March 2004 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Uncle Righteousness and Sifu Wong

An old photograph more than 40 years ago showing Sifu Wong learning from Uncle Righteousness defence against an opponent armed with daggers.

Question 1

After reading your biodata, I see that you have mastered Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan and chi kung. You are a qualified teacher also have an honours degree in humanities and you have a good loving family. How did you achieve so much? How did you stay motivated and focused? I can barely do Taijiquan and study at the same time!

— Ryan, South Africa

Answer

Many people have asked me similar questions. I count myself to be very lucky, and very blessed. I work very hard and I enjoy my work. I travel a lot, yet I spend a lot of time with my loving family. All these are possible because of my Shaolin training — kungfu, chi kung and Zen. That is one of many reasons why I am forever grateful to my sifus.

My Shaolin training not only gives me excellent health, mental freshness and clarity, vitality and agility, but also desirable qualities like perseverance, tolerance, courage and righteousness, and a wonderful philosophy of life. Significantly, these qualities were not merely told to me by my sifus, but acquired by me through the training under them.

Right at the start of my kungfu career, I learned the importance of perseverance and tolerance first hand from my stance training. If one does not have perseverance and tolerance in stance training, he just cannot achieve any good result. In chi kung training, when one strengthens his gall bladder and acquires a lot of chi in his bones, he becomes courageous and righteous. In fact the Chinese terms for being courageous (“da dan” — literally it means “big gall bladder”) and righteous (“gu qi”, literally “bone energy”) came from chi kung.

In sparring (confirmed in real fighting), I learned that more important than techniques and tactics were internal force and fluidity of movements, and the most important of all was to be relaxed and calmed even in the most demanding of situations. We also employ a lot of combat principles to gain technical, tactical and strategic advantages.

These qualities and combat principles are not merely used in our kungfu training; we transfer them into our daily lives. If you have been trained to be relaxed and calm in a life-death combat, and let you opponent go free when you could have killed him, you will find that many daily situations that are stressful to many people are actually petty, and you can more readily give and take.

In our philosophy, we aim for the best, and are ready to work very hard to get it. In all our endeavor, we are both honorable and charitable. But if we fail to get what we want, we will not be angry, sad or depressed. We make the best of what is available.

It is quite obvious that the way I was trained in the Shaolin arts, which is now implemented in Shaolin Wahnam, is very different from the kind of training in many other kungfu schools today. If one's training is mainly learning lots of kungfu sets, or punching and kicking each others in free sparring, he will not derive the kind of benefits I got from my masters.

With this background information, the answers to your questions become clear. I achieve much because not only I have a lot of energy and mental freshness and clarity, I am also cost-effective. I am clear about the objectives of any endeavor, and choose the best available methods. Hence I can often achieve in an hour what many people may need three.

My job is my hobby. What I do brings a lot of benefits to others as well as to myself. I am committed to my Ten Shaolin Laws, the tenth of which requires me to pass the Shaolin arts to deserving students. And I am dedicated to preserve and pass to posterity the wonderful Shaolin arts.

To be focused is a basic requirement in our training. Indeed, no matter what we practice — whether we engage in sparring, perform a chi kung exercise, or practice flowing or standing meditation — we aim at one (which is being focused) or at zero (which is expanding our mind). Hence it is easy for me to stay motivated and focused in whatever I do.

If you practice genuine Taijiquan correctly, you will be able to study or do anything better. The higher the quality of Taijiquan you practice, the better will be your other performances. This is logical, Taijiquan is a training of energy and mind. When you have improved your energy and mind, whatever you do will also improve. You may find it motivating to know that when I studied at the University of Malaya, while my classmates burned their midnight oil during the examination period, I performed kungfu and lion dance evey night, yet I scored As in all my papers.

Question 2

Where did you learn Taijiquan from? I thought that they only taught kungfu at the Shaolin Temple. Yet, your knowledge and skills of Taijiquan are very good.

Answer

Strictly speaking, Taijiquan is kungfu, although today many people use the term “kungfu” to refer to Shaolin Kungfu. In Chinese, Shaolin Kungfu is “Shaolinquan”

The term “quan” at the end of “Taijiquan” and “Shaolinquan” denotes their martial aspect. “Quan” here is the shortened form for “quanfa”, which literally means “fist techniques”, and figuratively means “martial art where unarmed fighting is prominent”.

