice what I have described daily, and also whenever you feel fatigued in your studies, after a few months you will find that not only you are fresh and energetic, but also your studies have improved remarkably.
In my Wing Choon kungfu class, we practice many defence against straight punches, but not against circular attacks like the hook punch. During friendly sparring with a martial artist from another school, it was obvious that circular attacks were getting through. The hooks got round my favourite Wing Choon defence of tan sau, and even if the block was made the tan sau collapsed because of the force behind the hook punch. May I ask what is a good defence against a hook punch?
— Michael, Malaysia
It is useful to remember that as Wing Choon Kungfu is an art meant for a smaller-sized exponent against a bigger-sized opponent, it would be unwise to block a hook punch, which, as you have rightly said, is a comparatively powerful strike. Using “tan sau” to block is to make the disadvantage worse, because the “tan sau” is relatively weak against a side attack. “Tan sau”, when used as a blocking technique, is usually employed against frontal attacks.
So, how does a comparatively smaller-sized person, like a fair lady, block a powerful side attack from a bigger-sized opponent, like a massive brute? The answer is: “Don't block!”
Have you noticed that there are few blocking techniques in Wing Choon Kungfu, compared to those of other martial arts? “Tan sau” is about the only blocking technique there is. Other Wing Choon techniques like “bong sau”, “kam sau” and “pak sau” are actually not blocking techniques, though they may appear to be to some novices — they are used to deflect, not block, the opponent's attacks.
What would you do if you do not block a powerful right hook punch coming to your head? Simple! Dodge it. One effective method is to move your head slightly backward, simultaneously brush aside the right hook punch with your left “kam sau”(cover-hand) and jab his eye or throat with your right “phew chi” (finger-thrust). The tactic used here is “lean siew tai ta”, or “defence cum attack”.
If you use a Bow-Arrow Stance, as in Choe Family Wing Choon, you need only to shift your body backward , without moving your feet, to dodge his hook punch. If you use a Four-Six Stance, as in Yip Mann Wing Choon, you may need to move one of your feet to dodge.
Alternatively, you may use the tactic of “pat siew yi ta”, or “no defence direct counter”, to counter his right hook punch. As his punch is nearing, move your right leg a big step diagonally forward to your right side, and simultaneously jab your left finger-thrust at his eye or throat.
One of the most common and dangerous attacks faced in combat is when a right handed attacker, armed with a weapon, sweeps across from the top left to the bottom right quadrant of the defender. The weapon may be a baseball bat, a stick or a knife. It is a natural attack of most right handed people armed with a weapon. Many people on the receiving end of such an attack instinctively raise their left hand, which only stops the first swing at the expense of that hand. What would be a good defence against such an attack?
An effective counter in Choe Family Wing Choon against this weapon attack is “por pai sau”, or “breaking-flank hand”. I am not sure if this technique is found in Yip Mann Wing Choon, but I don't think so. As the opponent raises his hand to swing the weapon at you, move forward slightly to your left side, strike your left palm against his right elbow to intercept his swing and break or dislocate his left elbow, and simultaneously strike his face or chest with your right palm. This tactic is also “lean siew tai ta”.
Alternatively, you can use “pat siew yi ta”. As his swinging attack is approaching your left side, move diagonally to your right side and simultaneously counter with a left thrust kick at his groin or abdominal dan tian.
A common injury in martial art sparring, or even sports like football, is to be kicked in the groin. Folklore has it that doing bendovers may help. I believe many of the external martial arts or the sophisticated ones, do not have the benefit of a effective relief from this trauma. By the grace of the Shaolin tradition, what would be a good first aid in this situation?
There are three things you should do — treat for shock, receive pain, and clear energy blockage.
First of all assure the victim that he needs not worry and the situation is under control. This is important, and you must say it in a confident, reassuring manner. In Chinese medical philosophy, treatment starts from the heart (or mind). In order that your treatment is successful, you must win the confidence of the victim. If it is appropriate, you may even joke that his balls are not broken and that after the treatment they will regain their normal functions, including enabling him to enjoy sex and produce children.
Let him lie down comfortably on his back with his arms and legs fairly straight. Loosen his clothing, including his underwear that supports his groin. Ask him to relax and to open his mouth gently.
