December 2003 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Sifu Wong

An invaluable photograph taken about 40 years ago showing Sifu Wong demonstrating a Southern Shaolin kungfu pattern called “Lead Horse Back to Stable”. Looking on was Uncle Righteousness in white T-shirt and black pants.

Question 1

What is the difference between the Shaolin Kung Fu that is taught in Wahnam and themartial art that is taught in the Shaolin Temple at Henan today?

— Richard, England

Answer

As yours is a question many people are interested in, I shall answer it in some detail. Please bear in mind that while we attempt to be as objective as possible, the answer given here is from our perspective. To have a balanced view, it is recommended also to have an answer from modern Shaolin monks from the Henan Shaolin Temple.

The Shaolin Kungfu taught in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, is very different from the martial art or wushu taught in the Shaolin Temple at Henan today. What we teach is traditional Southern Shaolin Kungfu. We emphasize force training and combat application, and we pay little importance on solo set practice.

The modern Shaolin monks from Henan teach modernized wushu, though their forms are those of traditional Northern Shaolin Kungfu. They emphasize solo set practice, and pay little importance on force training and combat application. Hence, interestingly, we at Shaolin Wahnam and the modern Shaolin monks are doing quite opposite things.

Kungfu sets taught by the modern monks include Lian Bu Quan (Continuous-Step Set), Xiao Hung Quan (Small Majestic Set), Da Hung Quan (Big Majestic Set), Bao Quan (Cannon Set) and Luo Han Quan (Lohan Set). They are all classical Northern Shaolin Kungfu sets. They also teach many weapon sets which include the kungfu knife (or broadsword), staff, spear, da tou (or Big Knife) and monks' spade. They are fast, acrobatic and elegant, and their performance is magnificent.

We do not teach any classical kungfu sets until our students have completed their fundamental training, which takes about three to four years! This, we believe, was also the way kungfu was trained in the southern Shaolin Temple in the past. Our fundamental training includes stance training, footwork training, breath control, “Golden Bridge”, “One-Finger Shooting Zen”, “Standing Zen”, combat sequences, combative skills like correct timing, correct spacing and fluidity of movement, and combative tactics like “three arrivals”, “avoiding strength and exploiting weakness”, and “flowing with the opponent”. Such fundamental training at Shaolin Wahnam is not found in the teaching of the modern monks from Henan.

Our first classical set is “Four Gates”, which was also the first kungfu set taught in the southern Shaolin Temple. Then, depending on their nature, abilities and other factors, students are taught different classical sets, such as “Five Animals”, “Tiger-Crane” and “Dragion and Tiger”. These are classical kungfu sets from Southern Shaolin, different from those of Northern Shaolin taught by the modern monks.

Unlike students of modern Shaolin monks who may learn a few sets in a year, students of Shaolin Wahnam stick to only one set for a few year so that they can get the best benefits from it — for both combat application as well as for enhancing their daily work and play. Again, we believe this was the case at the Shaolin Temple in the past as well as with other kungfu masters. For example, Fong Sai Yoke and Lok Ah Choy, both great Shaolin masters, focused on only one set, “Flower Set” and “Taming the Tiger” respectively.

Our force training is mainly internal, and consists of energy and mind training, whereas that of the modern monks is mainly external, like push-ups, jogging and striking sandbags. Our chi kung and Zen training, which are an integral part of Shaolin training, are already inside kungfu training. In other words, when we traini kungfu, we train chi kung and Zen at the same time.

This does not mean that we practice kungfu forms, chi kung exercises and Zen meditation separately but within the same training session. It means, for example, when we execute a certain kungfu movement, we are trained to focus our mind and channel our chi accordingly. As a result we have more energy and sharper mind at the end of our training than before the training, in contrast to many other people who deplete themselves energetically and mentally in their training.

In the case of the modern monks, chi kung exercises and Zen studies are practiced separately from wushu training. Both the nature and emphasis of chi kung and Zen training are different between Shaolin Wahnam and the modern monks. In Shaolin Wahnam, when we practice kungfu for two hours, we actively and purposefully train chi kung and Zen for two hours. This is not the case with the modern monks.

One may easily miss the point and believe that students of the modern monks also train chi kung and Zen in their wushu practice as they also focus their mind and use their chi in their wushu movements. The confusion is due to the limitation of words to express meaning exactly. Of course, in whatever one does, whether in kungfu, wushu, reading or dancing, he has to use his mind and chi or energy. As a result he becomes tired mentally and energetically besides physically. This is the case with the modern monks' training.

