April 2003 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Lifting the Sky

”Lifting the Sky” is a wonderful qigong exercise. A group of students from Spain .are performing “Lifting the Sky” during an Intensive Qigong Course in Malaysia. In the foreground is the group leader, Professor Inaki Rivero Urdain, a professor of psychology and also a Shaolin Wahnam qigong and Taijiquan instructor.

Question 1

As a teenager in the USA, I am experiencing a lot of problems. I'm very stressed out for a 15-year old. I get really annoyed at my sister's voice and whenever I hear her screaming and yelling, I can feel my heart heavy and breathing hard. As I am stressed out most of the day, I usually go on the computer and play games until around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I even lock myself up in my room, sometimes without eating dinner.

— Jeff, USA

Answer

Jeff, be assured that yours is not a unique case. All teenagers experience problems like yours as part of their personal development! Some people poetically call these problems the pains of growing up.

Yet, not all teenagers grow up the same way. While all teenagers experience the pains of growing up, the exact problems as well as the manners they deal with them are different. In your case you find your sister's screaming and yelling intolerable, some others find their father's advice or their mother's attention irritating, even though deep inside them they know what their father and mother do are for their own good. Reacting to the problem, you shut yourself up playing computer games. Some may vandalize public properties or take drugs.

These reactions are unhealthy. Vandalizing and drug taking teenagers destroy others and themselves. Compared to them, your reaction is not serious, but it is still destructive to your own personal development. These reactions are not dealing with the problems at hand, but running away from the problems.

What should you and other destructive teenagers do? Deal with the problems courageously instead of running away, and change destructive reactions to constructive ones. This provides the vision for your action. Once you have the vision, you will find your direction. In other words, if you have the will, you will find the way.

There are various ways you can employ to change destructive reactions to constructive ones. Many teenagers take up sports and games as well as reading and music, and some excel in them. You should choose whatever hobbies that interest you most.

Nevertheless, the following strategy is a useful one to adopt. Whenever you become upset, such as when you hear your sister scream, go outside or to any suitable place away from the upsetting situation, and perform “Lifting the Sky” about 20 times. If you have not learnt how to perform this wonderful chi kung exercise yet, read my books to learn it, or better still learn it from a competent instructor.

Then stand upright and be totally relaxed. Do not think of anything, but merge yourself into the cosmos. Then think of how lucky you are to be born a human, wholesome, intelligent and in peaceful environment. Thank God, or the Buddha, or whatever name you give to the Supreme Being according to your religion or culture, for the blessing you have. Then, thank your parents for bringing you into this world, and for the comfortable life you have.

After this, you can play computer games, read some books or do whatever wholesome things you like. You must do so because you like it, not because you want to run away from an upsetting situation. You may find a private place to enjoy your hobby, but not shut yourself up, and not continue for hours without end.

You may realize that your sister is also in a similar situation. Her screaming is her way of reacting to problems. It is also destructive, for herself as well as other people. Later when you are more skilful in handling difficult situations, have some compassion on her and teach her how she too can handle problems constructively. But you must tell her tactfully, and never impose your will on her. When she notices that you have handle difficult situations competently, she too would like to do so, and follow your example.

Question 2

I have poor social skills, extreme shyness especially in front of girls and strangers and blush at the most unexpected times. Even feeling their presence I will still blush. And at times when I don't blush, my head will get really dizzy, and it feels like my head is being grabbed and squeezed by someone. I will start shaking. I've never had a girlfriend in my life, while my friends have.

Answer

This is another of the developmental tasks of growing up. Brushing is natural; you need not feel uneasy about it.

Here is a very useful strategy to help you to brush less and become more sociable. Try the following method on a few boys first, then you can try it on girls.

The guiding principle is to become a good listener, rather than an active talker. First take a deep breath gently before you speak. If you have time, take a few deep breaths gently. Then ask your friends to tell you about their experiences, hobbies or achievements.

You may start the conversation like this. “I heard you had a nice time at the beach. Can you tell me something about it?” Or, “You are good at baseball. How did you start playing baseball?”

