June 2003 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

sparring

Dan Hartwright (left) and Ronan Sexton engaged in a free sparring session, with Sifu Wong looking on

Question 1

Sifu, I have to write to you personally to thank you with all my heart for the wonderful experience of your Chi Kung course in Bath. As well as sharing with me the skills to become a Chi Kung practitioner, you have also done even more for me. The speeches that you made, while the rest of us were sitting down, moved me very greatly. The model of a “scholar-warrior” has become my aspiration.

— Donald, United Kingdom

Answer

I am very glad that you have benefited much not just from chi kung but more so from the philosophical ideals that we cherish at Shaolin Wahnam. In our school, we do not merely teach chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan; we teach a way of life that is meaningful and rewarding for ourselves and for other people.

We are quite clear about our aims and objectives. For most of us, we choose the scholar-warrior ideal. For those of us who are more advanced in our training, we aspire to be warrior-monks. We do not really go to war to be warriors or shave our heads to be monks. We aspire to their ideals, such as the clarity of thought and intellectual depth of a scholar, the courage and righteousness of a warrior, and the compassion and cosmic wisdom of a monk.

Actually all of us are warriors. If you compete in sport, work in a profession, or engage in business, you are a warrior. But we do not want to be a crude warrior, like one who is proud of a scar received from a football match, stabs his colleagues on their back, or drives his competitors to bankruptcy. We want to be a scholar-warrior or a warrior-monk, someone who not only excels in his profession or business, but also is a wonderful husband, father and friend, someone who is successful in life as well as compassionate and wise.

And we are no day-dreamers. We set our vision, and we find direction to our destination. We know the journey involves hard work, but we are confident we can accomplish our task. We know our chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan training will give us the mental clarity and internal force besides courage and determination needed for our journey, and we use our Ten Shaolin Laws to guide us in our daily conduct.

Question 2

Do you remember, when you signed my copy of your book on Chinese Medicine that you asked me what my profession was? I answered that I was a student. As such I feel that I have a great opportunity to work hard and fulfill my ambition to become a scholar.

Answer

I am glad you have set your vision. Once you have your vision, finding your direction becomes so much easier. Once you have your direction and vision, it is a matter of traveling towards your vision. With effort and determination, you will surely arrive.

Many people have no vision, and consequently have no direction. Hence they waste a lot of time groping around. Sometimes they have fancies, which they mistake for vision. Because fancies fake and wane, they do not have concerted direction. Among those who may have vision and direction, many may also fail to reach their destination because they have no determination and are not ready to work hard.

As the vision is the first step, we must ascertain that our vision is noble and worthy enough for our journey. To be scholar is a noble, worthy vision. Your vision of a scholar, of course, is not that of a book-worm scoring top marks in exams, but of a cultured person well versed in philosophy, music and poetry as well as capable of subtle joys like listening to passing clouds besides worldly pleasures like good food and fine wine.

Question 3

The warrior ideal, however, causes me concern. Yesterday, I was present while a woman was engaged in a very angry argument with a large man. I knew that if the confrontation became physical then I would have to help defeat the man to save the womanfrom harm. I am assuming here that she would not have been successful in combat against him, although I may be mistaken.

The point is that while I was determined to help her if necessary, I knew combat with this man could have been very dangerous since I am not skilled in the art of self defence. Fortunately the man merely made some childish comments and insults, then walked away. Sifu, I need to learn how to defend myself and others, helping to take on the ideals of the warrior

Answer

If you are unprepared but fight someone stronger than you, then you are a lousy warrior. A good warrior fights only when he knows he will win. If the odds are even, he will use tactics or strategies so that he can turn the odds and have at least some advantages. If the odds are overwhelmingly against him, he retreats and saves himself to fight another day.

A scholar-warrior is even better. He wins without actual fighting. He does not want to fight if he can, but if he has no choice and has to fight, he will fight well and win elegantly, causing as little harm to his opponent as necessary. If possible, he wants to win a friend, not just defeat an enemy.

Of course this means he has to be at least one level, but usually a few levels, above his opponent in fighting and other abilities. No one says that becoming a scholar-warrior is easy. We know it demands a lot of hard work, but we aim for excellence and are prepared to work hard for it. Our task is made easier when we have vision and direction and use smart methods.