In our case, the situation is reversed. Besides practicing kungfu movements for combat purposes, at the same time we use the kungfu movements to actively and purposefully develop our mind and energy. Please note the key words “actively and purposefully”.

For example, when performing a pattern like “Black Tiger Steals Heart”, by regulating our breathing accordingly, we explode 70% of the energy that we have just taken in from the cosmos and simultaneously send 30% of the remaining energy gently down into our dan tian (or abdominal energy field), with all the physical movements and energy flow coordinated in a meditative state of mind. Hence, each time we perform this pattern, and any other kungfu patterns, we add a little bit of energy to our reserve, and train our mind to be a little bit more one-pointed.

Our approach to Zen is also different. While we also read and study Zen for better understanding, our onus on Zen training is practical experience, whereas that of the modern Henan monks is theoretical discussion. Whether we use Zen in our kungfu training, our daily life or our spiritual cultivation, our hallmarks of Zen are being simple, direct and effective. Hlowever, modern Henan monks seem to read Zen meaning into their wushu movements.

One of my inner-chamber disciples, Anthony, made an interesting point in a popular discussion forum. He said that if he made a tiger-claw with his hand and asked me whether it represented the “five petals of Zen expansion”, I would answer, “No, Anthony, it is a tiger-claw”. We use a tiger-claw in our kungfu movements not because it represents the five schools of Zen that developed from the Shaolin Temple, but because it is simple, direct and effective in certain combat situations. If a dragon-form or a snake-palm is more effective in other combat situations, we would use just that. To us, this is Zen.

Similarly in our daily life if we have to submit three copies of an application form, we would just do that as required. We would not, for example, argue that one copy is sufficient and if more copies are required the recipient can reproduce them himself. If my wife wants a cooker for her birthday present, I would buy her a cooker, instead of buying her a diamond ring and argue that it is more romantic. This is not being submissive or unimaginative; it is being simple, direct and effective — the hallmarks of our Zen training. Nevertheless, I may still buy the diamond ring, but it will be placed inside the cooker with a note saying, “This cooker comes with a surprise inside. Please open with care!”

Another major area of difference between Shaolin Wahnam and the modern Henan monks is our philosophy of and methodology on combat training. We believe that while the main aims as well as best benefits of our kungfu training may be non-combative in nature, the basic requirement of any art to be called kungfu is combat efficiency. If one cannot use his kungfu to fight after having practiced it arduously, then something is basically wrong.

Modern Henan monks do not share this philosophy regarding their wushu teaching. The Chinese government which introduced wushu into the Henan Shaolin Temple expressly stated that wushu was promoted as a sport and not a martial art. But later, when frustration over the inability of wushu exponents to fight became embarrassing, the Chinese government introduced “sanda”.

Sanda is not a new invention. It was an essential part of genuine traditional kungfu training in the past. Literally meaning “miscellaneous fighting”, sanda is free sparring. Naturally one uses the style of martial art he is trained in in his free sparring. Hence, exponents in Hoong Ka Kungfu, Wing Choon Kungfu, Eagle Claw Kungfu, Taijiquan and Baguazhang, for example, would use Hoong ka Kungfu, Wing Choon Kungfu, Eagle Claw Kungfu, Taijiquan and Baguazhang respectively in their sanda or free sparring.

However, due to various reasons, the methodology of combat training has been lost generally. Hence in their sanda, students of the modern Shaolin monks as well as of other kungfu styles generally resort to Western Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate, Taekwondo or free style fighting. But we at Shaolin Wahnam as well as other exponents who practice genuine traditional kungfu (including Taijiquan, of course) use our typical kungfu techniques in our sanda or free sparring.

Because students of modern Shaolin monks practice classical kungfu sets rather than modernized wushu forms, they maintain that they practice traditional kungfu rather than modernized wushu. They are of course entitled to their opinion. But in our opinion, their art is modernized wushu. We base our opinion on the following reasons. Both traditional kungfu and modernized wushu have the same forms. It is the philosophy and methodology of the practice that determine the difference.

Basically, traditional kungfu is meant for combat, and in the case of genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu, it is also meant for spiritual cultivation. Modernized wushu is meant for sport and recreation. The onus of traditional Shaolin Kungfu training, as richly documented in Shaolin classics and other literature, is force training and combat application, whereas that of wushu, as evident in public demonstrations and competitions, is form performance.

