May 2005 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

internal force to break bricks

Ronan Sexton from England using internal force to break the bottom of two bricks piled one on top of the other at the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia in 2002. You can view a video clip of Ronan's action by logging in

Question 1

My question relates to Qi and the related aspect of internal force. I believe I have reached an understanding of internal force, insofar as I can comprehend how the simultaneous contraction of muscles which connect both the top half and the bottom half of the body leads to an integrated force, one which, in and of itself, is significantly more effective than any of the component parts on their own.

— Ian, Scotland

Answer

Thank you for voicing your opinion. It is an excellent example to show the huge chasm between intellectual speculation and direct experience. It is the fallacy many people, especially in the West, fall into despite their often good intention as in your case.

Any one who has directly experienced internal force will immediately see the fallacy of your opinion. In other words, if one has direct experience of internal force, he will not make an opinion like that.

Let us take an analogy to make clearer this situation between intellectual speculation and direct experience. Suppose a person does not know physics. If he is asked to drop a 100-pound weight and a 1-pound weight at the same time from a given height, which weight will reach the ground first, he will argue his head off that the 100-pound weight will reach the ground first. He would find it hard to believe or comprehend how or why both weights will reach the ground at the same time.

Or suppose he does not know that the earth is a sphere. If someone tells him that if he just goes straight ahead, if he travels long enough and straight enough, he will come back to the same place where he started, he will neither believe nor comprehend. He will argue his head off that he will go into the unknown very far from where he started, and he will wonder why that someone does not understand such simple logic.

The explanation why different weights fall at the same rate due to the earth's gravity, and why one will return to his starting point if he continues traveling in a straight line on earth due to its spherical shape, is simple (but not necessarily easy). Similarly, the explanation of internal force is simple, but it is difficult for those who have no experience of internal force to believe or even to comprehend.

Internal force is the result of smooth, voluminous energy flow. The smoother the flow and the bigger the volume of energy, the greater is the resultant internal force. When one tenses his muscles, he interrupts the flow of qi or energy. Hence, the simultaneous contraction of muscles which connect both the top half and the bottom half of the body will interrupt or even cut off internal force.

Question 2

I have also read that Qi does not exist but is merely the manifestation ofthe holistic force — a contention that I disagree with.

Answer

It is a matter of semantics. Qi actually means energy or force. Hence, the statement “qi does not exist but is merely the manifestation of the holistic force” is self contradictory, regardless of what “holistic” here means.

“Air” in Chinese is referred to as “hong qi”, which literally means “space energy”. A patient suffering from some functional disorders of his heart is referred to in traditional Chinese medical terms as suffering from insufficient heart qi.

Perhaps by “qi” the one who made the statement above meant “internal force” used in kungfu for breaking bricks or someone's bones, for example. His fallacy was due to his mistaken concept that internal force was used only in martial art, in which case he was wrong. In fact the most important function of internal force is to maintain life.

Everyone has internal force, otherwise he would not be alive. The force that brings oxygen to all your cells in exchange for carbon dioxide to be breathed out by you, for example, is internal force or qi. A person who has a lot of internal force, like a Shaolin master, will be able to perform this and all other life-sustaining functions better than another who has less.

In this context that statement is right. But if we go deeper, or if we want to split hair, the statement is wrong. Qi is not merely the manifestation of holistic force; it is, more importantly, the manifestation of mind. Even if you have a lot of holistic force in your body, like in the case of a body-builder, if you contract your muscles you will not be able to manifest qi or internal force. Hence, a muscular person may have a lot of qi locked in his muscles, but it cannot be manifested as internal force to work his life-sustaining functions.

Further, even if you have a lot of qi and is able to relax your muscles, if your mind is not trained to channel and focus your qi, you cannot manifest it as internal force to break someone's bones or to spar for hours without feeling tired. Nevertheless, and this is more important, if you have a lot of qi and is able to relax physically, emotionally and mentally, even without a trained mind, your qi will naturally manifest as internal force to work your life-sustaining functions.

But those who cultivate internal force, like us in Shaolin Wahnam, are not so concerned with the semantics, though it may give us and other people intellectual pleasure. What we are more concerned is that the internal force we have cultivated enriches our lives as well as the lives of others in practical ways.

Question 3

I have read within you question and answer series that you are not persuaded to explain Qi by referring to the Western scientific paradigm, which is fair enough. You also suggest that the Western scientific paradigm because of its reductionist methodology is not well equipped to understand complex holistic phenomena. I agree with this as well.

