February 2003 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

importance of stances

This is an inspiring photograph showing Wong Chun Yian and Björn Barnett sparring. They are Sifu Wong's son and Andrew Barnett's son respectively. This photograph was taken when Andrew Barnett, who is a Shaolin Kungfu and Chi Kung instructor of Shaolin Wahnam Switzerland, came to Malaysia with his family to attend an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course.


HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR

1st February 2003

Question 1

I saw the Chinese names of the Yang Style movements but there is a strange thing. They use numbers (1,2,3,4) after each name, for example qi3 shi4 (Beginning), lan2 que4 wei2 (Grasp the Bird's tail ), hai3 di3 zhen1 (Needle at Sea Bottom). What does that mean?

— Arash, Malaysia

Answer

Chinese is a tonal language. The same word has four tones, and its meaning is different when it is pronounced in different tones. This causes much difficulty to non-Chinese. The proverbial example is the word “ma”. When you want to introduce your mother to your friend, you may say, “Here is my ma”, but if you are not careful with the tone, you may mean “Here is my horse”!

To overcome this tonal problem in written Romanized Chinese, a number is placed behind the word to indicate its tone. Hence, “qi3 shi4” is pronounced in the third and fourth tone respectively, and it means “beginning pattern”. If you change the third tone of the first word to the second tone, thus the phrase becomes “qi2 shi4”, its meaning is changed to “strange things”!

To make matter worse, the same word with the same tone may have many meanings. For example, ”shi4” above means “pattern” in the first case, but “things” in the second. “Shi4” may also mean yes, time, practitioner, try, hall, city, and some others!

This is one main reason why the Chinese government's attempt to use Romanized Chinese instead of Chinese characters to keep up with modernization, was unsuccessful. If the many meanings of “shi” in its various tones are written in Chinese characters, each character is different from another, but then there will be the problems of sound and tonal values. This makes learning Chinese difficult, or interesting, depending on one's attitude.

Question 2

Yang Style Taijiquanis is now so popular and there is no problem, but I am confused about Wudang Taijiquan. I checked the internet and found that pictures of Wudang Taijiquan were similar to pictures of Yang Style. Is it true?

Answer

It depends on our perspective. The patterns of Wudang Taijiquan are similar to those of Yang Style Taijiquan because both are Taijiquan patterns. Yang Style was developed from Chen Style, which in turn was developed from Wudang Taijiquan.

Some patterns are found in both styles, though their names are different. For example, “Little Priest Open Mountains” and “Ape Pulls Rope” in Wudang Taijiquan are similar to “Jade Girl Threads Shuttle” and “Repulse Monkey”.

On the other hand, there are patterns found in one style but not in the other. For example, “Lion Opens Mouth” and “Black Bear Shakes Tree” in Wudang Taijiquan are not found in Yang Style. Interestingly, “Single Whip”, which is a characteristic pattern of Yang Style Taijqiaun, is not found in Wudang Taijiquan.

importance of stances

Dan and Ronan, who are Shaolin Wahnam kungfu instructor and assistant instructor in England, engage in free sparring where movements are not pre-aranged. Notice they use typical Shaolin stances. Sifu Wong looks on at the back.

Question 3

I found waves of numbness moving from my dan tian to my hands when I exhale. I felt very good. There was also numbness in my fingers and even in my arms. Is this the correct way for feeling chi? How do I upgrade it?

Answer

Yes, the feeling of numbness is an indication of chi. “Numbness” is not a good word to describe this feeling, because it has an unfavorable connotation. Perhaps we may say your arms and hands are soaked with energy, and your fingers are charged.

You can upgrade the effect by using correct breathing, but this has to be taught by a master. If you practice on your own, it is better to leave aside special breath control, and just breathe naturally. You still can get good results this way.

You will get even better result if you relax and think of nothing when you perform you Taijiquan set. Just enjoy your practice. After you have completed the set, bring your feet together and stand upright and be totally relaxed. Do not think of anything or do anything. Keep your eyes gently close and your mouth gently open.

