September 2003 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Trim Bamboo

”Trimming the Bamboo” is an effective technique against a snap kick or a thrust kick with the toes.

Question 1

I would like to ask your opinion on blocking oncoming kicks with the leg. I have found a Chinese proverb saying “block horizontal with vertical, vertical with horizontal”.

— Pavel, Czech Republic

Answer

Different schools and masters teach differently. In our school we disagree with blocking oncoming kicks with the leg, and blocking horizontal with vertical, vertical with horizontal, unless in special situations where applying the two principles give us a clear advantage.

Some examples of such special situations are as follows. When your opponent is very close and he strikes your ribs or side with his knee, you can raise your knee to deflect, rather than block head-on, his knee strike, and instantly kick his groin with your in-step or shin, or stomp his other knee with your sole. When your opponent executes a reversed-horizontal sweep with his palm, you can block head-on with a vertical elbow not at his palm or fore-arm but at his elbow or upper arm. The harder his sweeping attack is, the more he will be hurt.

However, in general, blocking on-coming kicks with the leg is using your weak point against the opponent's strong point. This, of course, should be avoided. You should use your strong point against his weakness — even in the two special situations mentioned above.

If all things were equal, there are many disadvantageous in employing kicking attacks. Hence, an exponent who uses kicking attacks not only has trained himself to be very skilful in kicks, he would also use kicks only when they are technically favorable. Moreover, a kicking attack is physically powerful due to its momentum. Hence, the attacker has three advantages — in skill, technique and power — which may off-set the innate disadvantages of kicking attacks.

If you raise your leg vertically (by bending your knee) to block an opponent's horizontal round-house kick, for example, you will be manifesting your weaknesses against his strength. Your reach is short, standing on one leg your root is unstable, and you do not have much power. It is like substituting your bent leg to replace your ribs for him to kick. He may fracture your leg if his kick is powerful, or fell you to the ground with his kicking momentum.

Hence, even if the attacker is not knowledgeable and skilful enough to create favorable conditions for his kicking attacks, but kicks randomly, as many combatants do nowadays, the situation is such that blocking his kicks head-on with your leg is disadvantageous to you. In this case, you give him his advantages without him doing anything — what we at Shaolin Wahnam call “free offer”. Worse, you also give him a bonus by giving the free offer at his most favorable moment.

The following elaboration will make these tactical points clearer. Suppose your opponent pretends to attack your lower leg. Responding to his feign move, you lift up that leg. Instantly he attacks your raised leg with a round-house or a whirlwind kick. Here, he defeats you by creating his own advantage.

Suppose without your opponent doing any maneuvering, you raise your knee to stand on one leg with some disadvantage to yourself. Seizing the opportunity he attacks you with a whirlwind kick. Here he defeats you because you offer him an advantage and he exploits it.

In the first case, he creates his victory. In the second case you creates your own defeat. Tactically they are different, although the techniques involved are the same.

Now, suppose that without any good reasons he kicks randomly, and you raise your leg to block his kick. He breaks your knee. Here, you offer your defeat to your opponent on a silver plate.

Tiger-Claws

Sifu Wong demonstrating a Shaolin pattern applying two Tiger-Claws known as “Hungry Tiger Catches Goat”

Question 2

How would you apply these principles of “blocking oncoming kicks with the leg” and “blocking horizontal with vertical, vertical with horizontal” to most typical street-fighting kicks, ie. Muay Thai low round-house to the knee or thigh, and straight kick aimed at the groin?

Answer

As explained in the above answer, I would not use these two principles except in special situations where these two principles are advantageous. To counter all attacks, including most typical streeet-fighting attacks like Muay Tahi low round-house kicks and straight kicks to the groin, I would mainly use the principle of “avoiding the opponent's strength and attacking his weakness”.

Suppose my opponent attacks my left knee or left thigh with a right low round-house kick. In this situation it is likely my left leg is in front at a left Bow-Arrow Stance or a left False-Leg Stance, or both my legs are in line in front at a Horse-Riding Stance or a Goat-Gripping Stance.

His strong points are that his kick can be powerful because of his swinging momentum, and his body is relatively far from my attacking hands. His weak points are that he needs some time to recover from his kicking attack before he can make another effective move, and the other parts of his body which may be used for attack at the same time — like his hands, head, shoulder and his other leg — are out of effective action. In other words, while he is kicking, he cannot effectively use his hands or his head to attack me.

Once you have understood these points, it becomes much easier to employ the appropriate techniques to implement the tactic of “avoiding his strength and attacking his weakness”. If I block his kick with my hand or leg, I shall be meeting his strength. If I bounce away, like many people do, I may avoid his strength, but I also miss exploiting his weakness.