The situation you described was what a scholar-warrior would approve. You did not do anything but the aggressive man walked away. Your mere presence might, or might not, have contributed to the non-violent ending.

But suppose the confrontation became violent. What would a scholar-warrior do? Should he walk to the man and break his skull with an iron fist? He would save the woman from harm but would land himself in big trouble.

The scholar-warrior should stand between the woman and the man, and look firmly into the man's eyes, radiating his intent that should the man attack the woman, the scholar-warrior would beat the man up. Should he say so to the man? Should he say, “If you touch the woman, I will break your arm”? No, if he does, it would make it difficult for the man to retreat. The scholar-warrior should make it easy for the man to walk away. He could say, “Now, be a gentleman. Please leave this harmless woman alone.”

As the man walks away, the scholar-warrior could add, “I appreciate your kind action.” This will make him feel justified walking away. This will also ensure that later he won't call ten of his rough friends to hunt for the woman or the scholar-warrior.

sparring

Wahnam Taijiquan is an internal martial art. Here Master Roberto Lamberti (left) and Master Attilio Rodesta are also generating internal energy flow while practicing Pushing Hands at Punta Est in Finale Ligure, Italy, which according to Sifu Wong is the most beautiful hotel in the world.

Question 4

I want to attend your Intensive Kungfu Course in Malaysia. I have some experience in martial arts but I would never call myself very experienced or able. What are the requirements for attending the course? Is it enough to be versed in the basics only? Be assured that I would work hard, but if I need to prepare in other ways then please tell me how, so that I can begin to do it as soon as possible.

Answer

You will probably find attending my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course one of the best things you have ever done for yourself. You will accomplish in a few days what many kungfu practitioners hope to accomplish but never do even after searching for many years, namely developing internal force and effectively using typical kungfu patterns for combat.

But it is more than a kungfu course. It is actually a course for leadership training. You will be pushed to and then surpass all your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits so that you will emerge from the course a better person in all aspects. You will be introduced to the training for and actually experience the effects of perseverance, determination, courage, righteousness, mental clarity, cosmic wisdom and spiritual joy.

To many people terms like “cosmic wisdom” and “spiritual joy” may not mean anything. But by now, having been in Shaolin Wahanm for some time, you would realize that when we say we aspire to certain attainments, we mean what we say.

The most important requirement is that you follow and be abided by the Ten Shaolin Laws. The next important requirement is that you must be ready to work hard — before, during as well as after the course. Of the three phrases, working hard after the course is the most important. If you won't, you may have some fantastic experiences during the course, but there may not be many lasting benefits.

Yes, before the course it is enough if you are well versed in the basics only.. You should be familiar with basic kungfu forms and movements, such as basic stances and techniques of punching, kicking and blocking. Nevertheless, it is advisable to spend some time practicing “Golden Bridge” so that your arms are reasonable strong to endure sparring for a few hours everyday during the course.

Question 5

I believe that finding a genuine Kungfu master here would be very difficult.

Answer

Today it is difficult to find a master who teaches genuine kungfu anywhere in the world, including in China. It is of course more difficult to find a master who teaches great kungfu, and very rare to find a master who teaches the greatest kungfu.

But you are lucky. Our Shaolin Wahnam instructors, Dan Hartwright and Ronan Sexton, teach in London, and hopefully Michael Durkin will teach in Manchester. All the three of them just returned from a Special Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia, where attendance was by invitation only and where we implemented the scholar-warrior project.

Besides kungfu training, participants played musical instruments, played Chinese chess, and discussed topics like “Wit and Humour” and “Important Considerations for Success in Business and Profession”. The scholar-warrior project will be gradually implemented in all our Shaolin Wahnam centers.

You may also like to know that at the course Ronan used internal force to break the bottom of two bricks piled one on top of another without breaking the top brick. It was the more remarkable when he broke the bottom brick with a palm slap, i.e. slapping the top brick with his open palm, instead of a downward chop.

But bricking bricks is not necessarily genuine kungfu. By genuine kungfu I mean kungfu that can be used for combat. This is my basic requirement for an art that can be called kungfu, which means a martial art. If a master teaches traditional kungfu forms but cannot use the kungfu forms for combat although he himself is a formidable fighter using other martial systems, I would not call him a master of genuine kungfu, though he may be a master of traditional kungfu forms or a master fighter using other martial styles.