Soon you may find yourself swaying gently. This gentle swaying is the result of your internal chi flow. Enjoy the sway for a few minutes.

Then come to a standstill. Rub you palms together and use your palms to warm your eyes as you open your eyes. Walk about briskly and complete the exercise. You will upgrade your effect many times if you follow these simple instructions.

Question 4

Is it possible for me to be your student? It is a great hope in my life. Let me say again :thank you, thank you, thank you.

Answer

You are welcome to learn from me. The best way is to attend my Intensive Taijiquan Course. Please check my website to find out the dates when such a course is offered.

If you have some prior Taijiquan experience and are prepared to work hard, you can learn quite a lot of things in the five-day course. For example, you will be able to generate energy flow, develop internal force and understand combat application.

jeffdarryl03

Lucas and Chun Yian observe each other at their stances before moving in for combat. Stances are important in all styles of kungfu.

Question 5

Sifu, here are the questions raised from a discussion forum. I am embarrassed by their rudeness and insulting remarks. For them to call you “WKK” or call you a fraud is hard for me to take sitting down after all you have done for me and for martial arts. Please except my apologies for them, as they do not know what they are doing.

— Dan, United Kingdom

Answer

As I have often said, I do not want to waste time over people who are rude or who ask not because they want to know but because they just want to find fault. I have a backlog of a few months of questions from people who are sincere and who appreciate my answers. I would spend my time more rewardingly answering these questions.

Nevertheless, I would answer some of the questions you have submitted from the discussion forum as the answers will benefit many other people. But before this, I would like to share some cosmic truths.

We need not be angry at their rudeness or insults, we should feel pitiful for them. Indeed it is a pity that due to their bad karma they were unable to benefit even when benefits were placed right under their nose.

There is nothing superstitious or mysterious about karma, which basically means cause and effect. One major reason for their bad karma was their misconstruing facts, wittingly or unwittingly.

For example, a Shaolin Wahnam student mentioned that he recommended a cancer patient to learn chi kung from me, but the patient didn't and later died. Yet a main spokesman from the discussion group could go to the extent of repeatedly saying that we (meaning all of Shaolin Wahnam) claimed that if cancer patients did not learn from us, they would die! Such witting or unwitting distortion brought bad karma to him.

If the distortion was made unwittingly, his mind was dull. If it was made wittingly, he was malicious. Either way it was bad for him, causing him to miss benefits which he could have, had he been clear minded or kind hearted.

Let us briefly see how karma works for those who are dull minded or malicious. I took pains to explain the three types of wisdom according to Mahayana philosophy (please see Question and Answer series for January 2003 Part 1 )which could help them to overcome much of their confusion.

Instead of taking advantage of this explanation passed down to us by past masters and which I summarized for them in a few paragraphs, they chose to give advice as if they were experts on topics which they did not have any direct experience, such as sparring using kungfu patterns and internal force from chi cultivation! Had they understood the three types of wisdom, they would realize what they conceptualized as kungfu and internal force would be different from what you conceptualized.

Then, they would not insistently tell you that sparring with kungfu patterns was impossible — when you are actually doing that in most of your kungfu training! They could be awakened from their delusion, realizing what they practiced was not kungfu as they could not use it to defend themselves. They might still want to continue their training for other reasons, but at least they would now do so with better understanding.

Those with dull or malicious minds would be unable to benefit from others' experience, because they would misconstrue sincere intentions to help as attempts to run them down, forgetting that they were the ones to ask for advice in the first place. So, why should you “play music to buffaloes”, a Chinese proverb meaning why should you waste your energy on those who do not appreciate your help.

Question 6

The students of a modern Shaolin monk say that they do not read the Yi Jin Jing but practice it as Chi Kung, and that the translation of the word Jing as Classic is erroneous and that the Yi Jin Jing is a Sutra, or an example of ‘Action Meditation'. Perhaps you would care to comment, Sifu?