It is understandable that many students of the modern Shaolin monks may vehemently and aggressively oppose our opinion that their art is modernized wushu and not traditional kungfu. Without personally experiencing internal force, they may be unable to really appreciate what internal force is. Without any exposure to combat application using typical kungfu techniques, they may mistakenly think that kungfu patterns cannot be used for combat.

Hence, even if they accept that internal force training and combat application are essential features of traditional Shaolin Kungfu — and it is difficult to deny this fact as this has been extensively recorded in Shaolin literature — they may argue that their training also includes internal force training and combat application as they practice some external chi kung forms and breathing exercise, and they also free spar though they use Kickboxing or free fighting. It is like Taiji dancers saying they practice genuine Taijiquan just because they perform external Taiji forms even though they have no internal force and cannot defend themselves, or those who merely sit at a lotus position thinking that they practice meditation even though they cannot relax and their mind is dull.

Question 2

Are the monks in the temple at Henan trying to be something they are not?

Answer

No, I don't think the Henan monks are pretending. They are teaching what they themselves have learnt from their teachers. In fact they have done a very good job spreading Shaolin Wushu to the world.

The problem, in our opinion, is that many people, probably including many of the monks themselves, are unaware of the difference between Shaolin Kungfu and modernized Shaolin Wushu.

A major contributing factor to the confusion is that in Chinese the word “wushu” means what in the West would call “kungfu”, but “wushu” is promoted as a sport and not as a martial art. It is also significant that at the time when many of these monks were in their childhood or even before some were born, genuine traditional kungfu was virtually wiped off from the face of China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s when practicing any traditional arts like kungfu, chi kung and Zen was considered counter-revolutionary, the most serious crime in China at that time. Most of these monks, therefore, have not been exposed to genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu!

A brief historical background may give some insight into this situation, as well as into the source and the reason for the differences between traditional Shaolin Kungfu taught in Shaolin Wahnam and modernized wushu taught by the modern monks from the Shaolin Temple at Henan.

The Shaolin Temple was originally located at Songsan in Henan in north China. During the Ming Dynasty, another Shaolin Temple was built at Quanzhow in Fujian in south China by imperial degree. Henceforth, the focus and importance of Shaolin shifted from the north to the south.

When the Qing Dynasty replaced the Ming, the Qing emperor Yong Zheng ordered the burning of the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple by the Qing Army assisted by mercenary Lama kungfu experts from Tibet. Among the few who escaped were the Venerable Chee Seen and the Venerable Jiang Nan.

Jiang Nan escaped out of China and about 50 years later he taught my sigung (teacher's teacher), Yeong Fatt Khuen, near the Thai-Malaysian boarder. About 40 years later, my sigung taught my sifu, Ho Fatt Nam.

Chee Seen escaped to a remote part of Fujian at the Nine-Lotus Mountain where he built a second southern Shaolin Temple. A few years later this second southern Shaolin Temple was also burnt to the ground by the Qing Army, led by Pak Mei and Ko Chung Choong, the military governor of Guangdong and Guangxi.

Chee Seen's most senior disciple was the Venerable Harng Yein. Harng Yein taught Chan Fook, who left the Shaolin Temple at the Nine-Lotus Mountain before its burning, and returned to his home province in Guangdong where he taught my sigung, Ng Yew Loong. My sigung brought the Shaolin arts to Malaysia and taught by sifu, Lai Chin Wah, who was more widely known in martial art circles as Uncle Rigghteousness.

Hence, our Shalin Wahnam lineage is very clear. The name “Wahnam” is named after my two sifus, Lai Chin Wah and Ho Fatt Nam. Both their lineage can be traced directly to the southern Shaolin Temple.

Many people have heard about the burning of the Shaolin Temple by the Qing Army, but they do not know that it was the one at Quanzhou and later another one at Nine-Lotus Mountain that was burnt, and not the one at Henan. Later in 1928 the Shaolin Temple at Henan was also burnt, but not by the Qing Army but by a Republican warlord during the subsequent Kuomingtang period. But long before this time, the Henan Temple had been deserted, and no kungfu or wushu was practiced there. The burning of the Henan Temple had nothing to do with kungfu or wushu. It was burnt because a rival warlord used it as his military camp.

