April 2004 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Shaolin Kick

Sparring has been an integral aspect of genuine traditional kungfu training. This invaluable photograph taken about 35 years ago shows Sifu Wong's senior classmates engaged in an annual grand free sparring competition in private to choose the top ten disciples in Sifu Ho Fatt Nam's school following the tradition of the southern Shaolin Temple in the past. Combatants did not wear any protective gear, and except the eyes and genitals, they were allowed to strike anywhere with full force. Nevertheless, the combatants had, and exercised good control, and serious injuries were uncommon. Here, a combatant jumped up and executed a thrust kick at his opponent.

Question 1

Like many of the people who have written to you, I am convinced that you are the Master I have been searching for. Your kindness and compassion can be felt from your writings, even though I have never had the honour of meeting you.

I had a very enlightening experience reading all your answers (and also reading the questions posed by others). I have learnt Karate and Aikido but have already been thirsty for the neigong which I knew was missing. I later learnt Wushu in school but I knew even then it was all about external forms.

— Kaiwen, Singapore

Answer

Thank you for your kind words. A few people have kindly commented, though exaggerated, that my questions and answers are like an encyclopedia of martial arts on the internet. It is my privilege and honour to share with others my knowledge and experience of the arts that have given me and my students tremendous joy and benefits.

Yes, neigong, or internal art, is missing in Karate, Aikido and all other non-Chinese martial arts, as well as many Chinese martial arts. The martial arts that are particularly rich in neigong are Shaolin, Taijiquan, Pakua and Hsing Yi. However, much of Shaolin and Taijiquan taught today is devoid of neigong. Modernized Wushu is taught as a sport, and is all about external forms.

Even in the past, neigong was taught only to selected disciples in Shaolin Kungfu. That is a main reason why many genuine Shaolin schools today do not teach neigong. It is because their early masters did not practice neigong although they were great kungfu fighters.

Question 2

Is it really possible to teach the combat applications of Shaolin and Taiji in an intensive course? I know many people have asked the same question on the Qigong (Chi Kung) course, and you have replied that “Its purpose is to equip you with fundamental skills and techniques so that you can competently practice on your own after the course. You need to practice for at least a few months before you can have lasting good results”.

Answer

Yes, it is really possible, and it has been amply confirmed by practical experience of those who have attended my course. In the first place if I myself have doubt whether the course participants will get the benefits as promised in the course objectives, I would not offer the course.

For example, many people have requested me to offer an intensive course on the “Small Universe”, but as I am still unsure whether I could help the course participants to acquire the benefits of the “Small Universe” — not just the techniques — within the time frame of an intensive course, I have refrained from offering it. I am making progress in the methodology of teaching the “Small Universe”, and when I am sure of the result, I may offer the course in the future.

What I have said about the Intensive Chi Kung Course concerning fundamental skills and practicing on their own, also applies to the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and the Intensive Taijiquan Course. If course participants practice on their own for a few months what they have learnt in the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and the Intensive Taijiquan Course, they can apply their techniques and skills effectively in combat. Even when they spar with their friends or students immediately after their return from the course, the latter will be amazed at their rapid improvement within such a short time. After a year, the latter would have no match at all.

There is nothing mysterious or mythical about it. It all boils down to vision, direction and systematic training. Both my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and my Intensive Taijiquan Course focus on internal force training and combat application. A course participant has about 6 hours of systematic sparring a day, which means he has about 30 hours of systematic combat training from the course.

Most kungfu students do not have any systematic combat training at all. Many may have engaged in free sparring, but free sparring is not systematic combat training. In fact, the way they approach free sparring is counter-productive. Not only they sustain a lot of internal injuries, they condition themselves to fight in a way where they never apply their kungfu techniques and skills effectively. In principle, it is like training in football but playing hockey instead.

Let us take a scenario. Suppose you are trained in a way of a typical kungfu school today. To learn fighting, you and a partner practice free sparring. You stand in a typical kungfu stance using a typical kungfu pattern. Your partner charges at you and rains blows on you. You start to think to yourself, “Now what kungfu pattern should I use to defend against these blows?” Before you could even finish running your thought in your mind, a few blows have landed on your face and body.

After some time (which can be a few seconds, days or weeks later) you become smarter. As your sparring partner charges at you, you start to move back to avoid his blows. But because you stand at a deep kungfu stance, your retreat is slow, and your partner still rains blows on your face and body.

