March 2003 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Can techniques be directly taken out of forms to be used in real life situations or must they first be modified?
— Adam, United Kingdom
Yes, kungfu techniques can, and should, be directly taken out of forms to be used in real combat. In fact, this was how kungfu techniques developed. At first there were no techniques. Combatants fought freely, like what untrained persons do today.
Gradually over many centuries those who had to fight frequently discovered that certain manners of fighting were advantageous. Throughout many centuries kungfu masters, i.e. specially trained people who were good at real life fighting, stylized these advantageous manners of fighting into kungfu forms. At the same time throughout many centuries these masters of real fighting also developed various methods to train force and other combat skills to enhance their fighting efficiency.
Please remember that throughout the centuries kungfu was meant for real life fighting. It was never meant as a competitive sport with safety rules, or a demonstrative art to please spectators. Kungfu was meant for real life fighting where the outcome was not trophies or price money, but often life or death. Kungfu exponents diligently practiced and religiously used their kungfu forms in real life combat not because the forms looked nice or the forms identified them to certain styles, but because the kungfu forms gave them the best chance to stay alive.
Just some common sense will make one realize that if traditional kungfu forms with appropriate stances were not effective for fighting, kungfu exponents in the past would not have spent so much time and effort training them. If bouncing about and throwing punches and high kicks as in Western Boxing and Kickboxing were most effective for real life combat, the kungfu exponents would have diligently practiced and religiously used bouncing about, throwing punches and high kicks instead.
Then, why in today's free sparring do those who bounce about and use punches and kicks as in Western Boxing and Kickboxing generally beat those who use traditional kungfu forms? It is because the latter have never been trained to use kungfu forms for free sparring. The kungfu forms which would be an asset for those who are properly trained, become a liability for those who are untrained.
If kungfu was effective, why didn't people in the West in the past practiced kungfu for fighting? In my opinion the main reason was connected with the Shaolin Temple in China. Before the Shaolin Temple, ways of fighting were haphazard, similarly to present day butting, wrestling, boxing and kicking, or what is often called freestyle fighting. There were no proper systems or styles. Since the Shaolin Temple, ways of fighting first became institutionalized into particular styles, with systematic and coherent development over many centuries, first at the Shaolin Temple, then all over China. The West did not have this history of institutionalized fighting arts.
I do Mi Zong Boxing and the forms nearly all have very low stances. I assume this is for training purposes to develop strength and rooting powers as well as internal energy, but in actual combat situations and sparing, should I fight from low stances as in forms or from a more upright stance as is taught in most San Da practice?
It is only sensible that if one practices Karate as a martial art, he would use Karate in actual combat situations, if he practices Taekwondo he would use Taekwondo, if he practices Kickboxing, he would used Kickboxing. Otherwise it makes no sense why they practice these martial arts.
However, the problem is that these and similar arts are strictly speaking not martial arts for real fighting; they are martial sports protected by safety rules. In a Taekwondo competition, for example, you are not supposed to catch the opponent's legs. The safety rules, which are necessary for sports, would be a big disadvantage for their exponents in actual combat.
Similarly if you practice Mi Zong Kungfu, which is not a sport but a martial art for actual fighting, you should use it for sparring and actual combat situations. Very low stances are used in Mi Zong Kungfu because their masters discovered from their real fighting experiences that very low stances were efficient for their purposes. If a more upright stance were more effective, they would have used it and passed it down in the art. If you cannot use low stances for combat, it is because you have not been properly trained to do so.
“San da” means free sparring in Chinese. Logically exponents would use the respective martial arts they are trained in for their “san da” or free sparring. In other words, if you practice Mi Zong Kungfu you should use Mi Zong Kungfu in your “san da”; if you practice Hoong Ka you should use Hoong Ka, if you practice Taijiquan you should use Taijiquan. It would be a blatant waste of your training and a mockery of your belief to throw away your Mi Zong Kungfu, Hoong Ka or Taijiquan (if you believe them to be martial arts) and resort to Western Boxing or Kickboxing in your “san da”.
Then, why do so many people today who practice kungfu (or wushu) resort to Western Boxing or Kickboxing in their “san da”, to the extent that many people mistakenly think that “san da” is a new development in kungfu where Western Boxing and Kickboxing techniques are used instead of traditional kungfu forms because the former are more combat effective? The reason is that, to put it shortly, kungfu has degenerated so drastically that it has lost its original meaning, philosophy and functions.