At appropriate intervals, encourage them to continue talking by asking short questions like “What did you (or he, or she) do?”, “What happened next?”, “Why did he do that?”

If you use this strategy for a few months, you will soon find that you will have a lot of friends, both boys and girls. In dealing with them, you must be sincere, kind and considerate.

Question 3

Although I do really well in school, I don't consider myself very intelligent at all. I can't perceive a lot of jokes (I think it's because I don't watch a lot of TV), usually lose in Chinese chess, say stupid things not relevant to the topic at the wrong times, etc.

Answer

You have underrated yourself. While modesty is a virtue, one must not debase himself. Modesty and self depreciation are two different things.

It is obvious from your e-mail that you are intelligent. As evident from the questions you have asked me, not only you can think clearly, you can also organize your thoughts systematically and present them logically in a coherent manner. Not many people can do this. Sometimes I received e-mails which indicated that the writers were not sure of what they wanted to ask.

You also wrote grammatically. Your e-mail needs little editing as it contains little grammatical and spelling errors. This shows you are considerate. I often received e-mails with a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes, which indicated that the writers did not care about these mistakes.

Thirdly, you are respectful, which shows you have self-respect. Because you respect yourself, you show respect for others.

Not perceiving a joke does not necessarily indicate a lack of intelligent. Jokes are often culturally biased. An intelligent person may not appreciate the jokes of another culture.

In Chinese chess, experience and tactical knowledge are more crucial than intelligence. In other words, someone who has much experience in playing Chinese chess and knows a lot of tactical moves, generally beat a more intelligent opponent who has less experience and less knowledge.

Free Sparring

One important criterion to decide whether one's kungfu, a martial art, is genuine is to see whether he can free spar using his kungfu forms. Here in a free sparring session during a break in a qigong class in Switzerland, Master Dan Hartwright (left side), a Shaolin Kungfu instructor from Shaolin Wahnam England, and Professor Javier Galve (right side), a Wahnam Taijiquan instructor from Shaoln Wahnam Spain, are engaged in free sparring practice. All their movements are not pre-arranged, yet they use typical Shaolin and Taijiquan patterns respectively.

Question 4

Sometimes my mind is not really clear. I don't even know what I'm doing sometimes. In order for myself to have clear thinking, only temporarily, I start doing weird things, like bobbing my head a certain number of times, or moving my fingers or hands in a certain way to achieve clarity of thought, or at least that's what I think.

Answer

Bobbing head, and moving fingers are not effective ways to improve one's intelligence. An excellent way to improve intelligence is to practice genuine chi kung, as it nourishes the mind. “Lifting the Sky” is a wonderful chi kung exercise.

A useful technique for clear thinking is as follows. First, clear your mind of all thoughts. Then think of the topic in question, not allowing any other topics to come into your mind.

For example, iif you want to think of how to ask Betty for a date, then just think of how to ask Betty for a date. If other thoughts come into your mind, even if they are related thoughts — like should you ask Betty or Nancy, where should you take Betty to, or what would you say to her parents — leave them aside. Later, you may consider these other thoughts — one at a time — if you like.

Question 5

I take showers, wash hands, etc. for a long time. I'm also a bit paranoid about dirty objects, and will wash any of my possessions I believe are dirty for a long time.

Answer

While cleanliness is a virtue, you should not be obsessed with it. You know this fact but despite your knowing, you are still obsessed with cleanliness. Actually your real problem lies not with cleanliness, but with a lack of confidence. Being obsessed with cleanliness is an attempt to cover for your lack of confidence. If not for this obsession, you would be obsessed with something else, such as repeatedly checking your windows to see if they are locked, or repeatedly looking at your watch to see the time.

Here is a helpful strategy you can use to overcome both your problem (lack of confidence) as well as its symptom (obsession with cleanliness). Whenever you wish to wash your hands or any of your dirty possessions, first stand or sit upright and take three deep but gentle breaths.