After some time, you discover that if you abandon your kungfu stances and bounce about, you can move faster, but your partner also charges in fast and rains blows on you. Soon you discover that you have no time to think of which kungfu techniques to use, so you just block his blows instinctively. You also discover that you can also rain blows on him,

Your sparring partner has become smarter too. He discovers that he can kick you or grab you or throw you onto the ground. He also learns that he may use some tricks. For example, he may pretend to strike you with a blow, but as you block or dodge the feign move, he kicks at you. Such free sparring may go on for years.

If you are tough like a buffalo and didn't chicken out even after receiving a few broken jaws and broken bones from the blows and kicks, over the years of free sparring you may discover some special ways of counter-attacking. For example, when your partner strikes you with a blow, instead of blocking or bouncing away, you may move to his side and strike his ribs before he has time to pull back his attacking hand. You may also discover that if you are skilful enough, you can apply this counter-attack even if his initial blow is a feign.

In a year of free sparring, there may be many occasions when you can use this counter-attack. But these occasions occur so fast that you are usually unprepared for them. Hence, in practical terms you may actually use such a counter-attack a few times in a year of free sparring, and you may be successful only once or twice. Most of the time you would only say to yourself, “Oh, I could use that special counter-attack”, but your hands and legs are too slow for your intent.

Why are you too slow? And why can't you use the kungfu techniques that you perform in solo forms? The reason is that your free sparring has been haphazard and unmethodological. After 10 years of free sparring you may not be more efficient than when you were in your first year!

Now, take another scenario. You stand at a typical kungfu stance using a typical kungfu pattern. Your training partner rushes at you to rain blows. But he couldn't. As soon as he makes his first move, irrespective of whether it is real or feign, you intercept it with a tiger-claw, using a tactic called “one closes two”, in such a way that he cannot continue his other hand attack without making an adjustment. But before he can make the adjustment, you drive a palm strike with your other hand into his ribs to fracture them, had you wanted to, using a Shaolin pattern called “Dark Dragon Draws Water”. But of course you stop just short of target with your trained control.

Will this scenario happen? It never will, if your “training” is haphazard. It surely will, if your training is methodological and systematic.

At first your partner does not rush at you. He moves in at a comfortable speed for you to execute your counter-attack. How did you discover this counter-attack? You didn't. It was evolved from centuries of actual fighting, and is taught to you by your master who has inherited this technique. You and your partner would have to practice just this sequence of attack and counter-attack 50 times a day. In three months, you and your partner would have practiced it a few thousand times, compared to only a few times in 10 years had you been doing haphazard free sparring.

By practicing systematically a few thousand times, you partner will be able to attack you with more force and speed, and you will be able to counter-attack more efficiently than others who perform similar attacks and counter-attacks haphazardly a few times in 10 years. In other words, although you have trained for only three months, if someone rushes at you to rain blows at you, you will be able to handle this combat situation more efficiently than a kungfu student who has done haphazard free sparring for 10 years.

What would you do if your partner makes an adjustment successfully and executes a side kick at you as you attempt to counter-attack with a palm strike? Spontaneously you withdraw your front leg to avoid his kicking attack, and simultaneously strike his kicking leg with your arm, using a Shaolin pattern called “Lohan Strikes a Drum”.

You can do this effectively because your master has the vision to foresee that as you counter-attack with a palm strike, your opponent may respond in a number of preferred moves. He also has the direction to train you systematically to respond to these moves. Had you been performing haphazard free sparring, you would have to respond on the spur of the moment, which is another way of saying your respond will be artless and impromptu.

Of course your opponent may attack you in other ways besides charging at you with blows. Your master has the vision to predict the numerous ways an opponent would attack, and provides the direction of your systematic training.

Question 3

I understand that Qigong can be improved with self-practice, but I would have thought that Shaolin and Taiji fighting need more instruction. I read the Q&A that in the past, students (such as your venerable self) had to move from set to set over a period of time and might also spar to apply what they learnt. A student in the intensive course would not have these training regimes.

Answer

It is understandable that many people would angrily accuse me of boasting or talking nonsense when I say that students in my intensive courses learn more in a week than what others may not learn in many years. But it is unreasonable for them not to check the facts before making accusations and slanderous attacks.

Let us look at the facts. How many chi kung practitioners do you know who can tap energy from the cosmos, generate an internal energy flow, and direct chi to various parts of their body after having learnt chi kung for 5 years, 10 years or 20 years. Very few or none.

How many Shaolin practitioners do you know who can develop internal force, apply Shaolin techniques and tactics effectively for combat, and experience tremendous joy and freedom or even have a glimpse of their Original Face? How many Taijiquan practitioners can generate an internal energy flow as a result of performing their forms, can be gentle and graceful yet forceful and fast in combat, and experience happiness and inner peace or even a glimpse of Tao?