Answer

In this context, “jing” means a classic. Two other famous examples of “jing” are “Nei Jing” and “Dao De Jing” (Tao Te Ching), which are “The Inner Classic of Medicine” and the “Taoist Classic of the Way and Virtue”.

A sutra is also a classic. “Sutra” is a Sanskrit word, “jing” is Chinese, and “classic” is English. They are different words, or sounds, for the same concept. In the same way, “bahasa” is Sanskrit, “wen” is Chinese, and “language” is English; or “Buddha” is Sanskrit, “Fo” is Chinese, and “The Enlightened One” is English.

Nevertheless, Yi Jin Jing is a set of chi kung exercises, and not a sutra as the term is normally understood by people in general and Buddhists in particular. To say that Yi Jin Jing is a sutra (because of the word “Jing”) is like saying that “Xiao Hung Quan” is a fist (because of the word “quan”) instead of a kungfu set it actually is; or that a “bull's-eye" is an eye of a bull instead of a central point of a target.

If those students regard Yi Jin Jing as an example of “action meditation”, which it can be, then they should not regard it as a sutra. Doing so is an indication of their lack of understanding the difference between knowledge and experience, and between teaching and cultivation.

A sutra is a body of wisdom and teaching, which is philosophically and methodologically different from a set of chi kung exercises or of action meditation which is a process of experience and cultivation. For example, the Heart Sutra or the Tao Te Ching represents a body of wisdom recorded in words explaining the teaching of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva or of Lao Tzu respectively.

The teaching is a guide. Understanding the teaching alone will not enable an aspirant to be awakened or enlightened. To attain an awakening or enlightenment, he must cultivate and experience.

For example, the fundamental teaching in the Heart Sutra is that form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. This is the philosophy pointing to cosmic wisdom. To experience that form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, the aspirant has to cultivate. There are many expedient means for cultivation. He may practice Yi Jin Jing, or he may practice sitting meditation, or he may recite mantras. This is the experience leading to cosmic wisdom.

jeffdarryl03

Dr Damain and Sifu Wong are engaged in sparring. They use typical kungfu patterns and stances.

Question 7

Sifu, in one post Arhat said “I'm looking to be a part of a spiritual tradition that is as close as possible to the source of Ch'an. WKK doesn't offer that, and basically says as much in his answers.”

I believe as a Shaolin successor of one of the last of the Shaolin monks and with such a very short lineage, you are very close to the source of Ch'an Buddhism. I thought that the clear break in the modern Shaolin monks' lineage during the Ching dynasty would mean that there was also an interruption in the teaching of the Dharma at the temple. Please can you give your opinions on this?

Answer

You are right, Dan. It is indeed remarkable that although about 150 years separated us and the burning of the southern Shaolin Temple when the last of the traditional Shaolin monks escaped, we are only four generations away, when most other lineages may have ten to fifteen generations. This short generation gap in the lineage despite the long time in between, accounts for the fact that what we practice today is very close to what was practiced at the Shaolin Temple

Another important factor was that our first patriarch from the Ho Fatt Nan lineage, the Venerable Jiang Nan, was a missionary, rather than a revolutionary. His main aim was to preserve the Shaolin arts for personal development, rather than to teach fighting skills meant to overthrow the Manchurian government. This has a great influence on the way we train our Shaolin arts, resulting that Zen (Ch'an) forms an integral part of our training.

On the other hand, while the southern Shaolin Temple was burnt down, the northern Shaolin Temple remained until 1928 when it was burnt by Republican warlords. It was restored by the present Chinese government in the 1970s. Hence for about 50 years there were no Shaolin Temples.

However, the interruption of Zen teaching in the Shaolin tradition in China itself might even be longer, because since a Ming emperor built another Shaolin Temple in the south, the focus of both Shaolin Kungfu and Zen was at the southern rather than the northern Shaolin Temple. As the Ming emperors stayed in the south, the southern Shaolin Temple became the imperial temple.