One way to avoid his strength and exploit his weakness is as follows. Without moving my left leg, I can move my right leg backward to a reversed right Bow-Arrow Stance into a pattern called “Tame a Tiger with Beads” to avoid his sweeping kick. If I am initially at a left Bow-Arrow Stance, I do not need to move my legs; I need only to slant my body backward.

As soon as his sweeping leg passes me and before he can recover from his attack, without moving my legs I shift my body forward to a left Bow-Arrow Stance, with my left hand I brush away his right elbow, and simultaneously jab my right leopard punch into his right ribs, using a pattern called “Golden Leopard Speeds Through Forest”.

Now an opponent executes a straight kick at my groin. In this situation I may be at any stance. The strength and weakness of this attack are similar to those of the low round-house kick. If I move forward to block the kick with both arms in a crossed position, or with a vertical arm, or with a raised knee, I shall move towards the direction of his kick, which is meeting his strength. If I move a big step away, I miss exploiting his weakness.

One effective counter is as follows. I move one leg a small step backward into a False-Leg Stance, so that I am far enough from the full range of his kick but near enough to strike his kicking leg with my hand. If he uses his toes or front part of his sole to attack my groin, I shall strike his ankle with either a hand-sweep in the pattern “False-Leg Hand-Sweep”, or a palm slash in the pattern “Trim Bamboo Together with Branches”.

If I use a right False-Leg Stance and a right hand-sweep, my right palm will sweep from left top to right bottom. At the same right False-Leg Stance, if I use a right palm slash, my right palm will slash from right top to left bottom.

If the opponent uses his heel or his whole sole to attack me, the right angle formed by his foot and his lower leg protects his ankle, making it not advantageous for me to employ a hand-sweep or a palm slash. I shall still move a small step into a False-Leg Stance, but swing my knuckles to the side of his lower leg, using the pattern “Save Emperor with Single Whip”.

By moving just a small step into a False-Leg Stance, I change a situation where his kick is attacking my groin to a situation where he is stretching out his leg for me to strike — transforming his strength into a weakness — whereby I can dislocate his ankle or fracture his leg bones with one move.

Do we at Shaolin Wahnam think of what combat principles to use, and what techniques to implement the principles while we are in combat? No, while in combat, combatants have no time to think — though at advanced levels masters can think. They have to respond spontaneously, and correctly. The “thinking” was done earlier, often centuries ago by generations of masters. We just inherit their tradition.

We do not first think out some combat principles, then select techniques to implement the principles, and then make up situations where these principles and techniques can be used. In other words, we do not progress from principles to techniques to combat situations, like the progression in the explanation above.

Rather, in our combat training the progression is reversed. We progress from combat situations to techniques to principles. We practice combat sequences, which represent various advantageous ways of fighting generations of masters used in the past. From these fighting techniques we derive certain combat principles, which are recorded in established kungfu classics.

After having gone through this progression many, many times, we have a clear idea of the underlying philosophy. Only then we may reverse the progress to meet particular needs. In other words, in general we react spontaneously in combat, without worrying about combat principles because these principles are already ingrained into the combat sequences we use. But in special situations, like when we meet a formidable fighter or when the odds are against us, we shall draw from our knowledge and experience to create favorable conditions for ourselves to ensure victory.

Singer Legged Hungry Crane

This innocent-looking pattern called “Single Legged Hungry Crane, demonstrated by Sifu Wong about 30 years ago, is more deadly than the ferocious-looking Tiger-Claws shown above.

Question 3

I have also found a Chinese saying about blocking elbows with elbows. I have found elbow strikes very strong and useful, and hard to defend against.

Answer

Blocking elbows with elbows is meeting force with force, which we avoid unless we are overwhelmingly stronger than our opponent. If the opponent is stronger, logically it will be hard for you to defend against his elbow strikes if you meet them head-on.

Meeting force with equal or more force is encouraged in some martial arts. The saying you mentioned came from such martial arts. In our opinion at Shaolin Wahnam — of course, many others may disagree — we consider meeting force with force as third class kungfu.

Suppose your opponent moves his right leg forward to a right sideway Horse-Riding Stance into you, and simultaneously attacks you with a right horizontal elbow strike, using a pattern known as “Phoenix Flaps Wings”. You also move to a right sideway Horse-Riding Stance and block his horizontal elbow strike head-on with your right vertical elbow, using a pattern known as “Bar the Big Boss”.

Unless you are overwhelmingly stronger, this is a third class defence. It is like bringing your vertical elbow forward, thus increasing his destructive force, into his elbow strike. If he powerful, he will break your forearm.

