May 2006 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Shaolin Dragon Form

The kungfu genius Pak Mei is reputed to be an expert on the Shaolin Dragon Form Set which he learned from the Venerable Zhang Mei at the southern Shaolin Temple in Quanzhou. We in Shaolin Wahnam practice this classical set too, and it probably came from the same source. But due to its evolution in different lineages, the set practiced in Shaolin Wahnam is different from those practiced in styles originated by Pak Mei, like Pak Mei Kungfu, Dragon Style and Er-mei Kungfu. The picture above shows Sifu Wong demonstrating a pattern from the Dragon Form Set.

Question 1

You once mentioned how Zhineng Qigong from Master Pang Ming is closely related to Shaolin Cosmos Qigong, and that this Shaolin Cosmos Qigong is different from the kind you practice. I was wondering if you could say a few words about the Shaolin Cosmos Qigong that was practiced by the Shaolin monks long ago.

— Aaron, USA

Answer

Master Pang He Ming initially taught Soaring Crane Qigong. When his disciple, Master Zhao Jin Xiang, broke off from him to teach Soaring Crane Qigong on his own which later became very popular, Master Pang changed the name of the qigong (chi kung) he taught to Zhineng Qigong, which literally means “Intelligence-Ability Qigong”.

Soaring Crane Qigong was invented by Master Pang. (Some other people, however, opine that it was Master Zhao Jin Xiang who invented Soaring Crane Qigong.) Master Pang based much of his invention on his own qigong, which was Shaolin Cosmos Qigong. I believe that the qigong base of another great qigong master, Master Yan Xin, who is famous for distant qi transmission, is also Shaolin Cosmos Qigong.

Cosmos Qigong was an ancient style of qigong. Its origin was probably Taoist, and was introduced into the Shaolin Temple long ago. It was however not the mainstream qigong taught to the Shaolin monks, who mainly practiced Eighteen Lohan Hands instead. Cosmos Qigong, like Sinew Metamorphosis, was taught to elite students. Shaolin monks who had Cosmos Palm and Red Sand Palm normally practiced Shaolin Cosmos Qigong, those who had Golden Bell normally practiced Shaolin Cosmos Qigong or Sinew Metamorphosis.

Because of its long history, Shaolin Cosmos Qigong has evolved differently in different lineages. Hence the types of Shaolin Cosmos Qigong practiced by Master Pang, by Master Yan Xin and by us in Shaolin Wahnam are different. But the main principles and characteristics are the same.

Shaolin Cosmos Qigong is gentle but very powerful. Practitioners tap energy from the Cosmos, and mainly operate at the mind level. It gives radiant health, tremendous internal force and spiritual fulfillment.

Originally Shaolin Cosmos Qigong consists principally of Cosmos Breathing, where the practitioner adopts the Goat-Stance and employs the “reverse-mode” of breathing, which is “breathing in into the chest, and breathing out into the dan tian”.

If one wishes to be rigid in his classification, he can say that Shaolin Cosmos Qigong, Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis are different arts. When I asked my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the name of the qigong he was teaching me, he told me it was “Shaolin Cosmos Qigong” (“Wan Yun Yiet Hei Kung” in Cantonese, “Hun Yuan Yi Qi Gong” in Mandarin.)

I am not certain whether he was referring to the particular art he was teaching me then, which was Cosmos Breathing and later Cosmos Palm, or the whole genre of qigong I learned from him. In retrospect, I believe it was the former.

Nevertheless, when I teach students in Shaolin Wahnam, consciously or unconsciously I include elements from Shaolin Cosmos Qigong into my teaching. It is like using the forms of Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis as well as stance training and combat sequences to teach the essence of Shaolin Cosmos Qigong. It brings these arts to an exceedingly high level - sometimes at a level that even alarms me.

For example, it is actually quite a remarkable achievement if students can generate an energy flow after practicing Eighteen Lohan Hands for a few months, but now many Shaolin Wahnam students can do that in one day! It is remarkable if students are not panting for breath after sparring for a few hours, but now some Shaolin Wahnam students actually experience satori as a result of their combat training! It is simply unbelievable - but true. It shows how very powerful Shaolin Cosmos Qigong is.

Hence, we now call the genre of qigong we practice in Shaolin Wahnam, “Shaolin Cosmos Qigong”.

Question 2

Also, who taught Pak Mei Taoist mysticism. I know Tongzigong and Cotton Art are Taoist arts, although they found their way to Shaolin. Did Pak Mei learn these arts during his time at Shaolin, or did he learn it elsewhere, perhaps when he learned Taoist mysticism?

