June 2003 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Grasping Sparrow's Tail

Kungfu forms, including the stances, are what they are for combat reasons. In the photograph above, the effectiveness of Sifu Wong's attack is due to a great part to his good form, including his Single-Leg Stance. It is alarming that today many kungfu practitioners, including some masters, believe that the kungfu forms are not meant for combat.

Question 1

The ultimate aim of Shaolin Kung Fu is to achieve enlightenment, and the ultimate aim of Taijiquan is to return to the void. Are the two aims compatible or the same thing?

— Maurice, United Kingdom

Answer

The two aims are the same thing.

To be enlightened means to be free from cosmic ignorance. In Buddhist teaching, due to ignorance a person sees cosmic reality which is undifferentiated, as the phenomenal world which is differentiated into countless entities. Once ignorance is cleared, i.e. when one attains Enlightenment, he will experience cosmic reality as it really is, where everything is one and where the knower is also the known.

In Taoist teaching, originally there is the Great Void where there is no differentiation. Due to the innate features of yin and yang, the Great Void is transformed into countless entities in the phenomenal world. When one attains the Tao, he will transcend the phenomenal world and experiences reality as the Great Void which is devoid of all differentiated entities.

In Western terms, attaining Enlightenment or returning to the Great Void is the same as returning to God. Here, God refers to the Holy Spirit, which is omniscient and omnipresent. Attaining Enlightenment, returning to the Great Void or returning to God is of a higher level than going to heaven. It is the highest attainment any one can achieve.

It is understandable that many people today, including most of those who practice Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, do not believe in these aims. When many practitioners do not even believe that Shaolin forms can be used for combat, or internal force is a fact in Taijiquan, you can realize how outlandish it is to them to say that the ultimate aims of these great martial arts are to attain Enlightenment and to return to the Great Void.

But we at Shaolin Wahnam earnestly believe in these aims, though most of us are also not ready to devote our full time to their realization yet. Nevertheless, we are inspired and grateful to know that our arts can lead us to our greatest achievement if and when we are ready. Meanwhile we realize that while the phenomenal world we live in is an illusion (when viewed from the transcendental perspective), we make the best and noble use of our phenomenal life while we are here, and the arts we diligently practice everyday serve our purposes exceedingly well.

Question 2

One of my teachers has said that rotating and flexing the spine is the most important aim of Qigong and Taijiquan practice to generate internal energy. I have practiced Qigong with a few other teachers and not concentrated so much on spine movement, but felt more energy than with the spine movements. Am I performing the moves incorrectly, or perhaps concentrating too much on the movement of the spine and not enough on the energy flow, or is the advice incorrect? Perhaps the other teachers were transmitting more energy?

Answer

Different teachers teach differently, and the standard achieve is also different. When one of your teachers said that rotating and flexing the spine is the most important, he is referring to his method and system. In his method and system, if students do not rotate and flex their spine, they may not be able to generate any energy.

But other methods and systems taught by other teachers may be different. In these methods and systems rotating and flexing the spine may or may not be important. Even if they are important, the energy generated may not be as much as if the students do not rotate and flex their spine.

Hence, if you can generate more energy by not rotating and flexing your spine, it does not necessarily mean that you were not performing those exercises correctly where you had to rotate and flex your spine, or due to some other reasons.

In our Shaolin Wahnam school, for example, when we perform “Embracing the Buddha” we have to rotate the spine, and when we perform “Carrying the Moon” we have to flex the spine. When we perform “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” in our Wahnam Taijiquan, we have to rotate and flex our spine. Presuming all other things being equal, if we do not rotate or flex our spine in the above exercises, we would not be effective in generating internal energy. However while performing “Flicking Fingers” in Sinew Metamorphosis, we do not need to rotate or flex the spine, yet the amount of internal energy generated is much more.

Question 3

I have been practicing the Choy Gar (Choy Ka) style for almost 6 years. But there is something missing. My old Sifu was 90 years old when I met him and he didn`t speak too much Spanish and my Cantonese is really bad, so I have never been able to learn about Choy Gar`s history and I think history is as important for a kung fu practitioner as the roots are for a tree. So I would appreciate if you could send me some info about Choy Gar Kungfu.

— Carlos, Cuba

Answer

Choy Ka Kungfu is one of the five well known southern styles named after the surnames of their respective great masters. The other four styles are Hoong Ka, Lau Ka, Li Ka and Mok Ka.

“Ka” in Cantonese means “Family”. Hence, Choy Ka Kungfu means Choy Family Kungfu. After the burning of the southern Shaolin Monastery (probably the one at Jiu Lian Shan, or Nine-Lotus Mountain) by the Qing army about 150 years ago, Southern Shaolin Kungfu spread to Guangdong Province. To avoid the attention of the Qing government, the Southern Shaolin Kungfu taught by many masters was not named “Shaolin Kungfu”, but named afer the surnames of the masters.