As you breathe in, think of good cosmic energy filling up your whole being. If you are religious, think of the strength of God, or the Buddha, or a Bodhisattva, or a Deity of your religion, flowing into you and making you strong. Then wash your hands or your possessions thoroughly but fast.

As you dry your hands or possessions, take another three deep but gentle breaths drinking in cosmic energy or the strength of the Supreme Being, and at the same time tell yourself that you have successfully accomplished your task (on this case, washing your hands or possessions clean). .

Every morning and evening or night, do the following simple but effective chi kung exercise. Stand upright and be relaxed. Take three deep but gentle breaths, drinking in cosmic energy or the strength of the Supreme Being. Then rub your palms together to warm them. Place your warm palms behind your back over your kidneys. Repeat the palm rubbing and kidneys warming about ten times. Your mouth should be gently open as your rub your palms and warm your kidneys.

You should not worry unnecessarily whether you are doing the exercise exactly right. So long as you follow the instructions respectfully, but not with any trepidation, you will derive benefits. In Chinese medical philosophy, a strong kidney system will give you confidence, and this exercise strengthens your kidneys.

Question 6

My physical appearance is not very pleasant, as I have many acnes which I can't seem to cure because of too much stress, which is only one of other factors causing acnes. My parents went to a Feng Shuii (Chinese astrology) master to spell out my future, not knowing I had these problems. The master says I'm a handsome young man, do very well in school, and when I grow up, I'll be rich and successful in business. That seems to make me feel a bit happier, but with the current condition I'm in right now, I don't think I'll have that kind of future.

Answer

You can improve your outward appearance remarkably by taking a shower, which will make you look fresh, combing your hair neatly, wearing your attire appropriately and cleanly, and putting on footwear suitable for the occasion. Regarding acnes, practicing chi kung can minimize the problem.

You should also carry yourself comfortably upright, irrespective of whether you are walking, standing or sitting down. Smile often. Smiling is one of the most wonderful ways to make any person look pleasant and welcome.

Besides improving your physical appearance, you should make your personality pleasant. Be kind and considerate to other people. Be kind and loving to your parents and your sister. If you can do just these two things, which are actually not difficult to do if you want to, you will certainly be a very pleasant person.

But the most important is to make your mind pleasant. This is again very simple, although not many people may know the secret. Think of pleasant thoughts, for yourself as well as for other people. The feng shui master your parents consulted on your behalf, has given you a good start. Think of yourself doing well in school (which is already true), growing into a handsome young man (which will be true if you make yourself physically, emotionally and mentally pleasant), and becoming rich and successful in business (which has a good chance to be true if you start your preparation now). I would like you to remember this. When you are rich, use your riches wisely and be kind to other people.

Question 7

These problems never occurred to me in my life before, until when I was 13 years old. I started getting paranoid about dirty things, and the situation became worse. Then it evolved into the problems I have now. I'm thinking that since I suffered a strong forceful punch to my chest so hard that every time I inhale, my chest hurts, maybe it was the root of my problems. It was during that time I truly understood what you meant when you said “a lot of phony masters these days attempt to teach their students how to fight just by letting their students spar without going through the proper and traditional methods prior to sparring.”

Answer

The root of your problems is not in your chest but in your mind. The cause of your problems is not the forceful punch but the way you think. We become what we think. If a person thinks of evil thoughts, he becomes evil. If he thinks of noble thoughts, he becomes noble. This is a great cosmic truth taught by masters since ancient times, and rediscovered by modern scientists recently.

Nevertheless, if your chest hurts every time you inhale, you should remedy this injury. The best is to consult a genuine chi kung master who can clear the blockage at the chest for you. The second best is to consult a good Chinese physician, such as a herbalist or an acupuncturist, who can overcome the chest problem for you. Conventional western doctors may not be suitable because energy blockage is not in their present vocabulary. You should tell your parents about your chest problem so that they will take you to consult a genuine chi kung master or a Chinese physician.

A third alternative is to overcome the chest problem by practicing “Lifting the Sky”. As you perform the exercise, breathe in softly and gently through your nose, and breathe out loudly but also gently through your mouth, which must be widely open for this particular purpose. Practice twice daily for a few months.