Using your index or middle finger press firmly against his “ren zhong” vital point (the mid-point between his nose and his upper lip) about 30 times. This will help to reduce shock. Next, using both your thumbs and supported by your index fingers, press firmly against both his “he gu” vital points (located between the base of the thumb and the base of the index finger). This helps to receive pain.
Then gently massage his testicles a few times. And gently massage his two legs downwards from the joints near the testicles down the legs to the feet. Repeat about 50 times. Then gently massage both his “yong quan” vital points (located at the soles of his feet). Massage down his legs again about 50 times. After that, ask him to stand up and walk about briskly. His pain and injury would have disappeared by then.
If you are the victim yourself, the following technique can help you to relieve pain and injury. Relax and assure yourself that your pain and injury will disappear after the exercise.
Stand upright. Breathe in gently through your nose and breathe out loudly through your mouth 10 times. Then perform “Lifting the Sky” 30 times. As you breathe in, gently visualize or think of good cosmic energy flowing into you from above. As you breathe out, gently visualize or think of pain and injury draining away from your testicles down your legs into the ground.
After “Lifting the Sky”, stand upright and be totally relaxed. When your body starts to sway, allow it to sway and enjoy your energy flowing inside you.
In “The Art of Chi Kung”, “ Drawing the Moon” is specifically recommended for women who are overweight (pear shape) in the upper torso. I'm pear shape (fat only at the bottom half of my body).. I can do “Drawing the Moon” only with one leg at a time, not both together. With one knee bent and that foot firmly on the floor to prevent my upper body lifting completely up off the floor about 12 inches, I can lift the opposite leg.
— Sophia, USA
“Drawing the Moon” is also useful for those who are pear shape. You will get better result if you raise two legs and draw circles with them, instead of using only one leg. It may be difficult at first, but if you persist you will eventually succeed.
Is there a different chi kung exercise that would be more effective for women who are pear shape?
Another effective exercise for pear-shape persons to loose weight is “Bear Walk”. To get the best result you have to learn it from a master. But if a master is not available you can try it on your own from my description.
Stand upright with your feet about shoulders' width apart. Straighten your both arms at your side, and bend your palms upward so that your fingers point in front. Keeping your arms straightened at your side throughout the exercise, shift your body weight alternately from one foot to another for about 30 times. Then drop your palm and be totally relaxed. If you have done the exercise well, you may generate a chi flow at your two legs. Enjoy the chi flow for about 10 minutes.
Then bring your feet together and stand motionlessly upright for a few minutes. Complete the session by massaging your face and walking about briskly.
Your recent Q&A on your student overcoming an assailant invoked some questions in my mind.Basically, how can I train internal force and combat efficiency?
— Yang, Singapore
It may seem trite as I have mentioned it a few times before, but the best answer is as follows. Learn internal force and combat application from a teacher who himself has internal force and knows combat application, and who is willing to teach you.
Notice that there are three crucial points. One, you must learn from a living teacher, not from books or videos. This does not mean that books and videos are useless. They are very useful if you have been initiated, but if you are new to internal force and combat application, the books and videos may provide you with useful information but they are unlikely to give you internal force and combat efficiency.
Two, the teacher himself must have internal force and be able to apply his kungfu techniques for combat. He may be a good fighter, but if he uses external strength and karate or kickboxing techniques in his fight, you are unlikely to learn internal force and kungfu application for combat from him.
Three, he must be willing to teach you. Obviously, if he does not want to teach you — and this is his right and privilege — you won't be able to learn from him. If he is generous and his teaching systematic, you will learn fast; otherwise you will take a long time to learn even if he is willing to teach you internal force and combat application.
How do I know that whatever I am training in will give me internal force and combat efficiency?
In principle, it is like asking how do I know that whatever I am studying will enable me to understand my subject and pass my examination, or whatever I am eating will relieve my hunger and give me energy?
The answer to all these questions is that you know by direct experience. After studying you will know whether you have understood your subject. When the result is out, you will know whether you have passed your examination. Having eaten, you will know whether the food has relieved you of your hunger, and given you energy.
