April 2007 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Butterfly Knives

An old photo of Grandmaster Wong more than 40 years ago posing with the Butterfly Knives

Question 1

After such a life-changing experience last year, I'm very excited about Summer Camp again this year and I am looking forward to tasting the delights (and trying to prepare for the hard work) of Lion Dance and the Weapons Course!

— Claire, UK

Answer

I am glad you are attending both the Lion Dance Course and the Weapons Course. They are quite special, and I myself am not sure whether I may offer them again.

This is because of the time factor. I have more courses than the time to teach them. For example, I have promised some senior members of our Shaolin Wahnam Family that I shall offer such special courses like “Chi Kung Healing”, “Chin-Na as a Specialized Art” and “Combat against Armed and Multiple Attacks”, and I would like to fulfill my promise before retiring from teaching publicly.

I am glad that this year I can offer an advanced chi kung course, “Small Universe”, which I have promised many students since many years ago.

Question 2

I'm still getting over the fact that you've so generously offered us the opportunity to vote for which weapons to learn about. For my part I knew straight away that I wanted to pick up the sword, and I have a long-standing love affair with the Butterfly Knives from when I happened upon a pair in a martial arts shop when I was 19 — I really wasn't that interested in Martial Arts at that time.

Answer

The credit for the opportunity to vote for which weapons to learn, should go to your sifu, Sifu Marcus. As one who always has the interest of his students at heart, Marcus asked me whether I would allow intending students to indicate their choice of weapons to learn. I thought it was a good idea. This was unprecedented because it was always the master who decided what to teach. Nevertheless there were rare exceptions.

One of these rare exceptions in kungfu history was when my Wing Choon master, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, allowed me to choose the sets I would like to learn. This was rare, and it occurred because I already had attended a high level of kungfu and he treated me like an equal though I always regarded him as my sifu.

You would be pleased to know that although my Wing Choon sifu had a very wide range of weapons to teach, I only chose two, and the Butterfly Knives was one of them. The other weapon was the famous “Six-and-a-Half-Point Staff”, regarded as a treasure not only in Wing Choon but in all kungfu. Later I also learned the Thirteen-Technique Spear, an exclusive weapon taught only to inner-chamber disciples, but I learned it from my siheng, the late Sifu Yeong Cheong, rather from my sifu directly.

Question 3

A friend and I were out and he dragged me into a shop because he needed something, and I remember looking around rather bemused but suddenly feeling a ‘calling' over to a table, picking up a pair of these heavenly blades and suddenly feeling very ‘right' and as though I'd realized that, until that moment, my hands had been missing something!

Answer

Many other people could be grateful for that intuitive experience of yours, as will become clear when you read further.

I listed five weapons (from the seven I taught in the recent Intensive Weapon Course) for intending students to choose from. The five weapons are the sword, the spear, the Kwan Tou (Crescent-Moon Knife), the Crescent-Moon Spear and the Big Trident. I left out the staff and the saber because they are taught in our regular Shaolin Kungfu classes. I thought it was better for the students to learn weapons that were not easily found elsewhere. Please see /video-clips-2/weapons/weapons.html Then your sifu, Marcus, asked me whether I would teach the Butterfly Knives if many people requested for it. I suppose he might have caught your Butterfly Effect even before you posted that lovely thread, which gave me many good laughs. Thank you for the belly-holding laughs.

I particularly liked the driver flashing a Butterfly Knife to keep children or back-seat drivers quiet. Your post reflects that there is much fun in our Shaolin Wahnam Family, though, of course, much commitment and diligent practice are needed.

Your pictures reminded me that there were at least two other uses in the “101 uses” of the Butterfly Knives. The big woman, for example, could use the Butterfly Knives as earrings, hanging the curved handles of the knives in the holes of her ear lobes. When not flashing the knives about, the smart driver could tug them in his belt like a hand-phone.

The Butterfly Knives was one of the earliest weapons I learned from my first kungfu master, Uncle Righteousness. In fact it was the second weapon I learned after the staff.

I was one of my sifu's favorite students. The staff and the Butterfly Knives were my sifu's favorite weapons. It was logical that he taught me the weapons he liked best.

I am enclosing here a photo of me posing with the Butterfly Knives more than 40 years ago. You would probably find the background of this photo the same as that my sifu poied with the Kwan Tou and the three-sectional whip which I posed in the March Part 1 and the March Part 2 issues of my Question-Answer Series.

Hence, I am glad of your “Butterfly Effect” and that the Butterfly Knives is one of the options for intending students to choose. Please see the poll on the choice of weapons .

