March 2004 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Anthony Korahais

In our school, Shaolin Wahnam, when we practice a kungfu set, we do not just practice the form. All the three aspects of kungfu — “jing”, “qi” and “shen”, or essence, energy and mind — are involved.

Question 1

Recently my son was awarded first place in Kung Lek Kune (Power Fist Form). He goes to class 3 times a week. I wish it was more because I know that Kung Fu is a way of life and in order to become successful in life one must try his best at every task put before him.

I train my son everyday based on what I pick up from his class sessions. Just with the basics. I also purchase his sifu's tapes. Through these tapes and his attendance he has become a great student in my eyes.

— Jon, USA

Answer

Congratulations to your son for being first in Kung Lek Kune.

On closer examination, one may find your statement that “Kungfu is a way of life and in order to become successful in life one must try his best at every task put before him” merely a cliché, and that you may not fully realize what you were saying.

If your son grows up to become a professional kungfu instructor or demonstrator, kungfu may be a way of life for him, but right now when he is only six, it is a hobby, which is something he enjoys doing and which hopefully also contributes to his development.

There are many ways one becomes successful in life. While trying one's best is undoubtedly an admirable quality, it is not necessary a must for being successful in life. Some become successful through luck, some through connections, and some through inheritance, while there are many who try their best but still remain a failure. That, of course, is not saying one should not try his best.

Trying your best at every task put before you is an ideal, but is often not practical or not even necessary. Suppose you were a manager of a big corporation. If you were to attend to every task put before you, such as typing out and then posting all the letters addressed to your corporation, packaging and delivering all orders, tidying up your office, and repairing your personal computer, you would have little time and energy left to perform those tasks where your expertise is most valuable. You would then become a very bad manager. A good manager delegates his work to the right people.

To be successful, one does not merely work hard; he must also work smart. And in your noble endeavor to give your son the best in kungfu training and in life, you have not been smart. Basically you lack vision and direction. Consequently you use mediocre methods, which will inevitably lead to much waste of time and poor results.

Wanting your son to excel in kungfu is your fancy, not your vision. You have no idea what genuine kungfu is. Becoming first in Kung Lek Kune does not make your son a great kungfu student; it only shows him as a top demonstration artist. If a Karate or Taekwondo blackbelt were to attack you son, for example, he might not be able to defend himself.

Training your son everyday based on what you have picked up from his class sessions, is wasting your son's and your time. As you are not a trained kungfu instructor, you are giving your son low quality teaching. Encouraging him to learn from tapes is helping him to focus on superficial forms and miss the essence of kungfu training.

What could you do to be smart? The following are some suggestions.

  1. Have a sound philosophical knowledge of what genuine kungfu is. My books, “The Art of Shaolin Kungfu” and “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”, are good recommendations.
  2. Help your son to define aims and objectives in his kungfu training, according to his needs and aspirations, not just according to yours.
  3. Find the best available teacher you can afford to let you son to benefit from high quality teaching.
  4. Let — not force — your son to practice kungfu as a rewarding hobby — not as a way of life yet.
  5. Periodically assess his progress or otherwise with reference to his set aims and objectives.

Question 2

His sifu has told me not to work him too hard for fear that he will burn out. My philosophy is if I start early introducing to him his priorities: homework, Kung Fu and chores he will incorporate these standards in his life. When I read about the Shaolin and Wushu disciplines I see how soft we Westerners are. I think that he should work as hard as other Shaolin students.

Answer

His sifu is wise. Your son is only six. Let him enjoy his childhood, not work him like a slave. Remember you son has his childhood only once.

For a child of six, there are many other worthy things besides homework, kungfu and chores, he can do and benefit from. Take him up a mountain and let him sense the fresh air and expansive space so that his spirit roam free. Take him to a seaside or lakeshore and teach him to listen to the music of shimmering waves. Take him to a library and introduce him to the immense treasure found in books. You must also allow him time for himself and for his friends.

You should know that the modern Shaolin and Wushu students in China do not practice traditional Shaolin Kungfu, they practice modernized Wushu. Genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu is a comprehensive programme for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development — a programme any caring father would like his son to be trained in. Modernized Wushu is a demonstrative sport; there is nothing internal, martial or spiritual in it.

The environment and aspirations between these tough Wushu students and Western softies are vastly different. China is a huge, poor country. The primary reason parents send their children to learn Wushu at the Wushu schools around the modern Shaolin Temple is not for the children's personal development but to enable them to acquire a skill with which they can later obtain employment as body-guards, security guards, policemen and for the very lucky few kungfu movie stars. Most Chinese themselves do not realize that Wushu, which means “martial art” in the Chinese language, is promoted as a demonstrative sport!