Unbelievable it may be to many people, every student who attended my Intensive Chi Kung Course, Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan Course accomplished the above results during the course itself! It is not for no reason that the fee is US$1000 or US$1500 with a satisfaction guarantee.

If people do not believe in what I claim, that is their right. If they find my fees exorbitant, that is their opinion. But if they want to call me a liar behind my back, they should check the facts first.

Many of those who have attended my courses have thanked me gratefully. I have received more appreciation letters than I can post in my “Comments” section at /comments/comments.html While answering this question, I receive an appreciation letter from Robin Gamble (his real name), who has spent many years studying in China. Here is a short quotation: “Firstly please let me thank you for the superb Taijiquan course. It fulfilled all of my expectations and much more. In fact it took several days after the course for much of the content to sink in. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to further Taijiquan training with you and Wahnam.”.

What I teach in my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan Course is vastly different from what is usually taught in regular classes. Students do not learn kungfu sets (in the usual way) — they already know them before they attend my course. What they learn in the course is what is not taught in most other schools but what we in Shaolin Wahnam believe is fundamental in kungfu training, like attaining a one-pointed mind, generating energy flow, developing internal force, using typical kungfu forms for combat, and applying tactics and principles.

One may need a paradigm shift in kungfu training before he can really understand what we are talking about here. For example, when we say we use our kungfu forms for combat, we mean exactly what we say. But most kungfu practitioners today are so used to fighting without any kungfu forms that they would interpret what we say differently. They may bounce about, punch and kick like Kickboxers do, yet they may still think they use kungfu forms for combat, and think we do the same. Similarly, when we say we feel joy and peace after our training session, most kungfu practitioners are so used to being exhausted and agitated after their training that they either do not believe what we say or have a very different concept of our meaning.

There is a lot of Shaolin and Taijiquan fighting instruction in my course. Students probably learn more combat principles and tactics, and engage more in kungfu combat during the five-day course than all the years before. Before the course they could not effectively apply their Shaolin or Taijiquan forms for combat, even though they might have practiced the arts for many years or were good fighters using freestyle fighting, but after the course they could. Before the course they merely heard about internal force but did not really know what it was, but after the course they could effectively develop and experience internal force.

But the most rewarding aspect of the course is the spiritual aspect. Many of my students came looking for something missing in their arts — though they could not define what exactly was missing. And they found it during the course itself. They found tremendous peace and joy. They found from their direct experience that genuine Shaolin and Taijiquan training was a process of spiritual cultivation. Before that they merely read about it in books. A few have told me that the course was a life-changing experience for them.

Free Sparring

This is another invaluable photograph showing two combatants in another annual grand free sparring competition of Sifu Ho Fatt Nam about 35 years ago, following the tradition of the southern Shaolin Temple. Notice that they used typical Shaolin kungfu patterns, which were the same as what our Shaolin Wahnam kungfu students use today, and which were also the same as those were used by Shaolin disciples in real fighting a few hundred years ago, as revealed in written records and illustrations.

Question 4

Even if he or she practices what was taught in the course, there will be no fresh input. The martial arts of Shaolin and Taiji are so rich and vast that surely 5 days would not be enough to give more than a sample. How would an eager student learn more? From your website, it seems you have only 3 courses.

Answer

I often tell students to my intensive courses that if they diligently practice only what they have learnt from me in the three- or five-day courses, they will become real masters in three years! This is mentioned not to gain vainglory but to motivate them. And it has proven to be true.

For example, Joan from Ireland attended my Intensive Chi Kung Course to overcome a back problem that Western doctors said she had to live with for life. Now she is an excellent chi kung instructor and has helped many students overcome so-called incurable diseases.

Javier from Spain attended my Intensive Taijiquan Course to find out about chi and combat application, which he had no idea before although he had practiced Taijiquan for many years. Now he is a Wahnam Taijiquan instructor helping his students to enjoy chi flow and inner peace.

Dan from England attended my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course after his disillusion at the modern Shaolin Temple in China. Now he is teaching Shaolin Kungfu where some of his students are seasoned martial artists as well as Buddhist monks.

All of these Shaolin Wahnam instructors started teaching, with my blessings, about three years after attending my intensive courses.