When the Ching Dynasty replaced the Ming Dynasty, the Ching emperors patronized the northern Shaolin Temple, but it did not have the same prominence as before because unlike the Ming emperors who were Zen Buddhists, the Ching (Manchurian) emperors were Vajrayana Buddhists. A Ching emperor built another imperial temple in Bejing, known as Yong He Temple, sometimes called the Little Potala because it followed the model of the Potala in Tibet.

During the time of the first Republic, which replaced the Ching Dynasty in 1911, the northern Shaoljn Temple was either neglected or deserted. Then a warlord, escaping from his rival, retreated to the deserted temple. The rival warlord attacked and burned the temple in 1928.

During the early part of the People's Republic of China, which replaced the first Chinese Republic in 1949, practicing any traditional arts, including kungfu, chi kung and Zen cultivation, was discouraged and in some cases even prosecuted. The ruling Communists considered these arts bourgeois. The worst period was during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s, when practicing anything traditional was regarded as counter-revolutionary, the worst crime in China at that time.

For a time many people, including many kungfu exponents, thought the Shaolin Temple was just a myth. When I was a child, I loved to hear kungfu stories about folk heroes like Hoong Hei Khoon, Foong Sai Yoke and Sam Tuck Who Seong. We knew they practiced Shaolin Kungfu, but no one knew where the Shaolin Temple was. Later when I myself learned Shaolin Kungfu, even my sifu, Uncle Righteousness, was unsure whether the Shaolin Temple was real or a myth.

It was indeed a great joy when the Chinese government restored the northern Shaolin Temple in the 1970s, and later opened China to the world. Since then, the Chinese government has reversed its earlier policy. It promotes chi kung and wushu (the Chinese word for kungfu) actively, and practices religious freedom.

With this historical background, one can see that you are right to say there was a clear break in the modern Shaolin monks' lineage during the Ching dynasty as well as the subsequent periods until the 1970s. On the other hand, as our lineage can be traced continuously to the Venerable Jiang Nan, who was the last of the traditional Shaolin monks, we can reasonably say that as our Shaolin tradition is unbroken and as Shaolin is the source of Ch'an, our spiritual tradition is not just “as close as possible to the source of Ch'an”, ours is Ch'an, or Zen as it is more popularly known. Whether Arhat agrees is his business.

Notwithstanding this, having an unbroken lineage is one thing, but believing in and practicing Zen is another. Those who wish to understand the philosophy and practice of Zen are requested to read my book “The Complete Book of Zen”. It is written in the Shaolin tradition. Some brief information on Zen can be found at FAQ on Zen. The following is a very brief description of the philosophy and practice of Zen I offer in our Shaolin Wahnam training.

Zen (Ch'an) is spiritual, but not religious. It means that anyone of any religion, or of no official religion, can practice and benefit from Zen training. The highest aim is to attain Enlightenment, called variously by different peoples as returning to God, attaining the Tao, or just returning Home. We are serious about it, we do not merely say this for fun or for impressing others.

But we also realize that most people are not ready for, or even interested in, this highest, most noble aim. Most people, therefore, will practice Zen for lesser aims or objectives, such as having good health and vitality, getting the most from our work and play, and leading a meaningful, rewarding life for ourselves and for other people. Yet, we know that when we are ready, we shall strive for the highest, most noble attainment.

Our practice to attain our aims and objectives are guided by the three characteristics of Zen, namely simplicity, directness and effectiveness. If our objective is to experience some internal force, for example, we shall choose a technique or method that is simple, direct and effective, such as “Pushing Mountains”.

The technique is bafflingly simple, basically it consists of pushing the hands forward and bringing them back with appropriate breathing. We would not worry, for example, about such complexities like how internal force is developed, or why we push mountains and not clouds, or is it Buddhist or Taoist in origin. While it is simple, it may not be easy for other people (though it is also easy for us), and the result can be very profound.

