October 2002 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Golden Bell

Internal force is an important aspect in traditional Shaolin training. Here Goh Kok Hin demonstrates a type of internal force called Golden Bell during a public demonstration. A group of people rams him with a tree trunk.

Question 1

I have been interested in kung fu ever since I was a child, something about the purity of combat has always been a part of me. However, I am not an aggressive man and have always restrained from fighting unless I felt it totally necessary. I am constantly striving to become a stronger fighter both to protect myself and others. It is one of the few passions in life that truly drives me.

Answer

Different people may interpret your phrase “purity of combat” differently. But I reckon you mean by that phrase that you can defeat your opponent in combat using beautiful kungfu movements yet without hurting him unnecessarily.

That, in fact, was the ideal which originally inspired me to start my kungfu school, Shaolin Wahnam. I was appalled at the brutality and aggressiveness in much of the sparring found in many other martial arts. Interestingly, this was not a big problem in kungfu, mainly because most of the kungfu students I saw did not even know how to spar.

To be gentle on your opponent while he is all out to floor you brutally, calls for a level of skills and techniques much higher than that of your opponent. Great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan answer this need excellently.

But purity of combat is only the start. An art that merely makes you a stronger fighter is not great enough for you to dedicate your life to it. The next step is good health, vitality and longevity so that you can enjoy your work and play everyday of your life, as well as share these wonderful benefits with other deserving people, for a long, long time.

The third and highest level is spiritual development. In Chinese, the term “spiritual” also involves the emotional and the mental. Hence, practicing Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan enables you to be peaceful and happy, have mental freshness and clarity, and leads you to Enlightenment or, in western terms, a unity with God.

Question 2

When I was younger I had taken Taekwondo for a few years hoping to increase my fighting skill but was quite disappointed, and quitted after 3 years once I had learnt all the basic punching and kicking techniques they had to offer.

Answer

In my opinion — and many others may disagree — Taekwondo is an inferior sport. Strictly speaking, it is not even a martial art. If one uses Taekwondo against a street fighter, the Taikwondo practitioner would soon have his leg broken or his groin blown.

It is also injurious to the practitioner's health, physically and emotionally. The training itself, even without taking into account injuries from frequent sparring, results in much energy blockage. Its philosophy of striking the opponent aggressively without regard to one's own safety, is destructive to spiritual health.

Question 3

I have recently been thinking of taking a Shaolin kungfu class nearby though I am wondering how effective it will be if I am not able to go everyday as I am currently still in college. Although it would be good for learning forms, I am wondering how effective it would be in comparison to training at Shaolin Temple as it would be harder to fully immerse oneself into it.

Answer

Shaolin Kungfu is an excellent choice. But today it is very rare to find schools teaching genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu. What is usually taught as Shaolin Kungfu today is either external Shaolin forms with karate-style sparring, or modernized wushu without any sparring.

If you can find a school teaching genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu, I would strongly recommend you to learn there, even once a week. You would have to practice on your own on other days.

How would one determine whether what is taught is genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu? I would suggest four criteria. One, the forms must be Shaolin. Two, there should be internal force training. Three, students must be taught and be able to use Shaolin forms for combat. Four, there should be spiritual cultivation.

Criterion 1 is not a problem: many schools teach Shaolin forms. Criteria 2 and 3 are the main tests to check if what is taught is genuine Shaolin Kungfu. Most schools fail on these two points. It is rare to meet criterion 4, but if you find a school or a master who satisfy criterion 4 as well as the other three criteria, you have found a gem.

You must also bear in mind that the onus is on direct experience. It is not enough for the teacher to talk about internal force, combat application or spiritual development, the students themselves must actually experience them.

Traditional Shaolin Kungfu is now not taught in the Shaolin Temple. What is taught there, or more correctly in numerous schools near the temple, as well by modern Shaolin monks in other countries is modernized wushu, which is different from traditional kungfu. In wushu, there is no internal force training, no combat application, and no spiritual cultivation. It is a magnificent sport.

Golden Bridge

There are many ways to develop internal force in Shaolin kungfu training. One of the most fundamental is called “Golden Bridge”, demonstrated here by Wong Chun Yian.

Question 4

Also, such classes sometimes leave out certain techniques such as Iron Palm and body training in order to make classes “easier” for those with little to no basic understanding of martial arts. I would really appreciate your opinion on this matter as I have found your site very informative and have finally learned the importance of forms, thanks to you.

Answer

Iron Palm is a comparatively low level Shaolin art. It is not difficult to train Iron Palm on your own, once you have been initiated by a master. Basically it involves hitting your palms onto a sandbag in a fairly relaxed manner, then applying medicated wine after training.

I am not sure what do you mean by body training. If you refer to body building with weights, as in western gymnasiums, it is not part of Shaolin training. If you refer to stretching exercise, it can be performed on your own. If you refer to body hardening, like in Iron Shirt, it should be practiced under supervision.

Genuine Shaolin training is never easy. It demands dedication of time and effort, but the rewards are fantastic, often unbelievable to the uninitiated.