I also often remind my students that compared to what is in store for us in genuine chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, what we have achieved, including myself, is only a very small part of the potential. The ultimate achievement of all these arts is the highest spiritual fulfillment, the greatest achievement any being can ever attain, called variously as Enlightenment, Emerging with Tao, or Return to God. We are all very clear about this supreme potential when we are ready — it is not just mentioned for fun or fashion.

There are a lot of opportunities for fresh input. For many students, attending an intensive course was the start of a rewarding relationship with and contribution to Shaolin Wahnam. Many return to repeat courses. Some have attended more courses, intensive as well as regional, than they can remember. Some have become Shaolin Wahnam instructors and give courses themselves.

While Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan as well as chi kung are exceedingly rich and deep, my three- or five-day intensive courses are sufficient to give a sample of these arts as comprehensive programmes for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development. The intensive courses are also sufficient to let the students experience the outstanding characteristics of these arts, such as circulating and enhancing energy in chi kung, and internal force, combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan.

But it is never my intention to teach in these intensive courses the whole repertoires of these arts. In fact, these courses are only an introduction. In the Intensive Chi Kung Course, for example, students learn only three of the eighteen Shaolin Lohan Hands. The remaining Lohan Hands are taught by Shaolin Wahnam instructors in regional classes.

In the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan Courses, students learn up to about Level 5 of our Basic Stage in our Shaolin Kungfu Training Programe and our Wahnam Taijiquan Training Programe . There are 12 levels in our Basic Stage. And there are 3 stages in our training programmes — Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.

As the name tells, in the Basic Stage, students learn the basics, which are actually very important. Classical kungfu sets are taught only at the Intermediate Stage.

An interesting feature in our Shaolin Wahnam school, a feature many other people may find odd, is that soon our students — whether in chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan — may not want to learn more! They soon discover that “less is more”! Some examples may make this feature clearer.

Our students discover from direct experience that they derive more benefits from practicing one chi kung exercise for 15 minutes than practicing three chi kung exercises for 45 minutes. Our Shaolin students discover that by flicking their fingers three times in a Sinew Metamorphosis exercise, they can develop more internal force than flicking their fingers forty nine times. Our Taijiquan students discover that by practicing only one pattern in Pushing Hands, they can be more skilful in combat than practicing ten patterns.

Question 5

We often hear of masters teaching their students most of the higher and secret arts, but keeping 10% of the best to themselves. I don't know if this is true, but looking at Aikido and the Yang-style Taiji, this seems to be plausible. Would you be willing to teach everything you know to your students?

Answer

There are no tailor-made answers to your questions. Different variables would affect the answers, and some of the important variables include the philosophy and personality of the masters, the abilities and character of the students, the nature and purpose of the teaching, as well as historical, cultural and environmental conditions.

For example, if the master's repertoire is not large or if he is uncertain of the students' loyalty, he may keep 10% or more to himself.

In the past some masters kept some techniques to themselves for fear that their students might be better than they themselves and later betrayed them. But what is often not realized is that even if a student knows less techniques but if he trains diligently and becomes very skilful in the few techniques he knows, he can be better than his master who knows more techniques.

Hence, if he wants to keep some secrets, an intelligent master may teach the techniques but not the relevant skills. A crafty master may teach many techniques so that the students have no time to develop skills, giving the impression that they learn a lot but in reality they may not benefit much.

I am willing to teach my students all I know if they are ready and deserving. But teaching everything may not necessarily be for the students' best interest, and sometimes may actually be harmful.

Teachers come in different qualities. Mediocre teachers just teach and teach. Good teachers know what and when to teach. Excellent teachers know what not to teach. Bad teachers know not how to teach. And bogus teachers know not what they teach.

Question 6

You mentioned that you considered withdrawing the Taiji Intensive course. It is very unfortunate that others do not understand the great selflessness you have shown in offering the course. If you withdraw it, it is truly a great loss to seekers, but I can also see that this is a case of “throwing pearls before swine”.

Answer

Thank you for your kind words. A few persons have requested me to continue offering the Intensive Taijiquan Course. I may do so but it will not be a priority in my time-table. I shall offer the course only when sufficient people sign up for it.

Shaolin Sparring

A contemporary photograph taken a few years ago during Sifu Wong's Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, showing Tai Chee Yong of Malaysia sparring with John Gouveia of South Africa. Chee Yong used the same Shaolin frontal kick as the combatant 35 years ago as shown in the first photograph above, except that Chee Yong did not jump up as he kicked. John countered the kick with a typical Shaolin technique.

