November 2003 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Wushu

A magnificent display of wushu in pre-arranged combat. As the movements are choreographed, and the wushu participants never practice sparring systematically, they would be unable to apply these movements in real fights.

Question 1

I have read Question 1 from May 2003 Part 1 regarding the integration of TCM and Western Medicine, and I think you are absolutely right.

How would you describe to those who, like me, have become accustomed to the Western approach to medicine, and insist that epidemiology and the spread of pathogens like SARS somehow invalidates the principles of TCM, specifically the principle that illness is based on internal causes more than external, even in cases of known pathogens like SARS.

I believe that Western medicine cannot fathom the idea that you have already outlined that the focus of SARS research should be upon those who succumbed to the illness and not on the virus itself. I am hoping that you will have an effective way to describe such an idea to those who find it completely foreign.

— Michael, USA

Answer

Thank you for your kind comments.

Introducing the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine to the West has been a passionate vision of mine. In my opinion, the greatest hindrance to Western medicine in its progress today is the innate weakness of its philosophy in viewing human beings at the physical dimension only, ignoring the dimension of energy and mind. The Chinese philosophy that a human being is made up of three components, namely physical body, energy and mind, excellently helps to overcome this innate Western weakness.

The whole range of diseases considered “incurable” if viewed from the Western philosophical perspective can be classified into two broad categories, namely degenerative, organic disorders, and psychological or psychiatric disorders. From the Chinese perspective, degenerative, organic disorders like asthma, diabetes, chronic pain, heart failure and cancer are disorders of energy, whereas depression, anxiety, aggression and phobia are disorders of mind.

From the Chinese perspective, a patient suffers from diabetes not because he has taken too much sugar but because he lacks the energy to digest the sugar, and a patient is depressed not because of external factors but because his mind has been crammed in. As Western medical philosophy views patients as only physical bodies, it does not even have the vocabulary and the concepts to understand these disorders.

Although these are disorders of energy or of mind, they may manifest in physical symptoms, like too much sugar in the blood stream in a diabetes patient, or lack of certain chemicals in a depressed person. As Western doctors have no concepts of energy and mind, they attend to what is most obvious from their perspective, i.e. treating the physical symptoms, which of course does not overcome the underlying disorders.

Now a third category of diseases is threatening mankind, and it is viral infections. From the Chinese perspective, viral infections are also disorders of energy. While in the case of degenerative disorders, there is insufficient energy to work the systems, in the case of infection, there is insufficient energy to clear away harmful invaders. Working the systems and clearing harmful invaders are natural processes.

In other words, sugar and viruses get into us all the time, but we naturally and without our conscious effect or interference digest the sugar and clear the viruses — a medical or biological truth some Western doctors seem to forget. If we remember this truth, then it becomes easier for us to see why the onus in overcoming diabetes or viral infection is not to inject insulin or to study the virus, but to release the appropriate energy in us to let the natural processes go on smoothly.

Once people have fixed their perspective, it is difficult to change it. You can see this stubbornness reoccurring time and again in the history of Western science and medicine. Practically all great scientific and medical discoveries and inventions were met with obstinate, and sometimes cruel, opposition.

Nevertheless, I still persist in my passionate vision. I sincerely believe that if the right people can see the advantage of a paradigm shift in medical thinking, great break-throughs will be made that will relieve a lot of unnecessary suffering. My recently published book, “The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine” is an attempt in this direction. In the last chapter of the book, I explain three areas where Western medicine can benefit from the Chinese, namely its philosophy, its vast empirical knowledge still unknown to the West, and its time-tested techniques that are simple and effective.

The Venerable Sek Koh Sam

A picture from an old kungfu magazine showing the Venerable Sek Koh Sam demonstrating Shaolin Lohan Kungfu. The Venerable Sek Koh Sam was a famous Shaolin monk who brought traditional Southern Shaolin Kungfu from China to Singapore and Malaysia, and his students spread it to many parts of the world.

