August 2004 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Sticking Hands

An old photograph taken about 30 years ago showing Sifu Wong, blind-folded, practiced Sticking Hands with his Wing Choon classmate, Khor Koay Peng

Question 1

I have come to a crossroads in my Kung Fu training and respectfully ask your advice.My training is in Wing Chun. I feel I have achieved good fighting skills and have improved my self-confidence which were my two goals when I started practicing Kung Fu.

— Mathew, England

Answer

Yours is a delicate question to answer as it may offend the sensitivities of some people. Nevertheless, as not only you have asked for advice sincerely and respectfully but also the answer will also benefit many others in similar situation, I shall give my answer honestly. But please bear in mind that they are only my opinions.

Question 2

But as Master Yip Man says “behind every mountain there is another higher mountain” and I now feel that I should be able to achieve more from my Kung Fu. I find that my current school has the following problem.

Answer

Yours is a common situation many conscientious students will often face in their kungfu career. At some point of their development, they will feel that, despite the benefits they have attained from their school and are grateful for it, their current training is inadequate. Hence they look for other masters or other schools.

Their thought as well as subsequent action can be interpreted by them themselves as well as by others in two broad categories of opinions. They may be considered betraying their school, or being true to their search for excellence.

Unless a student maliciously walks out on his own school and later spites it, seeking another master or another school to further his own development is, in my opinion, being true to his aim for excellence. He may have learnt from many teachers and may even be better than some of them, but he must always honour his teachers.

My own teachers were a good example. My first teacher, Uncle Righteousness learned from three masters, my second teacher, Sifu Chee Kim Thong, learned from six, my third teacher, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, learned from seven, though my fourth teacher, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, learned from only one.

Phiew Chi

Another old photograph taken about 30 years ago showing Sifu Wong demonstrating a phiew-chi, or thrust-finger pattern, in the Wing Choon set “Siu Lin Tau”

Question 3

Many of the instructors at my school are still only at the Chum Kiu level and, whilst I acknowledge their superior fighting skill, I do not have as much faith in them as I would a true Wing Chun Master. None of them fight using stances. Perhaps my doubt in their ability makes me a bad student.

Answer

My Wing Choon master, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, once told me an illuminating point. Street fighters and bouncers in night clubs were superior fighters against ordinary people, but inferior against genuine kungfu masters.

Those instructors you mention may be superior fighters against people who practice Taiji dance or kungfu gymnastics, or even against genuine martial artists, but if they fight without using stances — if we trust the teachings of generations of great kungfu masters — their kungfu attainment cannot be high.

Question 4

My school teaches hard, external training with no internal training at all. This atmosphere has made some of my Kung Fu brothers very competitive when they train with me. Although I am able to handle their attacks quite easily during Chi Sau, I often sustain bruises on my arms as a result of blocking their aggressive attacks. My own attacks often feel weak by comparison.

Answer

The classification of kungfu styles into hard and soft, external and internal, is relative and arbitrary. Wing Choon Kungfu provides an interesting progression. At the beginning stage, Wing Choon Kungfu is hard and external. Practicing with a wooden dummy is a good example of hard, external training.

At the intermediate stage, Wing Choon Kungfu is hard and internal. Practicing Siu Lin Tau (or Siu Lim Tau as it is called in Yip Mann Wing Choon) using “jing” or internal force, is a good example. “Chuin kheng” or “inch-force”, where a practitioner can inflict serious injury on an opponent at very close range, is a manifestation of hard, internal power.

At the advanced stage, Wing Choon Kungfu is soft and internal. Practicing “Chi Sau” or “Sticking Hands“ is a good example. “Theng Kheng” or “Sensing Skill”, where a practitioner can effectively maneuver an opponent's movements without having to look at them, is an application of soft, internal training.

Hard, external training, especially when done with combative intent and muscular tension, makes the practitioners competitive and aggressive. This is the case with your kungfu brothers, as well as most other external martial artists. In my opinion, such training is detrimental to both physical and spiritual health.

There are two main reasons why you often sustain bruises on your arms and your own attacks feel weak, namely you use hard techniques and you lack internal force. You use hard techniques in your defence, such as blocking the attacks head-on. If you use soft techniques (even though they may be external), such as deflecting the attacks following their momentum, you may not only avoid the bruises but also remain calmer and converse more energy for other purposes.