After the Communist replaced the Kuomintang in China, the Shaolin Temple at Henan was restored in the 1970s, after Jet Li's film “Shaolin Temple” had made the temple famous again. In the Henan Temple at this time there were only four monks, who were old and feeble, and they did not know any kungfu or sushu. Hence, for about a hundred years, there was no kungfu or wushu training at the Henan Shaolin Temple.

Then an incident which appeared insignificant at that time shaped the course of modern Shaolin history. Shin Nakamichi, the Japanese grandmaster of Shorinji Kempo (the Japanese version of Shaolin Kungfu), rightly commented that there was no longer any Shaolin Kungfu at the Shaolin Temple and it might have to be back-flowed from Japan. The Chinese government then invited the Venerable Hai Deng to the Henan Shaolin Temple to teach Northern Shaolin Kungfu.

However, probably due to policy difference as the Chinese government promoted modernized wushu as a sport and not traditional kungfu as a martial art, the Venerable Hai Deng soon left the Henan Shaolin Temple, which became a flourishing tourist center. Neither kungfu nor wushu was taught in the Temple then, but wushu schools mushroomed around the Temple, often taught by monks seconded from the Temple.

Wushu soon became very popular. Many Chinese rushed to learn wushu at the wushu schools around the Shaolin Temple at Henan because it was a good means to ensure employment as bodyguards or security guards at the many newly extablished shops, offices and factories, or as wushu instructors to meet the growing demand for wushu instruction. The highest hope was to become film stars, following the example of Jet Li.

Hence the martial art taught at the Shaolin Temple at Henan was modernized wushu. Later traditional Northern Shaolin kungfu forms and sanda or free sparring were introduced.

Sparring

A sparring practice during an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia in September 2003. From left: Gordon and Michael from Canada, and Chris and Peter from England. Notice that all of them used typical Shaolin patterns.

Question 3

I have a question concerning the Iron Fist training. I have been striking my fist against steel for about a year now after watching a documentary on Shaolin Kungfu. Now after being more educated on this great art I realize that although simply striking an object hundreds of times a day will harden my fist, without the proper chi kung exercises and correct methods of executing, it can lead to adverse effects and not getting the proper energy flow.

— Brandon, USA

Answer

You are right in your opinions. One can harden his fists, arms, legs or any parts of his body by striking them on some hard objects, like a sandbag or a pole, hundreds of times a day, but this would bring harmful effects if performed incorrectly. Two very common incorrect practices are leaving injured parts unattended to, and tensing the body during training thereby causing energy blockage.

Unless you have been systematically trained, if you punch your fists against steel hundreds of times a day, you are likely to injure your knuckles, and if the injuries are not relieved, this may lead to deformation or malfunction of your hands. If you constantly tense your muscles during training, it may lead to energy blockage with insidious but far-reaching consequences. It may affect your nervous system, your internal organs or make you stressful or aggressive.

Such type of training is known as “hard force training”. It is often translated into English as “hard conditioning”. Although this translation is widely used, in my opinion it is inappropriate, because it gives a wrong impression that a hardened part of the body is necessarily powerful, and it misses two important aspects of “hard force training”, resulting in the two very common mistakes mentioned above.

The first important aspect is the use of medication like “tit ta jow” or medicated wine, to relieve injuries. An alternative, which is usually better, is remedial chi kung exercise.

The second important aspect may be a big surprise to some people, and that is hard force training must be practiced in a relaxed manner! If a practitioner tenses his muscles or emotions, he would have harmful side-effects.

If you have accidentally derived harmful effects in your hard force training, an excellent way to overcome them is to perform Self-Manifested Chi Movement. However, Self-Manifested Chi Movement should be learnt personally from a qualified instructor. If this is not feasible, an alternative is to perform other chi kung exercises. A very good choice is “Lifting the Sky”.

Question 4

I bought “The Complete Book of Shaolin” about 6 months ago and was reading about the Iron Palm training. Should I use the same methods as Iron Palm? How should I execute the Iron Fist training to the utmost efficiency, Sifu?

Answer

You may get some result for your Iron Fist if you use the Iron Palm method, but it is not cost-effective. A better method is described in another of my Shaolin Kungfu books, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, and is summarized as follows.

Sit at the Horse-Riding Stance and punch out your fists, one at a time, for 30 times, breathing out explosively with a “her-it” sound as you punch. You should not be exhausted after the training.