Question 2

I have your book, “The Art of Chi Kung”, and I have a question for you regarding “Carrying the Moon” on p.13-15. After the initial forward bend, and subsequent raising of the body and arms, the book instructs one to bend the arms slightly and form the shape of the full moon with thumbs and index fingers once the hands are above the head. Does “once the hands are above the head” refer to the arms being at a 180 degree angle with the body or simply once the hands are higher than the head?

— Krista, Thailand

Answer

Your questions touch on some crucial points in chi kung training, for which many people have misconceptions. The answers therefore will benefit many people.

I do not understand what you mean by “the arms being at a 180 degree angle with the body”, but that does not matter. What matters is that you should not make a simple movement difficult. Just refer to the illustrations in the book and follow the simple instructions. Do not worry about anything not mentioned in the instructions.

For example, if the instruction is “breathe in gently through your nose”, then just do that, i.e. breathe in gently through your nose. If you breathe in forcefully through your nose, or breathe in gently through your mouth, then you make a mistake.

But do not worry about how gently is gently — just breathe in gently. Do not worry about whether you should breathe into your chest or your abdomen, or whether you should place your tongue upward touching your upper teeth when you breathe in. If these other points need to be followed, they will be mentioned in the instruction. As the instruction is, just breathe in gently through your nose.

And do not try to be smarter than the master who provided the instruction. Do not , for example, visualize the energy coming in through your nose to be gold or purple in colour, or that it comes from Mars. If these points are needed, they would be included in the instruction. If they are not in the instruction, do not add them in, as if the master who gave the instruction were not as smart as you.

Question 3

And when I am instructed to form the shape of the full moon with thumbs and index fingers, does this refer to the wisdom mudra?

Answer

This is an example of making a simple and effective exercise difficult and possibly harmful. Forget about the wisdom mudra and just perform the exercise according to the clear, simple instructions.

Some people are fond of adding irrelevant meaning to an exercise. They often take in concepts and practices from arts or knowledge that they have learnt or read about., and the more esoteric the concepts the better. For example, they may have read about mudras in Varjayana Buddhism, or about the Five E,emental Processes in Taoism. So they may say that certain movements correspond to the water process, and other movements to the fire process. But the irony is that they often do not know what they themselves are talking about.

Some mediocre instructors also do that to make their teaching complicated so as to appear profound. The truth is that great teachers make difficult exercises simple, and profound results are usually attained through very simple exercises.

For example, Einstein's formula, e=mc2, is so simple. It is not some complexity like e=m+4832k times 78.578c to the square root of 2.98753. Yet the results are so profound. The mathematics required to obtain his fomula must be very complex, but as a great scientist he was, Einstein made difficult mathematical exercises simple for us.

The same situation occurred in chi kung exercises. To produce the benefits that “Carrying the Moon” now gives, there could be numerous exercises each with complicated movements. But over the centuries, generations of masters streamlined these many exercises and complicated movements into one complex exercise. Then they further simplified this complex exercise into the present “Carrying the Moon”, which is simple and effective. As it is, the masters did not find the wisdom mudra necessary in this exercise. Had it been necessary, it would have been included.

Question 4

I am also unsure as to the next step in the exercise. The book then guides the reader to continue backwards until the back bends in an arc, with the hands forming the round shape of the moon. However the corresponding figure (2.3) does not match this description. Do you intend for the reader to then bend the rest of their fingers so that each hand forms its own circle, or for the wrists to rotate inwards so that both hands are curved inwards to form the shape of the moon over our heads?

Answer

If you do not attempt to read extra meaning into the simple instructions, you will find the instructions clear and easy to follow, and correspond exactly with the illustrations.

Just bend back in an arc with the hands forming the round shape of the moon over your head, as shown in the illustrations. What is so confusing about this?

But look at your description. “Bend the rest of their fingers so that each hand forms its own circle, or for the wrists to rotate inwards so that both hands are curved inwards to form the shape of the moon over our heads.” This is confusing.

Wushu Staff

A young girl demonstrating a wushu staff, or “gunshu”.

Question 5

I am sorry to bother you with such detail. However, in order for me to benefit fully from the exercises, I want to make absolutely sure that I am performing them correctly. I would also very much like to know if you are or will be teaching at all anywhere in South East Asia, and would really love the benefit of receiving your teachings in person.