There are three aspects in Shaolin training, or any training, namely jin, qi, and shen, which are physical form, energy and mind. Form is important as it is the vehicle for our training as well as for appreciating the benefits.

Energy is relatively more important, as it is the force beind the training and benefits. For example, as a result of our training we are able to better enjoy our work and play not because we have bigger muscles or loosened joints, but because we have enhanced our energy volume and flow.

Mind is the most important as it is the real You. Yiou are your mind, who has a body and energy. It is not your body that has a mind. Shaolin Kungfu is far superior to other martial arts because it places great emphasis on the mind. The highest attainment is to liberate the personal mind to actualize the Universal Mind — a concept that is not even believed possible in most other martial arts.

Question 5

When I was still taking Taekwondo I had always felt the forms to be too simple, repetitive, and unrealistic for defence in real combat. But now I am able to see the true function of forms and have found it much easier to decipher moves from martial art books.

Answer

Shaolin Kungfu is well known for its beautiful forms. Even the graceful, poetic movements of Taijiquan may not match the elegant flow of courage and force of Shaolin Kungfu. But its beauty is not just for demonstraton. Its combat application is even more beautiful.

In the sixth combat sequence of our basic Shaolin Wahnam combat training, for example, as the opponent attacks we brush aside the attack and simultaneously strike his ribs with a dragon palm, often without him knowing where and when the counter-attack comes from. It is so simple, yet so effective. If an exponent spends, say, six months training this counter-attack so that it flows effortlessly, basing on today's low standard of sparring, he can almost break his opponent's ribs the minute the opponent attacks.

Whenever I teach this technique, most students are amazed. Because we position ourselves appropriately, control the opponent's arms effectively, throw him off-guard unexpectedly, and counter-attack as if from nowhere, he has no time and space to defend or retreat This will be the case for most ordinary opponents. But if the opponent is also well trained in Shaolin Kungfu, he may turn the surprise on us. Without even moving his feet but by just slightly rotating his waist, he neutralizes the counter-attack, and before we may realize it we find his reverse palm strike at our throat.

Such beauty of forms and their applications is expressed in a poetic couplet, which runs as follows in Cantonese:

The two poetic lines may be translated as

The beauty of energy is even more impressive, and is expressed in the second poetic line above. Before my training with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, I practiced Iron Palm but still could not break a brick. Later my sifu taught me One Finger Shooting Zen and Cosmos Palms, which involved only breathing and gentle movements, and no hitting of sandbags, poles or hard conditioning. I tried hitting a brick; it broke!

The most beautiful part is the mind. Words cannot accurately describe its beauty, but may be summed up as tremendous joy, freedom and inner peace.

Question 6

My friend and I, who are both 17, have started practicing qigong. I personally have found this highly interesting and believe its long term effects will be very useful in the future. There is something troubling me though. Sadly I cannot find much information about it, especially on the internet as the internet does not always contain true information and truth is all I seek.

— Omar, Australia

Answer

Qigong is a wonderful art. It is not only in the future, it is also very useful at present. It means that you do not have to wait for three years to enjoy the benefits of qigong. If you practice genuine qigong, especially one of a high level, you enjoy its benefits during the practice itself. But you should learn from a good teacher.

While you can get invaluable information from the internet, you must also be aware that the internet also gives wrong information and rubbish. You must know how to differentiate.

Regarding your statement “truth is all I seek”, it is helpful for you to remember the following two points. Truth may not be absolute. What is true to you may not be trute to another person, or to you at a different time or situation. You can find many examples in daily life. Here is just one. When you are hungry, eating a delicious meal is satisfying. But this is not true when you are not hungry. It can be tortuous to force the same delicious meal into you when you are full.

Truth is not, and should not be, all you seek. Truth is desirable, but there are also other ideals that are important, like kindness, happiness, good health, beauty and charity. If you just seek truth irrespective of other ideals, you may end up miserably.

This, of course, does not mean you should not seek truth, but it reminds you that you should have balance. Sometimes truth can be very ugly, and you may have to sacrifice truth for some other good. For example, if you have found out that your friend commit adultery and you know for sure that if his jealous wife were to find out, she would kill him or herself, it might be better not to tell the truth.

Combat application

Another important aspect in traditional Shaolin Kungfu training is combat application. Here Goh Kok Hin practices combat application with Sifu Wong using typical Shaolin kungfu techniques.

Question 7

It is this Hing Kung that confuses me. The only description of Hing Kung I could find states the following: This technique allows you to make yourself light as a feather. With this technique, along with Leaping Kung, a technique which makes you jump higher, you'll be able to do the feats portrayed in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

First of all you need to fill up an earthen vessel or jar with 100 pounds of water, enough to support your weight on top of it. Add 2 pounds of lead weights onto your body, and walk around the edge. Do this daily, and after a month, when you can successfully walk around the jar without falling off or tipping the jar, empty a cup of water out of the jar, and add 5 ounces of lead weight to your body.