The names of three Southern Shaolin masters were connected with the founding of Choy Ka Kungfu, namely Choy Pa Tat, Choy Kow Yi and Choy Fook. There is no clear cut conclusion who among these three masters was the first to teach and pass down Choy Ka Kungfu to posterity, but personally I think he was Choy Pak Tat. It was also likely that there were actually three versions of Choy Ka Kungfu, transmitted by these three masters, and since all the three were from Southern Shaolin, the three versions of Choy Ka Kungfu were similar.

Choy Ka Kungfu is well known for its kicks, especially its Organ-Seeking Kicks, its agility and its phoenix-eye fist. The stances are generally short. The Four-Six Stance, usually called the Triangle Stance, is widely used. Traditional Choy Ka kungfu sets include “Sap Tze Khuen” (Cross-Road Set), “Tai Wen Thien” (Great Cosmic Circulation), “Siew Wen Thien” (Small Cosmic Circulation), “Thien Phin Ngan” (Horizon Bird), and “Lau Shuei Mui” (Willow-Miscellaneous-Plum).

Grasping Sparrow's Tail

If one practices Taijiquan but does not know about internal force or how to defend himself, he would have missed the two fundamental benefits of practicing an internal martial art. Such a practice, where students do not get the benefits the art is purported to give, is misguided. In the photograph above, Sifu Wong is about to apply the “peng” technique in “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”, a typical Taijiquan pattern, to defend against an attack from Goh Kok Hin.

Question 4

I've being considering the possibility of starting a new training routine using high weights, meaning I will train carrying large amounts of weight, mainly to jump higher and get faster. But, before doing this, I'd like to consult someone as wise as you Sifu and ask the following: It's obvious that such training will injure my body, but is it possible that chi kung training canreverse the negative effects on my body? If not, could I humbly ask you Sifu to indicate me a better way to achieve the same goals?

— Gabriel, USA

Answer

Since you know that such training with large amounts of weight will injure your body, why should you want to do so? In the past when the means justified the ends, like when someone wished to restore his family name or to take revenge for some grave injustice, he might sacrifice his own well-being to attain his objectives. But today when martial art training is usually undertaken as a hobby, it is unlikely that your means justify your ends.

Depending on various factors, like the level of your chi kung training and the severity of the harm done, chi kung training may minimize some, most or even all the negative effects on your body. Even if it could minimize all your harmful effects, it is still not worthwhile to continue with your planned training programme. You would end up wasting your time.

A better way to achieve the same goals is to reverse your perspectives. Your present perspective is to train hard with weights, injure yourself, then practice chi kung to minimize harmful effects. Reverse the perspective as follows. First train chi kung diligently to build up your potential. Then add weights gradually in your running and jumping exercises. The process of adding weights must be gradual, and you must always leave a huge buffer region between you actual performance and your potential capability.

For example if your current potential ability is to run a mile in 5 minutes carrying 20 pound weights without feeling tired or out of breath, do not attempt the next day to run a mile in 3 minutes carrying 30 pound weights. Continue running the mile in 5 minutes carrying the 20 pound weights for some time until you can comfortably run 2 miles in the same time carrying the same weights.

Then add 2 pounds, which means you carry 22 pound weights, and run a mile (not 2 miles) in 5 minutes. You will probably find this easier than running 2 miles in 5 minutes carrying 20 pound weights. Gradually add 2 pounds after every few days of training until you carry 30 pound weights, and running a mile in 5 minutes.

Keep running with the same 30 pound weights in the same five minutes, but adding a short distance after every three or four days so that eventually you can run comfortably for 2 miles carrying 30 pound weights in 5 minutes. Then gradually add 2 pounds after every few days.

In this way, after some time of consistent training, you may be able to carry a hundred pounds and run a mile in 5 minutes without feeling tired or out of breath. If you take the hundred pounds off your body, you will be able to run much faster.

Question 5

I would like to sleep less during the day and accomplish more with my time. I have nevermeditated before and all of this is very new to me. I am also a very heavy sleeper and usually sleep nine hours a day. Would you please recommend some books to me that will teach me how to do chi sleep successfully? Also, would you please include your own advice and instruction regarding how I can do chi sleep?

— Hisham, USA

Answer

Sleeping is nature's way of charging you with cosmic energy. When you practice chi kung, especially high level chi kung, you can do the energy charging yourself while still awake. Hence you will need less sleep, and can produce more and better work, because you have more energy as well as a clearer mind. Such a result is common amongst my chi kung and kungfu students.

However, it is not advisable to purposely sleep less just because you practice chi kung. Let your sleeping less comes naturally. Do not force the effect on yourself.