Question 8

Is it just me or am I a real failed person in life?

Answer

You are certainly not a failed person in life. Many teenagers have similar problems. The big difference is that you have the wisdom and courage to seek advice, and you are determined to be successful. You are just 15. Even if you were a failed person, you have a lot of time in front of you to make good your setback.

But the fact is that you are luckier than most people around the world. You live in the richest and most powerful country ever known in history. Although you may not agree with some of the things your government does, it is a responsible government dedicated to the welfare of its citizens as well as to freedom and human rights.

Such fundamental values essential for happiness are so taken for granted by many people in the United States, that they often forget how lucky they are. They also forget that these values are not God sent but acquired by their predecessors, both national leaders as well as common people, through their vision and hard work. There are still many countries today where the leaders may be fabulously rich but, despite the potential wealth of their countries, their people do not have enough to eat, and where critics are constantly afraid of being locked up by secret police.

Even in Malaysia which is prosperous by Asian standard, and where the government is also responsible, and dedicated to the welfare of its people as well as to freedom and human rights (no one in Malaysia, for example, is worried about being locked up by secret police), many young people your age have to work part time after school to supplement the income of their parents. Most of them do not have a room to themselves where they can play computer games.

This does not mean you should be complacent, but it gives you a better perspective of the favourable position you are in. Realizing your advantageous position over most other people in the world, would make you stop thinking of yourself as a failure. This shift of mental perspective is essential. From now on you should think of how lucky you are. And you should make full use of your good fortune by doing well and enjoying yourself in your studies and hobbies.

Standing Zen

Every movement or form in genuine Shaolin training is a training of mind and energy. Here during Standing Zen at an Intensive Qigong Course in Malaysia, Anthony Martin Spinicchia from the United States experiences spiritual joy as his spirit merges with the cosmos.

Question 9

I wonder if I practice genuine Shaolin Kungfu, Qigong, and Zen, will those arts help me to relieve myself of all these problems, as mentioned in your webpages? Will I become a better person in all aspects if I practice the genuine Shaolin arts? I don't think there's even one Kungfu school in America teaching what I consider as great Kungfu.

Answer

Yes, if you practice genuine Shaolin Kungfu, genuine Shaolin Qigong and genuine Zen, not only you will be relieved of all these problems, you will become a better person in all aspects, and have results so wonderful that you may not have thought possible. The crucial point here is “genuine”.

I do not mean your problems are not real or not serious, but if your purpose is just to overcome them, you do not even have to practice genuine Shaolin arts, or to learn personally from me. If you follow what I have advised above, which is much easier than practicing Shaolin Kungfu, you will be able to overcome your problems in a few months.

Genuine Shaolin Kungfu, Qigong and Zen are very rare in the world today. Even modern Shaolin monks (leaving aside the question whether they can be considered Shaolin monks as many of them openly eat meat and drink alcohol, and some of them have families) do not teach these arts.

What determine whether an art, any art, is genuine? Two main criteria are its forms and its results. To be genuine, the art must practice the form as it has been established by tradition, and produce the results as it has been traditionally known to produce. For example, the form of Shaolin Kungfu is characterized by certain stances and certain hand forms (which are well recorded in kungfu classics as well as on the murals at the Shaolin Temple today), and Shaolin Kungfu is well known for producing excellent results in combat efficiency, internal force and spiritual cultivation.

Hence, if an art uses forms typical of Taekwondo or Kickboxing, even if it is combat effective, it cannot be called genuine Shaolin Kungfu. On the other hand, if an art uses typical Shaollin Kungfu form, but is ineffective for combat, it cannot be called genuine Shaolin Kungfu too.

Deciding what is not genuine Shaolin Kungfu, like the two examples above, is relatively simple, but deciding what is genuine Shaolin Kungfu may not be so. If an art has typical Shaolin Kungfu forms and is combat effective (using those Shaolin forms), but has no training of internal force and no concept of spiritual cultivation, is that genuine Shaolin Kungfu? This is a difficult question for me.