Answer

I don't know who taught Pak Mei Taoist mysticism. Interestingly this aspect is not normally investigated because although Pak Mei was a Taoist priest, he was best known for his kungfu, and little known for his Taoist practice. I would guess that he was already a practicing Taoist before he entered the Shaolin Temple.

It is revealing to note that in Chinese culture there is little or no distinction between religions. Therefore, unless he is a Christian or a Muslim, a typical Chinese is a Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian at the same time. My sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, was better known as a Taoist master. He was very powerful in Taoist mysticism. The skeptics may choose to regard this as nonsense, but my sifu could actually summon gods to do his bidding!

Yet, if I have to choose one term to describe him, and I knew him in ways most other people might not as I was very close to him, I would say he was Buddhist rather than Taoist. In his later years, he devoted himself mainly to Zen.

From whom did my sifu learn his Taoist mysticism? He learned it from my sigung, Sigung Yang Fatt Khun. Although my sigung was the successor of the Venerable Jiang Nan, who escaped from the burning Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou in Fujian Province of South China at the same time as Pak Mei and Chee Seen (who later built another southern Shaolin Temple at Nine-Lotus Mountain also in Fujian Province), my sigung was a very powerful practicing Taoist master all his life. I do not know from whom my sigung learned his Taoist mysticism, but I am quite sure he did not learn it from the Venerable Jiang Nan.

Jiang Nan, Pak Mei and Chee Seen learned from the same master, the Venerable Zhang Mei, at the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou. I am quite sure Zhang Mei did not teach Pak Mei Taoist mysticism, but he probably taught Pak Mei Tongzigong and Cotton Art as well as Dragon Form Kungfu and possibly Shaolin Cosmos Qigong, from which Pak Mei developed tremendously high level Golden Bell.

One of my sifus, Sifu Chee Kim Thong, was a master of Cotton Art. It is a pity I did not have the opportunity to learn this art from him.

Question 3

Who were some other Shaolin masters in the past that were known for their expert Tongzigong?

Answer

Besides Pak Mei, Fung Tou Tuck, another Taoist priest learning from Zhang Mei at the southern Shaolin Temple, was also a Tongzigong expert. Fong Sai Yoke, a young Shaolin master and disciple of Chee Seen, was also very good at Tongzigong.

Cosmos Palm

Sifu Cheng Chang Shou, an old disciple of Sifu Wong, using Cosmos Palm to break the lower of two bricks without breaking the top one. This photograph was taken about 20 years ago.

Question 4

If one just does “Lifting the Sky” or “Carrying the Moon” is the chi flow the same as the chi flow after "Self-Manifested Chi Movement"?

— Roy, Holland

Answer

The answer is yes and no, depending on a few variables. At the beginners' stage, the chi flow is different. The chi flow from dynamic patterns like "Lifting the Sky" and "Carrying the Moon", is gentler and more deeper, whereas the chi flow from "Self-Manifested Chi Movement" is vigorous but at the surface.

However, if the student has a prominent problem that needs urgent attention, it does not matter what types of chi kung exercises he does, as long as he lets go, the chi flow will be similar, geared particularly to overcoming his particular problem. For example, if he has a back problem, irrespective of whether he does "Lifting the Sky", "Carrying the Moon" or "Self-Manifested Chi Movement", his chi flow movement will straighten him up like a bear as this type of chi movement is best suited to overcome his back problem.

If he has a problem deep inside his body, the cause and site of which he and his doctor may not know, irrespective of what chi kung exercises he does, his chi flow will move him in such a way that he will assume the best position for the chi to solve his problem. This is expressed as "wu-wei".

If the chi kung practitioner.is advanced, he can regulate the speed and control the direction of the chi flow. We develop these skills in our Intensive Chi Kung Course. This means that it does not matter what chi kung exercises he practices, he can make his chi flow movements go faster or slower, or direct it to flow to whatever parts of his body.

Question 5

Sometimes I am at a place where I would like to do chi kung but do not want to go into a full chi flow out of consideration for those around me. Is it alright to do the form of “Lifting the Sky” or “Carrying the Moon” without going into chi flow afterwards or at least keeping the chi flow very gentle, with just a little swaying? Are there recommendations for balancing just the form with gentle swaying flow and more vigorous or free chi flow?