Their training is tough, and sometimes grueling. If it is within your power or influence, and if you care for these children half as much as you care for your son, perhaps you may initiate champagnes to win back some childhood joys for them. They also have their childhood only once.

Question 3

I wish there was a Tongzi Gong instruction tape that could be used for practice, mainly for stretching.

Answer

Tongzi Gong, or the Art of Being Childlike, is a comprehensive art. Stretching is only one aspect. The main aspect is to develop tremendous internal force. Practitioners of this art usually abstain from sex. If you wish to have grandchildren, this is not the art to encourage your son to dedicate himself to..

Even if you had an instruction tape, at best you would only learn the external forms of the art. Without personal guidance from a competent teacher, it is unlikely you get the essence.

Dan Hartwright

Genuine traditional kungfu is not merely practicing forms. Force training is essential. Here, in practicing the pattern “Big Boss Offers Wine”, Dan Hartwright of United Kingdom focuses his mind to channel internal force into his punch.

Question 4

How many punches, kicks should a six year old do per day? How long should he stand in his stances? Should he sweat? How can I inspire him to work even harder not being a martial artist but a dad?

Answer

Irrespective of whether you are six or sixty, if you follow our Shaolin Wahnam basic training programme, the least you do per day is 30 punches, 100 kicks, and sit at the Horse-Riding Stance for at least 5 minutes. You will sweat, often profusely.

Punching, kicking and stance training as you understand them are only one dimension of our basic training — the physical dimension. More important than such physical training is the training of energy and mind or spirit. These three dimensions — physical, energetic and spiritual — are integrated. Hence, when we train 30 punches, for example, we train not just the physical movement of punching, but also energy flow and mental focus.

The best way to inspire your son is through personal examples. If you want him to be kind, bright, happy, knowledgeable and wise, besides being excellent in martial art, you will achieve much, much more if you are so yourself.

Question 5

My name is Robert and I am 15 years old. I have been practicing kungfu (Chou Style Tai Tzu Chang Chuan) for a few years and am approaching higher levels of learning. My Sifu wants me, like the other high ranks, to teach the lower ranks. My question is: “What is your method of teaching?”

— Robert, USA

Answer

Congratulations for your progress and for being asked to teach your juniors. One can learn a lot by teaching others. A teacher also has to ensure that he himself has high standard of the art he teaches.

My method of teaching — in contract to the content of my teaching — consists mainly of the following: personal demonstration, oral instructions, meaningful correction, and heart to heart transmission. My emphasis is on practical experience, though theoretical knowledge is also important.

When I teach “One Finger Shooting Zen”, for example, I demonstrate the exercise to the students, giving oral instruction to highlight crucial points, like reminding them not to use muscular strength. I may also briefly explain the difference in philosophy and methodology between Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan and conventional Western exercise in developing force.

As the students practice the exercise, I go round to check them, and give appropriate instructions or promptings wherever and whenever necessary. I may, for example, ask a student to open his mouth a little wider, and another student to focus on his movement.

When a student makes a mistake, I correct it immediately, usually by personal example. However, if the correction may complicate the student and the mistake is not serious, I often overlook the mistake then, but inform him later when he is ready for the correction.

The most valuable part of my teaching is heart to heart transmission. This is especially crucial in high level arts. Heart to heart transmissions are of varying levels and may be effected in different ways. For example, when I notice that chi flow is about to break through some emotional blockage of a student, but he is holding back the emotion, I may, depending on the need of the moment, coax him or shout at him to let go. As he lets go, he may cry like a baby. I would then say, “Very good. Carry on.”

combat application

Another essential aspect of genuine traditional kungfu is combat application. Here Mogan and Chee Yong from Malaysia apply their kungfu forms for combat. Without these two aspects of force training and combat application, kungfu degrades into what is called “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”, that is a demonstrative form for pleasing spectators but incapable for combat.

Question 6

You have said that bulky muscles will interfere with the flow of chi. But how about muscle tone? If a person (like Bruce Lee) with very high muscle tone concentration does chi kung, would those muscles get in the way?

— Tom, USA

Answer

Yes, the muscles would affect chi flow. If all other things were equal, a person with big muscles would be less effective than one without big muscles in activities involving internal force. For example he would be slower in both his physical and mental responses, and less powerful in his strikes. Many people would be surprised, and may not believe this is true.