If you do not understand your subject, it means you have studied wrongly, or the material studied may be right but you have not studied well. If you are still hungry, it means you have not eaten correctly or you have not eaten enough.
Similarly, if you have internal force and combat efficiency, you will know it by direct experience. If you do not know, it means your training method is incorrect, or the method may be correct but you have trained wrongly or you have not trained enough.
What is meant by direct experience of internal force, or of combat efficiency? It means that you can actually feel internal force, just like you can feel that you are not hungry. It means that you can actually use your kungfu techniques and skills in sparring, or in a real fight should you be caught in one.
The issue is actually simple and straight-forward. But many people make things difficult and complicated by intellectualizing on the issue, often in an irrelevant manner. Worse, although they have no experience of the issue, some people talk about it as if they were experts.
Instead of practising an established method to develop internal force and experiencing it directly, some people talk about internal force in terms which they themselves do not really know. The following is an example. Internal force has yin and yang, and five elements. If your opponent is big and strong, that is yang. You must respond with yin. If he attacks you ferociously, that is fire. You must respond with water. If you have internal force and can apply yin-yang and the five elements, you will be combat efficient. This description is rubbish, and you may find a lot of such stuff on the internet as well as in books and magazines.
I am practising the traditional Yang Taijiquan set as much as my schedule allows. I also practise “Grasp Sparrow's Tail” and Zhan Zhuang as you advised me before. My teacher is a good teacher, and I believe in his combat skills, having heard of his reputation before from other sources, and also from his lessons in class. However, he is hardly teaching combat applications, unlike Sifu yourself who teaches combat applications from the start.
As I have often mentioned in my webpages, it is not what you practice but how you practice it that matters. Any pattern in Yang Style Taijiquan can be used to develop internal force, and for combat application! This is true although many Taiji students find it hard to believe. Even if they believe, they find it hard to see how this is possible.
“Grasping Sparrow's Tail” and Zhan Zhuang are two excellent methods to develop internal force. If you have spent some time practising them, yet wonder whether you have developed internal force, the answer is as follows. If you have doubt, you have not developed internal force. If you have, you will know it. Just as if you have a hundred-dollar bill in your pocket, you will know it. If you are unsure, you can check your pocket and you will know for sure whether you have a hundred-dollar bill. Similarly, when you perform your Taijiquan patterns, spar with your friends, or engage in your daily work, you will know whether you have internal force.
Your teacher must have his own reasons for not teaching combat application, and presumably internal force. Although students at my Intensive Taijiquan Course learn how to develop internal force on the first day of the course, and combat application during the course, it is not true that I teach these skills right at the start of a student's career in Taijiquan, because those who wish to attend my Intensive Taijiquan Course need to have prior Taijiquan experience.
My teacher's philosophy is to train until we become “song” and we achieve '“dong jin” before learning “san shou” — well, the old traditional way which he himself was trained in. I must confess I am eager to learn applications from the start, wanting to protect my loved ones,. Yet my teacher is taking a long time, and I am concerned that I'll end up not learning much before he passes on (he's already 80+ years old). At the same time, this teacher is the best I have found after a very long search. I am very confused. Can you kindly advise me?
Your teacher has a very good philosophy, one that has been taught by generations of Taijiquan masters, and one that I also follow. If you attempt miscellaneous sparring techniques (“san sau”) before you have become relaxed (“song”) and have achieved sensitivity (“dong jin”), you may perform the external movements of the sparring techniques, but lack the essence.
If you don't have essence, you will never become a master, no matter how long you may have trained and how much and how many Taijiquan theory and techniques you may know. Without the essence, your Taijiquan would become “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”. The fact that he is more than 80 years old yet still teaching Taijiquan, is testimony that his essence works well not only for his fighting abilities but also for his daily life. Respect and treasure your teacher.
Different teachers have different ways of teaching. My intensive courses are quite revolutionary, and would be unthinkable to some old masters. But judging from the results of my students, these courses work well. I would recommend that you attend my Intensive Taijiquan Course, where you will learn, amongst other things, internal force and combat application.
It is necessary that you continue practising what you have learnt from the course, and it is meant to supplement the regular lessons which you learn from your teacher. It is much better if you can attend my course with a classmate so that both of your can train together after the course.