After about three months of daily training, repeat the “Thirty Punches” but hold some weight in each hand, such as a dumb-bell. After about another three months of daily training when you can punch out comfortably holding a dumb-bell in each hand, you can proceed to punching a sandbag, but without holding a dumb-bell.

Sit at the Horse-riding Stance as you punch the sandbag, focusing your force at your fist each time you execute your punch one at a time. Make sure your mouth is open as you punch. Closing your mouth as you punch at the sandbag may be harmful. At appropriate intervals, explode out your breath with a “her-it” sound. You must be physically, emotionally and metally relaxed throughout the training.

Apply medicated wine on your fists after each training session. If medicated wine is not available, rub your hands under warm water to prevent blood clot and energy blockage.

At first the sandbag hardly moves as you punch at it. But as your force increases, you may send the sandbag swinging away with each punch. Gradually increase the weight of the sandbag.

After a year of daily training you can develop considerable force. Warning: if you execute a well placed punch on the solar plexus of an untrained person, you may kill him with just one strike! You have to be very careful. With power comes responsibility.

Internal foce in breaking brick

An old photograph about 20 years ago showing Sifu Ng Kowi Beng, who is one of Sifu Wong's inner-chamber disciple, employed internal force to break a brick with a palm strike.

Question 5

I met you in a chi kung course in 2000 where we talked about martial arts. I learned Aikido for six years, but I had to give it up for several important reasons. Now I have practiced Eighteen Lohan Hands for a year. Four months ago, I decided to learn Taijiquan and asked you to accept me as your student. But I've read in your website that you don't accept new students. So I thought: I would first learn from a local teacher who could teach me forms, stances, etc.

I just found three teachers. The first had learnt by video and books. The second had learnt just for one year. The third teacher, who teaches Chen Taijiquan, has practiced since 1985. So I learn from him. But there are some problems.

No martial practice. We don't practice Taijiquan application for combat.

No theory. We don't learn principles or explanations of methods and techniques.

The main problem concerns “dan tian”. He says the dan tian is behind the navel.

After one year of practicing Eighteen Lohan Hands Chi Kung it was very difficult for me to locate the dan tian at a new place. So I talked to him about my problem. He didn't like the question and he made a fool of me. He said to all of my classmates I had no chi experience and if I located the dan tian where we place it in Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung my chi could never be strong and never could grow.

After this episode, I was sad for some days. I go on with the classes but I am doubtful of him.

— Manuel, Spain

Answer

I am glad that you have been practicing chi kung and Taiji regularly. I use the word “Taiji” because what you have learnt from the Chen Style teacher is only external Taiji forms. Without martial application and internal force, it cannot be genuine Taijiquan.

If a teacher teaches only Taiji external forms, or Taiji dance, it is unlikely he teaches any Taijiquan theory. The reason is straight-forward. If he knows even basic Taijiquan theory, he would realize what he teaches is not genuine Taijiquan. Any basic Taijiquan theory will describe it as an internal martial art, which means that if he does not teach internal force and combat application, there is nothing internal or martial in whatever he teaches.

Dan tian (Tan tien) means energy fleld, that is an area where energy is focussed. Theoretically one can focus his energy at any place in his body. Some people focus their energy behind their navel, but this is uncommon. The place most masters and practitioners of chi kung, Taijiquan, Shaolin and other styles of kungfu focus their energy is the “guan yuan” point or the “qi hai” point, which is about two or three inches below the navel, and which is also where we at Shaolin Wahnam focus our energy. “Guan yuan” and “qi hai” mean “original gate” and “energy sea” respectively.

It was unprofessional of the teacher to make a fool of you when you asked him a legitimate question. Actually he was making a fool of himself, as his answer was not only wrong but showed he did not even know this basic fact that when “dan tian” was mentioned in Taijiquan and chi kung, it usually referred to the energy field at the “qi hai” point. This also reflects how shamefully Taijiquan has been debased by incompetent instructors.

You acted correctly by not arguing with him but taking his insult graciously, though you could also have said politely that as far as you understood from what you have read from Taijiquan and chi kung literature, the term “dan tian” usually referred to the energy field about two or three inches below the navel.

I am glad that despite his insults, you did not confront him, although with your previous Aikido training you could have beaten him in friendly sparring. You were also right in continuing his classes but were doubtful of him as a competent teacher..

