March 2005 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Combat application

The combative techniques of Shaolin monks as painted on the famous Shaolin murals about 500 years ago, Sifu Wong has discovered to his surprise, were similar to those used in Shaolin Wahnam today

Question 1

I have seen the website "/shaolin/four-gates.html" on the Shaolin form, “Four Gates”, which I am very interested in. Why is this form taught?

— Patrick, USA

Answer

“http://shaolin-wahnam.tripod.com/shaolin/four-gates.html“ was the old address for that webpage. The new address is /shaolin/four-gates.html Different people would give different answers to why this form or kungfu set is taught. My answer is as follows.

“Four Gates” is a kungfu set that can be appreciated at many different levels. Beginners benefit a lot from practicing this set as it consolidates their stances, footwork and basic kungfu patterns. This forms the foundation upon which future progress much depends.

Intermediate students can use this set to learn and develop many kungfu skills, like breath control, energy flow, mental focus, internal force management, and speed development. Advanced practitioners can find beauty and profundity in the philosophy and combat application of this set.

For example, many students today would not know a single combat function of the pattern “Hide Flowers in Sleeves”. But once you understand the philosophy and have the skills, you can apply this one pattern to counter almost all attacks, irrespective of how an opponent attempts to strike, kick, fell or hold you in various different ways! Isn't that beautiful and profound?

Question 2

Where did this form originate from?

Answer

This kungfu set (or form) originated from the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou in South China. This was the fundamental set at the temple. This means all students at that southern Shaolin Temple had to learn this set first, then they might progress to other specialties.

When the Shaolin Temple was burnt to the ground by the Qing Army directed by the Qing emperor Yong Jing himself, a Shaolin monk, the Venerable Jiang Nan, escaped and ran out of China.

About 50 years later the Venerable Jiang Nan transmitted this set to Sigung Yang Fatt Khuen near the Thai-Malaysian border. About 40 years later Sigung Yang Fatt Khoon taught this set to Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. About 30 years after that, I learned this set from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, and that happened more than 30 years ago.

This kungfu set, “Shaolin Four Gates at Cross-Roads”, has very special meaning in our school, Shaolin Wahnam. It is a physical manifestation of the transmission of the Shaolin arts from the Shaolin Temple about 150 years ago to us now.

Question 3

Was it nature to southern China or northern?

Answer

“Four Gates” is a Southern Shaolin kungfu set.

Question 4

I have been training and studying various forms and arts for 4 years. I am curious as what to expect from the forms.

Answer

A form or kungfu set represents the crystallization of that particular art. For example, a Praying Mantis set, like “Eighteen Searches”, represents the crystallization of Praying Mantis Kungfu, and a Baguazhang set, like “Swimming Dragon” represents the crystallization of Baguazhang.

How one interprets the crystallization and benefits from it, will depend much on his understanding and experience. For most people, the interpretation and expectation focus mainly on the external forms which are called patterns.

If he learns a Praying Mantis set like “Eighteen Searches”, for example, he will expect to know and perform Praying Mantis patterns, which are characteristically different from Baguazhang patterns and patterns of other kungfu styles.

If he is more informed and is lucky enough to learn from a genuine master, the student can expect other aspects of kungfu beyond the external forms. He can expect to develop skills and apply techniques for combat. Different kungfu sets will give different skills and techniques characteristic of the sets.

For example, the skills and techniques you acquire from “Eighteen Searches” will be characteristically different from those of “Swimming Dragon”. In “Eighteen Searches” you would learn to be agile in your footwork, and use your hands to minimize the force of your opponents. In “Swimming Dragon” you would learn to be flexible with your body, and regulate your breathing to generate internal force.

Question 5

If you have any information or suggestions on forms I should study, I shall be humbly waiting for your advice.

Answer

The more important consideration is not what forms or kungfu sets you should study but from whom you learn them, and how you practice what you have learnt.

As mentioned above, a kungfu set is the crystallization of the patterns, techniques, tactics, strategies, energy management, mind training and other aspects of its kungfu style. If a set has been passed down to us, it has passed the test of time in its usefulness, otherwise it would have been eliminated along the way.

Even when your chosen set is invaluable but if you learn it from a video or an incompetent instructor, you would only get its outward forms or patterns. You would have missed the essence of the set. You would not be able to apply the patterns for combat, or have more stamina or be more alert in your daily non-combative life. What you practice will not be kungfu but what past masters referred to as “flowery fists and embroidery legs”.

Even if you limit yourself to outward forms, if you do not learn from a competent instructor, you are likely to perform the forms wrongly. The fact that today many students develop health problems like knee injuries from their set practice, indicates the prevalence of incorrect form training.