Dragon Dance

A Dragon Dance performed by Shaolin Wahnam Association, Sungai Petani, Malaysia about 20 years ago

Question 4

In your book, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”, you refer to the Butterfly Knives in a category called “Extraordinary Weapons”. Obviously I think they're extraordinary, but I was wondering, why they had been referred to in this way in the past?

Answer

In the past it was customary to refer to the wide range of weapons as the “eighteen weapons”. There were actually more than eighteen weapons, but the term had become established to mean many weapons

These eighteen weapons were traditionally divided into two categories, namely long weapons and short weapons. What these eighteen weapons were differed in different periods in history.

In the Sung Dynasty about a thousand years ago, for example, the nine long weapons were the lance, the mace, the spade, the battle axe, the long sickle, the spear, the crescent-moon spear, the rake and the chained claw. The nine short weapons were the hand bow, the mechanical bow, the blow-pipe, the sword, the hard whip, the rod, the hand axe, the cudgel and the shield.

But in recent times, the nine long weapons were the spear, the crescent-moon spear, the staff, the battle axe, the big trident, the halberd, the spade, the lance and the roped spear. The nine short weapons were the saber, the sword, the hook-sword, the hand axe, the rod, the soft whip, the clutch, the round hammer and the dagger.

Weapons that did not belong to these two categories were called “extra-ordinary weapons”. The Butterfly Knives were one of them. Other examples included the three-sectional staff, the sweeper, the wolf-teeth staff and the iron pen.

These weapons were “open”, i.e. an opponent could see them easily. There was another category called “secret weapons”, which were purposely hidden and applied on opponents unexpectedly. Some examples were darts, hidden small arrows, sharp cones and small knives hidden in shoes and clothings.

Question 5

Having viewed the information on your website from when you taught Lion Dance in Malaysia on the Special Shaolin Kungfu Course in 2002, you state “Its practice can enhance qualities like ability to relax while performing vigorous actions, fluidity of movement, stamina, mental clarity, carefulness, cheerfulness and courage, which are not only beneficial for kungfu training but also for our daily living.” /general/lion-course.html My Sifu also mentioned to me that it was good for ‘emotional balance'. I was wondering if weapons like the Butterfly Knives/sets have any deeper meaning or purpose in that way?

Answer

Yes, both you and your sifu are right.

Many of these weapons are linked to certain emotional or mental states as well as physical abilities. The sword, for example, is linked to scholarship, and the Kwan Tou (or Crescent-Moon Knife) to righteousness.

As the Butterfly Knives are short and light, one must be very agile and flexible when using them, especially against a long weapon like a spear, or a heavy weapon like a big trident.

Imagine, for example, with your Butterfly Knives you face an opponent with a spear, which is not only long but also very fast. How would you defeat him without yourself being hurt. If you approach him he thrusts his spear to you. If you ward off his spear, he pulls it back and points the spear-head at you again.

Or imagine an opponent holding a long and heavy weapon like a big trident. The three prongs of the trident make it difficult for you to get past the trident to reach him with your short weapons. If you block an attack from a heavy weapon, your short and light Butterfly Knives may be smashed by the sheer weight of the opponent's weapon.

But of course there are intricate ways to get past these weapons. If the Butterfly Knives is chosen, we shall learn these interesting and effective ways. This will not only enable us to be agile and flexible, the qualities necessary to use the Butterfly Knives adroitly, but also make us calm and confident even when facing great odds.

Question 6

Next, for someone of my build, upper body strength is somewhat lacking and so, I wondered if you had any advice on how to prepare for the weapons course, other than familiarizing ourselves with the sets?

Answer

Certain weapons require, and on the other hand, train special qualities. Generally one needs to have good stances and strong arms for long, heavy weapons, and agility and flexibility for short, light weapons.

Hence, if you intend to learn short, light weapons like Butterfly Knives and a sword, it is helpful to focus on the art of flexibility and footwork movement. If you wish to learn long, heavy weapons like the Kwan Tou (Crescent-Moon Knife) and the big trident, you should focus on stance training like the Golden Bridge.

The spear and the Crescent-Moon Spear are in between. They are long but not heavy. Speed and good body movement are needed to use these weapons effectively. Surprising it may be to some people, performing the whole set of “Lohan Asks the Way” in just four breaths is helpful in developing speed and breath control, and performing “Merry-Go-round” will improve waist flexibility for agile yet strong body movement.