The Shaolin Temple in China today does not teach “quanfa”, or “kungfu” as this term is normally used in the West. It does not even teach “wushu”. Until recently, “wushu” was taught in numerous wushu schools around the Shaolin Temple, and some of these schools had modern Shaolin monks as instructors.

I do not know where these modern Shaolin monks leaned their wushu earlier — whether in the Shaolin Temple or elsewhere. Some of these modern Shaolin monks are very accomplished, and have spread their art over the world. You can find much information about them from their websites.

“Wushu”, as the term is normally used in the West, is a sport, although literally in Chinese it means “martial art”. This often causes confusion and controversies. I have addressed this topic many times in my question-answer series.

In Chinese, “Shaolin Kungfu” can be written or spoken as “Shaolinquan” or “Shaolin Wushu”. When the term “Shaolinquan” is used in Chinese, one usually thinks of it as a traditional martial art derived from the Shaolin Temple. But when the term “Shaolin Wushu” is used, its exact meaning is not so clear. If it is used in a classical context, like in classical kungfu literature, I would interpret it as traditional Shaolin Kungfu. If it is used in a modern context, like in a modern Chinese newspaper in China, I would interpret it as a modernized sport taught by modern Shaolin monks or somehow related to the modern Shaolin Temple.

I did not learn Shaolin Kungfu at the modern Shaolin Temple in China. Neither is Taijiquan taught there. The Shaolin arts that I practice and teach were passed down from two patriarchs, the Vererable Chee Seen and the Venerable Jiang Nan. They escaped from the southern Shaolin Temples when the temples were burned by the Qing Army. We believe they were the last of the real Shaolin warrior-monks.

I also have explained a few times in my question-answer series how and why I learned Taijiquan. I did not learn from any Taijiquan masters in a formal way. I mainly learned from the writings of the greatest of Taijiquan masters, such as Zhang San Feng, Wang Zong Yue, Chen Wang Ting, Yang Lu Chan, Wu Yu Xiang and Yang Deng Fu. I could understand and implement their teachings because of my thorough training in Shaolin Kungfu. Indeed, everything we practice in Wahnam Taijiquan is already found in Shaolin Kungfu, although in different forms, approaches and emphasis.

Sifu Ho Fatt Nam

An old photograph more than 30 years ago showing Sifu Wong (on Sifu Ho's right-hand side) with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam (seated at the centre) and Sifu Ho's children (squatting) and other students (standing).

Question 3

Thank you again for your e-mails, great website, discussion forum and books.Without them I would never know what I have been missing in Taijiquan.

Answer

We at Shaolin Wahnam are very happy that although you have not learnt from us in person, you benefit from our writings. We also have enjoyed and benefited from your contributions to our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.

Taijiquan is a wonderful art. But, as I have mentioned in my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”, more than 90% of those who practice Taijiquan (or Taiji) get less than 10% of its benefits.

Question 4

I'd like to thank you for your advice concerning my back and shoulder problem.I've been doing “Lifting the Sky” and "Carrying the Moon” everyday for 2 weeks, and the pain is almost gone. Its AMAZING ! I never knew that such simple exercises could produce such good results.

Answer

Indeed, it is amazing. Many of the students who attended my intensive chi kung courses or regional chi kung classes were amazed that our exercises were so simple, yet produced such profound results.

“Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon” are two of the best exercises in all chi kung. That is one of the reasons we teach these two exercises at the begiining of our chi kung programme. It is our policy to give the best to our students right at the start.

Chi kung is excellent for relieving pain. The principle is actually very simple. Pain is due to energy blockage. When energy flow clears the blockage, the pain disappears as a matter of course. If the blockage is at a shallow level, as in your case, it can be cleared quite easily.

The reason why many people suffer from pain for a long time and conventional Western medicine could not relieve it, is because at its present stage of development conventional Western medicine does not believe in chi or energy. This is an area where a lot of discoveries (or re-discoveries) can be made in conventional Western medicine, and a lot of people will benefit, if the right authorities are interested in it.

Question 5

What is the difference between chi and jing? How do you know if you have jing?

Answer

Chi ( qi ) is energy, whereas jing is essence. In Western culture it may be easier understood as sub-atomic particles. A person is made up of three components, namely jing , qi and shen . Iing forms the physical body, qi is the life force that works the body, and shen is the spirit, soul or mind.

You may have confused jing ,with jin . Jin is internal force. Just like electricity and force. qi and jin are different but closely related. Qi is the ingredient, and jin is the product. We need qi to produce jin ., but qi is not necessarily jin .

