January 2004 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I read your article on "Combat Application of Shaolin Kungfu" and I agree with the article completely. However I just wanted to point out one thing that my sifu mentioned to me regarding the movement “Lohan Strikes a Drum”. I'm in engineering and I also have first aid background. When striking the leg, you do not fracture it. The human leg bone is stronger than the human arm. (It's easier to fracture an arm than a leg).
— Andrew, USA
That webpage sums up the following related themes we cherish in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, and which we hope to share with other dedicated kungfu practitioners:
- Kungfu is effective for combat.
- Kungfu forms that students today perform in solo sets are the evolution over many centuries of techniques actually used in fighting.
- Hence, applying these kungfu forms in combat gives us advantages past masters discovered for us and passed down to us as a legacy.
- If kungfu practitioners today could not use these kungfu forms for combat and therefore resort to freestyle fighting or other forms of martial arts, it is not because these kungfu forms are not combat effective but because these practitioners have not been systematically trained to do so.
My sifu (doctorate in engineering as well) said that the movement was not meant to break the opponent's leg or damage it. I had originally assumed it was a strike. Rather he told me it was a deflection. It dissipated energy in the strike and deflected the kick away. You could then use the “Fierce Tiger Descending From Mountain” to knock him over since after deflecting his kick away you' were now inside his range. He cautioned me that if I trid to use “Lohan Strikes a Drum” as a strike, I would end up breaking my wrist or arm or bruising it badly.
“Lohan Strikes a Drum” is a striking technique. In this pattern, there is no need to deflect the opponent's kick because by moving your front leg diagonally backward, you have moved yourself away from his kick. Even if you had folded your two arms behind your back, by applying the footwork and bodywork in this pattern, your opponent could not reach you with his kick or any part of his body.
It is true that a leg is physically stronger than a wrist or an arm, just as a brick is physically stronger than a human palm. But if you have sufficient internal force and apply an appropriate technique correctly, you can break an opponent's leg with your arm, or break a brick with your palm.
An excellent example was shown by my son, Wong Chun Nga, about 15 years ago. At that time he was just about 10 years old, at an age when breaking a brick with physical strength was impossible. He used internal force and an appropriate technique. The brick was genuine, and there were no tricks. It was not a public demonstration, but a private test to confirm his internal force. We were also lucky that we took that photograph (only one) as a souvenir. Had we intended to take photographs to show the public, we would have programmed the photograph taking to show the point of contact, the brick breaking, and the broken pieces of the brick.
Otherwise I really liked your article and you make some very good points. Proper Shaolin is hard to find and even if they teach it, they don't teach applications or the reason behind every move. To understand how to do the solo forms properly, you have to learn the applications behind them too.
It would be illuminating to know that the applications came first, and the forms came afterwards. It was not, as many people imagine mistakenly, that masters first invented the forms, then thought about their applications.
At first fighting was haphazard, not unlike what untrained people nowadays do when they fight. Gradually those who fought frequently discovered that certain ways of fighting were advantageous to them. These advantageous ways evolved into techniques. At first the evolution was slow and disconnected, but when kungfu was taught as an institutional art, which was first done at the Shaolin Temple in China about 1500 years ago and followed by other institutions, the evolution became systematic and concerted.
We at Shaolin Wahnam still follow this tradition. Hence, we do not start our kungfu career by learning kungfu sets, as most other schools today do. We start with fundamental force training, such as stances, footwork, chi flow and entering into a Zen state of mind.
Then we learn kungfu techniques past masters have passed down to us, and use them in sparring. From our sparring, we learn and apply tactics and strategies, which we also use beneficially in our daily life. And from our practical experience, we draw certain guidelines and principles which form our philosophy, which we compare and confirm with what past masters have passed down to us in kungfu classics. Only when we are well versed and practiced in our basics, we progress to our intermediate stage of training where we learn classical kungfu sets.
We believe this was also the way kungfu was taught and practiced in the past at the Shaolin Temple as well as in other kungfu institutions such as at Huashan, Wudang and Chenjiakou. However, we have a big advantage over our predecessors. While kungfu knowledge was kept as top secrets in the past, we have an unprecedented access to such rich knowledge in the forms of reprinted classics.
Although I was not personally taught by the classical masters themselves, my own training and development under my own masters, whom I found were amongst the best in the world, enable me to interpret and understand these classics, and then transmit the classical teachings to my students. More significantly, these classical teachings are confirmed by my own and my students' experiences.