Answer

Yes, you may just perform "Lifting the Sky", "Carrying the Moon" or any other chi kung exercises, and have a gentle chi flow where you move just slightly. In fact if you are not an advanced practitioner, this is the result you are likely to get. If you wish to have vigorous chi flow, you should perform "Self-Manifested Chi Movement", which would be unsuitable in situations where you do not wish to alarm those around you.

It is worthwhile to note that a chi flow with a lot of movements is not necessarily better than one with little movements. It depends on various factors. Sometimes a lot of movements are better, sometimes they are not.

Generally the chi flow movements operate in a circle. Beginners have little or no movements. As they are able to relax better, they have more movements. As they become more advanced, their movements become less, where the onus is on building energy rather than on clearing blockage. At a highly advanced stage they may have little or no movements, but these little or no movements at the advanced stage are different from those at the beginners' stage.

As mentioned above, when a practitioner has the necessary skills -- and we develop these skills at the Intensive Chi Kung Course in Malaysia -- he can control the speed, direction as well as nature of the chi flow. This means at an advanced level, it does not matter what chi kung exercise he performs, he can generate a chi flow with the appropriate speed, direction and nature that best serves his aims and aspirations.

Today many people practice chi kung without any chi flow. Actually what they practice is not genuinely chi kung, but gentle physical exercise, although the forms are genuine chi kung forms. It is the same situation in Taijiquan. Most people practice genuine Taijiquan forms, but have no internal force and cannot use their forms for combat.

Chi flow may or may not manifest as visible movements, but there must be chi flow for the art or exercise to be genuine chi kung. Fundamentally, chi fow is what chi kung is all about. It is through chi flow that a practitioner overcomes pain and illness,, attains good health, improves vitality, enhances longevity, develop internal force, expands his mind, and cultivate his spirit. After all, life is a meaningful flow of energy. Without chi flow, he merely works on his physical body, mainly his joints and muscles.

Question 6

I'm wondering whether the Chi Kung Course would be of benefit to my wife as well. She is suffering from a slipped disc which is impinging on a nerve root. At the same time, she is also suffering from a problem with her nerve. Doctors have advised her to do certain mild exercise daily which she is doing. However, every time she does so, her fingers will get swollen and will only subside after resting for about one hour or so.

— Mohamed, Malaysia

Answer

Yes, high level chi kung, like what is being practiced in the Intensive Chi Kung Course, will help your wife overcome her slipped disc and nerve problems. What I am going to say may sound presumptuous or boastful to some people, but it is true. While slipped disc and nerve problems are often considered "incurable" in conventional Western medicine, they are relatively simple in high level chi kung. This does not mean chi kung is superior to Western medicine. In other areas, such as acute diseases, Western medicine is better.

At the present stage of its development, Western medicine has difficulty treating these problems because they concern nerves, which are too minute and delicate to be operated on. Doctors are hesitant to treat slipped disc because they are rightly concerned that a mistake may damage the patient's central nervous system with far reaching and serious consequences. Regarding the nerve problem, doctors do not know where along the nervous system the problem lies.

Chi kung does not have these difficulties. By performing suitable chi kung exercises, such as "Carrying the Moon", the resultant chi flow will loosen the relevant muscles and open the vertebrae. The chi flow will also push the slipped disc back to its correct position. In chi kung jargon, this is called "wu-wei", which may be translated as let the chi flow spontaneously do its work without external interference. Chi will also flow all over the body, and where it meets blockages which cause your wife's nerve problems, the chi flow will push through the blockages.

Your wife and her chi kung master do not need to know where the blockages are, because her chi flow will eventually reach these blockages and clear them, if your wife practices consistently and regularly. It is another manifestation of "wu-wei". This is a big advantage chi kung has over conventional Western medicine concerning illness where the cause or site if the illness is unknown. But it takes time, and therefore is unsuitable for acute diseases.

People with problems like your wife generally take about six to nine months to overcome their nerve problems. Overcoming slipped disc is much faster; it may take only two or three weeks. I must state that there is no guarantee that your wife or anybody will definitely be cured, but I can honestly say that she has a very good chance of recovery.

I would highly recommend that she attends my Intensive Chi Kung Course.

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A rare old photograph of about 30 years ago showing Sifu Wong practicing Wing Choon Kungfu

Question 7

I was wondering about the effectiveness of Hsing-I compared to other arts, especially against Southern Praying Mantis and Wing Choon Kung Fu. Would Master Wong also care to comment on its strong points and weak points of Hsing-I?