For example, if your opponent attacks you with a right cup-fist and your block with a left “tan sau”, or “mirror hand” (moving your hand from your right to your left), your defence is hard and external. If you response with a left “pak sau”, or “slap-hand” (moving from your left to your right), your defence is soft and external, and you avoid sustaining bruises.

However, if you have internal force, you may block an opponent's right cup-fist with your left “tan sau” head-on. Here your response is hard and internal. Not only you will not sustain any bruises, if you are skilful and powerful enough, you may dislocate his elbow or fracture his arm.

Your attacks feel weak because you do not have internal force, neither do you use (sufficient) muscular strength. This is the same case as Taiji dancers fighting against external martial artists. Their movements (in attacks as well as defence) may be relaxed and graceful, but they lack force. They forget, or do not know, that being “soft” is not being listless or without force.

If you examine this situation more deeply, you may discover some illuminating points that will help you in making your decision in question as well as in your future kungfu development. Great Wing Choon masters, including Sifu Yip Mann and the first patriarch Yim Wing Choon, were generally small sized, yet they were tremendously powerful. The reason, of course, was that they had tremendous internal force.

But many modern Wing Choon masters are muscular, and some even encourage external strengthening like weight lifting and body building. Obviously somewhere down the generation lines, internal force training was lost.

Your kungfu brothers and instructors are a case in point. To develop power, as well as for combat application, they employ hard, external means, forgetting or not knowing that at the advanced level Wing Choon Kungfu is soft and internal. You know or may be vaguely aware of this point, but you lack to acquire or even understand internal force.

Wing Choon sparring

A recent photograph showing Sifu Wong use the Wing Choon pattern, phiew-chi or thrusting-fingers, against a Western Boxer. As the boxer moves in with at left jab, brushes aside the left jab with his right pak-sau, or slap-hand, and simultaneously counter strikes the boxer with a left phiew-chi, or thrusting-fingers. This is a “soft” technique using internal force.

Question 5

Many students “race” along, achieving belts and learning advanced skills without ever mastering the basics.

Answer

Mastering the basics is fundamental in any art, including Wing Choon Kungfu. In fact, if one has the knowledge and skills, by practicing Siu Lin Tau alone he can attain very high levels in the soft, internal aspects of Wing Choon Kungfu.

This, I believe, was what Yim Wing Choon did in her own training. She knew may kungfu sets and training methods, but she specialized on Siu Lin Tau, which in our Choe Family Wing Choon includes Chiam Kiew and Phiew Chi.

On the other hand, if a practitioner has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in his training, chooses the best available methods and trains conscientiously and diligently from the best available teacher, he can attain results many times faster and better than ordinary practitioners. But this is not “racing”; this is what we call training smart.

In traditional kungfu, belts or sashes are used to hold the trousers, not to indicate attainment levels. Practitioners normally wear black trousers with black sashes to hold them. Over the years through frequent washing the black sashes may become lighter in colour. I still keep and treasure my first kungfu sash made from silk. It was deep black at the beginning, but now it has become light green through washing over the years.

Question 6

An opportunity has recently arisen to learn Kung Fu from a sifu who says that he is a 34th generation Shaolin Disciple. He teaches Taiji, Wu Bu Quan (five stance form) and Xiao Hong Quan. Perhaps I should join his class and begin my training from scratch in a new style to add depth to my training. Or should I continue in my Wing Chun training in the knowledge that it is making me a good fighter.

Answer

I think this sifu teaches modern wushu rather than traditional kungfu. But it is worthwhile to find out from personal experience by learning from him. For a working definition, modern wushu is a demonstrative sport, whereas traditional kungfu is a fighting art. The litmus test, therefore, is whether you can actually use the forms you learn, for fighting.

Great kungfu goes beyond fighting; it gives you good health and spiritual development. An essential element for these attainments is internal force. In other words, it is the internal force in kungfu training that gives you good health and spiritual experiences.

But almost everybody teaching something, irrespective of whether it is modern wushu, Taiji dance, sumo wrestling, Muay Thai fighting, weight lifting or long distance running, will say his art gives you good health and spiritual development. You have, therefore, to be clear what good health and spiritual development actually are, and whether your practice produces the results as stated.