Reading gives you knowledge. Practicing gives you skills. You may enrich your knowledge of chi kung by reading good chi kung books. As far as I know, there are no books that will teach you how to “chi sleep” successfully, because this is not recommended by chi kung masters. If you practice chi kung well, sleeping less and producing more will be an evitable result. Practicing chi kung well requires skills, not just knowledge. And skills need to be learnt personally from a master or a competent instructor.

Question 6

I am considering practicing some basic qigong techniques for purposes of maintaining mental clarity and good health. However I have heard warnings that practicing improper qigong is very dangerous to one's health.

— Chang, Malaysia

Answer

It is true that practicing improper qigong (chi kung) is dangerous to one's health, but he should not be over-concerned with this warning. If he follows the instructions respectfully, he should be quite safe and should derive good results after some diligent and regular practice.

But first of all he should ascertain that the instructor or the book he learns from is genuine. Learning from false instructors or books, especially when they are mistakenly regarded by the public as authorities, is often a waste of time and sometimes can be very dangerous.

A student reported to me that in his country there was a TV programme conducted by a so-called qigong master who taught qigong over TV and directed his audience to visualized different colours of qi (chi) entering their body from the ground. This could be very dangerous.

Another student reported to me that a well-known qigong master told his students not to look at people or things because this would cause the students' qi to be drained away. Even common sense will tell us that such advice is ridiculous. If you cannot even look at other people or things, why do you practice qigong then? These two masters were regarded as authorities in their respective countries.

If so-called authorities can give such bad advice, how would you obtain information about genuine qigong? A good way is to consult masters who have been known to produce good results, or read books that many qigong practitioners recommend.

By “genuine” I mean knowledge or practice that will give the benefits that that knowledge or practice is purported to give. As a working guideline, genuine qigong works on energy, and brings health and vitality.

Genuine qigong can be low-level or high-level. For our purpose here, low-level qigong takes a long time to produce little result, such as some feeling of qi along the arms after practicing for a few years. High-level qigong produces remarkable result after a relatively short time, such as overcoming a so-called incurable disease like asthma after practicing for a few months.

Stance Training

The technique of Zhan Zhuang, or stance training, is simple but it is a very powerful exercise, and may cause serious adverse effects if practice incorrectly. One important point in Zhan Zhuang which many self-taught students may not realize, is that the energy accumulated in the training must be “alive”, and not stagnant.

Question 7

With your expertise in the area could you list some general warning signs of misguided practice so novices like myself to know whether or not we are headed in the right direction?

Answer

The most obvious sign of misguided practice is not obtaining results that the practice is purported to give. This is so obvious and so logical, yet an overwhelming majority of those who practice qigong, as well as kungfu or wushu today, especially in China, are guilty of this mistake. The majority of these qigong and wushu practitioners, including their masters, have no experience of qi and no ability of using their wushu to defend themselves at all, though some of them may be formidable fighters using techniques of other martial systems.

Another tell-tale sign is ignorance. Misguided qigong and kungfu practitioners, for example, are ignorant of why being relaxed is essential in developing internal force, and why stances are important for combat. Those who practice genuine qigong and genuine kungfu know this from their direct experience.

Interestingly, a third sign of misguided practice is arrogance. Ignorance and arrogance often go together. For example, in our discussion forum some inquirers asked what internal force was. Many who have experienced internal force, including non-Shaolin Wahnam members, patiently described what it was. Yet an inquirer still insisted that there was no evidence of internal force, implying that those who had described their experience to him and all internal force masters throughout the centuries were liars, and demanded that internal force masters should (presumably go to his house and) demonstrate internal force to him.

Related to misguided practice is incorrect practice, which is probably what you meant in your question. In misguided practice, the method is wrong, and one may correctly or incorrectly practice the wrong method. If he practices the wrong method correctly (i.e. he practices it correctly the way it is wrongly taught) he may not have the desired results the art is purported to give, but usually he may also not have harmful effects. If he practices the wrong method incorrectly, not only he may not have the purported result, but he may also have adverse effects.

In incorrect practice, the method is right but one practices the right method incorrectly. Of course he may also practice a misguided method incorrectly. If he practices the right method correctly, he will have the desired results the practice is purported to give. If he practices the right method wrongly, not only he does not have the desired results, he may have harmful effects.

Hence, incorrect practice brings harmful effects, irrespective of whether the method itself is right or wrong. The interesting paradox in qigong is that incorrect practice of a right method is often more harmful than incorrect practice of a wrong method. The reason is that when a qigong method is right, the effects — whether desired or harmful — are more potent.

As in the case of misguided practice, the most logical sign of incorrect practice although practitioners may not be aware of it, is that they do not receive the desired effects that the art is purported to give.