Answer

Although you are right concerning the spirit of my philosophy on qi and Western scientific paradigm, you statement is not accurate. Indeed, I often explain qi and other related topics using the Western scientific paradigm, and this has enabled many modern people in both the West and the East to understand these topics better.

There are a few examples in these answers too. When I explain that ”when one tenses his muscles, he interrupts the flow of qi or energy”, or “the force that brings oxygen to all your cells in exchange for carbon dioxide to be breathed out by you, for example, is internal force or qi” I use the Western scientific paradigm.

If you read classical qigong and kungfu texts, you will not find explanations like these. Instead, you will find statements like “enter silence, and explode your qi from your dan tian” and “go old enter new”, which do not make any sense to modern people, including modern Chinese, who do not understand both classical Chinese and classical qigong and kungfu paradigm. These two classical statements are the closest I can get to say what I did using the Western scientific paradigm.

It is interesting, and it must come as a surprise to many people, that there is no equivalent term in the classical Chinese language for “muscles”! And the Chinese people in classical times did not know about “oxygen”, “carbon dioxide” and “cells”. In fact, to be more exact, all the people of the world in classical times did not know about oxygen, carbon dioxide and cells, but the classical Chinese had understanding of these concepts though they described them in different terms using a different paradigm.

It is helpful to note that a paradigm is not a set of universal truths; it is a particular way of viewing things conveniently agreed by a group of people. In a qigong paradigm, the group of people is limited to a small number who understand qigong philosophy. In a Western scientific paradigm, the group of people is global regardless of whether the people involved understand scientific philosophy.

When you look at the inside of your upper arm, you see a piece of flesh between your shoulder and elbow, and call that your bicep muscle. You use a modern Western paradigm. When a Chinese in classical times looked at a similar piece of flesh between his shoulder and elbow, he did not see it as his bicep muscle because he had no concept of the bicep muscle. So, what did he call it? He simply called it flesh. He used a classical Chinese paradigm.

As I said, there were no terms for muscles in classical Chinese. Actually there are no terms for muscles in modern Chinese either! If you ask a modern Chinese who has no idea of Western biology, what the Chinese term for muscles is, he will have no answer to tell you. He may also wonder why you ask such a silly question. If you press him further, he may say it is “jin”, which is not exact because “jin” can also refer to tendons, arteries, veins and meridians. The coomunication gap is due to you and he using different paradigms.

But if you ask a modern Chinese who knows Western anatomy, what the Chinese word for muscles is, he will tell you that it is “ji rou”, which is a term coined by modern Chinese anatomists. “Ji rou” literally means “organ-flesh”, possibly suggesting that it is that part of flesh grouped together to form an organ. Now you and the modern Chinese use a same paradigm, though both of you use different languages to describe the same concept.

When a qigong practitioner looks at that part of his body located about two or three inches below his naval, he sees it as his “dan tian”. But if you do not know qigong paradigm, when you look at the similar part of your body, you do not see it as your “dan tian”. So, what do you call that? You just call it that part of your body located two or three inches below your naval.

If you understand this, you will understand why I advocate that if we wish to understand well a particular discipline, such as qigong or traditional Chinese medicine, we must use its paradigm. If we impose the Western scientific paradigm, we would miss its essence and profundity.

This does not mean that the Western scientific paradigm is inferior. Far from it. The Western scientific paradigm has given us a lot of wonderful benefits that those who use the qigong or traditional Chinese medical paradigm could not even dream of, like television and computers, planes and subway trains.

But in our investigation into how qigong can overcome diabetes, for example, if we insist on the qigong master explaining how qi can digest sugar, we would be imposing the Western scientific paradigm on a practice where this paradigm does not work. This does not means we cannot use the Western scientific paradigm as a standard. But, first of all, we should let the qigong master, who may know little about sugar and diabetes, to work on the patient using his own qigong paradigm.

In his qigong paradigm, the master would not see his patient as suffering from diabetes but from yin-yang disharmony. Hence, asking him how qi could reduce sugar level would be irrelevant. But when the master pronounces that the patient has regained his yin-yang harmony, Western scientists can then measure if the patient's sugar level is normal.

