October 2006 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Wing Chun Siu Lin Tau

The Siu Lin Tau set of Wing Choon Kungfu is used to develop internal force besides teaching basic techniques. This is an invaluable photograph showing Sifu Wong performing the Siu Lin Tau (also called Siu Lim Tau) about 30 years ago.

Question 1

Does Wing Chun, assuming it is traditional and authentic, have built-in health benefits?

— Wesley, Singapore

Answer

All styles of kungfu, including Wing Choon (Wing Chun) as well as external styles, have built-in health benefits if they are practiced correctly. Strictly speaking, all styles of kungfu, even external styles, have chi kung in their training, though many of their practitioners may not know it.

The most fundamental chi kung training is zhan zhuang, or stance training. It is usually the first thing any student will learn when he starts kungfu.

But today many instructors merely go over the stances, without actually requiring their students to practice them. Some instructors even skip the stances and go straight to form practice, thinking mistakenly that the stances are redundant. But even amongst the few who practice stances, most of them do it wrongly, thus not getting the chi kung benefits from their practice.

But even if we leave out the stances and any other orthodox chi kung exercises, practicing the external form correctly is still beneficial to health. It helps the practitioners to loosen their joints and muscles, to generate better blood flow, to attain grace and balance, and to freshen their mind. This is the main reason why many people practice Tai Chi dance. This was also the main reason why the Chinese government introduced modernized wushu.

But, sadly, even these external kungfu or wushu forms are practiced wrongly, with the result that many Tai Chi dancers and wushu performers have serious knee problems, and many external kungfu stylists becoming tensed and aggressive.

We in Shaolin Wahnam are willing to reveal secrets in the hope of arresting such pathetic degrading of kungfu, but due to mis-understanding and other reasons, we are often mistaken to be arrogant or patronizing.

There are three main reasons for these injuries or harmful side effects.

One, their movements are incorrect. For example, when moving into a Bow-Arrow Stance, instead of focusing on their back leg and rotating their waist and knees, they throw their body straight forward and breaking momentum abruptly with their front leg.

Two, they push their forms to the extreme. For example, instead of having their front knee before their front foot in the Bow-Arrow Stance which will result in their chi flowing to the feet and rooting them to the ground, they bend their front knee far beyond their front foot with the result that their chi is locked in their front knee and at their back. Such prolonged wrong practice will result in knee and back injuries.

Three, they tense their muscles instead of relaxing them. This problem is aggravated by concepts blindly borrowed from other arts that use different philosophies, like Karate, Boxing and Weight-Lifting. For example, Karate practitioners often tense their muscles and grimace their faces, Boxers throw their body weight and use rope-skipping to train stamina, and Weight-Lifters push themselves to their physical limits, following a no-pain-no-gain philosophy.

Kungfu uses a different paradigm. According to kungfu philosophy, such practices are harmful to health. Kungfu advocates physical and mental relaxation even when executing a strike, being rooted to generate force and regulating the breathing for stamina, and progressing gradually and not going beyond one's limit. Such kungfu practices promote health.

Question 2

Tai Chi Chuan has a basic chi kung stance, and its form can be practiced as moving chi kung, but Wing Chun just has a basic, martial form, Sil Lim Tau. Does that form incorporate chi kung for health as well as generates internal force?

Answer

Actually Wing Choon like Tai Chi Chuan has zhan zhuang which involves many stances. Stance training, when practiced correctly, develops tremendous internal force which can be used for promoting health and longevity besides for combat.

At high levels, “Siu Lin Tau” (or “Siu Lim Tau” as it is called in other styles of Wing Choon) is meant to develop internal force. It can also be practiced as moving chi kung. This is one of the top Wing Choon secrets I learned from my Wing Choon Sifu, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, the Patriarch of Choe Family Wing Choon, for which I am very grateful.

However, not many Wing Choon practitioners know this secret, just as not many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners know how to develop internal force from the “Three-Circle Stance” or perform a Tai Chi Chuan set as moving q

Question 3

Also, if it does provide good health, would this good health be comparable to that attainable by Shaolin Kungfu or Tai Chi Chuan? I ask this because I heard of a Wing Chun practitioner switching to Tai Chi Chuan due to health problems. Does it mean Wing Chun cannot help health problems as effectively as Tai Chi Chuan or Shaolin Kungfu can? I believe that this practitioner did study authentic Wing Chun.

Answer

If all other things were equal, the health aspect of Wing Choon is not as powerful or profound as that in Shaolin Kungfu or Tai Chi Chuan. This is because Wing Choon Kungfu is relatively an external art, whereas Shaolin Kungfu and Tai Chi Chuan are internal. Being internal, the emphasis as well as attainment in chi kung are stronger and more profound.

But other things are not equal. If one learns from a good Wing Choon master, his attainment in chi kung and consequently in health are better than students who learn Shaolin Kungfu and Tai Chi Chuan from mediocre teachers.