Keep on doing this every month, until eventually the jar is empty, and you can successfully walk around the rim. Now, after a month of walking on the empty jar with nearly twice the weight on your body, replace the jar with a reed basket, full of rocks. Remove a cup of rocks from the basket every month. You don't need to add anymore weight, but keep the current lead weights on your body.

Once you can successfully walk around the rim of the jar, and it is empty with no rocks, comes the next step. Make a path of sand, 1 foot deep, 3 feet wide, and 10 feet long. Cover this path with rice paper, which is extremely fragile. Walk over this path. Don't worry if the paper tears the first few tries. Mentally and physically practice everyday, until you can walk across this path without tearing the rice paper.

Now, after this is accomplished, remove the rice paper, and try to walk upon the path without leaving any footprints on the sand. Once this is done, you have mastered the art of Hing Kung. Once this and Leaping Kung is accomplished, you can do things from walking on water, to jumping onto trees and standing on thin branches

I have read it, but it gives no mention as to what one must do mentally or energetically to defy gravity.

Answer

“Hing kung” is the art of lightness. It is in Cantonese pronunciation. In Mandarin, it is pronounced as “qinggong”. By the way, “qigong”, the art of energy management, is in Mandarin pronunciation, and is frequently spelt in English as “chi kung”. Its Cantonese pronunciation is “hei kung”. The pronunciations are different in Cantonese and Mandarin, but the written words in Chinese and their meanings are exactly the same.

Under qigong (the art of energy), we have qinggong (art of lightness) and yinggong (art of hard force). Qigong is a set, and qinggong and yinggong are two subsets of qigong. This is one way of classification.

Another way of classification is that qigong, qinggong and yinggong are all of the same level, and they are all subsets of neigong (internal art). But don't worry over such issues like “Is qigong of a higher level or of the same level as qinggong” or “Which classification is correct?” Practitioners of these various arts do not worry over such academic issues. The different classifications are meant to make things easy, not harder, for us.

The excellent description you have given above is one of a few established methods to develop qinggong, or hing kung. If you wish to develop this skill of lightness, which also includes the skill of leaping high, follow the instructions as best as you can. The instructions are complete (for this particular purpose) and are exceptionally clear. You don't have to worry whether you should wear a jumper or a T-shirt when practicing this exercise, or whether your shoes should be black, blue or orange in colour — simply because these points are not stated in the instructions.

In the same way, you don't have to worry about what you must do mentally or energetically to defy gravity. All you need to do is to follow the instructions correctly and respectfully, and, hopefully, you may attain the art of lightness. Monkeys and birds do not worry about defying gravity — indeed, scientists today are questioning whether gravity exists, whether it is a mistaken word for space-time curvature — yet they can swing from branches to branches and fly freely in the air.

Notwithstanding this, I would caution you against practicing hing kung on your own without proper supervision although you now have an excellent description of the method and have confirmation for me that the method is correct.

Here are two important reasons.

Why do you want to spend many years practicing everyday just to be able to run round rims of baskets or swing from branches to branches? You would be able to leap wide and high like monkeys, but most unlikely to fly like birds. Even when you have succeeded in hing kung, you are not necessarily good at self-defence. Also, you may or may not be healthy and be full of vitality.

The second reason is more serious. Although the instructions are very clear, and you intend to follow them to the word, without personal supervision from a master who himself has hing kung, you are likely to make mistakes which can lead to serious consequences. It is usual for those who practice merely external kungfu or qigong forms, though they honestly think theirs is genuine kungfu or qigong, to believe that if they follow the instructions correctly they would attain the promised result. This is faulty reasoning, and the fault is often that without proper supervision they do not, or are unable to, follow the instructions correctly although they want to.

An analogy will make this clear. Suppose you want to become a surgeon, but you do not have proper training under master surgeons. You may read a lot of good books on surgery and follow the instructions carefully, but do you think that by your self-taught surgery you can operate on patients safely?

Question 8

Furthermore, a friend told me that he had seen Ninjas in Japan who were able to jump extremely high and literally 'glide' down from high places such as buildings. Would this be hing kung?

Answer

Yes, this is a form of hing kung. If you followed the method you described for a few years, you would be able perform these ninjas' feats — if you had the exceedingly good luck of not harming yourself first.

Question 9

If so, does it involve pushing all chi below the feet when reaching the point of impact when falling? Or does this require some sort of other skill?

Answer

When you munch your food and swallow it down into your stomach, do you know whether it involves pushing all your qi (chi), or some of your qi, or just one percent of your qi to your teeth or gullet? Do you know which of the hundreds or thousands of muscles are involved? You would not worry about such details; you just munch and swallow your food.

Similarly when a hing kung exponent jumps up onto a branch or across a yard into a roof, he just jumps. If he starts worrying about how much qi to use or where he should push his qi to, he would hardly move. Hing kung is an art, which means that after long years of dedicated and systematic training, the artist can perform the required task — like jumping from wall to wall or playing Mozart's pieces over the paino — effortlessly.

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