The situation of kungfu regarding free sparring today is appalling. Many kungfu students not only do not know how to spar using kungfu patterns, they do not even believe that kungfu patterns can be used for fighting! This happens not just in the West, but even in China today! The widespread use of Western Boxing and Kickboxing in “san da” is a clear indication of this degrading trend in kungfu. The biggest irony is that traditional kungfu forms are excellent for free sparring and actual combat. In our opinion they are the most combat effective.
We in Shaolin Wahnam are dedicated to help those who share our views, to restore the combat efficiency of using traditional kungfu forms in free sparring, irrespective of whether they practice our Shaolin Wahnam arts or not. When we released some video clips showing our normal training in free sparring, many people, including some who have taught martial arts for many years, kindly wrote to us to express their surprise and appreciation. They were surprised that free sparring effectively using traditional kungfu forms was still possible, and appreciated our willingness to share training methods that would normally be kept secret.
The video clips restore the confidence of many kungfu exponents convincing them that kungfu is combat efficient. Yet, these video clips show only the lower levels of free sparring. For learning purposes, we at Shaolin Wahnam approach free sparring at different levels, such as “individual patterns”, “continuity”, “sequential movements”, “linear”, “side-step”, “feint moves”, and “tricks”, among many others. Having different approaches to free sparring is probably something many martial artists have never thought off. To many of them, free sparring is merely punching and kicking each other.
In our effort to help restore the fighting aspect of kungfu, we shall release more video clips showing different approaches to free sparring employed by us in Shaolin Wahnam. Some uninformed people may accuse us for showing off, but informed martial artists will know how much traditional masters do not like to show off their secrets. We have publicly and repeatedly mentioned that we are nowhere near the combat efficiency of past kungfu masters. Sharing with other kungfu practitioners some of these secrets of the past masters is one way to show what a rich and fantastic legacy we (all kungfu practitioners) have, and realizing this fact may help to check the present rapid deterioration of kungfu into a laughing stock.
I am unable to find a sifu at my state. In fact, there are very few mediocre kungfu schools in my country, leave alone good ones. So, will it help me if I study and practice Shaolin Kungfu from your books?
— Pratap, India
It is better to learn from a living instructor, even if he teaches only external kungfu forms. Later if you have an opportunity, you can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia or join one of the Shaolin Wahnam kungfu schools in various countries taught by instructors certified by me, to learn and acquire the skills and techniques that you did not learn from your local instructor, especially in internal force training and combat application.
But if you cannot find even an instructor teaching external kungfu forms, and you are determined to practice Shaolin Kungfu, you can learn from my books, such as “Introduction to Shaolin Kung Fu”, “The Art of Shaolin Kungfu” and “The Complete Art of Shaolin”. You can attain a reasonable good standard if you follow my instructions in the books respectfully.
My disciple, Eugene, is a good example in this respect. He wanted to learn Shaolin Kungfu very much from me, but I did not accept him into my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, though earlier he attended my Intensive Chi Kung Course, because I wanted him to overcome some health problems first. He practiced my chi kung dutifully and not only overcame his health problems but became radiantly healthy.
Then he applied for my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. I still did not accept him, though he was my excellent chi kung student, telling him that he would waste his money and time if he was insufficiently prepared. I told him to read my books on Shaolin Kungfu, then learn from local instructors or masters. Only when he could perform kungfu forms fairly well, should he attend my course. He dutifully read my books and searched for kungfu schools in his area.
Although he lived in the U.S. where there were a lot of kungfu schools, he could not find one to his liking. He telephoned me half way around the globe to tell me this problem, and asked if he could learn from my books instead, to prepare for my course. I was impressed by his sincerity and devotion. I agreed.
When he attended my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, everyone including me was surprised. There was much room for improvement in his kungfu forms, but considering that he had no prior kungfu experience whatsoever and learned complex kungfu forms from my books without anyone to supervise him, it was a tremendous achievement.
But what was most impressive was his internal force. Even Anthony, his “siheng” or senior kungfu brother who had many years of karate experience before he learned kungfu from me and who himself is very powerful, was impressed.
I remember Anthony asked me whether I had taught Eugene any special exercises to train his internal force. “No, Anthony,” I said, “Eugene just practiced his normal chi kung exercises” (which are “Lifting the Sky”, “Pushing Mountains”, Carrying the Moon“ and ”Self-Manifested Chi Flow" — the exercises I teach in my Intensive Chi Kung Course in Malayisa and regional courses elsewhere).
