October 2002 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I've been practicing my family style of Taijiquan since I was 8. My grandmama taught me. I'm totally confident that Taijiquan is the greatest martial art in the world. I'm very interested in little known Chinese martial arts, and am trying to find out about a style called Pi Qua Quan. There's not much about it anywhere, and nobody around here knows about it. Could you please explain the details of this art to me?
— John, USA
Yes, Taijiquan is a great martial art, whcih not only gives you good health and combat efficiency but also leads you to the highest spiritual attainemt called unity with Tao or called by other terms by other culturs, such as unity with God and Enlightenment.
Pi Qua Quan is a style of Northern Shaolin Kungfu. “Pi” means “chop”, which is a kungfu technique of striking the arm from top downward and inward,“Qua” means “hang”, which is s reverse of “chop”, i.e. striking downward but outward, and “Quan” means “kungfu”. Pi Qua Quan, therefore, is a comparatively hard style of kungfu using the arms to strike an opponent, and employing long stances.
However,during the Qing Dynasty, Pi Qua Quan which is a hard and long style, was combined with Monkey Style Kungfu, which is just the opposite, i.e. a soft and short style. This combination is known as Da Sing Pi Qua Men. “Da Sing” which means “Great Sage” refers to the Monkey God, and “Men” which literally means “Gate”, figuratively refers to a style of kungfu. This kungfu style is very different from Taijiquan. Sifu Chan Sau Choong of Hong Kong is the patriarch of Da Sing Pi Qua Men.
How long does it take for a person to activate Iiron Shirt chi kung' during sparring? and how long does it take to learn Iron Shirt?
— Ricky, Malaysia
It takes between one to three years to develop Iron Shirt, a type of chi kung whereby the exponent can take punches and kicks and even weapon attacks on his body without sustaining injury. Iron Shirt can be activated immediately. There is no need for the exponent to marshal chi to cover his body when an opponent attacks him. Even if the exponent is unaware of the attack — for example, the opponent may punch the exponent from behind — the attack may not harm him.
In “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” a few patterns are shown, such as “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”, “Black Tiger Steals Heart”, “Poisonous Snake Shoots Venom”, “Precious Duck Swims through Lotus”, “False Leg Hand Sweep”' etc.. Are these from a particular style of kung fu?. Are they from Wing Chun or Hung Gar?
— Andrew, Canada
These patterns are from Southern Shaolin Kungfu. There are also from Hoong Ka (Hung Gar) Kungfu, but there are not from Wing Choon (Wing Chun) Kungfu.
Hoong Ka Kungfu is the same as Southern Shaolin Kungfu, yet Southern Shaolin Kungfu may not be the same as Hoong Ka Kungfu! Similarly, Wing Choon Kungfu and Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu are Southern Shaolin Kungfu, but they may not be the same as Southern Shaolin Kungfu!
This confusion is due to the limitation of words as well as dualistic thinking, especially amongst many westerners. An example of the limitation of words is that the same word may have a different meaning in a different context. An example of dualistic thinking is to think that if A is B, A cannot be “not B”.
Actually there is nothing mystical about the above explanation. One or two simple examples may make the situation clearer. Soccer is the same as football, but football may not be the same as soccer, because football can also be rugby, and soccer and rugby are different. This is the case of saying Hoong Ka Kungfu is the same as Southern Shaolin Kungfu, but Southern Shaolin Kungfu may not be the same as Hoong Ka Kungfu.
The first patriarch of Hoong Ka Kungfu was Hoong Hei Khoon. Hoong Hei Khoon learned Southern Shaolin Kungfu from the Venerable Chee Seen, who was the first patriarch of Southern Shaolin. Today many people call the style of kungfu passed down by Hoong Hei Khoon, or by his junior classmate, Lok Ah Choy, as Hoong Ka Kungfu.
But there were some aspects of Southern Shaolin Kungfu whcih Hoong Hei Khoon might not have learnt from his teacher, the Venerable Chee Seen. This did not make Hoong Hei Khoon a lesser master because there were so many things in Shaolin Kungfu, and it was not necessary to learn everything. For example, it was unlikely that Hoong Hei Khoon learned the Shaolin Flower Set from Chee Seen, who taught this set to Foong Sai Yoke and Wu Wei Thein. But Hoong Hei Khoon was a better fighter than his two junior classmates.