There are many effective techniques in Hoong Ka Kungfu, or any kungfu, to counter this attack. If you are at a right Bow-Arrow Stance, for example, you may without moving your legs, shift your body slightly backward and simultaneously brush away his right elbow strike with your right Tiger-Claw, and instantaneously shift your body forward and attack his face with your left Tiger-Claw in a pattern called “Hungry Tiger Snatches Goat”. This is employing the tactic of “lin siew tai ta”, or “defence cum attack”.

Or, you may not even want to brush away his elbow first. Just shift your body slightly backward to begin the momentum and instantaneously shift forward with the pattern “Fierce Tiger Descends Mountain”, attacking his face with your right Tiger-Claw, brushing his elbow in the process, while your left Tiger-Claw is placed near your right elbow at ready. This is the tactic of “pat chiew yi ta”, or “no defence direct counter”.

If he tries to ward off your right Tiger-Claw with his right hand or attack you in any way, grip his right wrist with your left Tiger-Claw, and simultaneously “flow” your right Tiger-Claw beneath and around his right arm, and grip his right armpit, changing into a right sideway Horse-Riding Stance, and using the pattern “Second Auntie Catches Crab”. This is “lin siew tai ta”, or “defence cum attack”.

Or you may use another technique. Bring your front right leg a small step backward into a transitional right False-Leg Stance, and immediately move your back left leg backward into a right Bow-Arrow Stance, and simultaneously jab your fingers in a reverse palm strike (i.e. with your open palm facing upward) into his right armpit. This pattern is called “Dark Dragon Enters a Well”. This is “pat chiew yi ta”, or “no defence direct counter”.

If he swings his back fist at your face in a horizontal whip, slant backward slightly and grip his right wrist with your left Tiger-Claw, and then slant forward again and simultaneously strike his throat with your right palm thrust using the pattern “Poisonous Snake Shoots Venom”. This is “lin siew tai ta”, or “defence cum counter”.

Notice that in all the examples above, it does not matter much whether his elbow strike is horizontal, vertical, upward or downward, and whether he is at a sideway Horse-riding Stance or bouncing about as in Muai Thai. The underlying combat principle here is “Use long to strike short”. Your Tiger-Claw attacks and palm strikes are long, whereas his elbow strike is short.

How would exponents of other kungfu styles, like Wing Choon and Taijiquan, counter against elbow strikes. A Wing Choon exponent could move a small step diagonally to his left side and executes a thrust kick at the opponent's right kidney. Or he may move a big step to his right side into a sideway right Bow-Arrow Stance and executes a phoenix-eye fist at the opponent's solar plexus.

A Taijiquan exponent could use his right hand to “float” the attacking elbow and simultaneously use his left palm to strike the opponent's ribs, employing the pattern “Jafe Girl Threads Shuttle”. Or he may move a big step diagonally to his right side into a right Bow-Arrow Stance and strikes his opponent's face with “Slanting Single Whip”.

Question 4

How does clutch-kick look like and what is the Chinese name of the kick, i.e. what do the characters literally mean?

Answer

Suppose you are at a left Bow-Arrow Stance, and your opponent attacks you with a right thrust punch in his right Bow-Arrow Stance. You move your front left leg a small step backward into a transitional left Unicorn Step, “thread” forward your right hand to deflect his punch, and simultaneously kick at the inside of your opponent ‘s right front knee.

This is a “clutch-kick”, and this pattern is called “Yellow Oriole Drinks Water”. Usually a snap-kick to the groin, known as an :”organ-seeking kick”, is effected in this pattern, but a “clutch-kick” can also be used.

Suppose your opponent grips your right arm with his both hands. Both of you are at your respective right Bow-Arrow Stance. You bring your front right leg a small step backward into a transitional right False-Leg Stance, and using your shoulder as pivot you turn your right arm in a big circle clockwise, releasing his grip and in return you grip his right wrist with your right Tiger-Claw, and you grip his left elbow with your left Tiger-Claw. Simultaneously you kick at the outer side of his front right knee or lower leg with your left shin.

This is another example of a “clutch-kick”, and this pattern is called “Hungry Tiger Returns to Den”. Usually a thrust kick to the opponent's abdomen is executed in this pattern, but since the target is covered by the opponent's right Bow-Arrow Stance in this case, a “clutch-kick” is used instead.

In Chinese the “clutch-kick” is called “kuai tzi thoui” (Cantonese) or “guai zi tui” (Mandarin). “Kuai” means a clutch or a walking stick. “Tzi” means a child or small. “thoui” means a leg or kicks.