By great kungfu I mean kungfu that not only is effective for combat but incorporates internal force training that contributes to radiant health and vitality. By the greatest kungfu I mean kungfu that incorporates spiritual cultivation besides being combat effective and contributing to radiant health and vitality. Genuine Shaolin Kungfu and genuine Taijiquan are outstanding examples of the greatest kungfu.

My terms of reference for kungfu to be genuine, great or the greatest are subjective. I reckon that many kungfu practitioners would not agree with my terms of reference, even though they may find my terms reasonable and sensible. Even if they agree, they may not accept them. The rationale is straight-forward. If they accept my terms of reference, it means that they accept that the kungfu they practice is not genuine.

Honestly I feel uncomfortable with the term “genuine”, as it will inevitably hurt the sensitivities of many people though it is not intended to. But I could not find a better term to mean what I honestly want to say. Actually, the term “genuine” has great sentimental value for me. The term “genuine” did not come from me. I inherited it from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. The term also did not originate from my sifu. It has been used in kungfu circles for centuries.

When I first learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, I asked my sifu the name of the kungfu style we practiced. “Siu Lam,” he said. “Siu Lam” is the Cantonese pronunciation for “Shaolin”. “But there are many styles of Shaolin, such as Hoong Ka, Wing Choon and Praying Mantis,” I said. “Ours is Siu Lam Ching Choong, directly transmitted from the (Southern) Shaolin Monastery,” my sifu replied. “Siu Lam Ching Choong” is in Cantonese and it means “genuine, traditional Shaolin”.

Years later, my sifu said to me, “When you teach, it is of utmost importance that you must not mislead other people's children, you must teach genuine, traditional Shaolin.” My beloved sifu is no long here on earth. I will uphold his command.

I would also want all Shaolin Wahnam instructors to uphold his command, “you must not mislead other people's children”. Other people have entrusted their sons and daughters to our care and teaching — sons and daughters on whom every father and mother has high hopes and aspirations. We will teach them not only genuine Shaolin Kungfu, chi kung or Wahnam Taijiquan, but a meaningful, rewarding way of life guided by our Ten Shaolin Laws.

Question 6

Finally, I would like to tell you about life after your Chi Kung course. I have been in contact with some of the new friends that I made during the course (another excellent benefit), and they are all extremely positive regarding practice and the art itself. Personally, I am practicing twice a day with just one exercise per session followed by standing meditation. I believe that I am beginning to experience some effects from my practice. Is it possible that I could have made some progress so soon, or is it my imagination? I feel more energetic, happier and I sleep much better.

Answer

You have been practicing well. Practicing twice a day with just one exercise (including gentle chi flow which is an integral part of the exercise) per session followed by Standing Meditation is exactly what we recommend in Shaolin Wahnam. Your good results are expected. Indeed it would be a surprise if you do not have good results.

I am glad that you understand the difference between results and symptoms, and their relationship to techniques. Many students don't. They want to learn more and more techniques, often thinking that practicing one exercise per session is insufficient, and they chase after symptoms, like seeing beautiful colours or feeling themselves expanding. They forget that these symptoms, wonderful though they may be, are just indication that their practice is progressing correctly, but ultimately it is the results, like feeling more energetic, happier and sleeping better, that count.

It is understandable that you and many other people are surprised that you have such good results so soon. The impression is that it takes a long time, often years, to have results in chi kung. This is generally true, especially if the master belongs to the older tradition. However, although I am still traditional, over the years I have improved my methods of teaching beyond beyond my own expectation. Now it is a norm in our Shaolin Wahnam school to have good results so soon.

Take Ronan for an example. He has learned from me for only two years. Yet he can now channel internal force to break the bottom of two bricks piled one on top of the other without breaking the top brick. Ronan is a very good student, practicing without fail everyday. Yet, if twenty years ago someone told me what Ronan achieved in two years, I would not have believe it myself. When I first learned kungfu, for the first few years I did not even know what internal force was.