Moreover, there were also other Southern Shaolin masters besides Chee Seen. One such master was the Venerable Jiang Nan who passed down, among many other things, the Shaolin Pakua Set. In the Southern Shaolin Kungfu that I teach, we have the Shaolin Flower Set as well as the Shaoln Pakua Set, but these two kungfu sets are not normally found in Hoong Ka Kungfu, where the normal sets taught are Tiger-Crane, Taming Tiger, Iron Wire, and Five-Animal Set.
The case of Wing Choon Kungfu and Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu are slightly different. Here is the case of saying that an orange is a fruit, but a fruit may not be an orange. Unlike Hoong Hei Khoon and also Lok Ah Choy who transmitted their art without modifying the way they learned it from Chee Seen, Yim Wing Choon modified the art she learned from the great Shaolin nun, Ng Mooi. Hence, typical Wing Choon kungfu sets from Sifu Yip Mann's lineage are Siew Nim Tou, Cham Kiew, and Piu Chee, and not Southern Shaolin sets like Flower Set and Shaolin Pakua, nor Hoong Ka sets like Tiger-Crane and Taming Tiger.
Nevertheless, in the Choy Family Wing Choon Kungfu I learned from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, we have Flower Set and Tiger-Crane Set, but they are different from the Hoong Ka sets of the same names which I learned from Uncle Righteousness.
Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu was formulated by Chan Harng, who integrated Choy Ka Kungfu, Li Ka Kungfu, and Fatt Ka Kungfu which he had learned from his three teachers. The Five-Aminal Set, which is important in Southern Shaolin and Hoong Ka, is also important in Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu. The Shaolin Pakua Set was modified into Thien-Khuen Pakua Palm, and the Shaolin Flower Set was sub-divided into two sets, namely Small Plum Flower and Big Plum Flower. Moreover, new sets were invented.
There are other Southern Shaolin styles such as Pak Mei, Dragon Style, White Crane, Lau Ka, and Mok Ka, which are quite different from Hoong Ka and Wing Choon.
I also was wondering if the 'Hoong Family' Kungfu you refer to in your book is Hung Gar or Hung Kuen Kung Fu. I would be honoured if you could tell me, as I am having a great deal of difficulty finding the answers.
Yes, Hoong Family Kungfu is Hung Gar Kungfu or Hung Kuen. I use the spelling “Hoong” instead of “Hung” because it is closer to the sound in Chinese (Cantonese). Those unfamiliar with Chinese may pronounced “Hung” like the past participle of the verb “hang”, which rhymes with “rung”, and is incorrect. Here, “Hoong” (or “Hung”) is a surname.
“Gar” means “Family”. But I prefer to use the spelling “Ka” instead of “Gar” for more exact sound. Hence, I use “Hoong Ka” instead of “Hung Gar”, which may be mis-pronounced like “hunger”.
“Kuen” literally means “Fist”, but here it figuratively means “Kungfu”. “Kuen” as well as “Hoong” and “Ka” are in Cantonese pronunciation. Most Hoong Ka practitioners were Cantonese speaking. In Mandarin pronounciation, “kuen” is pronounced as “chuan”, as in “Tai Chi Chuan”. In Cantonese, Tai Chi Chuan is pronounced as “Thai Khaik Kuen”.
Thus, “Hoong Ka Kuen” (Hung Gar Kuen) means “Hoong Family Kungfu”, and is often shortened to “Hoong Kuen” (Hung Kuen).
I would like to ask you about Tong Bei Chuan (Through Back Fist). I am very curious about its history. Could you please enlighten me with a few facts?
— Edward, Japan
In Romanized Chinese, “Tong Bei Chuan” is “Tongbeiquan”, which means, word by word and as you have rightly mentioned, “Through Back Fist”. But Tongbeiquan is better known as Tongbiquan, which literally means “Through Arm Fist” or figuratively Extended Arm Kungfu.