When you execute a clutch-kick, it is like hitting your opponent's leg with a walking stick. Humorously, when you give him such a kick, he will have to go on a clutch or walking stick.

Question 5

I have enjoyed your description of “Tiger Claw” training methods. Can you please briefly describe the philosophy and training methods of the “phoenix eye fist”, the "leopard/ginger fist“ and the ”crane beak"?

Answer

Unlike in many other martial arts where only the clenched fist is used, in Chinese kungfu different hand forms are employed to achieve special effects for particular purposes.

The phoenix-eye fist is formed by bending the index finger at the second joint (instead of at the third as in an ordinary clenched fist), supported by the thumb. It is excellent for strikking vital points. As vital points are small and often protected by muscles, an ordinary clenched fist may not reach them effectively.

There are different methods to train the phoenix-eye fist, but they can be classified into two main approaches, the hard and the soft. In the hard approach, like in Choo Ka Kungfu which is famous for its phoenix-eye fist, practitioners strike their fist against sandbags and other hard objects like tree trunks and metal surfaces. In the soft approach, as in Choe Family Wing Choon, the internal force needed for the fist is trained holistically, like performing Siu Lin Tau (its fundamental kungfu set) with energy and intent.

The leopard punch, which is also called the ginger punch, is formed by holding all the fingers at their second joints (instead of the third joints as in an ordinary clenched fist), with thumb hooked in. It is excellent for striking a long, narrow area instead of a spot, where it is too large for the phoenix-eye fist but too narrow for an ordinary clenched fist. Choice targets include the throat, the spine, the sides of the elbow and the knee, the ribs and the ankle.

As in the case of the phoenix-eye fist, the training methods of the leopard punch can be hard or soft. Hard methods mainly involve punching sandbags, whereas soft methods involve chi kung exercises.like “Pushing Mountains” and “Triple Stretch”.

The crane-beak is formed by bringing the four fingers and the thumb together to meet at a point. Its form is similar to the hook-hand in Northern Shaolin, though their combat functions may be emphasized differently. The crane-beak is mainly used for attack, like pecking the opponent's eye, whereas the hook-hand mainly for defence, like hooking the opponent's leg while he kicks.

The targets of the crane-beak are the eyes, the throat, the genitals, and vital points. What many people think is that the exponent uses his crane-beak to poke at an opponent's eye or throat. If that is his intention, using a phoenix-eye fist for the eye and a leopard punch for the throat would be more effective.

What they forget is that a crane uses its beak to pick up food, not merely poke at it. So an open crane-beak goes into an eye socket and the closed crane-beak comes out with an eyeball, or an open crane-beak goes into a throat or groin, and the closed crane-beak comes out with an Adam's apple or a testicle! It is gruesome; that is why the crane-beak is rarely used as such.

Also, what many people may not realize is that when a crane-beak expert intends to strike at his opponent's vital points, or to poke at his opponent's eyes, throat or genitals instead of pecking them out, he would slightly draw in his middle, fourth and little fingers, but slightly protrude his index finger supported by his thumb so that now the modified crane-beak is formed by just his index finger instead of all his five fingers. This resembles a phoenix-eye fist except the striking point is the tip of the index finger instead of its second knuckle.

The training methods for the crane-beak are both soft and hard. Soft methods include various chi kung execises to channel internal force to the fingers. One interesting exercise is called “the art of pinching flowers”. The practitioner pinches his fingers together as if pinching a delicate flower thousands of times a day. He also holds his fingers together for hours a time.

Hard methods involve embedding small heavy objects into sand, then soft soil, and then hard ground. The practitioner pecks up these objects thousands of times a day.

Recently there was some heated debate in our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum on whether a kungfu exponent could defend against a takedown attempt by a wrestler or a Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner. If they realize what even an innocent-looking crane beak could do, some zealous fans might not have suggested that despite attacks to his eye or throat, a wrestler or a Brazilian Jujitsu practitioners could still pin his opponent down and end the contest with an arm lock.

Elbow strike

In a sparring session during an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia, John Gouveia of South Africa attacked Sifu Wong with an elbow strike. Instead of blocking this powerful attacl head-on, Sifu Wong brushed it away, followed by “Fierce Tiger Catches Goat”. This photograph was taken at the time when Sifu Wong's hand first made contact with the attack, and was about to sink back his body to brush away the attacking elbow in a curve.

Question 6

I just found out that my wife is pregnant. I'm so happy! Then some friends started saying all the horrible things about pregnancy like bloatedness, water retention and nausea. Those negative symptoms sound like a pregnancy is something to be dreaded.

