June 2004 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Shaolin Wushu

A magnificent pose by two modern Shaolin monks taken from a book entitled “Shaolin Kungfu”. Arching back to avoid being hit (or after being hit) and kicking while standing at the edge of a gigantic frying pan demand much skill in waist control and good balance.

Question 1

I have come to you to respectfully ask for advice regarding Tai Chi Chuan. I've studied martial arts for 14 years, and practiced for 9 of those years. I'm a former Shaolin Kempo instructor. I did Tai Chi Dance (unfortunately devoid of internal aspects) for 3 years. There are no real Tai Chi Chuan masters in my area, but I do have many books on the internal arts, including your excellent volumes.

— Daniel, USA

Answer

I am particularly happy to help martial artists like you who are sincere in their training, but due to lack of proper guidance, are not getting as much benefit as they should, or would like to obtain even better results than what they are getting.

To obtain excellent results in martial arts, or any endeavor, it is crucial to have vision and direction. Many people waste a lot of time because they lack these two crucial points.

Firstly, one must differentiate between vision and fancy. Many people, like after seeing a fantastic kungfu movie, fantasize to become a kungfu master, but they have no idea what kungfu really is nor the time and dedication needed in its training.

To have vision means to have a clear idea of what you will be like when you have successfully attained your aims after a reasonable period of training. It also means to have a clear idea of the time, effort and sacrifice involved.

Before you define your vision, it is essential to have a sound philosophy of the art you are pursuing. If a person regards Tai Chi Chuan as some form of graceful movements to maintain health and elegance, his vision will necessarily be limited by this philosophy. In your case you have no problem with Tai Chi Chuan philosophy as you have a rich collection of Tai Chi Chuan literature.

Considering your understanding of Tai Chi Chuan philosophy, your substantial experience in martial arts, and your readiness to train hard, your vision of developing internal force for health and combat efficiency is relatively modest. (Those who have attended my Intensive Tai Chi Chuna Course accomplish these objectives within one year.) I would suggest that while you make health and combat efficiency through internal force as your immediate objectives, you should widen your general aims to include acquiring vitality to enjoy your work and play, cheerful disposition to enhance your personal, family and social lives, as well as cosmic awareness to further your spiritual development.

Having defined your vision, you work out the direction to attain your vision. It means translating your objectives and aims in words into practical realities in daily life. It includes an evaluation of available and potential opportunities and resources, as well as an assessment of how much and how far you are ready to sacrifice to attain your objectives and aims.

I would like to remind you not to fall into the trap that many people have fallen, of understanding your objectives and aims merely as hollow words. Many people think that their training gives them vitality to enjoy their work and play, without realizing that actually their training brings them injury and stress. Many people use words like “cosmic awareness” and “spiritual development” without knowing what they really mean. They say their training gives them “cosmic awareness” and “spiritual development” because it is fashionable to say so, when their training may actually dull their spirit and awareness.

Question 2

I've often heard it said that you cannot hope to learn the internal arts without a teacher, and indeed it is more or less impossible to do so even with external arts.

Answer

As in many other things, there are no definite yes-no answers because many variables are involved. Nevertheless, it is generally true that one cannot learn the internal arts without a qualified teacher, especially if he is a beginner. However, if he is already initiated into the internal arts, he may benefit much by learning from good books. Yet, his results will be much better and faster if he learns from a master willing to teach him.

In your case, it is obvious you have not obtained good results by learning on your own from good books. But this does not necessarily mean you cannot do so. Indeed, many people have written to thank me, telling me that they have obtained good results by learning from my books. Some of them then attended my intensive courses, and discovered that the results of the same exercises but learned from me personally, were unimaginably better.

A main reason why you did not obtain good results by learning from good books was that you had without your conscious knowing incorporated your own ideas and previous training into the exercise. For example, in describing to my readers how to perform a Tai Chi Chuan movement like “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”, I ask them to be relaxed and not to think of anything. But when you performed this movement, you could have tensed your arms or legs although you thought you were relaxed. Or you could have been thinking how you should relax or how you should move your hands, when you were supposed not to think of anything.

I would suggest you try practicing again some of the exercises described in my book as if you were a fresh beginner. My instructions are very clear, and even if you can follow half of them reasonably well, you should get some good results. It is all right if you miss some instructions, but do not add anything extra. This is important.