— Farouk, England

Answer

It has become a fashion to say that all martial arts are the same, it depends on the person practicing it. This is not true. It is like saying all cars are the same, it depends on the driver. Obviously prestigious cars like BMWs and Volvos are more road-worthy than cars of lesser reputation.

Of course the practitioner or the driver is important. A lesser car driven by a skilful driver can perform better than a prestigious car driven by a learner-driver. Similarly a master of an inferior art will have better result than a student of a superior art. But when we wish to compare arts, we presume that their practitioners are of similar skill levels.

In my opinion and speaking on a purely theoretical basis where the skill levels of their respective practitioners are equal, Southern Praying Mantis is more effective than Wing Choon, and Wing Choon is more effective than Hsing-I. The reason is that there are both greater number and great variety of techniques in Southern Praying Mantis than in Wing Choon, and in turn in Wing Choon than in Hsing-I.

Although there are twelve forms in Hsing-I, the external forms are actually quite similar. The difference lies mainly in how the forms are used, i.e. their skills. For example, the external form for the Dragon looks similar to the external form for the Horse, but how they are applied in combat is different.

Herein lies the weakness as well as the strength of Hsing-I Kungfu. Generally, a Hsing-I student is less combat effective than a Southern Praying Mantis student, but a Hsing-I master is more combat efficient than a Southern Praying Mantis master.

Why is this so? It is because there are relatively only a few techniques in Hsing-I. A student who has not mastered the subtleties and variations of the techniques will be limited in their application, whereas a master can apply a simple-looking technique in countless profound ways. To a student, a punch is a punch, but to a master the same punch can be a block, a release from a grip, a grip itself, a way to counter a kick, a way to counter a throw, a throw itself and of other uses.

Because there are comparatively few techniques, a Hsing-I practitioner has more time to develop skills, especially internal force. Internal force is of utmost important in Hsing-I. Without internal force, Hsing-I is seriously limited in combat application, but internal force Hsing-I can be an extremely effective martial art.

Here too lies the strength and weakness in learning Hsing-I Kungfu. If you learn from a mediocre instructor, your Hsing-I may not even have the elegance and prettiness of a dance. But if you have the rare opportunity to learn from a good master, your Hsing-I will give you radiant health, vitality, longevity, mental clarity and superb combat efficiency.

Answer

There is a teacher who teaches both Ba Gua and Hsing-I near-by. The instructor teaches the 12 animal forms including the weapon forms. He has a very good reputation but is renowned for teaching Southern Praying Mantis and the Indian martial art of Kalarippayatt. He also teaches a Thai art called Krabi Krabong as well as healing arts. My fear is that as he teaches a number of arts, he may not be as well versed on the intricacies of Hsing-I as I would like.

Would I benefit learning from him, as he is the only instructor within a two-hour drive, even if it may be more external form with some competent internal knowledge, learning the external form initially and then trying to find someone with more in-depth knowledge on the internal aspects, such as yourself? Would that be possible by attending one of your intensive courses?

Question 8

There is a teacher who teaches both Ba Gua and Hsing-I near-by. The instructor teaches the 12 animal forms including the weapon forms. He has a very good reputation but is renowned for teaching Southern Praying Mantis and the Indian martial art of Kalarippayatt. He also teaches a Thai art called Krabi Krabong as well as healing arts. My fear is that as he teaches a number of arts, he may not be as well versed on the intricacies of Hsing-I as I would like.

Would I benefit learning from him, as he is the only instructor within a two-hour drive, even if it may be more external form with some competent internal knowledge, learning the external form initially and then trying to find someone with more in-depth knowledge on the internal aspects, such as yourself? Would that be possible by attending one of your intensive courses?

Answer

Your fear is not unfounded. Generally I have reservations about teachers who teach a variety of arts. This reminds me of teachers who hang a dozen of diplomas on their walls, and can teach you almost anything you ask for, ranging from colour therapy and crystal healing to mind reading and tarot divination.

From your description my impression is that the teacher has breadth of knowledge but not depth of skills. If he is skilful in one of the arts, he will probably focus on it.

But you still can benefit by learning from him. Yes, you can learn the external forms first, then find some masters to help you deepen the art. This is possible by attending one of my intensive courses, especially the one called “Harnessing your Internal Force and Mastering your Martial Art”, which I specially offer to help practitioners using their own kungfu styles to develop internal force and combat application.

LINKS

Selected Reading

Courses and Classes