The technique chosen is directly related to our objective in mind. We would not, for example, jog for a few miles or carry weights, for that would deplete our energy instead of increasing it for our internal force. Our approach to the technique as well as the actual activity in the technique itself are also direct. For example, we do not need to warm up, or perform extraneous movements.

We choose the most effective technique available to us, and measure its effectiveness or otherwise with direct reference to our set objectives or general aims. We do not wait for years, or even months to feel the effect of our training. Usually we feel the effect immediately! This is what we mean by effectiveness.

Arhat may not believe this, thinking that internal force takes a long time to develop. He may then count this as another of my fraudulent claims, as he often insinuated in the discussion forum in question. He is right in thinking that internal force takes time to develop. Those who use “water-buffalo” methods may take ten or twenty years, but those who use “smart” methods can develop reasonable internal force in a year or two.

But this is not the point here; the point is that if we use a very effective method and do it correctly, we can feel internal force immediately. If we use a right method but do it wrongly, or use an inappropriate method but do it correctly, we may not feel any internal force at all even if we have practiced for many years. Even when we feel internal force immediately, we still need time for it to accumulate before it can be reasonably strong.

Almost everyone who attended my Intensive Chi Kung Course, Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, or Intensive Taijiquan Course felt internal force immediately after performing an exercise like “Pushing Mountains”, “Golden Bridge” or “Lifting Water”. Asking us to prove it scientifically, as Arhat frequently insisted was the only way to prove whether a claim was true or false, is difficult or inappropriate.

Then how do we know we have internal force? We know from direct experience, as well as by other means like applying the internal force to perform certain tasks. In similar ways we know we are happy, or we have thinking ability. We know this is true not from scientific proofs, but from direct experience or by applying our happiness or thinking ability to situations or tasks.

If Arhat is a Zen (Ch'an) cultivator, he should (but not necessarily does) know that there are many things in Zen where scientific tests are simply not appropriate. Whether eating your meal when you are hungry, or drinking some tea when you are thirsty can or cannot lead to a spiritual awakening, for example, cannot be tested or proved by science. Arhat may not know, or believe, that even some ordinary Zen cultivators saw through walls, but he should have heard that the great Bodhdharma crossed the Yangtze River on a reed. These acts would not be easy for science to prove or disprove.

This, of course, does not mean Zen cultivators do not value science, or should believe blindly whatever is mentioned in Zen. But as a Zen cultivator, one should not concertedly ridicule beliefs that are traditionally accepted in Zen or other spiritual cultivations, even he may not personally believe in them, such as distant healing, multi-dimensional universe, power of mind over matter — beliefs which mediocre scientists sneer at but far-sighted scientists are beginning to appreciate. If Arhat reads my book, “The Complete Book of Zen”, he would hopefully understand why a blind reliance on science or on the intellect may obstruct an awareness of the supramundane.

Arhat and a few others were offered an opportunity to test my claims from direct experience, which is characteristic of Zen, without any expenses if they were dissatisfied, and to debunk me if they found my claims false. Instead of making good use of the opportunity, which is another characteristic of Zen, he concluded that the falsehood of my claims was so obvious that it was unnecessary to test, an attitude that was uncharacteristic of Zen and also unscientific, and he concertedly insinuated, by name, that I was fraudulent and cheated students' money.

Arhat and those like him would not have such an opportunity again. Even if they wanted to, I would not want them to be my students, or my students' students. Why? In terms of our Ten Shaolin Laws, they are simply not deserving. Then, why would I answer this question in such details. The answer is mainly for other people who may benefit from it.

Question 8

Sifu, many people have expressed their disbelief that traditional Shaolin stances can be used in real combat. They insist that the stances are for teaching principles and ideas and for conditioning and strengthening the legs, but in real combat one would be foolish to resort to such stances and would be soundly beaten if they did. Can you give me your opinions on the use of stances in combat, why they are important, and any examples from your own experience of combat or that of your masters?