Yet, even if you have a good teacher to teach you not just the outward forms of the set but its inner essence, if you do not practice consistently or practice according to his instructions, you will not derive the benefits that set should give.

For example if your teacher asks you to practice a particular pattern every day for three weeks but you learn the next ten patterns from your classmate the next day, or if your teacher asks you to relax your arms when performing your set but you tie weights to your arms instead, you will not derive the essence of the set even you have a competent teacher to teach you.

Combat application

The combat patterns used by the Shaolin monks above were similar to those in the “Four Gates” application set taught in Shaolin Wahnam, and demonstrated by Sifu Wong and his son, Wong Chun Nga, in “The Complete Book of Shaolin”. But because the two sets of illustrations were taken from different angles and of other factors, the similarity may not be obvious to the uninitiated.

Question 6

What are your personal views on the learning and practicing of Iron Palm or anything iron palm related, without a trained, experienced master at your side at all times to make sure your chances of harming yourself are not there, and to make sure you are doing it correctly. Some places that I have come to find over the internet stated that it could be learned well from a book or a movie, while others suggested never to attempt it without a master at your side.

— Hastings, USA

Answer

Personally I would not advice you to train Iron Palm without a master's or a qualified instructor's supervision. Not only you may hurt yourself but also it is not even likely you could be successful. Your not being successful is not because of your intelligence or diligence, or because the book or movie did not give the right instructions.

In other words, even if the instructions are correct, and you have understood the instructions well and have practiced correctly, you may still not succeed in the Iron Palm after practicing for the required length of time. This fact is difficult for the uninitiated to understand or appreciate.

The crucial point is skill. Acquiring the power of the Iron Palm is acquiring a particular skill. This is different from leaning the techniques of Iron Palm training. You may perform the techniques the way they are explained in a book or a video, yet you may still not acquire the skill.

A rough analogy is learning how to swim. You may learn the techniques from a book or a video, but without an instructor's help you may still be unable to swim despite practicing on your own.

Question 7

I have read that Sifu Wong could treat kidney patient with chi kung practice. I want to participate in the Intensive Chi Kung course this April in Cinta Sayang, but am uncertain if there are any conditions (other than in the website) attached to this training. My kidneys are performing at may be 30% capacity. My kidney doctor told me that the damaged parts of my kidneys could not recover once they fail. I am not sure whether Sifu Wong could assist to explain how chi kung could help kidneys function, or whether he would accept my application for registration.

— Mah, Singapore

Answer

I am sorry to hear about your kidney problem, but the good news is that it can be rectified by practicing high level chi kung correctly. You should therefore register for my Intensive Chi Kung Course in April.

You would be pleased to know that I have many successful cases with people suffering from kidney problems like yours. In fact, one of the reasons that inspired me to teach high level chi kung publicly was my helping a kidney patient who was supposed to die, to recover from what conventional doctors regarded as an irreversible, incurable kidney problem.

To understand why or how practicing high level chi kung correctly can overcome kidney problems, or other so-called incurable diseases, it is necessary to view it from the chi kung perspective. Because most people are so used to the Western medical perspective or paradigm, they often fail to realize that a perspective or a paradigm is not a universal truth, it is only a way of seeing or explaining events and processes.

Let us take an example. In English we use “persons” and “tenses” — “I talk” but “he talks”; “I talk everyday” but “I talked yesterday”. If we are used to only this perspective or paradigm, we may think that whenever we change from the first person “I” to the third person “he”, and whenever we change from the present tense “everyday” to the past tense “yesterday”, we add “s” and “ed”.

But for those who also speak Chinese, we know that this English perspective or paradigm is not universally true. It is interesting — in Chinese it is perfectly grammatical to say “he talk” and “I talk yesterday”, without adding “s” and “ed” as in English Hence, when you ask a doctor who is trained in the Western medical paradigm, he would say that the damaged parts of your kidneys cannot be replaced because that is how he has been professionally trained to see illness. When you ask a chi kung master using a Western medical paradigm, he would also say the same thing because he is seeing you illness with a Western medical paradigm though he may not consciously realize it. When you ask your friends or most other people, they too will say the same thing because most people are used to the pervasive Western medical paradigm.

But when you ask a chi kung master like me using a traditional chi kung paradigm, and who is not afraid to appear foolish because his views are so different from all other people, including many other chi kung masters, he will tell you that the damaged parts of your kidneys can be replaced.

From the chi kung perspective, the damaged parts of your kidneys or your damaged kidney cells are called “evil chi”. At the sub-atomic level, this “evil chi” is not even “solid”, it is volatile. But it is stagnant and blocked, hence it is not performing the function it is supposed to do. If you can clear the blockage and replace this “evil chi” with “good chi”, you will restore the function of this chi in your kidneys. In other words, your kidneys will function normally again.