I am more glad that you are keeping in contact with the friends you have made during the course. Comradeship is one of the wonderful benefits we have in our Shaolin Wahnam school. Participants met as strangers in my intensive Shaolin Kungfu and Wahnam Taijiquan courses, but depart as brothers and sisters. Our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum is one place where you can keep in contact with many other Shaolin Wahnam brothers and sisters.

sparring

Sifu Wong attacks with a leopard punch and Mogan defends with a hand-sweep

Question 7

I will finish this letter by thanking you most sincerely for introducing me to the Shaolin arts. You have awakened in me a desire to attain a high level of Kung Fu and Chi Kung and eventually to pass them on to others. It is my hope that I shall be able to attend many more of your courses, especially the intensive ones. Until then, I hope that it pleases you to know that I will continue to practice diligently and use whatever skills I acquire for the good of everyone around me.

Answer

I am glad and proud of your decision to attain a high level in genuine Shaolin Kungfu and Chi Kung. You now have vision and direction. What you need to arrive at your destination is effort and perseverance.

A legitimate question many people ask is whether kungfu and chi kung have any relevance in the modern world. There is no doubt in the case of genuine chi kung; it helps to solve two of the most urgent problems facing the world today, namely degenerative diseases and psychological disorders.

But what about kungfu? To me, the type of kungfu where one learns external kungfu forms but has no internal force and is unable to apply the forms for combat, serves as a hobby. But genuine kungfu, which is quite rare today, fulfills some important needs. It develops important skills like courage, judgment, quick decision and determination, qualities very useful to modern day professionals and businessmen.

We are more ambitious. We do not just teach kungfu. We employ kungfu training as a vehicle to attain the scholar-warrior ideal so that graduates from our school will be successful not only in public but also private lives.

You have the right attitude. You must be a good student first, then a good practitioner before thinking of teaching others. Practicing diligently is a basic requirement. No worthy result is possible without diligent work. But diligent work does not necessarily mean pain and toil. There is a lot of joy in the training itself.

Nevertheless, it is not our policy to teach everyone around us. We insist that our students must be deserving. Among many other things, deserving students are respectful and willing to work hard. We do not want to waste time on those who are skeptical or those who like to argue with their instructors.

We have no problems with others who disagree with our philosophy and methods, or who do not believe that we can accomplish what we claim. That is their right and privilege. But those who want to learn from us, they must follow our way. This is only logical.

To some people, doing what their instructors say is below their dignity; to us, doing what the instructors say is a sure way to get the best benefits from the instructors' teaching. If they are unwilling to do what their instructors say, they are free to go elsewhere, and we do not want to waste time on them. We do not want to accept them in the first place. If we have wrongly accepted them, we would return them their fees and ask them to go elsewhere.

Question 8

At my Taijiquan school, our head instructor is late on Thursdays and has a rotating appointment of higher level students to start the class until he arrives. During one class, the appointed student was leading us through our qigong exercises and added something extra to the teaching. I'm sorry I don't know the names of the different sets of forms we do, but they were moving exercises meant to strengthen the five major organs.

While we were moving through the exercises, the student-instructor directed us to concentrate on different colors of energy while we were doing the exercises. I felt it was wrong on the student-instructor's part to add in anything extra, especially when our lead instructor has never done such a thing.

Now that I've read your pages, I'm even concerned that this could have been dangerous. What should I do in this situation. I don't think it is my place to correct a higher student, nor am I sure if it is my place to inform our head instructor. As you are well versed in proper conduct, I was hoping you could help me.

— Peter, Russia.

Answer

You are right to think that the student-instructor should not add extra teaching on his own, especially when it involves visualization, and that his doing so might bring much harm to the students following his instruction.

Qigong exercises to strengthen internal organs are relatively advanced and should be carried out under the supervision of a qualified instructor. Adding visualization of colours would increase the risk of doing the advanced exercise and causing more harm.

Actually, visualizing different colours was not an established practice in traditional chi kung. Except for the mention of gold colour in Buddhist chi kung, and purple colour in Taoist chi kung, and even this was not frequent, there was little mention of colour visualization or different colours of chi in classical chi kung texts. Except for the sun and moon, there was also little or no mention of the influence of various planets like Jupiter or Neptune on one's organs.

Hence, I would suspect whether what is being taught is traditional chi kung, if the instructor teaches visualization of different colours or the influence of different planets on one's internal organs. I would guess that he probably introduces Western concepts, especially New Age philosophy, into chi kung, and such interference, in my opinion, is undesirable.