Although the authentic Wing Choon practitioner you mentioned switched to Tai Chi Chuan, this does not necessarily mean that Wing Choon Kungfu is less effective in overcoming health problems than Tai Chi Chuan or Shaolin Kungfu. There may be other factors. For example, although what he practiced was authentic Wing Choon, he might not have learnt chi kung from his Wing Choon teacher, or he might not have practiced it well.

Question 4

Can you please tell me the ages of people that can practice the internal energyQi gung (chi gung) and nei gung?

— Ali, USA

Answer

In theory there is no limitation in the practice of chi kung or nei kung. In other words anyone of any age can practice.

Nevertheless, a good age to start chi kung is about 10. It will greatly improve both his sport as well as intellectual performance. Unless he is alredy a practitioner or he has a good memory, someone over 60 may be too slow to follow chi kung instructions.

The above are only rough guidelines. There are students below 10 and above 60 who have very good results.

Nei kung, which means internal arts, is the same as chi kung, which means arts of energy.

Hit Tiger

This picture, culled from a video clip, shows Dr Kay of Canada at the “Hit Tiger” pattern during a performance of the Wahnam Taijiquan set “Flowing Water Floating Clouds”

Question 5

I am wondering all the time about the Yang Style posture “Hit the Tiger Left and Right”. I can hardly imagine what this posture is really useful for, and what real applications can be possible.

— Hans, Germany

Answer

This shows the beauty and depth of Taijiquan. You would probably be more impressed with its profundity if I tell you truthfully that this posture can be used to counter almost any attacks — be they strikes, kicks, throws or grips — if you know how.

All postures or patterns in Taijiquan or any other style of kungfu are what they are for combat. They are not meant to please spectators, not even for health reasons, though good health comes as a bonus.

And all the patterns were evolved from actual fighting experiences. They were not thought out or invented by some arm-chair martial art scholars.

These fighting patterns might be crude and straight-forward at first, and therefore their combat functions were easily recognizable, but after much improvement and refinement through the centuries, they have become so sophisticated that now their combat functions may not be obvious to the uninitiated. “Hit the Tiger Left and Right” is an example.

It is not easy to describe combat applications in words. But the following is a brief attempt.

Suppose your opponent moves in using a left Bow-Arrow Stance with a right low punch at your abdomen. Move your left leg diagonally forward to your left, and simultaneously strike his right temple with your left hook punch, and strike his chest or abdomen with your right hook punch, brushing away his right hand attack at the same time. This is “Left Hit Tiger”.

Your opponent moves back a step to avoid your double attacks, then swing up his right leg in a right whirlwind kick (similar to but not the same as a round-house kick). You move forward diagonally to your right with your right leg, brush away his two hands with your right arm and simultaneously strike his left ribs with your left hook punch. This is “Right Hit Tiger”.

Notice that his right whirlwind kick cannot reach you because you have moved away from his kick by, interestingly, moving forward closer to him. Moreover you would have broken his ribs before his kick has traveled half its intended distance. However, if he is very quick and his kick is nearing, you could move even closer, lift his kicking leg from beneath his upper thigh and fell him backward with your right arm, using your front right foot to trap him. This is also “Right Hit Tiger”.

Your opponent is a skilful fighter. He is able to change his attack half-way, avoid your strike and grip your upper right arm in an attempt to lock it. You move forward in between his legs, move your right arm in an arc to release his grip and “cover” his hands instead, simultaneously driving your left hook punch into his face. This is “Left Hit Tiger”.

Your opponent retreats to avoid your strike, then move forward immediately to attempt throwing you over his right waist. This time instead of moving forward, you move your left leg backward and place your right leg behind his back left leg not only to neutralize your opponent's leverage advantage but actually turns it against him. Simultaneously you strike your lower left hook punch at his back from behind, and sweep your upper right hook punch at his face from the front. Not only you strike him twice at the same time, you also fell him backward onto the ground. This is “Right Hit Tiger”.

Question 6

I guess this is originally a southern kungfu stance, probably “Fu Hu Bu”. Am I right here? So for what is this stance generally used in Southern styles? What is the secret? Why not use the normal bow stance with all its possibilities?

Answer

Taijiquan developed from Shaolin Kungfu in the Song Dynasty before the southern Shaolin Temple was built in the following Ming Dynasty. While it was still possible that this pattern was introduced into Yang Style Taijiquan from Southern Shaolin Kungfu, I don't think it was likely. This pattern, known as “Lion Opens Mouth”, was already found in Wudang Kungfu, the for-runner of Taijiquan, before Southern Shaolin was established.

Like kungfu patterns, this variation of the Bow-Arrow Stance known as “Taming Tiger Step” (“Fu Hu Bu”) was not invented out of the blues, but evolved from actual fighting situations. Kungfu masters in the past, irrespective of whether they practiced northern or southern styles, found this variation more advantageous than the usual Bow-Arrow Stance. If you review the various examples I gave in my previous answer above, you would discover that using the usual Bow-Arrow Stance may not serve the purposes intended.