The most basic task of chi kung practice is to clear blockage and replace “evil chi” with “good chi”. But you have to practice high level chi kung, as low level chi kung may not be powerful enough to have the desired effect. High level chi kung, like the one you will learn at my Intensive Chi Kung Course, will not only enable you to build powerful chi within a relatively short time, but also enable you to direct the good chi to your kidneys for the desired process.

Also you have to learn from a master. Even though an ordinary instructor may have the knowledge of high level chi kung, he may not be skillful enough to pass on the art to you, and to ensure that you practice correctly.

In theory there is no such thing as an incurable disease in the chi kung paradigm. Life is a meaningful flow of energy. When there is blockage to this flow of energy, it results in illness. When the blockage is cleared and the flow resumed, health is restored. But in practice not every patient can be cured, because there may be other factors involved. Two important detrimental factors are whether the illness has gone beyond a threshold and whether the student practices correctly and sufficiently. Nevertheless, I can honestly say you have a very good chance to regain good health.

Meanwhile you can practice “Lifting the Sky” and “Nourishing Kidneys” from my books. Just follow the instructions in my books as best as you can and enjoy the exercises. Besides getting some benefit while waiting for the course, this will also give you an opportunity to compare the effects from learning on your own from my books with learning directly from me at the Intensive Chi Kung Course.

“Nourishing Kidneys” is not taught in my Intensive Chi Kung Course. But the skills you will learn in the course will enable you to perform “Nourishing Kidneys” and other chi kung exercises at a much higher level. Please identify yourself to me when you meet me so that I can check you performance of “Nourishing Kidneys”.

Chi Flow

Both Shaolin Kungfu and Wahnam Taijiquan are practiced in Shaolin Wahnam as chi kung. Here students at the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia in November 2004 enjoy chi flow poetically described as “Flowing Breeze and Swaying Willows”.

Question 8

I have been doing breath meditation practice for 3-4 years and am aware that I have a tendency to control my breath .I have been experiencing a wavelike sensation pulsating from my heart area which travels up to my head. I tend to fix my concentration on these sensations.

While my awareness of inner and external environment is increasing, these sensations are very distracting when I sit to meditate. I also realized that after I started meditation, the tip of my tongue automatically rest on the top of my roof palate all the time. Does this have any effect on my condition?

On the good side I realize that I have less and less distracting thoughts as I practice and am in the present moment more and more when I do work. I would be very grateful if Sifu could give me some advice on what these problem could be and how I can overcome them.

— Lee, Malaysia

Answer

It is difficult to know your problems, if any, from your e-mail without seeing you in person. The wavelike sensation could be chi (or intrinsic energy) generated as a result of your meditation.

Although you have not performed any formal chi kung exercises, regulating your breath in meditation can generate power energy flow. Depending on whether you had been regulating your breath correctly or wrong as well as other factors like whether you were tensed physically or mentally, this energy flow, felt by you as wavelike sensations, could be beneficial or harmful. A good guideline is that if you feel pleasant, it is beneficial; but if you feel distressful, it is harmful.

You did not report any pain, nauseous feelings or oppression in your chest or head, which are common symptoms of wrong practice. This is a good sign implying that your practice was not wrong. Instead you felt more focused and aware. This is a good sign that your practice is correct. Feeling distracted by the wavelike sensations was a common reaction when you did not know what they meant. Now that you know they are manifestations of chi flow, you can stop worrying about them, and let go.

If you let go enough, you may (or may not) sway gently, and sometimes even vigorously. If that happens you can either just enjoy the gentle or even vigorous swaying, or gently stop the swaying by gently thinking of your dan tian (about two or three inches below your navel). If no swaying occurs, it does not matter.

On the other hand, if you had been practicing wrongly, the wavelike sensations pulsating from your heart to your head could be very serious, though I do not think this is the case. If this were true, you would probably (though not always) have those unpleasant symptoms I mentioned, like pain, nauseous feelings or oppression in your chest or head. Another way to check is to look at a mirror to see if your face is whitish or dark, and if your eyes are reddish or yellowish. If you don't have these harmful symptoms, you are quite safe.

However, when in doubt you should always be even on the safe side, even though doing so might slow down your progress had your training be actually correct but you interpret wrongly. I would suggest you should not control your breath, and not concentrate on your sensations. Also you need not place your tongue at the roof of your palate. But if your tongue places itself there automatically, as in your case, it is alright. However, even though your tongue goes there on its own but you feel uncomfortable about it, you can drop your tongue naturally.