— Yang, Singapore

Answer

Congratulations. To be a father or mother is one of the most wonderful gifts of marriage. Cherish this gift, and love your wife and children even more.

Don't worry about the negative things some of your friends say about pregnancy, even though they may mean well. They are mis-informed. Pregnancy and subsequent safe delivery of the baby are natural happenings. You can bet your last dollar on that. Pregnancy and safe delivery have happened since humans appeared on earth, and they will continue to happen for millennia. They have brought joy and life, and will continue to bring joy and life.

It is a fact that some people are negative. If the sun shines, they complain it is hot. If it rains, they complain why the sun does not shine. If they are poor, they wonder why they don't strike a lottery. If they strike a lottery, they worry about robbers going after their money or their lives.

Don't let these negative people and their negative comments spoil the wonders and joys of you becoming a father soon. If they tell you negative things again, thank them for their concern but tell them that they are mis-informed, and that pregnancy and delivery are safe and natural.

If they tell you the same negative things again, tell them politely but firmly that you do not appreciate their negative thoughts, and that they should keep those thoughts to themselves. Warn them not to say such things to your wife. If they are stubborn and say those negative things again, ask them to shut up and mind their own business.

Question 7

I have heard and read of pregnant women who practiced Taijiquan and qigong and who had very good pregnancies and deliveries. On the other hand, there were also some people who said that women should not practice Taijiquan and qigong when pregnant as this would move the qi and the baby, whatever that meant. The worst thing is that there are doctors on both sides of the argument.

Answer

It is the same with everything else. If you do it correctly it is beneficial, if you do it wrongly it is harmful, irrespective of whether the practitioner is pregnant or not, and irrespective of whether the activity is Taijiquan, qigong, shopping or eating a meal.

Of course, when one is pregnant she has to be extra careful. Although theoretically practicing boxing or skiing correctly may be beneficial, it is not sensible to take the risk of accidents or unintentional wrong practice.

Taijiquan, if performed as an internal martial art, can be more risky than boxing or skiing to a pregnant woman. Taijiquan as a gentle dance can be fun and beneficial to her, but still there are some risks involved. Martial art qigong, like Golden Bell or Three-Circle Stance, is not suitable.

Qigong exercises for health and vitality, like dynamic patterns, are beneficial provided the pregnant woman is already a proficient practitioner. If she is a beginner, it is better for her not to practice, as it involves energy which she may not be competent enough to understand and control.

Question 8

My own teacher advised not to practice, citing his experience of having seen women miscarrying because of the practice. Which or who is correct?

Answer

Both are correct. As explained above, the answer depends on different variables.

I agree with your teacher advising your wife not to practice Taijiquan or qigong during pregnancy. We do not want your wife to be exposed to risks. The fault is not with Taijiquan or qigong, but with accidents or unintentional wrong practice.

But you can practice Taijiquan or qigong for your wife and baby! Whenever you have a wonderful Taijiquan or qigong session, gently think of them. Just gently think that the benefits of your training will go to your wife and baby. Many people may find this odd or crazy, but it works, and can actually be explained “scientifically”.

Yet, I leave the best news at the end. You wife during pregnancy can practice safely and with wonderful benefits a special form of qigong that I shall presently describe.

Question 9

I've been looking forward to being a father and my wife having the best pregnancyexperience, assisted by Taijiquan and/or qigong practice, but I'm utterly confused now.Please advise me.

Answer

You will have your wish come true. Your wife can do the following. It is safe, and the results are wonderful. Many people have benefited from this exercise.

Stand upright and be totally relaxed. Alternatively, lie in bed comfortably or sit on a comfortable chair. Smile from the heart. Don't worry about how to do it, just do it. Feel the joy blossoming from the heart.

Next, gently think of good energy flowing from the head through the body to the feet. Do this a few times. It is very important that the thinking must be gentle. Never force the thinking. At this stage, don't think of the baby or the womb.

Then, feel how wonderful it is to be pregnant and soon to give birth to a new life. If your wife is religious, thank God, the Buddha or whatever term she calls the Supreme Reality, for the wonderful blessing. If she is not religious, she can skip this part.

Then, while she is in a totally relaxed manner and mood, gently think that when the time is ripe, she will have a safe and pleasant delivery, and the baby will be healthy and beautiful. Conclude the exercise by smiling from the heart.

Do not treat this as a serious qigong exercise — though it is actually a serious qigong exercise. Treat it like play. Do it as if for fun. That means your wife should not worry at all if she is doing the exercise correctly, and she should do everything in the exercise or play in a gentle and pleasant way.

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