Answer

Many people are like you, thinking that the more complex the exercise the better will be the result. Paradoxically it is often the reverse, especially in our Shaolin Wahnam teaching. Indeed, many students have expressed amazement first at the simplicity of our chi kung exercises, then at the profundity of their results.

For example, by pushing their hands 30 times in “Pushing Mountains”, our students, even fresh beginners, can develop discernable internal force in 15 minutes which many others may not develop in six years! Yet, in Sinew Metamorphosis the same students discover that they can develop even more internal force in 5 minutes by flicking their fingers 3 times! It is simply incredible, and understandably many people may not believe what we say.

“Pushing Mountains” and “Flicking Fingers” are simple exercises. They do not involve complicated movements or visualization. But their results, if performed correctly, are very profound.

It is worthwhile to mention that “simple” does not mean “easy”. Indeed, precisely because they are simple, they are very difficult for the uninitiated to perform correctly. “Flicking Fingers”, for example, consists of only one type of movement, but if a student makes just one mistake in that one type of movement, he is 100% out. Hence, it is necessary to learn such simple exercises personally from a master or at least a competent instructor.

I offer intensive chi kung courses in Sungai Petani, Malaysia, which is in South East Asia. Please refer to http://shaolin.org/general/ck-course.html for details of the course, and to http://shaolin.org/comments/comments.html for the comments many of the course participants have made. If you attend a course, you will experience the vast difference between learning from me personally and learning from my books.

Question 6

I was reading an answer in your Question-Answer Series and I got very confused about this particular part of the answer: “The introduction of wushu, the modern form of demonstrative kungfu popularized by present-day China, quickens the transformation of kungfu from a martial art to a dance.”

— Luis, Brazil

Answer

In the past, kungfu was always practiced as a martial art. There were many styles of kungfu, such as Lohan, Praying Mantis, Huaquan, Xingyiquan, Taijiquan, Baguazhuang, Hoong Ka, Wing Choon and Choy-Li-Fatt. Force training and combat application were two essential aspects of kungfu.

But towards the end of the Qing Dynasty and during the Republican period, when rich landlords invited kungfu masters to teach their children, these children who were used to pampered living, were often lazy to endure the vigorous kungfu training. Genuine masters would not compromise their arts, but mediocre instructors would teach the rich children kungfu forms as a sort of physical exercise, leaving out the demanding force training and combat application.

These students would perform the beautiful kungfu forms during gatherings and celebrationss, and their parents as well as invited guests who could not tell the difference between kungfu forms and genuine kungfu, would be very pleased, thinking that the instructors had done their job well. Genuine kungfu practitioners referred to such dance-like kungfu forms, which were beautiful to watch but uselss for combat, as “fa khuen sau thieu” (Cantonese pronounciation) or “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”.

When the present-day Chinese government took over from the Republican in 1949, practicing kungfu and chi kung as well as other traditional arts was considered bourgeois, and was discouraged or forbidden. The worst period was during the Cultural Revolution when anything traditional was considered counter revolutionary, the most serious crime in China at that time. This dealt a death blow to traditional kungfu and chi kung in modern China.

But the Chinese government later reversed its policies. In its effort to improve the physical fitness of the people, the government introduced kungfu not as a martial art but as a sport. By this time genuine kungfu masters were very rare in China, but the government managed to gather some masters willing to synthesize the numerous styles of kungfu into just one style with seven categories.

In other words, before this time there were many different styles of kungfu like Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw, Taijiquan, Baguazhuang, Dragon Style and Choy-Li-Fatt. But since this time, in the promotion programme of the government, there are not different styles but only one style, called wushu.

It is helpful to know that there are many terms in Chinese to refer to martial art. The term “kungfu” is colloquial, and popular in south China and amongst overseas Chinese. The official term during the Qing Dynasty and Republican period (17th to 20th centurys) in both mainland China and amongst overseas China in written language was “quanfa”, which was often shortened to “quan”. Hence, Shaolin Kungfu is “Shaolinquan”, and Taiji Kungfu is “Taijiquan”.