With the tongue at the roof of the palate, you connect your “ren mai” (or conceptual meridian) with your “du mai” (or governing meridian). This enhance chi flow remarkably. If the chi flow is beneficial, which seems to be your case, the good effects are increased. But if the chi flow is harmful, it aggravates the harm.

What you practice is probably “anapanasati meditation”, or “mindfulness on breathing”. The Buddha placed great importance on this method of meditation, and taught it to monks. It is widely used in Theravada Buddhism.

According to the Buddha himself as recorded in sutras, in anapanasati meditation a practitioner enters into Samadhi, or one-pointed mind, by being mindful of his breathing, but he does not control his breathing. He does not regulate his breath, but breathes naturally. While breathing naturally he is mindful of his breathing. When he takes in a long breath, he is aware that he takes in a long breath. When he takes in a short breath, he is aware that he takes in a short breath.

Hence, even if you have been meditating correctly (which is likely the case), changing from controlling your breath to breathing naturally in your “breath meditation” will bring you more benefits. If you have been used to controlling your breath, changing to naturally breathing, surprising it may be to some people, may not come easily. But if you put in some gentle effort — you must not force yourself to breathe spontaneously — you would succeed.

Question 9

I still cannot decide if I want to attend the Intensive Kungfu or the Intensive Chi Kung. You wrote:"Since you already practice Baguazhang, it may be better for you to attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course instead of my Intensive Chi Kung Course. Ideally one will benefit most if he first attends my chi kung course, and later attends my kungfu course, but because of time or financial constraints, he can skip the chi kung course because chi kung is already incorporated in my kungfu course.”

If one were to attend only one or the other, would the Kungfu one be better?So, if I attended the Chi Kung Intensive, would I still be able to learn the skills to perform the Baguazhang or Shaolin Mantis that I am being taught now as chi kung rather than purely external as it is being taught to me?

I am not sure if I would be able to afford attending both courses. If I attendedone and was completely blown away by the experience I think I would find a way to attend the second, at some point, but I am not positive.

I just feel like I would learn more and better chi kung practices if I attendedthe course solely dedicated to it, and then tried to apply it to kung fu practice, but you seem to think that it would be easier for someone to apply chi kung to kung fu practice if they attend the Shaolin Kungfu Intensive.

Answer

Yours are problems common to some students.

I have listed out your choices to make it easy for you to come to a decision.

If you can afford to attend both courses, then attend both courses.

If you can afford to attend only one course, the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course is a better choice. This is your case. You hope to attend the Shaolin Kungfu Course in future, but this is different from saying that you can afford to attend both courses now.

Most people would think the way you do, i.e. first attend the chi kung course and hope to apply what you have learnt into your kungfu. They, and you, can do this, and your kungfu will surely be enhanced. There is no doubt about it.

But if you compare the benefits you will get by attending the chi kung course with the benefits you will get by attending the kungfu course, those of the kungfu course are more. For example, if you attend my kungfu course, you will be able to perform your Baguazhang or Shaolin Mantis as chi kung, but if you attend my chi kung course you will still probably perform your Baguazhang and Shaolin Mantis as external forms although your performance will be much better than before.

The reason is straight-forward. When you attend the chi kung course, you get the benefits of one course now and hope to get the benefits of the other course in future by transference of skills. When you attend the kungfu course, you get the benefits of both courses now — you do not have to wait for it to happen in future This is simply because when you practice Shaolin Kungfu learnt from me, you are already doing chi kung; it is not the same as applying chi kung to kungfu.

As a rough analogy, let us say you are undecided whether to learn how to boil water or how to make tea. You reason that boiling water is easier, so you learn how to boil water first. You hope that in future you will be able to transfer the skill of boiling water to making tea. But the master who teaches both the art of boiling water and the art of making tea, would ask you to learn making tea. This is a better choice because by learning how to make tea, you will also learn how to boil water.

The difference between your and most people's answer and my answer is that you arrive at your answer via intellectualization, whereas I arrive at the answer via direct experience. Moreover, your intellectualization is based on incomplete or inaccurate information, whereas my experience has been confirmed again and again.

Your information is incomplete or inaccurate because your concept of chi kung is very different from what you will learn in my chi kung course and my kungfu course, and you simply have no idea of what is meant by practicing kungfu as chi kung. You will be amazed at what you will learn, irrespective of whether you attend my chi kung course or kungfu course or both.

Now, if you get more benefits from my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, then why do many people attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course instead? It is because their needs and conditions are different, and hence for them the Intensive Chi Kung Course is more beneficial. For example, they may not have prior experience be interested in kungfu. I would also like to remind you that my kungfu course is tough, whereas my chi kung is a breeze by comparison.

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