As kungfu terms were passed down orally in the past and as “pi” which means “arm”, and “bei” which means “back”, sound alike especially in some northern Chinese dialects, Tongbiquan and Tongbeiquan were used interchangeably, often with the exponents not realizing the difference. It was later when the terms were written down that the difference became noticeable. There are a few similar cases in kungfu. For example, the Taijiquan pattern “shan tong bi” is sometimes translated as “Dodge, Extend Arm” and sometimes as “Fan Through Back”.
Another reason for the interchangeable use of Tongbiquan and Tongbeiquan lies in the application of force in this kungfu style. A main characteristic of this style is the use of the extended arm, which in Chinese is called “tong bi”. The arm is relaxed when first executed but at the pointed of contact at its full extension, the fist is clenched and internal force is challenged to it through the back of the exponent, and this is called “tong bei”.
According to legends, Tongbiquan was established during the Warring States period in Chinese history. This was more than 2000 years ago, which means that if the legends were true, Tongbiquan was older than Shaolin Kungfu. But I don't think this was true. It is more likely that Tongbiquan developed much later from Lama Kungfu of Tibet and was much influenced by Shaolin Kungfu.
The early exponents of Tongbiquan drew inspirations from the movments of white apes in the high snowy plateau of Tibet. Tongbiquan is therefore one of the many types of Monkey Style Kungfu. It is special amongst the many Monkey styles because while Monkey Style Kungfu is generally advantageous for the small sized practitioners, Tongbiquan is more advantageous to the bigger sized.
Tongbiquan was popular in north China, and evolved into various branches like White Ape Tongbi, Pi-Qua Tongbi, Five-Movement Tongbi, Praying Mantis Tongbi, and Six-Harmony Tongbi.
I am interested in starting a journey into Tai Chi and I've found one teacher teaching Yang Long Form and the other Chen style.
— Chris, USA
I have used the term “Tai Chi Chuan” for the real stuff, i.e. a great internal martial art, and “Tai Chi” for the debased dance-like form.
A journey into Tai Chi Chuan is very rewarding, if you are lucky to practise real Tai Chi Chuan and not just its debased dance-like form, and if you are ready to put in much time and effort. Not only you will be able to be combat efficient, you will also have good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy.
But a journey into dance-like Tai Chi is not without its benefits. You will be able to relax, be flexible, graceful and gentle. You will also meet many good-nature people.
In both Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi, rhere are a few different styles. The main ones are Chen, Yang and Wu. If you are thinking of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen Style is more vigorous whereas Yang Style and Wu Style are more gentle. If you are thinking of Tai Chi, there is not much difference which styles you choose.
I've done some research on the Web and have found that many feel simply being aplayer of the Tai Chi movements is too “soft” and lacks “hardness”. What I'vefound says that Tai Chi IS a martial art and needs to be taughtlike one, as opposed to being taught as simply a “relaxation” method.
The Web is a fantastic source of information. There is a lot of good information, but there is also a lot of rubbish. You need to differentiate which is which.
Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art, and should be taught not just like a martial art but as a martial art. But today, even in China, it is rare to find classes where Tai Chi Chuan is taught as a martial art; it is usually taught as Tai Chi, a dance-like form.
Tai Chi Chuan is a very special martial art. While most martial arts are rough, even brutal, Tai chi Chuan is gentle and also spiritual. But it is not religious. By spiritual is meant that when you practise Tai Chi Chuan, you also train your spirit.
Like all great martial arts, Tai Chi Chuan is both hard and soft. Some people may be surprised how hard Tai Chi Chuan can be. But its hardness is not mechanical or rigid. The hardness of Tai Chi Chuan is derived from internal force, and is applicable to both the body and the spirit. An example of physical hardness is that someone may smash a pole onto you, yet you are not hurt. An example of spiritual hardness is that you may fail many times in your endeavors but you still try your best to succeed.
Like all great martial arts too, in Tai Chi Chuan you can be very relaxed even in the most demanding situations, such as in a life-death combat. Life-death combat hardly ever happens today, but such training enables you to be efficient in whatever you do.
Again, from what I've found it appears that many think Taijiquan or “'push hands” is very important to the overall experience.
“Pushing Hands” is one of the many aspects in Taijiquan training. It is an ingenious method to develop such skills like sensitivity, fluidity, agility, internal force and fast decision making, which are not only essential for combat but also for enriching our daily lives.