The most obvious sign of incorrect practice that practitioners are aware of is pain or other forms of unpleasantness. If you practice qigong correctly, you should feel fresh and pleasant. If you feel otherwise, it is imperative to check if the practice is correct.

Nevertheless, there is what we call “good pain”, which is an indication that the qi generated in the practice is attempting to break through blockage or clear rubbish. You need to experience it to be able to tell the difference between good pain and bad pain, just as you need to eat an orange to tell whether its sour taste is because the orange is good or bad.

A third sign of incorrect practice is deteriorating health, both physically and emotionally. Practicing qigong is to make you healthy or reduce your pain and suffering, but if you find that your practice makes you worse, you should check for incorrect practice.

Question 8

Since I have no living instructor to teach me I am trying to only learn simple techniques to reduce the risk of adverse side effects and so forth. I am considering practicing some techniques that I read from a booklet called “Scooping the Stream” and “Shaolin Archer”. Would you recommend a novice like myself to try something like this? If not, do you have any recommendations for an alternative?

Answer

The techniques of great qigong are very simple! For example, in “Golden Bridge” which can develop tremendous internal force, the practitioner just remains at one position for a period of time. In “Standing Zen” which can give the practitioner a glimpse of cosmic reality, the practitioner just stands upright and be relaxed and think of nothing.

But “simple” does not mean “easy”. Also, “simple” does not mean “simplistic”. The techniques of “Golden Bridge” and “Standing Zen” are very simple, but they are very powerful and profound, and it is difficult for students to achieve good results in these exercises without the personal guidance of a master. This is an intriguing fact most uninitiated persons find it hard to believe.

It is more significant for those who practice on their own to realize that in high-level qigong if a technique is simple, it is easier to practice wrongly and have adverse effects. The rationale is straight-forward. If a technique has only one movement, which means it is simple, if you make just one mistake you will be 100% wrong. If a technique has ten movements, which means it is a complicated technique, if you make one mistake you are only 10% wrong and the other correct movements often can compensate for your one mistake.

I do not know “Scooping the Stream” and “Shaolin Archer”, so I am unable to comment on whether these techniques are suitable for you.

As an alternative I would recommend “Lifting the Sky”. It is comparatively easy to perform, yet its benefits are remarkable. You can read about this wonderful technique from my qigong books. If you follow the instructions respectfully, you are unlikely to make mistakes. But even if you make mistakes, it is unlike the adverse effects are serious.

Question 9

Also some people have told me not to learn any qigong at all because they believe that building up too much qi would eventually cause a person to suffer a long and painful death because it takes a very long time for the qi to leave the body. This sounds like a sort of misconception and I was hoping if you could clarify on this belief.

Answer

This is certainly a misconception. When you learn qigong, you not only build up a lot of qi or energy, but also ensure its harmonious flow. When your qi flow is harmonious, it means all your body systems are working properly. When your qi is plentiful, it means you have vitality and longevity.

A person suffers pain or illness only when his qi is not flowing harmoniously. A person dies only when he no longer has qi. His moment of death is the moment when his last qi leaves him. As long as he has qi, he will not die. As long as his qi is flowing harmoniously, he will not have pain or illness.

What about building a lot of qi but the qi is not flowing. This is against the principles of qigong. That is why qigong is not in favour of exercises like muscle-building and hard-conditioning. Such practitioners would not die because they have a lot of qi, but they suffer pain and illness because their qi is not flowing harmoniously.

Building qi and letting it flow are the two fundamental aspects of qigong, but of the two, flowing is more important than building. An important qigong principle is “first circulate qi, then nurture qi”, or in Cantonese “seen harng hei, hou yeong hei”. This means the practitioner first generates a qi flow, then he enlarges the volume of flow.

If he reverses this process, i.e. first he builds a core of qi, then attempts to make the qi flow, he may have trouble. It is worse if he only builds a core of qi, mistakenly thinking the more qi he has the more powerful he will become. Uninformed students learning from books may do this, like visualizing energy points in his body and building energy there. This may disrupt his normal energy flow as well as drain energy from where it is needed to focus at where it may be harmful.

Isn't zhan zhuang, or stance training, building a core of qi and not letting it flow? Yes, if it is practiced wrongly, and it is easy to practice wrongly. Hence it is not recommended for those who practice without the supervision of a competent instructor.

The qi accumulated in zhan zhuang is not stagnant; it is alive. That is why a master well trained in zhan zhaung is healthy, vibrant, agile, mentally fresh and has a lot of stamina, besides being very powerful If his qi is not alive, he may be powerful and muscle-bound, but he will be unhealthy, clumsy, dull and easily short of breath.

LINKS

Overview of the Questions-Answers Series

Courses and Classes