For example, if I say “breathe in gently”, just do that as best as you comfortably can, i.e. breathe in gently. Do not ask how you breathe in gently, or how gently is gently. Do not visualize anything if I do not mention that. Do not attempt to breathe into your chest or into your opponent, or place your tongue on top of your mouth. Just follow the instruction, i.e. just breathe in gently.

An excellent exercise to attempt is “Lifting the Sky”. Just follow the instructions as stated in my books, like “The Art of Chi Kung” or “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality”. If you practice this exercise as I describe it daily for a few months, you should feel chi flowing inside your body.

Then you can attempt a Tai Chi Chuan internal force training method like “Lifting Water”, as explained in my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”. You must be totally relaxed. And you must not use strength. Repeat: you must not use strength. It is difficult for many people, especially those who practice external martial arts, to appreciate this advice. Just follow my advice and see what you can achieve in a few months.

If you practice the exercise according to what I explained in my book, you would develop reasonable internal force within six months. But if you attend any one of my intensive courses in Malaysia, you will generate an internal chi flow and develop considerable internal force on the very first day of your training!

How does one know it is chi flow or internal force? Such a question is asked by those who do not have chi flow or internal force. If you have it, you won't ask the question; you will know from direct experience. In principle, it is like asking how does a person know he is eating a mango. When he is eating one, he will know it.

Shaolin Kungfu

Many readers have asked whether the Shaolin Kungfu taught by the modern Shaolin monks is the same as that taught in Shaolin Wahnam. It is very different, as depicted here in our different responses to similar situations. Comparing the photograph here with the one above, informed readers can readily see the differences — in philosophy, practice as well as nature of application.

Question 3

The volumes I have are mostly authored by yourself, and Dr Yang Jwing Ming. There is even a respected book on “Ling Kong Jing” training. I also have a copy of the Tai Chi Classics. Dr. Yang has provided a staggering amount of information on the Yang style, on all elements of practice including the issuing of force. Needless to say, I won't be able to perform Push Hands since I'm practicing by myself.

Answer

Pushing Hands is an important aspect of Tai Chi Chuan, linking the progression from set practice to combat application. It is an ingenious way to develop some essential combat skills.

You need a partner to practice Pushing Hands. But once you have been initiated into the art, you can practice on your own. Many people may find this incredible. They reason that, like sparring, since it takes two persons to practice Pushing Hands, it would be impossible to practice it without a partner.

My disciple Rama (Roberto) provided an excellent example. After being disillusioned with Tai Chi dance, he attended my Intensive Tai Chi Chuan Course. Later he was selected to attend my Special Tai Chi Chuan Course, where the focus was on internal force training and combat application. Until he built the Shaolin Wahnam Temple in Costa Rica and becomes its resident master, he was a wandering Taoist.

Rama was concerned that he did not have a sparring partner. I advised him to practice his zhan zhuang (stance training), solo forms as well as Pushing Hands and Striking Hands with an imaginary partner. His first confirmation that this method worked was in Bogota (Colombia) when he sparred with someone who claimed to be a Shaolin monk.

With a few feint moves, this Shaolin monk attacked Rama ferociously with a whirlwind kick. Spontaneously Rama lowered his body to avoid the kick and responded with the “peng” technique of “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”, sending the assailant flying back many feet to fall on the ground. Rama was most surprised at his own ability.

The second confirmation was in Quayaquil (Ecuador) when Rama was engaged in a friendly Pushing Hands session with a high-ranking master there noted for his fighting abilities. I was present in this session. The master attacked Rama many times, but Rama was able to deflect the attacks successfully. It was obvious to me that Rama could have counter-struck successfully on a few occasions, but as we were invited guests in his martial art school, Rama did the right thing by not exploiting these opportunities.

Question 4

I realize more or less why an instructor is necessary. A book cannot correct your posture, or any other problems you may encounter. And on numerous points you may have no way of knowing if you're practicing incorrectly, especially in internal arts. I do have a basic awareness of energy and a modest control over it. I practiced zhan zhuang for 2 hours a day, every day, for a year, training myself, so dedication is not a problem.

Answer

Yes, to obtain good results in martial art, one must learn personally from a master. But after learning from the master, he must practice diligently on his own.