But today “Pushing Hands” is badly taught. Most people merely go over the physical movements of “Pushing Hands” without developing the skills.
I am asking as to the availability and conditions of being a student in your school if it is possible to be so.
— Karl, England
Right now I do not teach regular classes. I hold intensive courses in Malaysia a few times a year. There is no requirement of prior experience for my Intensive Chi Kung Course, but thoses wishing to attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan Course must have practised some martial arts for a few years.
I also hold short courses for chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan in many places of the world, and prior experience is usually not required for these short courses. Please check up my website for the dates and places of these short courses.
At present I am a student at university studying philosophy. This is time to collect my thoughts and make my parents proud. Whilst here I have been lucky to continue my spiritual journey through life and make a lot of discoveries about myself.
While many people today would choose to study law, business or medicine as these courses are likely to enable them to earn much money in later life, I think studying philosophy at university is a wonderful opportunity for personal development.
I would like to point our that philosophy originally meant a search for truth, but in modern western societies it has become intellectualization and speculation. Secondly, in eastern tradition philosophy is an explanation of practical experience and therefore comes after practical experience; whereas in western tradition philosophers intellectualize or speculate first, then search for examples in practical experience to justify their philosophy.
An illuminating example is as follows. In his deep meditation the Buddha experienced that the everyday world we see is an illusion, a phenomenon due to the way our sense organs interprete electromagnetic vibrations. This is Buddhist philosophy. On the other hand, Plato speculated that the perfect form was a circle, and he looked around in everyday life to substantiate his theory. This is Greek philosophy.
Whilst being very inexperienced in the ways of martial arts, I am very spiritually aware of life and powerful in this respect. Due to my beliefs I am seeking to train under great teachers, as you yourself say it should be so for those who are serious.
Yin-yang harmony is very important and it is expressed in many years. You must cultivate not just your body or just your spirit, but both. If you are highly spiritual but weak physically, or an accomplished sportman but have no spiritual awareness, your cultivation is incomplete. If you do very well in university but badly in your profession, or if you are very successful in public but lead a miserable family life, then you lack yin-yang harmony.
Practising genuine Shaolin Kungfu is an execellent way to achieve yin-yang harmony. The high levels demanded in Shaolin training will enable you to do well in both body and spirit, work and play, in private and in public lives. Yes, you have to train under great teachers, whom are of course hard to find. Yet, it is worthwhile to find them if you are serious about personal development.
Whilst I wish to start studying the martial arts as soon as possible, university is a debt to my parents that I must oblige. Please can you tell me of anyone left today who is serious about life and the martial arts, and who will take on a student who wishes to follow the way as his life and teach others in his later years and strive to help all who are in need.
University education is not only an obligation to your parents, it is also an obligation to yourself. But remember the importance of yin-yang harmony I mentioned earlier. Yin and yang operate together, not one after another, and they enhance each other. You do not train a great martial art after your university education, you can do so while you are still at university. And your university studies and martial art training enhance each other, enabling you to become a scholar-warrior, the ideal of the Chinese culture.
For example, because of your university education, you are able to choose your teachers and training wisely, and understand your art with more insight. Because of your martial art training, you have more energy and clearer mind in your studies and produce better results.
I can personally verify the benefits of Shaolin training on studies, and vice versa. When I was at universtiy I hardly studied the subjects I enrolled in nor took notes in class, but I paid careful attention during lectures. I spent my time reading outside my prescribed subjects and a lot of time in Shaolin training, even during examination periods. Yet I scored all As in my papers.
Because of my university training, I know how to research systematically and deeply, and to find relevant literature extensively in the martial arts I train. Many other martial art masters may not have such skills or access. This made me knowledgable, which in turn enabled me to be cost- effective in developing my martial art and other skills.
As you are in England, I would recommend Dan Hartwright to be your teacher. He is young like you, whcih is an advantage for he has the same zest and vision as you, and as he is a few steps ahead of you he will be in a good position to guide you along the inital path. When you have acquired some basic Shaolin techniques and skills, you can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course for refinement. Dan beleives in Shaolin Kungfu seriously and confidently enough to leave a well-paying job to teach the art profesionally. You can contact him at cosmosUK@hotmail.com