After much help from Anthony in their own training in New York, Eugene attended two more Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Courses and made further progress. I am very proud of him. In less than two years he progressed from not knowing anything about martial art to being able to handle comfortably masters (who also took my courses) who had been teaching martial arts for many years! This reminds me of some advice my sifu told me, “Hok mo chien hou, dat che wei seen”, which means “There is no question of who starts first, and who starts later; the one who arrives is the earlier.”
I asked Eugene to teach Shaolin Kungfu in the name of Shaolin Wahnam Institute but he, like most of my disciples in a similar situation, felt he was not good enough. Interestingly this has been my dilemma. On one hand I have to tell hasty people not to teach until they are ready; on the other I have to persuade those who are competent to teach, to teach.
It is no surprise why most of my disciples honestly felt not adequate yet to teach. If you have been exposed to the depth and grandeur of the Shaolin arts (not just their fighting aspects), you would realize from direct experience there is still so much more to learn. But my point is that teaching is itself a learning process, and when one teaches beginners he does not touch the depth and grandeur yet, but teaches the fundamentals which he is already competent to do.
How do I know who are competent and who are not? In kungfu there is no hiding. Once you perform a kungfu set, a master can tell how forceful, fast and fluid, or otherwise, your forms are. Once you engage in sparring, you will know whether you are combat efficient.
I cannot find a sparring partner. So, will I be combat efficient if I practice the kungfu forms on my own?
No one can be combat efficient by practicing only kungfu forms. This is a main problem facing many kungfu and wushu practitioners, including some masters. They may perform their forms beautifully and win international competitions, but unless and until they learn and practice combat application and develop force for their combat application, they cannot be combat efficient.
A main reason why combat application is not systematically taught is that its methodolgy is generally lost. Borrowing from karate, taekwondo and kickboxing, today kungfu practitioners who wish to learn combat efficiency jump straight to free sparring after learning kungfu forms. This is putting the cart before the horse. In all kungfu training in the past, free sparring which is called san da in kungfu terminology, came at the end, not at the beginning, of a long programme of combat training.
When I learned kungfu, all my four masters forbid us to free spar until we were ready. Engaging in free sparring without first training how to spar will inevitably make the practitioners fight like children.
But this does not mean without a partner you cannot practice combat application. Indeed, solo practice is essential in kungfu training. This is what masters do most of the time, and it is the reason why they can remain to be so combat efficient.
What you practice on your own for combat efficiency is not kungfu forms or sets but other things like combat sequences and their variations. You will learn these in my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, where you will also have the opportunity to spar with live partners. It will be very helpful if you have a life partner to train with when you have returned home. But if you haven't, you will spar with an imaginary partner, the method of which you will also learn at the course. In some ways, sparring with an imaginary partner is more beneficial than sparring with a life partner.
Becoming an exponent of Southern Shaolin Kungfu is my aim. I am prepared to put in hard work. I intend to practice two exercises, “Lifting the Sky” and Horse-Riding Stance for six months before moving to other exercises. Will these be sufficient for me? What exercises do you suggest I do after that, Sifu?
I am glad of your dedication and determination. I hope you can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in the near future, train hard and spread the Shaolin arts in your country. India has a special meaning for Shaolin. Both the Buddha and Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Shaolin, were from India. All Shaolin disciples honour and pay homage to these two of the greatest teachers of all times, whose teachings have benefited countless people irrespective of race, culture and religion.
Your choice of practicing “Lifting the Sky” and the Horse-Riding Stance is excellent. I would suggest you add two other exercises now, Standing Meditation and leg stretching. You can practice these four exercises in any order, but generally it is advisable to end your training session with Standing Meditation. You can use any suitable exercises for leg stretching. Those in my books will be suitable.
Standing Meditation is a most simple and most profound exercise. Just stand upright and e totally relaxed. Don't think of anything. When thoughts come, just throw them away without fuss and without questions. I repeat the two very important points. Stand upright and be totally relaxed. At first you may feel nothing. Later you may feel chi, or energy, flowing inside you. The internal chi flow may sway you gently. Enjoy the gentle sway. As you progress, you may, or may not, have some interesting or strange experiences, like finding yourself expanding. Quietly enjoy these experiences, or just ignore them.
If you spend six months on these four exercises, you will have laid very good foundation. Then proceed to other exercises as described in my books. Remember the following three short sentenses in your training: Be relaxed and natural. Don't tense your muscles. Enjoy your exercises.