Zhan zhuang is a powerful exercise. If you have practiced zhan zhuang correctly for two hours a day for a year, you should have developed tremendous internal force. If you haven't, then you have practiced wrongly.

It is an interesting paradox that because zhan zhuang is simple (there is only one poise and no movement), it is difficult to practice it correctly. If you make just one mistake, your whole practice will be wrong.

I would suggest that you leave zhan zhuang for the time being, and focus on “Lifting the Sky” and “Lifting Water” that I have recommended. After you have experienced chi flow and internal force, you can resume your zhan zhuang training. In this way you will get more results in shorter time.

Hard Training

Modern Shaolin monks undergoing “yin-gong”, or “hard-training”. Shaolin Kungfu is well known for “yin-gong”, like toughening knuckles, palms and various parts of the body, striking sandbags, striking poles, jabbing palms into granules, and lifting weights.

Question 5

I'm familiar with basic principles, at least physically. To my former instructor's credit, since there was no internal force training, going over the form (a Chen subsystem called Emperor Guard Tai Chi) was done with a critical eye, simply because that's all we had.

Answer

Form training or set practice is basic in kungfu because one can get many benefits from it. However, many practitioners, including many instructors, are unaware of the various functions of form training, and perform the forms or sets mechanically, therefore missing the many benefits.

The important benefits of form training are as follows.

Question 6

My question then is an honest evaluation of my chances at experiencing the health and martial benefits, if not acquiring a basic mastery, of Tai Chi Chuan. Mastery may be pushing it, but could I at least be able to use it for martial purposes? I've used the movements for self defense before. I just had no internal force training. Given the amount of information available (around 2700 pages on internal arts on my shelves at current, not including magazine articles), I feel my chances are decent, but my own opinion is not that of a Grandmaster. No matter the answer, I eagerly await your response.

Answer

Given your martial art experience and plentiful material available, you should at least experience the health and martial benefits of Tai Chi Chuan. “Should” is a negative word. Basically it means “haven't”. My honest evaluation is that if you carry on the same way, you will never attain high levels of health and combat efficiency in Tai Chi Chuan, nor its basic mastery.

Internal force is curial in Tai Chi Chuan, irrespective of whether you practice it for health, combat efficiency or spiritual cultivation. And the basic ingredient of internal force is chi. If you have no experience of chi and internal force, and have no prospect of acquiring them, no matter for how long you practice, it will remain an external graceful dance.

My concept of health in Tai Chi Chuan is not just general well being. Being free from illness and pain is a pre-requisite. As a martial artist, you should have the stamina and vitality to spar for a few hours without feeling tired. You should be relaxed and calm even in testing situations. Your mind should be clear and you should be able to make split second decision wisely.

By combat efficiency, I do not merely mean knowing how some Tai Chi Chuan techniques are used in combat. I mean that if a black-belt in Karate, Taekwondo, Kickboxing or any other martial arts were to attack you, you can comfortably handle the assailant with your Tai Chi Chuan techniques and skills. You should also be able to apply tactics and strategies, as well as some fundamental Tai Chi Chuan principles like “using the opponent's strength against himself” and “starting later but arriving earlier”.

Some of the reasons why you still haven't attained the health and martial benefits of Tai Chi Chuan despite having authentic information, are explained above. Yours is an excellent example illustrating that to have good results in an internal art like Tai Chi Chuan, one must learn personally from a master.

You will be able to overcome your difficulties if you attend my Intensive Tai Chi Chuan Course. Among other things, you will learn how to practice your Tai Chi Chuan forms to obtain the many benefits mentioned above, including developing internal force and combat application. However, due to the lukewarm response to my offer to teach the secrets of Tai Chi Chuan, I am not offering it anymore. A few people have requested me to reconsider this decision. Hence, if sufficient people register for the course, I may conduct the course for these people.

Internal Training

The force training methods in Shaolin Wahnam are also very different from those used by modern Shaolin monks. In this picture, Sifu Wong leads his students in “zhan zhuang” or stance training, which is a very important method of “nei-gong”, or “internal training”. Shaolin Kungfu is famous for internal force, but only few people have the opportunity to practice it.