The reason they are less effective is because their big muscles get in the way of chi flow which produces the internal force to perform these activities. Moreover, some of the energy which could be used for these activities is locked in the muscles, and his organs and systems have to work extra hard to compensate for his extra mass.

Question 7

I'm a student of Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung and Master Chan Kai Leung whoteach Tai Shing Pek Kwar (Monkey Kungfu). I believe that this is a wonderful art. However, I am not sure whether this is the best art of kungfu for me. Maybe I am too tall (5 feet 10 inches). This is a large disadvantage in Monkey Kungfu. Is there a better type of Kungfu for me before I get too involved in Monkey Kungfu?

— Kay, USA

Answer

Besides the style of kungfu, the teacher is also very important for your progress. If we were to consider just two factors, I would say the teacher is more important than the style. In other words, it is better to learn from a good teacher who teaches a mediocre style, than from a bad teacher who teaches a good style.

I do not know about Sifu Chan Kai Leung, but I know that Sifu Chan Sau Chung is a famous master of Tai Shing Pek Kwar Kungfu. His outstanding disciple, Sifu Chan Khoon Thye, won the Southeast Asia Kungfu Sparring Competition many years ago, and was a popular movie star acting for Hoong Hei Khoon in Hong Kong kungfu movies. If you have the rare opportunity to learn from Sifu Chan Sau Chung, you should treasure it.

Tai Shing Pek Kwar Kungfu is a combination of two styles, namely Tai Shing Kungfu and Pek Kwar Kungfu. “Tai Shing” means “Great Sage” and is the title of the Monkey God, who was awarded “Great Sage Equal to Heaven” by the heavenly Jade Emperor. Hence Tai Shing Kungfu is Monkey Style Kungfu. Pek Kwar Kungfu is a style of Northern Shaolin where the two techniques of “pek”, or chopping, and “kwar”, or hanging, are prominent.

While Monkey Style Kungfu is favorable to practitioners who are small-sized, Pek Kwar Kungfu is favorable to those who are tall with long, powerful arms. Hence, being tall may not be a disadvantage in your style. While Sifu Chan Sau Chung himself is small-sized, his disciple Sifu Chan Khoon Thye is quite tall.

Question 8

Could you clarify something about Chi Kung for me? I am not very familiar with the practice but I have heard that through it, it is possible to channel energy inside your body. I have even heard that mastery of Chi Kung could lead to the ability to channel enough heat energy to your hands so that you could heat an object or even set something on fire. This may be a myth but I am not sure of that. I would greatly appreciate it if you could explain to me the limits of something like Chi Kung in terms of what could be accomplished through the channeling of energy.

— Nathan , USA

Answer

Channeling energy flow inside your body is a fundamental task in all chi kung. In other words, if you practice chi kung — genuine chi kung — the least you can do is to channel energy to flow inside your body. If yours is low level chi kung, you would take a long time, perhaps a few years, to accomplish this task. If yours is high level chi kung, you could accomplish it in a few weeks, or even a few days. But because what many people practice today is actually some sort of gentle physical exercise although they call it chi kung, they would be unable to do so even if they practice for their lifetime!

Mastery of chi kung is manifested in many different ways. While being able to channel enough energy to heat an object is a manifestation of a master, most other masters may be unable to do so, because they did not train this feat as their specialty. They could perform other feats which the energy heating master may not be able to perform. On the other hand, stuntmen may also perform this energy heating feat by using some tricks.

There are many more useful things chi kung masters as well as ordinary practitioners can do than channeling energy to heat objects, such as overcoming illness, enhancing vitality and expanding mind. For example, Joan Browne, our Shaolin Wahnam chi kung instructor in Ireland where I am now being invited to conduct some chi kung classes, has helped many students overcome what they previously thought were incurable diseases, such as repairing damaged nerves that conventional doctors had stated as irreparable. You may read a discussion of this at our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion forum .

The greatest achievement of chi kung is attaining the highest spiritual fulfillment, called variously as union with God, returning to the Ultimate Void, or Enlightenment. There is no other attainment in chi kung or any endeavor greater than this.

But this does not mean there are no limits to chi kung achievements. Chi kung is an art that goes along with Nature, not overcomes or controls it. Hence, no matter how great a chi kung master is, he cannot eat grass as food or change a man into a woman. He also cannot maintain his physical body for ever. But chi kung enables a practitioner to make the best use of his life energy for his daily work and play.

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