In your situation, it is proper if you politely mention that what the student-instructor teaches is not part of the standard teaching of your school, and that you have read visualizing different colours could be dangerous if performed incorrectly. If they value my opinions, you may cite my advice given here. It is likely that he did not realize the danger, and he introduced the extra teaching with good intention.

However, as he is the student-instructor appointed by your head instructor, do not argue with him if he insists that what he taught was correct and that the class should do what he says. You may carry out the outward forms according to his instruction, but I would suggest that you leave out the visualization, without him knowing.

Why didn't the ancient masters teach colour visualtzation or visualizing the influence of various planets? Was it because the ancient masters did not know? Certainly not. If modern people with just a few years of chi kung or other training could think of such methods, it would be extremely presumptuous to imagine generations of masters throughout the centuries were ignorant of them.

There were a few reasons why, except in some special cases, ancient masters did not advocate colour visualization and planet influence. Such methods did not have significant impact on the results. Teaching such methods needed specialized skills. Incorrect training brought serious harmful side-effects.

Question 9

I have lately spent time tracking down the historical changes in a Shaolin descended style that I train in. There is very little teaching or technical information left about one of the animal forms of the original Shaolin five-animal system beyond a single hand set called the “Leopard Palm”. I have found that a leopard system was part of some early Shaolin systems. It has also been attributed to Bodhidharma's orginal five-animal set. Is there any light you can shed on the possible ideas and skill sets of he early leopard system or systems?

— Evan, USA

Answer

The Shaolin five-animal system is famous in Southern Shaolin Kungfu, but relatively unimportant in Northern Shaolin Kungfu. The Shaolin “five animals” are dragon, snake, tiger, leopard and crane.

The “five animals” are particularly famous for training certain arts or skills. The dragon is for training “shen” or spirit, the snake for “qi” or intrincic energy, the tiger for “bone” or internal force, the leopard for strength and speed, and the crane for essence and elegance. Certain hand-forms are also related to the “five animals”, like the dragon hand-form, the snake palm, the tiger-claw, the leopard punch, and the crane beak.

The kungfu set called “Five-Form Set” or “Five-Animal Set” (“Ng Yein Khuen” in Cantonese pronunciation) is famous in Hoong Ka Kungfu and Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu. The prototype of this set is called “Bodhidharma Five-Animal Set” (“Tat Mo Ng Yein Khuen”). Despites its name, it was not invented by Bodhidharma, nor practiced during his time. The set was named after Bodhidharma in his honour.

It s not clear when the “five animals” were practiced as a coherent system, but by the time of the Yuan Dynasty (about 16th century) the “Five-Animal Set” was already established. It was initially practiced to develop internal force, and not as techniques for combat. It is likely that when the succeeding Ming Dynasty built another Shaolin Monastery in Quanzhou in the south, the “Five-Animal Set” became an important part of the Shaolin kungfu repertoire.

In the northern Shaolin Monastery, the kungfu practiced was characterized not by the “five animals” but by Lohan Kungfu and “Long Fist”. .Lohan Kungfu was so-called because it evolved from the set of chi kung exercises called “Eighteen Lohan Hands” taught by Bodhidharma. “Long Fist” was so called because the kungfu movements were continuous like ever-moving waves of the Long River, the name the Chinese call Yangtze Kiang, the longest river of China.

When the famous thirteen Shaolin warrior-monks helped Li Shi Ming to establish the Tang Dynasty (about 10th century), the leading monk, Jue Yuan, was made the “Great General”. Jue Yuan and the other monks declined the emperor's reward, but during a vegetarian banquet to honour the monks, Jue Yuan gave a demonstration of Shaolin Kungfu, and the kungfu set he performed was called “Baoquan”, or “Cannon Kungfu”.

In Chinese, the sound “bao” which means “cannon” here as it manifested the power and speed of Jue Yuan's kungfu, could also mean “leopard”, though the written words are different. It is possible that the “Leopard Palm” you mentioned could be a mis-interpreted term over time for “Cannon Palm”, because in Chinese both terms sound alike as “Baozhang”.

As far as I know, the leopard was not a part of the early Shaolin systems, but Cannon Palm was. The animal system that was most popular in Northern Shaolin Kungfu in the past was the monkey. The eagle and the snake were also important, but they came a bit later.

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