Iron Wire

A picture showing the famous Hoong Ka master, Sifu Lam Sai Weng, performing the Iron Wire Set, which is specially meant to develop internal force. Notice that Sifu Lam did not contract his muscles. It is a common mistakes among some practitioners today to perform this set as an isometric exercise.

Question 4

However you may or may not be aware of a branch of Western scientific methodology called Soft Systems methodology. This way of thinking runs counter to the reductionist view (that phenomena can be broken down into smaller and smaller pieces until it is fully understood) and instead has the Governing philosophy of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Gestalt)

Answer

Both the Soft System methodology which employs the Gestalt philosophy and the reductionist methodology used by most Western scientists today are Western paradigms, though the Gestalt philosophy may have been influenced or inspired by Eastern philosophies, such as Buddhist philosophy or traditional Chinese medical philosophy.

Using the Soft System paradigm to explain qigong is just as unsuitable as using the reductionist paradigm. When a qigong master helps a student recover from what conventional medicine calls diabetes, the master will be just as unable to explain how diabetes disappear using “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” philosophy as using the “reducing the phenomena to smaller and smaller pieces” philosophy.

A knowledgeable qigong master will have no problem to explain the recovery using the yin-yang philosophy. But most masters as well as the people who have recovered from their illness by practicing qigong will not be bothered with what philosophy is used. What is important is that the patients have recovered.

Question 5

And so at last I come to the main question: Are you aware of any research in China or elsewhere which has examined Qi in relation to prostaglandins, which are hormone like substances that are located throughout the body (as opposed to centrally located hormones such adrenalin, cortisone, thyroxin) and act as principally as pro-inflammatory (pain causing) and anti-inflammatory (pain reducing) agents?

The reason I ask is that one of the roles of prostaglandins is to influence calcium inflow to muscle motor units and as such regulate the degree of muscular contraction/relaxation atthe local level.

Answer

I do not know about prostaglandins, so I do not know whether there is any research into qi in relation to these prostaglandins. Neither is it necessary to know about prostaglandins in order to understand how qi or qigong works.

If your purpose is to understand qi or internal force, it is a waste of your time and effort to investigate further along your current line of investigation because you have started with a wrong premise that internal force is the result of “simultaneous contraction of muscles which connect both the top half and the bottom half of the body.”

I would suggest that you take lessons from Sifu Darryl Collett, our Shaolin Wahnam instructor in Scotland. His contact particulars are as follows: Tel: 44-31-443 2792, 44-790-454 7538; HE can be contacted here .

He is an excellent teacher and has produced excellent students. If you learn Shaolin Kungfu from him, you would experience internal force within two weeks, and you would have answers to all your questions here from your own direct experience. More importantly, you will have practical benefits like vitality and mental freshness.

Question 6

I am not trying to suggest that in order to believe in Qi one has tounderstand its mechanism. I do believe though that it is possible toadvance the understanding of all phenomena by asking questions about them.I would be very grateful for any information you could provide.

Answer

Understanding its mechanism, regardless of what paradigm or philosophy you use, is not a good way to believe in qi. If you use a wrong paradigm, as in your case of regarding internal force as a function of simultaneous muscular contraction at both ends, it will lead you to more and more misunderstanding even though you may believe in qi.

The best way is by direct experience. Once you have personally experienced qi and the many practical benefits it gives you, you will have no doubt that it exists, even if you may not understand its paradigm or philosophy. You may like to read about the many descriptions of qi experiences and benefits at our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum from people who actually have experienced them.

While it is possible to advance understanding by asking questions, it is equally possible not only to waste a lot of time but also to cause harm to yourself, if you ask the wrong questions and get the right answers, or ask the right questions and get the wrong answers. It would be worse if you ask the wrong questions and get the wrong answers.

Your case could be an example, had I not shown you your deviation. Suppose you asked someone who practiced martial art but did not know much about qigong. You asked him whether by contracting muscles simultaneously at the top and bottom of your body, you could develop internal force. This was a wrong question.

Suppose he said yes, as that was what he did when training his form routine, like in “Iron Wire Set” of Hoong Ka Kungfu or “Sanchin Kata” of Karate, thinking mistakenly that that would give him internal force. This was a wrong answer. If you persist training according to this wrong advice you would acquire much internal injury.

Internal Force of Iron Palm

The famous Northern Shaolin master, Sifu Ku Ru Zhiang, using his Iron Palm to break a pile of breaks. It is amazing that although Sifu Ku was not huge in size or muscular, he has such tremendous power. Notice that he did not tense his right arm when applying his internal force, though muscles appeared on his left arm. These muscles were not the result of his tension, but due to the way he held his left fist at his waist which resulted in qi accumulating there.