We at Shaolin Wahnam are dedicated to preserve this tradition and pass it on to deserving students. We are also aware that what we believe as well as what we practice are different from the beliefs and practices of the vast majority. We respect their right and privilege to disbelieve us, and have no desire to convince them.
I've been doing Zhang Zhuang, namely Horse Riding Stance and Three-Circle Stance. I can hold each stance for at least 5 minutes. Lately I've been experiencing pains in the GV 2 (yuoshu) vital point — the muscles around the tailbone. Could you please tell me what the cause of the pain was, and how I can prevent injuring myself.
— Ryan, South Africa
It is likely that you have practiced zhang zhuang or stance training as physical exercise instead of as chi kung exercise, and have tensed your muscles around your tailbone, thus causing the pain. If you can hold either the Horse-Riding Stance or the Three-Circle Stance correctly as chi kung exercise for five minutes, you would have done well and should have developed quite a bit of internal force.
The best way to prevent injuring yourself is to learn from a master or at least a competent instructor who teaches the stances as chi kung. The benefits you get will also be very different. Paradoxically, because the stances are simple, it is easy for those who learn from books, videos and incompetent instructors, to make mistakes often without their knowing. Jason gave a good account of his experience in learning the Horse-Riding Stance in the thread “Horse Stance” in our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.
If you learn on your own, avoid the two common mistakes made by many students, namely being tensed and bending the body forward or backward. If you can relax, which is not easy to do while performing the stances, and hold your body upright you will not only prevent injuring yourself, but also you can develop much internal force.
I study a lot, and I experience a lot of neck and back pain when I sit in one position for a very long time. I use the chi kung training to prevent any serious injuries, but sitting in these positions is hindering my training and health. Could you please advise me on a method I can use to sit in a natural position in a chair while I'm studying?
You have practiced your chi kung wrongly. If your practice is correct you will not experience any pain, including neck and back pain, irrespective of how long you sit, stand or involve in any activities, including vigorous activities like kungfu sparring. Your chi flow, which is an integral part of genuine chi kung training, will clear away the pain.
You will appreciate this fact better if you realize that even rheumatism, arthritis and peptic ulcer patients who had severe pain, could have the pain eliminated after practicing chi kung. Neck and back pain due to long sitting is comparatively less serious.
When you sit on a chair, a stance or anywhere, your body should be upright and you should be relaxed. Being tensed or slouching causes energy blockage resulting in pain.
What is the best method one can use to test his internal force and external force?
This depends on one's purposes and philosophy. Most martial artists may test their internal force by breaking some bricks or by taking punches and kicks on their body without sustaining injury.
But for us at Shaolin Wahnam the best test of our internal force is our health, vitality and spiritual joy. Many people may wonder what have health, vitality and spiritual joy to do with internal force. The answer becomes clear when we understand the functions of internal force.
The most important function of internal force, or the energy developed by training of jing , qi and shen , is to maintain life. If there is insufficient energy to ensure that various body systems go on naturally, that person will be sick. The next most important function is to enhance life. This can be manifested in many ways, such as having vitality and spiritual joy. Then, internal force enables us to perform better anything we do, including working at our job, eating and making love.
External force, that is energy developed by external means, is localized and limited in its application. If you have tremendous external force as a result of Iron Palm training, for example, the external force is localized at the palms and limited to palm strikes. It cannot be used, for example, to strengthen your heart, increase your vitality, or enable you to perform better in whatever you do.
The methods to test external force are related to the purposes the force is trained for. For example, you can test your Iron Palm by breaking bricks or someone's bones, and test your muscular strength by the amount of weights you lift.
In the heat of a battle, how is it possible that a person can hit a dim mak point accurately?
“Dim mak” is the art of striking vital points. A dim mak master not only can hit a dim mak or vital point accurately but also uses tactics and strategies so that the opponent would expose the point at the appropriate time. He can do so because he has been well trained systematically. Obviously martial artists whose combat training is solely free exchanges of punches and kicks will have no idea how effective a dim mak master is.
Apparently a dim mak master has to hit the exact point to cause the effects. Is this true or have I misunderstood the art?
The answer is yes and no. Generally the master has to strike the exact point. But sometimes, if he is powerful, he can cause considerable damage even if he misses the intended point.
Usually the strike is made with a finger or a phoenix-eye fist. But it can also be made with a level fist, a cup fist, a palm strike, a tiger-claw or any part of the body.