The difficulty lies not in the answer itself, but in stating the answer clearly and concisely. I have a very clear idea of what genuine Shaolin Kungfu is, but due to the limitation of words, it is difficult to present the answer, or different answers for different specific situations, without causing confusion or resentment.

If I had to choose just “yes” or “no”, and nothing else, to the above question, my answer is “no”. To me it is not genuine Shaolin Kungfu because there is no internal force training and no spiritual cultivation. But this is not a good answer.

If asked the same question in a different situation, such as when I was shown a performance by three persons, the first demonstrated magnificent wushu but he could not defend himself, the second demonstrated effective combat but his form was that of Kickboxing, and the third demonstrated typical Shaolin form and he could use it for combat although he had no internal force and was agitated, my answer would be “yes”. But this, too, is not a good answer.

Basically, my concept of genuine kungfu, whether it may be Shaolin, Taijiquan, Wing Choon Hoong Ka or any other style, is that the practitioner can apply its form for combat. If he cannot, although he may fight well using Kickboxing or other techniques, I would not call that style genuine kungfu. This is plain logic, if we accept kungfu as a martial art. But, surprising though it may be on paper, in practice many practitioners, including some masters, insistently and often defiantly call their style genuine kungfu even when they cannot use their form for combat at all.

We are not contented with merely genuine kungfu, we want at least good genuine kungfu. As a working definition, “good” refers to whatever that brings benefits. In my opinion, the way much of martial art is being practiced today is “bad”, as it is harmful to the practitioners physically as well as psychologically. When a person harbours internal injury and tension in his daily life as a result of his martial art training, I would consider that “bad”. Besides providing combat efficiency, good genuine kungfu also gives good health (which includes being relaxed) and vitality for our daily work and play.

Above good kungfu is great kungfu, which not only gives the practitioners combat efficiency, good health and vitality, but also spiritual attainment. The greatest kungfu, like Shaolin and Taijiquan, leads the practitioners to the greatest spiritual attainment, called variously by different peoples as Enlightenment, attaining the Tao or returning to God.

Question 10

Is Western psychology that ineffective compared to the Shaolin arts when it comes to curing patients with mental disorder? Is it true that Western society consists of many stressed out people, including Eastern men educated in Western culture, like me?

Answer

I reckon that by “mental disorders” you mean psychological disorders and not neurological disorders. Psychological disorders refer to disorders of the psyche, which is also called mind, soul or spirit in different cultures. Neurological disorders refer to disorders of the brain and nerves. If the disorders are neurological, like a defect in the brain, Western medicine is effective in treating them.

If the disorders are psychological, in my opinion, Western medicine is at a loss because Western scientists (neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc) do not even have the conceptual framework and vocabulary to describe the disorders, let alone to understand them. Psychology started in the West as a study of the psyche, which is actually the meaning of the word “psychology”, but over the last two centuries, in their desire to be objective following the direction led by physicists, Western psychologists have forsaken the elusive mind for the physical brain.

In contrast, genuine Shaolin arts pay the utmost attention to the mind. Zen is mind training. Shaolin Kungfu and Shaolin Qigong started as a direct result of finding effective ways to develop the mind — a fact even some Shaolin Kimgfiu masters today may not realize. For instance, some masters accused me of mystifying kungfu, talking about topics like different levels of consciousness, multi-dimensional universe, and going to heaven. To them, Shaolin Kungfu is a fighting art at a purely physical level.

When one realizes that being relaxed and focussed (at the same time) is only the starting point of any Shaolin training, he will understand how advanced the genuine Shaolin arts are concerning mind. Yet, to be able to relax or to be focussed for even a short period of time is difficult for many people in the West.

You are right. Many people in the West, including Eastern people educated in Western culture, are stressful. To make matter worse, they have become stressful so frequently that it has become a habit. To many people in the West, to be stress-free is a luxury, forgetting that it is actually a natural state. In other words, if you do nothing, you will naturally be stress-free. One becomes stressful only when he tenses himself — physically, emotionally or mentally.