Question 7

I have been practicing Chi Kung exercises for around three months now, solely from Sifu Wong's fantastic book,”Making the Most of your Vital Energy”. After practicing “Lifting the Sky” the other evening I experienced an amazing tingling feeling in my feet which lasted for approximately five minutes. I also found tiny little bubbles on my hands and wrists. Is this connected to my chi?

— Rob, UK

Answer

Tingling feeling at the finger tips is common for those who practice “Lifting the Sky” correctly. It indicates chi flowing to the finger tips.

Tingling feeling at the feet is even better. It indicates that chi has flowed down your body to your feet. If you listen carefully, you may find chi, or energy, gushing out at the bottom of your soles. Indeed the two points at your soles where chi gushes out, are called “yong quan” vital points. “Yong quan” means ”gushing streams”. Having this result after only three months of practice is a remarkable achievement.

Tiny bubbles on your hands and wrists are indications of toxic waste being pushed out from your body. Nature has numerous ways to clear out toxic waste, such as rashes, pimples, heavy breaths, pus, sweat, odor, and passing our gases. These symptoms will clear when your are cleansed.

Question 8

I also wondered if you could advise me. While practicing “Carrying the Moon” and sometimes just standing meditation I get a little bit dizzy and a slight headache.

Answer

This is an indication that you have practiced wrongly. It could be due to your worrying, thinking of irrelevant thoughts, or tensing your head. However, if the dizziness or headache are “good pain”, which is not likely, you are clearing some blockage in your head.

Question 9

Please I want to know exactly what kind of style is going around the world with the famous monks of Shaolin Temple. Nobody who practices wushu now could tell me the difference or why they are the same style.

— Marangon, Italy

Answer

The modern Shaolin monks practice and teach modern wushu, which is different from traditional Shaolin Kungfu.

The term “wushu” is quite tricky. In the Chinese language, “wushu” means “martial art”. In the long history of Chinese martial arts, many terms have been used for “martial art”. In classical times, the popular Chinese term for martial art was “wuyi”. About 300 years ago during the Qing Dynasty it was “quanfa”, and then “quanshu”. The term “kungfu” was colloquial, commonly used in South China and by overseas Chinese, but seldom in written literature.

During the Kuomintang or Republican period, which replaced the Qing Dynasty, it was “guoshu”. In Taiwan today, Chinese martial art is still called “guoshu”, which means “national art”.

In the present Communist or Peoples' Republic period, which replaced the Kuomintang, the official Chinese term for martial art is “wushu”. Confusion arises because the present government of the Chinese Peoples' Republic promotes “wushu” not as a martial art, but as a sport.

In the Western world, the term “kungfu” is usually used to mean Chinese martial art, whereas “wushu” to mean a modern sport using kungfu movements. These terms are used in this way in my webpages.

Actually, except for a very short period when the Venerable Hai Deng taught traditional Shaolin Kungfu there, neither kungfu nor wushu has been taught in the modern Shaolin Temple. But wushu was widely taught in numerous wushu schools around the Temple, often by instructors wearing monk's robes. I do not know whether they were monks seconded from the modern Shaolin Temples, or were descended from Hai Deng.

At first the wushu taught by these modetrn Shaolin monks was the same as the wushu taught anywhere in China. The wushu sets they performed were modern standardized forms used in wushu competitions. But later, traditional forms, like Xiao Hung Quan, Da Hung Quan and Lian Bu Quan, were introduced.

It is worthy of note that these traditional forms were practiced as sport and not as martial art. There were no force training and no combat application — the two hallmarks of kungfu — at all. It should also be noted that in the early years when the Chinese government introduced wushu as a sport, traditional sets were also found in wushu competitions. But as the traditional sets were many and varied, the Chinese government invented seven standardized sets to make it easy for umpires to avoid points in wushu competition solely based on elegant performance.

The reason why, according to you, nobody who practices wushu now could tell the difference between their wushu and that taught by the modern Shaolin monks, or why the two are the same, is because they do not know this historical, philosophical and technical background.

Wushu practitioners realize that both what they practice and what the modern Shaolin monks teach are wushu, yet the two look different, and they cannot define the difference because they do not realize that the difference is in the sets. They practice newly invented standardized sets as wushu, whereas modern Shaolin monks teach traditional sets as wushu.

Although the forms are different, they know that both are the same as both are wushu, and not traditional kungfu, but they cannot define what actually is the same. The answer is that both are sports, and not really fighting arts.

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