I have been running the Microcosmic Orbit qigong a little each day and recently thought of taking herbs for added benefit. I'm thinking of ginseng. Is it true that this is the best choice of herbs the Shaolin monks used for this type of qigong?
— Tim, Canada
There is a Chinese saying as follows. “Taking herbs to promote health is inferior to taking good food. Taking good food to promote health is inferior to taking cosmic energy.”
Taking cosmic energy means practicing chi kung (qigong). The Microcosmic Orbit, or the Small Universe as it is called in our school, is an advanced chi kung exercise excellent for promoting health, vitality, longevity, internal force, mental freshness and spiritual joy. If you have been practicing the Microcosmic Orbit correctly, there is no need to take ginseng or any herbs.
Although you may have learnt the techniques of the Microcosmic Obit, it is obvious that you have not obtained its benefits. How can I tell from your e-mail? If you have the benefits of the Microcosmic Orbit, you would not be bothered about taking ginseng or anything for added benefit. It is like someone telling you he has a method to make a million dollars, and then thinking of working a part-time job to earn some extra dollars.
Your situation is quite common. Many of the students who attended my regional chi kung classes said that they had practiced the Microcosmic Orbit before, yet they were weak and sickly. The fact is that completing the Microcosmic Orbit is a sure way to excellent health.
Why doesn't one get excellent health although he practices the Microcosmic Orbit. The main reason is that although he knows the techniques, he is unable to perform the techniques correctly! This is frequently the case when he learns from books, videos or incompetent instructors, and it is not so surprising if you take an analogy.
Suppose you learn swimming or driving from someone who himself does not know how to swim or drive, although he has been teaching these skills for many years. Do you think you can swim and drive well even though you know the techniques? The main difference is that you can readily know if your instructor or you yourself can swim or drive, but you may not readily know if he or you have attained the Microcosmic Orbit.
Also I was wondering what was the best qigong to practice to develop the spirit body for spiritual purposes.
It would be helpful to give some brief background information. In Chinese philosophy, every person is made up of three components, namely “jing”, “qi” and “shen”, which refer to the physical body, the energy body and the spiritual body. Your physical body is the one you can (normally) see and touch, like your arms and the nerves and tendons in your arms. Your energy body is the network of vital force that operates your physical body. Your spiritual body is the real you, the commander that operates the energy body and the physical body.
All chi kung (qigong) — genuine chi kung — works on all these three components, though different types of chi kung place different emphasis on the different components. Generally, low level chi kung emphasizes the physical, and high level chi kung emphasizes the spiritual. Take note that the same chi kung exercise can be operated at different levels.
If all other things were equal — a presumption that is almost never true but is useful for discussion — the best type of chi kung to develop the spiritual body is meditation. Meditation is the training of the mind or spirit. There are many types of meditation, and there are many, many different techniques for each type.
Meditation is simple (and profound) but not easy. Hence, many people who practice meditation, usually on their own without a competent teacher, not only get no benefits but often harm themselves and often without their own knowing. This unfortunate situation has become so common in Western societies that if you tell others you practice or teach meditation, many “decent” people (like business executives and professionals) often look at you with suspicion. This is a big irony because meditation is a highly respected art. But it has been so abused that today many of those who practice meditation — wrongly — are depressed and nervous, and withdraw from societies, whereas meditation is supposed to make practitioners fresh and bright, uplift their spirit, and give them zest for work and play.
Microcosmic Orbit is an advanced art, it emphasizes the energy body. Meditation, emphasizing the spiritual body, is even more advanced. You have practiced Microcosmic Orbit incorrectly. Now don't mess yourself with meditation or any chi kung exercises that emphasize the spiritual body, otherwise you would get adverse effects like becoming depressed and nervous without knowing why.
My advice is for you to practice more elementary chi kung like dynamic patterns, such as “Lifting the Sly” and “Carrying the Moon”. You should learn from a competent teacher, and you may be surprised at the benefits you will get, including an improvement on your energy and spirit. If you can't find a good teacher, you may learn from a good book. Although the benefits will be less, you still will have good benefits and you are unlikely to harm yourself so long as you follow the instructions respectfully.
- Different Ways of Moving Into an Opponent
- Flowingly Still — Darryl Collette
- Combat Sequence 6 — Horizontally Sweep Thousand Armies
- Taijiquan Striking Hands Series 5 — Felling Attacks and Defences
- Questions-Answers Archive — September 2000, Parts 1, 2 and 3