A clear advantage is that using this “Taming Tiger Step” off-sets an opponent's balance. Another advantage is facilitating effective body-work and foot-work, enabling the exponent to use his hands more effectively. Herein lies the secret. It contributes to the three external harmonies of feet, body and hands.

Notice, for example, that in the first situation by moving into the left Taming Tiger Step instead of the usual left Bow-Arrow Stance, you could avoid the opponent's attack while simultaneously attack him. In the second situation, by moving into the right Taming Tiger Step you could avoid the opponent's right whirlwind kick, yet be closer to strike him.

Another variation of the Bow-Arrow Stance is the Riding Dragon Step, or “Qi Long Bu”. Shaolin practitioners of Shaolin Wahnam would be able to recognize it in their Combat Sequence 15.

Double Bows Tame Tiger

”Double Bows Tame Tiger”, which is another name for “Hit Tiger Posture” is found both Taijiquan and Shaolin Kungfu. Here Sifu Wong uses this pattern to counter-strike Sifu Michael's high kick. Good timing and spacing are required for it successful application. In this combat situation, using the “Ride Dragon Step” instead of the usual Bow-Arrow Stance helps to achieve good spacing.

Question 7

Is the most importing part to squat down very deep? Is the left hand at temple's height the attacking hand or the parrying hand (and the right hand should hit)? Since the eyes look to the right, I assume the attacker is also right. Since the step is to the left, what sense does this make?

Answer

You can find the answers to your questions in the examples of combat application I briefly described above. Nevertheless, I shall clarify for you.

But before that, I would like to highlight a philosophical mistake your questions suggest you habitually make. You mistakenly assume that kungfu patterns are static. In other words, if the left hand of a particular pattern is at temple's height, it must always be at temple's height. If the right hand is used for parrying, it must always be used for parrying. This is incorrect.

Kungfu patterns are alive. They vary according to different situations. In one situation the left hand may be at temple's height, in another situation it may be at the chest. In one situation the right hand may be used for parrying, in another situation it may be used for striking, releasing a grip, controlling an opponent's movement, felling an opponent or any other useful functions.

Similarly how deeply you should squat depends on the combat situation. Although when you look towards the right, your opponent is usually on your right, it may not necessarily be so always. In the second example above, although your opponent is on your left while he executes a whirlwind kick, you may look ahead instead of towards your left because doing so may compromise some of your effect in throwing him backward.

Moving your step diagonally to your left or right instead of straight ahead can serve many useful functions. You have four different functions in the four examples above. In the first situation, you avoid the opponent's attack. In the second, you move closer to your opponent without risking his counter-strikes. In the third situation, you facilitate body movement to release his grips. And in the fourth, you neutralize his leverage advantage and turn it back to him.

Question 8

I've tried several times in sparring to find a situation which affords this Yang style posture its application, but I've found not a single situation which couldn't be solved better with other techniques of Yang style Taijiquan. So I'd appreciate it very much to hear some words from you as a Southern Boxing expert.

Answer

Thank you for your compliments in calling me an expert. Nevertheless, I believe the term “Kungfu” would be more appropriate than “Boxing” which you used, because “Boxing” may give connotations of moves and principles vastly different from those used in kungfu.

Secondly, the examples I gave are not from Southern Shaolin; they are from Taijiquan, which is more commonly aligned with northern styles than with southern.

The examples I gave also show that using the Taming Tiger Step is not only advantageous, it is necessary. Much of the effectiveness of the combat applications would be lost of other stances were used.

While patterns other than “Hit Tiger Left and Right” could be used as effectively in these situations, using just “Hit Tiger Left and Right” without worrying what alternative patterns should be employed to meet constantly changing situations, would be a great tactical advantage.

You could not find any combat situation where no other Yang Style patterns could do better because you were unaware of the potential of “Hit Tiger Left and Right”, as mentioned by you earlier that you could not think of any application for this pattern. This is understandable as the standard of kungfu (including Taijiquan) has been so debased that today most kungfu practitioners, including some masters, do not know how to apply kungfu techniques for combat.

Remarkable they may be, the examples I provided actually do not suggest kungfu of a very high level. I gave the examples almost off-handedly as I wrote, without having to think long and hard for them. Not only our certified instructors but even many of our intermediate students can effectively apply “Hit Tiger Left and Right” and other seemingly flowery patterns like what I have described. If you go to Working out Combat Sequences from Specialized Sets , you can view video clips showing how some of our Shaolin Wahnam develop counters as sophisticated as those in my examples.

The mention of all these is not to show how high level we are in Shaolin Wahnam, but on the contrary to show how low level we actually are when compared to masters in the past. Hopefully this may inspire others who may have lost faith in kungfu in its pathetic condition today when most kungfu practitioners have to borrow techniques from other martial arts to spar. This shows kungfu is really sophisticated and advanced. What we need to do now is to restore its glory and greatness.

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