Being stressful and lacking spiritual training are the two most important, and related, causes of psychological disorders in the West today. I would like to clarify that spiritual training is training of the spirit, which is also called the mind, consciousness or psyche. It is non-religious, although it makes a religious person more devoted to his own religion because it confirms from direct experience the teachings of his religion.

In our Shaolin Wahnam School, right from the beginning every moment or form in our kungfu or qigong training is a training of mind and energy. For example, when you practice the Horse-Riding Stance, one of the first things you will do for some time when you learn from any of our Shaolin Wahnam kungfu instructors, you focus your mind and energy at your dan tian. When you perform “Lifting the Sky”, usually the first qigong pattern you will learn from any of our Shaolin Wahnam qigong instructors, you go into a higher level of consciousness and work on your energy flow.

From the Chinese medical perspective, which is very different from the Western medical perspective, psychological disorders like anxiety, fear and aggression, are disorders of the mind or psyche. The immediate causes and resulting symptoms may be many and varied, but fundamentally they are due to the mind being weak and the energy flow being blocked. If you strengthen your mind and enhance your energy flow by practicing genuine Shaolin arts, psychological disorders irrespective of the labels Western psychiatrists may give to the different symptoms, will go away.

An analogy will make this clear. Let us say you want to buy some new programmes to play computer games but you do not have enough money. The immediate causes and resulting symptoms may be many and varied. For example you may have spent money taking your girlfriend out, or buying a present for your parents. As a result you may look silly when your friends talk about the new computer games, or you may shout at your sister when she brings you coffee. Actually the basic problem is that your bank account is weak or your cash flow is blocked. Once you can enhance your bank account and cash flow, not only you can overcome your need of buying some new programmes but also other needs or fancies like buying flowers for your sister or inviting your friends to dinner.

Question 11

In Q&A April 2002 Part 2, you said that a finger strike was more deadly than a palm strike, a palm strike more deadly than a punch, and a punch more deadly than a kick. Can you please tell me why?

— Julie, Malaysia

Answer

For ordinary people, a kick is more powerful, and therefore more deadly, than a punch, a punch more powerful than a palm strike, and a palm strike more powerful than a finger strike. This is because ordinary people use mechanical, muscular strength produced by mass and momentum. The massive muscles of a kicking leg create more strength than a punch, but the tensed muscles of a punch create more strength than the relatively relaxed muscles of a palm, which in turn creates more strength than the relatively weak muscles of a finger.

But for a master with internal force, the amount of force created is reversed. For him, a finger strike is more powerful than a palm strike, which is more powerful than a punch, which in turn is more powerful than a kick. This is because internal force does not depend on mass and momentum to produce power as in the case of mechanical strength, but on the amount and smoothness of energy flow as well as the focus of the strike.

A leg tensing its muscles for a kick blocks more energy flow than a clench fist does, and therefore is less powerful when internal force is used. Similarly a clenched fist blocks more energy flow than a palm strike does, hence it is less powerful. On the other hand, channelling energy flow and focussing it on a spot is easier with a finger than with a palm, a punch or a kick, hence it is the most powerful.

Question 12

What is the difference between tiger claws, eagle claws and dragon claws?

Answer

The outward difference is in the shape of the claws. Dragon claws are generally more widely open, tiger claws less, and eagle claws least.

The applications are also different, though there is much overlapping. Dragon claws are generally used for tearing and piercing, whereas tiger claws and eagle claws for gripping. Bith tiger claws and eagle claws work on the opponents' vital points, but the tiger claws emphasize more on the points whereas the eagle claws more on the whole limbs.

The training methods are also different. Generally speaking, dragon claws are the “softest” (but they can be very powerful), tiger claws are “harder” (but not mechanical), and eagle claws are the “hardest” (but with internal force). A crucial training method of dragon claws is to absorb the energy of the rising sun, whereas that of tiger claws is to channel vital energy to the fingers, and that of eagle claws is to stimulate energy flow by finger-gripping.

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