Nevertheless, practicing modern wushu is also beneficial. It also demands much time and effort. As you have achieved good fighting skills and improved your self-confidence from your Wing Choon training, which are no mean achievements, your new training in modern wushu will enlarge your repertoire of kungfu forms, which will further help you in fighting skills. However, you may not gain much in good health and spiritual development, because internal force training is unlikely to be part of modern wushu training.

Hence, you will be widening your scope, rather than deepening your training. A good way to deepen your training is to progress to the hard, internal aspects of Wing Choon Kungfu, and then if you have the chance, the soft, internal aspects. As good stances are necessary both to train and to manifest internal force, and as your instructors do not believe in stances, it is unlikely you can deepen your training in your present school.

It is best of you can learn from a Wing Choon master who is willing to teach you, but this may difficult. An alternative is to learn from a kungfu master of another style who can teach you internal force, then transfer the skills to Wing Choon Kungfu. A third alternative is to learn genuine chi kung which develops internal force.

Question 7

It is typical of us in the West to continually change from one thing to another and I do not want to fall into this trap unnecessarily.

Answer

Changing from one thing to another may not necessarily be bad. Many people, for example, have practiced taiji dance and kungfu gymnastics for years, thinking that what they practice are great martial arts.

Some may even realize that what they practice do not produce the results they want, but even when the opportunities to test out other schools are available, blinded by misplaced loyalty, they refuse to change, stubbornly insisting that what they practice is the best.

Even if they just change to some external martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo, which in my opinion is inferior to genuine kungfu, they will be rudely awaken to the fact that what they have been practicing and claiming to be a great martial art, is merely a sport.

On the other hand, unless you are so lucky to meet a great master the first time you learn kungfu, changing from one teacher to another may give you a good idea of the diversity in the philosophy, methodology as well as results attained from different teachers or different schools.

You must, of course, stay with a teacher for a reasonable period of time and practice according to his instructions (not according to what you fancy the training to be). This is different from hopping from schools to schools to collect techniques, which as you have suggested many Westerners and modern Easterners too succumb to, mistakenly thinking that the techniques are the art.

Wing Choon sparring

The boxer dodges Sifu Wong's counter-attack by bouncing away and then moves in again with a right jab. Without moving his feet but swerving his body accordingly, Sifu Wong avoids the right jab and simultaneously brushes his right phiew-chi or thrusting-fingers above the opponent's right arm to strike his throat. Notice that Sifu Wong uses the same pattern, phiew-chi, (but with left and right hands) in these two situations. Notice also that it is the same pattern shown in the earlier two photographs. This is an example of deepening, i.e. being more skilful and effective in using the same technique in different situations.

Question 8

I wish to seek your advice. Given my brother-in-law's condition of internal injuries, would you be giving him a prior diagnostic check and initial medical treatment to relieve his suffering when he attends your Intensive Chi Kung Course.

— Peter, Singapore

Answer

One wonderful aspect of high level chi kung is that diagnosis is not even necessary! This is ridiculous from the Western medical perspective, hence many people would not believe it, but it is true.

In fact, it is due to this very special feature that I can help many people overcome their so-called incurable diseases. Actually the diseases, such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, chronic pains, allergies, depression and, in the case of your brother-in-law, internal injuries are not incurable. The problem is that Western doctors, in their present stage of medical development, do not know what the diseases are; they only know the symptoms. Therefore, they do not know what to cure.

From the chi kung perspective, which uses the traditional Chinese medical paradigm, the concept is different. There is only one disease, and it is yin-yang disharmony. They are countless manifestations, or symptoms, of this one disease. Western medicine gives different names to these symptoms, calling them, for example, asthma, cancer, etc.

The cause of yin-yang disharmony is disharmonious chi flow. Hence, by restoring harmonious chi flow, one can restore yin-yang harmony. “Harmonious chi flow” is a Chinese medical jargon. In simple language it means that the energy that works all your bodily systems is working all these systems harmoniously.

There are many ways to restore harmonious chi flow, such as by taking herbal concoctions, undergoing acupuncture treatment and massage therapy. Western chemotherapy and surgery are also means to restore harmonious chi flow, though Western doctors, due to their different training, would not use such terms or see their treatment in such light.

In all other healing systems, diagnosis is of utmost important. If the diagnosis is correct, overcoming the disease is a matter of course. If, for example, some bacteria attack a person's lungs, this can cause his lungs to fail in their functions. In Chinese medical terms, this is disharmonious chi flow at the lungs. By taking antibiotics, as in Western medicine, the bacteria are killed and the patient recovers the proper functions of his lungs. In Chinese terms, this is restoring harmonious chi flow.