Question 7

I have trained Chi Kung and Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan for over 2 years, and I'm a 2nd degree Black Belt in Taekwondo. Since my short experience with Tai Chi Chuan I don'tpractice Taekwondo (TKD) forms in the same manner as before. Now I try to visualize my chi in every movement, but this makes me practice the TKD forms more slowly because in each movement I imagine that my chi flows from my dan-tian to my leg or hand. Is it wrong to apply the same principles learned in Tai Chi Chuan to TKD? Am I wasting my time? I feel like a lost soul in Taekwondo.

— John, Spain

Answer

No, it is not wrong to apply Tai Chi Chuan principles to Taekwondo, and you are not wasting your time. You will get more benefits from this combination, but, on the other hand, you are not getting the best from Taekwondo or Tai Chi Chuan.

Taekwondo and Tai Chi Chuan operate on different principles, and logically each art operates at its best using its own principles. As you have found out yourself, your movements are slower, and if you enter a Taekwondo competition you would be at a disadvantage.

Tai Chi Chuan uses circular movements, whereas Taekwondo movements are usually straight and direct. A Tai Chi Chuan exponent relaxes his muscles and use energy flow to achieve force and speed, whereas a Taekwondo exponent tenses his muscles and uses mass and momentum for the same purposes. Mixing them either way, like using the circular movements of Tai Chi Chuan to execute Taikwondo attacks, or using the mass and momentum of Taikwondo to attain speed and force in Tai Chi Chuan, will contradict each other, making the resulting art less effective.

Then why do I say you will derive benefits by using Tai Chi Chuan principles in Taekwondo? It is because the comparison of benefits is made not just on a localized and static manner but based on multiple factors and moving time scale.

For example, I do not just consider you speed in combat (which is a localized factor) at your present stage (static manner), but also consider the energy blockage you can avoid and a calmer disposition you will achieve (multiple factors), as well as the improvement you can have in future (moving time scale).

In other words, although you will be a better fighter at this present stage if you just use Tai Chi Chuan or just use Taekwondo, without mixing the two, but overall and in the long run you will get more benefits by using Tai Chi Chuan chi flow in your Taekwondo movements. Your benefits include having less blockage in your body thus having better health, being more relaxed and calm thus having better mental clarity, and having the potential to progress beyond what Taekwondo itself would be unable to provide, such as becoming very fast and forceful in your movements without feeling tired, developing internal force and experiencing spiritual joy.

Question 8

How can I improve my speed when practicing the TKD forms with chi visualization?

Answer

You are slow in your Taekwondo movements using Tai Chi Chuan chi visualization approach because you have not progressed to higher levels of this methodology. Many Tai Chi practitioners also do not progress beyond this elementary level. That is why you seldom see Tai Chi Chuan being performed fast.

To get good results you have to learn personally from a master who himself has this skill and is willing to teach you. But the following are some basic principles and important points to note if you wish to practice on your own.

The most important point is that you have to be relaxed and not to use muscular strength. This is in contrast to Taekwondo approach as well as approaches in other external arts, including external styles of kungfu.

It is difficult for the uninitiated to understand how one can be powerful and fast by being relaxed and not using muscular strength. Even if they have read this secret of the internal arts, they may not believe in it because nowadays it is rare to find masters who can demonstrate this ability. Even some world known Tai Chi Chuan masters today advocate lifting weights to train force and fighting like animals, which is tacitly showing that they do not know, or believe in, this most important principle of being relaxed and not using muscular strength.

The second important point, which you seem to be ignorant of, is that you need not, in fact should not, visualize chi flow in every move. Doing so may be stressful to your mind, resulting in headaches and mental blockage instead of mental clarity. Even if you could avoid the harmful effects, visualizing chi flow in every move will make your movement slow. Out of ten moves, it is sufficient if you just visualize in five or six moves, and later in two or three moves.

“Visualize” is actually not an accurate word to describe the mental process involved here. It implies that you have to see clearly in your mind the exact route your chi flows from, say, your dan tian to your legs or hands. This is incorrect, and can be harmful as it is stressful to your mind. A more accurate description is the simple word “think”. As you kick or punch in a relaxed manner without using muscular strength, just think of your chi flow from your dan dian to your legs or hands.

At first you may feel nothing and your kicks are without power. But if you persist and succeed, your kicks and other movements will be very fast and powerful, and you will not be tired even if you spar for a few hours! If you learn on your own, you will take a long time to achieve this, and most people would have given up along the way. But if you learn personally from a master, the attainment time will be much shorter, and the results much better.

Many external martial artists, who become tired after sparring for 15 minutes, cannot believe how one can spar for hours. But that is exactly what students do in my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) Course.

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