In some exercises, such as the Horse-Riding Stance, you may feel some tension at your muscles. This is alright if the tension is not caused by you willingly, but by the form or nature of the training. Actually “tension” is not a right word here; a better term is “feeling of force”. But if you purposely tense your muscles, as many uninformed students would do, you would cause tension, and this is incorrect.
I live in a multistoried apartment building near the seashore. It is cramped. A church is nearby. A heavily trafficked road is in front of my home. Is the atmosphere conducive to do my training?
It is best if you can practice in natural surrounding with trees, singing birds, a waterfall and a rippling stream. But if you can't, then make the best of what you have. Your environment is not ideal, but better than what many people may have. I have students who practice in their crowded office, before their colleagues come in for work, and produce good results.
There is a Shaolin saying as follows in Cantones, ”ngo ngow zi dei”, which literally means “lying buffalo's spot”. It means that a space big enough for a buffalo to lie on is big enough to practice Shaolin Kungfu.
I have read some of your books. They are really great. I' have also read some books by other masters who suggest a way of breathing not the same as yours.
— Gegham, Amenia
The ancient Chinese were the ones who had spent the most time investigating into breathing most profoundly. This was no co-incidence as the Chinese discovered, many centuries before our modern scientists do, that qi, or energy, is the core of both man and universe, and that life is a meaningful flow of energy. And breathing is our means to regulate this meaningful flow of energy.
It is indeed a surprise that modern man pays little or no attention to breathing, which is the most important thing anyone needs to do to keep alive. The ancient Chinese devised numerous ways of breathing to achieve the best effects for various particular purposes. These methods, together with a rich philosophy, form an essential dimension of chi kung (qigong).
While modern society in general knows just two modes of breathing — breathing in and breathing out; there are no less than eight breathing modes in chi kung. Moreover, by modifying how and when one should breath and how and when one should use the mouth or nose, chi kung exponents have a great variety of breathing methods.
When you mentioned that the breathing methods described by other masters in their books were different from what I described in my books, you were probably referring to breathing in gently through the nose and breathing out gently through the mouth. This is the main breathing method used in most chi kung exercises described in my chi kung books.
But actually we in Shaolin Wahnam use a great variety of other breathing methods in chi kung as well as in kungfu. For example, while “flicking fingers” in Sinew Metamorphosis, we close our mouth and do not worry about our breathing, then we open our mouth wide to breath out loudly. In kungfu, we often take a deep breath initially through our nose, then hold the breath gently with our mouth gently close, and finally explode out the breath with an appropriate sound at the completion of the sequence of movements.
Nevertheless, even in the breathing mode of breathing in gently through the nose and breathing out gently through the mouth, the mode that is most often used in our chi kung exercises, there are many different breathing patterns. In “Lifting the Sky”, for example, the breathing pattern is “breathe in, pause, breathe out, pause”. In “Pushing Mountains”, it is “breathe in, breathe out”. In “Merry-Go-Round”, it is “breathe in, breathe out, pause”. These different breathing patterns give different chi effects.
What way of breathing can I use for vital and sexual energy?
Chi kung is holistic. Hence, irrespective of the breathing method used in any particular exercise, if it is performed correctly, it will enhance general vitality as well as sexual vitality. This applies for all types of genuine chi kung, including low level chi kung. Low level chi kung takes a long time to accomplish effects, perhaps years, and the effects may not be much. High level chi kung accomplishes effects fast, in a few weeks or months, and the effects are remarkable.
On the other hand, gentle physical exercise, which is often mistaken as chi kung by many people, would not enhance general or sexual vitality, irrespective of whether it is low level or high level, and irrespective of how long one may practice it. In fact, if the physical exercise is vigorous, like free sparring or weight lifting, it will use up energy, with the result that the practitioners have less vitality and interest for sex. (If free sparring is performed as chi kung, as in genuine Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, there will be an increase of general as well as sexual vitality.)
Nevertheless, the following chi kung exercise will increase sexual energy. Stand upright and be relaxed. Keep the mouth gently open and breathe naturally. Rub your palms together vigorously to warm them. When they are warm, place them on your back over your kidneys. Take a deep breath gently through your nose, then keep your mouth gently close and hold your breath gently, while your palms are over your kidneys. Then drop your hands to your sides and breathe out loudly through your mouth. Repeat about 20 times. Practice this exercise twice daily, once in the morning and once at might.