Answer

If we examine kungfu literature, we shall find practically all kungfu masters in the past, irrespective of their styles, mentioned that stances were very important. There is a kungfu saying in Cantonese as follows, “mei lien kwun, seen chiat ma”, which means “before you start to learn kungfu, first you must spend time on stance training.”

There is another saying, “mei lien kwun keok, seen hok chiat ma; mei lien kung fu, seen hok thit ta”, which means “before you practice kungfu techniques, you must learn the stances; before you train to develop kungfu force, you must learn kungfu medicine”.

Many kungfu classics, like “Secrets of Shaolin Kungfu”, “Unarmed Combat, Knife, Sword and Staff of Taijiquan”, and “The Genuine Transmission of Pakua Kungfu”, gave explanation on the philosophy, methods and benefits of stance training. Over the centuries different names have been used for stance training, such as “di pan”, “zhan zhuang”, “ma bo” and “chiat ma”

Why are stances so important? It is because they are excellent for developing force and effective for combat application, the twin pillars of kungfu training.

Those who insist that the stances are only for teaching principles and ideas and for conditioning and strengthening the legs, are ignorant of the philosophy and practice of kungfu, and also ignorant of the teachings of traditional masters. Conditioning and strengthening the legs is only a minor benefit of stance training. If that is the main objective, there are other more effective methods, like “Three Levels to Ground” and “Dancing Crane”.

The main function of stance training in force development is to accumulate internal force. The main function of the stances in combat application is to secure the best technical, tactical and strategic advantages. They are also other important functions, like focusing the mind, entering a deeper level of consciousness, solidness and agility.

Did those people mention what principles or ideas are taught through the stances? Here, they exhibit their mistake of confusing between teaching and practice, between knowledge and cultivation. Principles and ideas are teaching meant to increase our knowledge. They are different from, and meant to help us in cultivation which leads to practical benefits.

For example, being solid and agile at the same time is an idea. Focusing chi at the dan tian to attain solidness, and employing flowing chi to move physical form for speed and agility are the principles. You may learn the idea and principles in five minutes, but you will need at least a few months, if you use smart methods, to actually attain solidness and agility.

Those who use buffalo methods, like doggedly performing stances in solo routine, thinking that the stances teach them principles and ideas but without knowing what these principles and ideas are, then throwing away their stances to bounce about when in combat, would not attain much solidness and agility even if they train for many years, simply because there is no relationship between their method and their objectives. In other words, they have no vision and no direction. As mentioned earlier, we won't call that “training”, we call it a waste of time.

Isn't it ridiculous? We in Shaolin Wahnam have spent much of our training time in combat application where I always emphasize the crucial importance of stances, where I often explain that the effectiveness of a particular response is due more to the stance than to the technique involved. Some random examples from our combat sequences are “Golden Dragon Plays with Water”, “Dark Dragon Draws Water”, “Hiding Flower in Sleeves”, “Uprooting Tree”, and “Lohan Tames Tiger”.

My masters, Uncle Righteousness and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, lived at a time when challenges and real fights were common. I was too young then for Uncle Righteousness to tell me stories of his combat experiences, but I can easily remember the great importance he placed on stances in our kungfu training, and I am very grateful to him for that. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam told me many stories. One particular story where the stances were crucial and which I benefited a lot, is as follows.

A Japanese master specially flew in from Japan to test my master. While they were walking back from an outpost to the office, the Japanese master put an arm round my master as if they were old friends. In reality he wanted to throw my master onto the ground. He attempted many times but failed.

I asked, “Sifu, why didn't you give him an elbow jab? That would frustrate his attempts right at the start.” He replied smilingly, “You don't do that to a guest who flew in from faraway to see you, don't you?” “Then, what did you do, Sifu?” “Simple,” he said, “chow ma won pou”, which in Cantonese means “move your stances and change your footwork”. Years later, using that principle I could effectively avoid my opponents' attempts to throw me.

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