Since 1949 the term the Chinese government uses for martial art is “wushu”. Morphologically “kungfu”, “quanfa” and “wushu” mean the same thing, i.e. martial art. Hence, what the West call “Shaolin Kungfu” and “Tai Chi Chuan” are “Shaolinquan” and “Taijquan” , and also “Shaolin Wushu” and “Taiji Wushu” in Chinese.

But since the present day Chinese government synthesized the numerous styles of kungfu or wushu into one uniform style, there are no more Shaolin Wushu, Taiji Wushu and other styles of Chinese martial art, but just wushu. This modernized wushu is classified into seven categories, namely

  1. Changquan or Long Fist
  2. Nanquan or Southern Fist
  3. Taijiquan or Tai Chi Chuan
  4. Daoshu or Knife Techniques
  5. Jianshu or Sword Techniques
  6. Gunshu or Staff Techniques
  7. Jiangshu or Spear Techniques

Initially there was only one set for each category. For example, for the Changquan category there was one set of Changquan, for the Nanquan category there was one set of Nanquan, and so on. There were no force training and no combat application. Later, other sets were added.

This classification into seven categories was for the purpose of competitions. Points were awarded for the elegance and gracefulness of solo performance of a standard set of that category. There were no tests on force or combat.

Initially there were some controversies between the traditionalists who practiced various styles of traditional wushu or kungfu, and the modernists who practiced modernized wushu. Eventually the modernists won overwhelmingly, with the result that there is little traditional wushu in China today.

Even before the various styles of kungfu were synthesized into modernized wushu, genuine kungfu was turning into “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”. Kungfu instructors in China as well as overseas taught only traditional kungfu forms, but little or no force training and combat application. The introduction of modernized wushu, where points are awarded for beautiful solo performance, quickens this transformation of kungfu as a martial art to a dance.

However, lately there have been attempts to reintroduce combat into wushu. Free sparring, known as “sanda” in Chinese, became popular. But because there was a break of about a hundred years when kungfu has been practiced as solo performance, the methodology to train combat application has been lost. As a result sanda exponents, who are actually wushu exponents, use Karate and Kickboxing techniques in their sparring.

The situation has become ironical, or comical. These wushu practitioners, including masters, can perform beautiful wushu forms, which are virtually the same as traditional kungfu forms, but when they spar, they throw all their beautiful forms to the winds and spar like kickboxers. Some masters even go to the extent of saying that traditional kungfu forms cannot be used for fighting!

We at Shaolin Wahnam are an exception. We believe and put into practice our belief that traditional kungfu forms are very effective for combat, and we place great importance on internal force training.

We are in a privileged but at the same time very delicate position. We are aware that the great majority may disagree with and often criticize us. Whether they prefer to bounce about and spar like kickboxers is their choice and right, and we have no problem with that, but we are willing to share the methodology for kungfu sparring with other kungfu schools, even though they are not part of our worldwide Shaolin Wahnam organization, if they are sincere in wanting to restore the dignity and effectiveness of traditional kungfu sparring.

Combat Application

An illustration from an old kungfu magazine showing two kungfu exponents demonstrating an application against a whirlwind kick. The movements here are pre-arranged, but if one practices them diligently and systematically over a reasonable period of time, he will acquire the skills and techniques to apply them in real combat.

Question 7

I practice wushu, and it is not even near like a dance. We have lots of sparring, many of these are even violent, and we learn lots of great fighting techniques and movements. Of course we practice forms, but in my conception, that is part of the training, and most important, since from the forms I have acquired a great improvement in my speed while fighting.

Answer

The following explanation will make the situation clearer. We may, for convenience, classify wushu or kungfu practitioners into the following broad categories.