There are other effective ways to overcome bacterial infection, besides taking in antibiotics — a fact that many people may not realize. Herbalism, acupuncture and massage therapy are some of the ways used in traditional Chinese medicine. These methods stimulate the patient's own defence system to overcome the bacterial infection.

If the infection is due to viruses instead of bacteria, antibiotics would be useless. In such cases, Western doctors would give supportive treatment, helping the patient's own defence system to fight the viruses. Hence the saying, “doctors do the dressing, God does the healing”. But Chinese physicians, by employing various methods like herbalism, acupuncture and massage therapy, actively help God to do the healing.

There is one big problem in all these healing systems. If the diagnosis is wrong, treatment will be ineffective. For example, if the failure of the lung functions is due to other factors instead of to bacterial infection, taking antibiotics or improving the patient's self-defence system through herbalism, acupuncture or massage therapy may overcome the infection, but not the lung malfunction.

The interesting point is that the bacterial infection may be present, and then overcome, but the patient will still be sick with lung malfunction. In this case, the bacterial infection is actually a result, rather than a cause, of the malfunction.

Practicing chi kung overcomes such a problem. As mentioned above, diagnosis is not necessary! This is because whereas the other healing systems work at higher hierarchies, such as at the system, organ or cell levels, chi kung works at the most fundamental energy level. In other words, whereas other healers need to find out at what spot of the patient's systems, organs or cells the disease is caused — and this involves countless variables, chi kung masters need only to work at one factor, i.e. whether the patient's energy is flowing harmoniously.

However, this does not necessarily mean that chi kung is always more effective than other healing methods. If a patient suffers from an acute bacterial attack, for example, taking appropriate antibiotics would be more effective.

Notwithstanding all this, if your brother-in-law attends my Intensive Chi Kung Course, please ask him to identify himself to me and describe to me his health problems. I would then be in a better position to decide if he needs other supplementary exercises or treatments.

Question 9

I was wondering if you have any qi gong program for children.

— Teoh, Malaysia

Answer

Shaolin Qigong, the type of qigong (chi kung) we practice at Shaolin Wahnam, is very extensive. It has something to suit different categories of people — infants, children, teenagers, adults, old persons, sick persons, disabled persons, weak persons, strong person, fragile girls, rough brutes, slow persons, wise persons, etc.

The type of qigong taught to a fragile girl of five, for example, would be different from that taught to an elderly man of seventy. The type of qigong meant for a slow learner would be unsuitable to a witty person of the same age. A person under emotional stress would not practice the type of qigong he does for athletic competitions.

On the other hand, Shaolin Qigong is also very profound. When one is well trained in fundamental qigong skills and knowledgeable in basic qigong philosophy, he may use the same qigong exercise for widely different purposes. For example, those who have attended my Intensive Chi Kung Course may use “Lifting the Sky” to relax and be focused, to overcome various health problems, to clear emotional blockage, to sharpen the mind, to increase stamina for sports and games, to heighten awareness, or to speak to God!

Hence, we have qigong programs for children or other distinctive categories of people, such as sportsmen preparing for a particular competition, executives seeking relieve from stress, or elderly persons seeking rejuvenation. We would examine their needs and aspiration as well as time-frame and resources to work out specialized programs. Such specialized programs, however, are planned only on demand.

As children are boisterous but their concentration period is relatively short, their qigong program will focus on a variety of exercises that work more on the physical level. Using “Lifting the Sky” to accomplish various different purposes like clearing emotional blockage and speaking to God, for example, is not suitable for children. But “Lifting the Sky” will be very useful to loosen their joints and muscles to help their growth, and to enhance their energy level to promote wholesome developments of their organs.

Children will also be taught, in short durations and in a fun-ful way, to enjoy stillness and focus their mind. They will be taught to respect and honour their parents, teachers and elders, and to aim for excellence in both their studies and play. This is in line with our Shaolin Wahnam philosophy that we do not merely teach our students kungfu or qigong exercises, but skills and techniques appropriate to their developmental stage so as to enrich their and other peoples' lives.

LINKS

Overview of the Questions-Answers Series

Selected Reading

Courses and Classes