Nevertheless, considering that he does not teach internal force and combat application, and you are doubtful of his Taijiquan knowledge, it may not be wise for you to continue learning from him. This does not mean your learning from him has been wasted. The Taijiquan forms you have learnt from him would be useful, for which you should thank him. You should also leave in a friendly manner.

Question 6

This is my weekly practice:

Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung — Lifting the Sky, Pushing Mountains, Carrying the Moon, Shooting Arrows, Generating energy flow — everyday. 15-20 minutes each in the morning and in the afternoon or at night

Taijiquan: classes. Tuesday 1.5 hours and Thursday 1.5 hours.

At home. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Monday: 1 hour, in the afternoon or night. Stance training:: Bow-Arrow,, Four-Six, False-Leg, 12 breaths each. Feeling weight on feet, i.e. shifting the body weight alternately from one foot to another, from one stance to another. 24-pattern Yang Taijiquan Set. 38-pattern Chen Taijiquan Set.

The reason for my e-mail, Sifu, is I feel I cannot wait until you come back to Spain to tell you about this and I would like to ask you for accepting me to be your Taijiquan student and one day become a teacher under you. I apologize for asking it by e-mail, but I wish to learn Taijiquan from you.

Answer

Your training programme is good. Spending 15-20 minutes every morning and afternoon or at night to practice Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung is excellent. This is exactly whatwe at Shaolin Wahnam recommend. If you have done this for a year, you must have excellent health and vitality. It is surprising your Taiji teacher did not recognize this. Instead of attending classes, you can now practice Taijiquan on your own.

I would suggest the following changes in your daily training programme. Now you do not need to practice the exercises from Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung (mentioned in Number 1 above) everyday. It is sufficient if you choose just one of the exercises (like “Lifting the Sky” or “Pushing Mountains”, etc) to practice for about 10-15 minutes two or three times a week.

Is this a contradiction of my advice to students to practice chi kung everyday? No, it isn't. Practicing “Lifting the Sky”, “Pushing Mountains”, etc is one way — and a very good way — of practicing chi kung. There are other ways too. Practicing genuine Taijiquan is another very good way too. When you practice genuine Taijiquan, you are practicing chi kung.

In fact, you can choose any patterns from any of your Taijiquan sets to practice as chi kung. Or you can practice any one complete Taijiquan set as chi kung.

An excellent way is as follows. Stand upright and be totally relaxed for about 3 to 5 minutes. Think of nothing and do nothing. If you find your chi flow move your body, go with the flow. This is practicing Wuji Stance. “Wuji” means “the Great Void”.

After the Wuji Stance, practice the Three-Circle Stance. Start at a comfortable time period, say about 12 breaths, then gradually work up to about 100 breaths, or more. Once a while, you may practice other stances, like Bow-Arrow or False-Leg, for variation. It is sufficient to practice just one stance, mainly the Three-Circle Stance, at one training session. After the “zhan-zhuang” or stance training, enjoy your energy flow.

Next, practice just any one Taijiquan set. You may practice different sets in different sessions, but for each session practicing just one set is sufficient. Read up on “differentiationg yin-yang” and “movement from the waist” from my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”, and put these principles into practice as you perform your set. But if you cannot implement these principles by learning from a book, it does not matter. You can learn them from me personally later on, or from a competent instructor.

But what is important is that you must performs the movements of the Taijiquan set without exerting any muscular tension or mental stress. Performs the movements gently, with balance and gracefulness. Don't worry about your breathing. Just breathe naturally as your perform the set, and enjoy your gentle movements. At the end of the set, enjoy your chi flow. Then conclude with Wuji Stance. The whole training session takes about half an hour to an hour.

If you follow the methods explained above, you will practice Taijiquan as chi kung, and your chi kung attainment will probably be better than that from practicing “Lifting the Sky”, etc as described above. However, you still have not practiced Taijiquan as a martial art because the combat dimension is missing, unless you can transfer your combat ability from your Aikido to Taijiquan.

For the combat dimension you can get it from my Intensive Taijiquan Course, which you can now attend as soon as you like. I shall conduct such a course in Malaysia from 11th to 17th January 2004, and I hope you can attend. Please see /general/tjq-course.html for details.

If this is not feasible, you can attend my regional Taijiquan classes which I sometimes offer. There will probably be one in Spain in August 2004. For further information, please contact Iñaki at :psiconet@euskalnet.net .