Question 7

I was hoping you might be able to give me details and information of where I can become a Shaolin monk, train Shaolin Kungfu specialising in Wing Chun somewhere in the south of China. If it is possible I would also appreciate it if I could stay there to work in the monastery in the meantime. I am 26 trained in Wing Chun for six years and want to pursue this dream I have.

— Simon, USA

Answer

If you wish to become a Shaolin monk in the south of China, you have to apply to the new southern Shaolin Temple built by the present Chinese government in Fujian Province. But I do not know whether they will accept you as a Shaolin monk, and whether they will allow you to stay and work.

Traditional Shaolin Kungfu is not taught in the modern southern Shaolin Temple, neither is it taught in the modern northern Shaolin Temple in Henan Province.

But if you wish to learn modern wushu, which is quite different from traditional kungfu, you can find many wushu schools in China. If you wish to specialize in traditional Wing Choon Kungfu, it would be better for you to go to Hong Kong.

Question 8

In your book, “The Art Of Chi Kung”, you say that practicing Chi Kung consistently will control a person's weight, saying that when your internal body systems are functioning harmoniously, “the right amount of hormones will be produced to convert food into the right amount of flesh or energy.” How is this “right amount” determined?

— Nick, England

Answer

It is determined by your natural metabolism, which is a natural process just like your respiratory system and your immune system are natural processes.

For example, although the air you inspire on a mountain is different from the air you inspire in a polluted city, your respiratory system will know how to process these different types of air according to your needs. Although you may not know the names of bacteria and viruses that get into your body, your immune system will know how to handle them so that they will not harm you.

Similarly, although you may not know what kinds of hormones are needed to digest what kinds of food, how much energy is obtained from the food, how much energy is needed by different parts of your body, how much energy should be sent there when you are at rest compared to when you are at motion, how the energy is sent there, and how much should be kept for reserve, and countless other considerations, your metabolism will do all these jobs faithfully for you. It is a natural process.

Question 9

Mentioning in passing that Chi Kung can usefully be applied to sports, let us assume that a person's sport of choice is bodybuilding, and wants to build muscles. Will practicing Chi Kung have the result of having his/her metabolic rate and consequently, his/her ability to build muscle essentially dictated for him, because weight training is, according to Chi Kung theory, an unhealthy way to exercise? Or will it instead become tailored to his/her specific need, allowing him/her to achieve the goal of muscle building?

Answer

Our bodily systems work naturally to maintain life. When you eat a banana, for example, your metabolism will digest the banana, store the extracted energy for later use, and excrete the waste product. If your vital energy is flowing harmoniously as a result of you having practiced chi kung, you will be able to do these tasks more efficiently than others whose energy flow is less harmonious.

When you have eaten enough bananas for your need, your body will produce chemicals which will make you loose the desire to eat further. If you persist on eating, it will bring harm instead of benefit, but because you have practiced chi kung, your harmonious chi flow will minimize the harm with the result that over-eating is less harmful to you than to someone who has not practiced chi kung.

Similarly, your having practiced chi kung will enable your body systems to work more efficiently in the distribution of energy to your muscles as well as all other parts of your body. If you do not interfere with the natural working of your body systems, you will have just the best size of muscles in relation to other needs to carry on life's activities.

When you increase the size of your muscles by bodybuilding, your reserved energy will be used for this purpose. This will trickle off chemical reactions in your body resulting in your wanting to eat more to replenish your reserved energy. As a result of having practiced chi kung, you will accomplish all these tasks more efficiently. This means not only you do not become tired, you can build muscles faster than other non-chi kung practitioners.

But if you over build your muscles, you may drain your reserved energy, and energy that is meant for other parts of your body has to be redirected to your muscles. This is harmful. But the effect of your chi kung practice enables you to minimize this harm. This means at this stage you will build muscles slower than non-chi kung practitioners.

Actually this slowing down process also happens in non-chi kung practitioners who over build their muscles. It is nature's way of self protection. But the slowing down process is more pronounced in chi kung practitioners because their self protection ability is more efficient. But without this understanding, they may blame chi kung for slowing down their muscle building. If they stubbornly push themselves beyond their limits, they can harm themselves seriously.

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