An analogy is that qi is fluid like a stream, whereas jin is more solid like a glacier. Jin is some sort of consolidated qi .

Asking how does one know if he has jin or jing is like asking how he knows if he has strength or muscles. You do not know from descriptions or explanations. You know from direct experience.

Suppose you had never experienced strength or muscles. No matter how they were described or explained, you would not know them. Someone might explain that strength was the ability to do work, and muscles were stripes of flesh coordinated to perform certain functions, but unless you had direct experience of strength and muscles, those were just hollow words. It is the same with jin and jing .

If you have jin you can confirm it by experiencing the effects that it is reputed to produce. If someone grips your arm hard, for example, when you “fa-jin”, or explode your internal force, you can fling his grip away without using any muscular strength. Jing is physical form. You can confirm you have jing in the same ways you confirm you have a physical arm or a physical nose.

Question 6

What injuries can you get from Sinew Metamorphosis?

Answer

Sinew Metamorphosis is an advanced chi kung exercise. If you train wrongly you may have varied serious injuries like being tired, tensed or aggressive for no apparent reasons, weakening or mal-functions of certain organs or systems, and distortion of body hormones and other chemicals.

If someone well trained in Sinew Metamorphosis strikes you, your injuries may be broken bones, distorted energy flow, and idamage of internal organs.

Sifu Wong and his wife

Sifu Wong and his “one and only wife” holidaying in China a few years ago. Despite his heavy schedule, Sifu Wong spends a lot of time with his family.

Question 7

Is the kind of strength developed through Kung Fu, like internal strength as powerful as the kind of strength a huge body builder would have?

— Richard, England

Answer

Internal force is more powerful than muscular strength, and is much more useful.

An internal force master, for example, can break a piece of granite with a palm strike, or even with his head. It is unlikely a huge body-builder can do that. An internal force master can run a few miles or work from morning till night and yet remain fresh, but a body-builder tires easily.

In kungfu terms, internal force is “alive”, whereas muscular strength is “dead”. It is a kungfu jargon meaning that internal force is holistic and unlimited in its uses, whereas the use of muscular strength is localized and limited.

Internal force, for example, enhances all your organs and systems, gives you vitality and mental freshness so that you can enjoy your work and play, and enables you to perform better in whatever you do, including sleeping and making love.

Muscular strength is localized in the muscles and limited to lifting heavy objects. A huge bodybuilder may not even be healthy or have good stamina, because the energy that would otherwise work his organs and systems is channeled into building huge muscles, and his organs and systems have to work harder to compensate the extra weight of the big muscles.

Question 8

I get too tired when I am training. Could you please tell how I can sort this problem out. I really enjoy my training.

— Irfan, England

Answer

There are three main reasons why you become tired during or after training. You over-train or you train wrongly or your art is energy-draining.

If you train great kungfu which incorporates chi kung and meditation, like Shaolin and Taijiquan, you should have more energy, and be more fresh, not less, after your training. Most types of kungfu, however, operate at the physical level only. Thus, you may feel a bit tired because energy was spent during the training, but you should not feel so tired that you felt like dropping. This applies to other forms of exercise, like playing games or working out in a gym.

If you train chi kung or meditation, irrespective of its type and level, you should feel fresh at the end of the training, because chi kung and meditation are training of energy and mind. If you feel tired, either you have over-trained or trained wrongly, or you have performed chi kung or meditation as physical exercise.

The above explanation will provide you with the philosophical background to sort your problem out. First you should examine whether what you train is what you think or claim it to be. Although you call your training great Shaolin Kungfu but find that you bounce about and punch and kick each other in your training, you would realize that what you do is actually some energy draining activities, and should not be surprised why you are tired.

If what you train is really what it is claimed to be, you should examine whether you over-train or train incorrectly. Remember that what is insufficient training for some may be over training for others. Over-training may be due to training for too long or training too intensively.

Incorrect training causes tiredness and often pain. A common factor of incorrect training is tensing yourself when you are supposed to be relaxed. Another common factor is over-exerting.

Feeling tired is a warning sign. You should stop for a time being and let your body rest. Resume training only when you feel refreshed.

A good chi kung exercise to prevent tiredness as well as to replenish your energy when you are tired, is “Lifting the Sky”. If you perform “Lifting the Sky” before as well as after your kungfu training, your results will be enhanced.

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