Javier and Laura teach Wahnam Taijiquan in Madrid, Jorge and Daniel teach in Barcelona, and Inaki teaches in San Sebastian. You will benefit much by learning from any of them.

After attending my Intensive Taijiquan Course, you should practice on your own, with a partner for Pushing Hands and sparring if possible. After about a year, if you have attained a reasonably high level, you may teach Taijiquan in the name of Shaolin Wahnam.

Many people may wonder how good you can be after just a year of training, and question your ability or credential in teaching. As recent as five years ago, I would have the same feeling. But the Taijiquan (as well as Shaolin Kungfu) situations today are such that after a year of dedicated and systematic training you may be qualified to teach in the name of our school. You may attain in one year what many others may not attain in ten, and certainly what Taiji dancers may not attain even if they train throughout their life time.

Combat application

A recent photograph showing Sifu Wong and his son, Wong Chun Nga, practice sparring. Sifu Wong has just held Chun Nga's right arm. Following the momentum of Sifu Wong's attack, Chun Nga turns around and executes a Shaolin pattern known as “Dragonfly Dots Water”, counter-attacking Sifu Wong with a “reserve kick” at Sifu Wong's groin. Sifu Wong deflects the kicking attack with his left leg.

Question 7

I have been studying Hsing-I for about 5 years and have been using chi kung (mainly standing still) to help it, but this has often left me feeling tired and listless. However, I also have been studying a way of breathing called the Buteyko Method' of Breathing which advocates shallow breathing. I have been doing this because of its success with asthma and hay fever etc. I have had good success with this method and I am now very reluctant to breathe deeply.

— Alin, USA

Answer

Hsing Yi Kungfu is an internal art, which should pay some importance to correct breathing. But if you feel tired and listless easily, despite having practiced Hsing Yi Kungfu for five years, it is probable that you only practice its external forms and have missed its essence. This is the usual case today with many people practicing internal arts like Hsing Yi Kungfu, Baguazhang and Taijiquan.

Merely standing still is not chi kung. Chi kung involves the cultivation of body, energy and mind. In some chi kung exercises the practitioner remains still, in others he moves about.

I do not know the Buteyko Method of Breathing. I am glad it has helped you to overcome asthma and hay fever.

Generally, deep breathing is better than shallow breathing. As you take in less air in shallow breathing, it may be the cause of your feeling tired and listless.

It is also helpful to note that while breathing shallowly in the Buteyko Method of Breathing enabled you to overcome asthma and hay fever, it does not follow that deep breathing was the cause of your previous health problems. As you are now free from asthma and hay fever, it may be helpful for you to gradually deepen your breathing.

Question 8

Is it possible to breathe chi deeply while taking a shallow breath? Can I visualize taking in chi to the abdomen — or wherever — without filling my lungs to capacity with air? I hope you understand what I am asking and I appreciate that it is difficult to understand without demonstration. However, I get the impression from your book that taking in air and taking in chi are entirely different.

Answer

Yes, your observation is correct. Chi does not mean air, it means energy. Breathing in classical Chinese does not mean taking and giving our air, it means taking in and giving our energy. Hence, in chi kung classics, where it is recorded that one should breathe in deeply, what is meant is not breathing in air deeply, but breathing in energy deeply.

In Abdominal Breathing, for example, practitioners do not breathe air into the abdomen — the lungs are air-tight. They breathe energy into the abdomen. Indeed, if you observe chi kung masters breathe, you may see that their lungs do not swell and fall as in taking in a lot of air.

Therefore, it is possible to breathe in chi deeply while taking a shallow breath of air. But this is possible only when you have become proficient in chi kung breathing. At the early stages, you usually breathe in air as a means to breathe in chi. Only when you have become skillful, can you breathe in a lot of chi without breathing in a lot of air.

Yes, you can visualize taking in chi to your abdomen or wherever you like, without filling your lungs to capacity with air. But it is inadvisable for you to do so without learning personally from a master. Incorrect practice can cause you much harm.

If it is not feasible for you to learn from a master, it is better to gradually deepen your breath. It is safer than attempting to visualize taking in chi without proper supervision. An excellent method is “Lifting the Sky”. Co-ordinate your breathing with your movement. At first your movement may be quite fast, as your breathing is shallow. Over a period of time, if you pay attention you will find that your movement has become slower, though you may not have been consciously aware of the slowing down process taking place. This means your breathing has gradually become deeper.

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