  1. Wushu Demonstrators. Practitioners in this category practice beautiful wushu forms for demonstration and form competi9tion. They do not train force or combat application. They cannot defend themselves.
  2. Wushu Kickboxers. These practitioners practice wushu forms, but use techniques of other martial arts, especially Kickboxing for sparring, which they call “sanda”. Their force training is usually external. They can defend themselves.
  3. Kungfu Gynmasts. These practitioners practice traditional kungfu forms, and usually nothing else. They do not train force or combat application. They cannot defend themselves. This category includes those who practice external Taiji forms, who constitute a sub-category which may be called Taiji Dancers.
  4. Kungfu Boxers. They practice traditional kungfu forms, but when they spar they employ techniques from other martial arts, particularly Karate and Taekwondo. Their force training is generally external. They can defend themselves.
  5. Kungfu Fighters. They practice traditional kungfu forms and use them for sparring, which is often hard and sometimes violent. Their force training is usually external, but may include internal training like chi kung. They are good fighters. They are a minority.
  6. Kungfu Cultivators. They practice traditional kungfu forms and use them for sparring. Their force training is usually internal. Although they are good fighters, they regard their training as personal development. They usually practice internal arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Hsing Yi Kungfu, but may also include Shaolin (as in Shaolin Wahnam). They are a rare minority.

The above classification will help you to determine which category you fall into. As your sparring is violent, it is unlikely you are a Kungfu Cultivator. If you typically use your wushu or kungfu forms to spar, then you are a Kungfu Fighter, otherwise you are either a Wushu Kickboxer if your forms are from modernized wushu, or a Kungfu Boxer if your forms are from traditional kungfu. The above categories are, of course, general guidelines. There can be much overlapping between categories.

The great majority of wushu or kungfu practitioners today fall under the categories of Wushu Demonstrators and Kungfu Gymnasts, including Taiji Dancers. They spearhead the transformation of kungfu (which is called “wushu” in Chinese) from a martial art to a dance, sometimes not being aware of this transformation themselves. This transformation started with genuine kungfu becoming “flowery fists and embroidery kicks” for solo performance. Then came the Taiji dancers who practice external Taiji forms for recreation. The latest addition were modernized wushu practitioners for demonstration.

Kungfu Boxers and Wushu Kickboxers were a reaction against the ineffectiveness of kungfu or wushu gymnastics, which they or their earlier teachers previously practiced. Because they did not have the methodology to systematically train kungfu sparring, they resort to Karate, Taekwondo and Kickboxing.

Even in the past many people practiced kungfu only for fighting. This trend became much emphasized during the later part of the Qing Dynasty when kungfu practitioners, especially those practicing Souther Shaolin and its derivative styles, wanted to overthrow the Qing government. Many of these kungfu fighters migrated overseas.

Kungfu Cultivators are a rare breed. Practitioners of internal arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Hsing Yi Kungfu naturally fall under this category if their training still involves internal force and combat application. Shaolin Kungfu originally was meant for personal cultivation, but it took a crucial turn when the southern Shaolin Monastery was burnt, and consequently its practitioners emphasized fighting.

We at Shaolin Wahnam are different because our First Patriarch in Sifu Ho Fatt Nam's lineage, the Venerable Jiang Nan, was a missionary rather than a revolutionary. He escaped out of China, and therefore was not involved in the revolutionary activities of that period. (The other of our First Patriarch in Uncle Righteousness' lineage, the Venerable Chee Seen, was a revolutionary.)

Question 8

Maybe here in Brazil the concept of wushu is different from the one you mean in the answer. If you could enlighten me about this, I would appreciate it. Our style is Wushu Kung Fu.

Answer

The terms “wushu” and “kungfu” are confusing not just in Brazil but all over the world, including in China.

The confusion may be cleared if we understand the following two points.

Hence, we can have the following scenarios.

In my question-answer series, however, I usually use the term “kungfu” to mean ““traditional Chinese martial art”, and “wushu” to mean “modernized kungfu forms practiced as a sport”.

The name of your style, Wushu Kungfu, is interesting. The master who coined this term might want to indicate that it was a style of kungfu called “Wushu” (like a style of kungfu called “Hoong Ka” or “Praying Mantis”), or he might want to indicate that it was a style of wushu practiced not as a sport but as kungfu or martial art. What is obvious is that he did not understand Chinese, for the two Chinese terms mean “martial art martial art”.

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