Lion Dance Lion Dance

A Fatt-San Lion (left) and a Hok-San Lion (right). The pictures are reproduced from the webpage at http://www.ckfa-kungfu.com/

Question 7

If you were to vote, out of the six weapons on offer, which would you choose and why? (Please bear in mind SiGung that I have a *tantalizing* offer on our online forum which I've called 'The Butterfly Effect' of a free cup of tea to anyone voting for the Butterfly Knives (Hahahaha)

Answer

If I were allowed to, I would also try for the cake to go with the tea.

Butterfly Knives would be one of my three choices. The other two would be the sword and the Kwan Tou (Crescent Moon Knife).

Besides the beauty and elegance of these weapons, I also consider the philosophical concepts as well as personality qualities associated with them.

As mentioned above, training the Butterfly Knives give me agility and flexibility as well as calmness and confidence, which certainly will enrich our life and the lives of other people. In practical terms, they are much easier to be carried about than other weapons, though I would probably not hang them on my ears or tug them onto my belt.

Of all the weapons, the sword was the choice weapon of the kungfu knights, or scholar-warriors, in the past. It requires great skills to use the sword adroitly, skills that can be rewardingly transferred to our daily life. The sword is actually my most favorite weapon.

The Kwan Tou, or Crescent-Moon Knife, was the weapon of the great warrior, Kwan Yu, who was deified as a god of righteousness. He was also known for his great courage. The Crescent-Moon Knife not just symbolizes but actually manifests these-qualities. For example, when meeting an opponent, the Crescent-Moon Knife exponent does not use cunning tricks, but defeat him with honorable skills and techniques.

Question 8

And last but not least, a question about Lion Dance. I'm extremely excited that you're offering us the opportunity to learn Lion Dance at Summer Camp this year. During the Chinese New Year celebrations in China Town in London this year I watched the Lions visit all the shops, eat the red envelopes and spit the cabbage leaves over the delighted onlookers.

And I wondered to myself, “is there more than one ‘Lion Dance” or are there different ones for different occasions or from different lineages? If there is more than one, could you tell us more about which one will we be learning please?

Thank you again Sigung, I know July will once again be the highlight of my year. (Smile)

Answer

Those who will benefit from this course will have to thank Sifu Marcus and Sifu Darryl. They persuaded me to offer this course, and even succeeded in having me to extend my stay for a week, something that is not easy given my very tight schedule. They will also have to make special arrangements, not just to get ready the Lion Head, drum, cymbals and gong, but apparatus like special benches and gigantic jars for the Lion dancers to jump about. This is a course not to be missed, for even we ourselves cannot tell for sure whether we will offer such a fantastic course again.

This course is fantastic. Not only it is unbelievably comprehensive — you will learn everything you need to perform a successful Lion Dance, and intensive — you accomplish all these in just a few days, the attainment aimed at is of a high level.

Not many people know that Malaysia has the highest standard of Lion Dance in the world, continually beating other countries, including China, in international Lion Dance competitions by a wide margin. Moreover, the philosophical concepts behind such Lion Dance actions like eating vegetables and spraying the leaves to all delighted spectators, will be explained.

First of all, one must not confuse the Lion Dance with the Dragon Dance. If you surf the internet, you can find many websites showing Lion Dances but calling them Dragon Dances instead! The Lion is performed by two person, the head and the tail, but a Dragon may be performed by twenty or thirty.

There are two types of Lion Dance, the northern and the southern. The Northern Lion is smaller, and realistic. It looks more like a real lion. Its dance is acrobatic, and brings forth feelings of merriment.

The Southern Lion is symbolic; it does not look like a real lion at all. It is a divine creature bringing peace and prosperity. Its dance is martial, and brings forth feelings of courage and excitement.

The Southern Lion is further divided into two types, the Fatt San Lion or the Buddha-Hill Lion, and the Hok San Lion or Crane-Hill Lion, named respectively after the two districts in South China where they were most popular. They look distinctly different, though the uninitiated are unable to tell. Jokingly in a spirit of friendly rivalry, exponents of Fatt San Lion call the Hok San Lion a flat-bead duck, whereas the Hok San Lion exponents call the Fatt San Lion a big-head dog!

Although there are distinct differences in their looks and fine differences in their performance between the two, if you know how to perform one, you normally can perform the other, especially in our school where we focus on smart learning. Interestingly, although my home district in China was Hok San, and my forefathers were famous Hok San Lion Dance exponents, I was trained in Fatt San Lion Dance, the same type that the famous Southern Shaolin master, Wong Fei Hoong, demonstrated in some kungfu movies.

LINKS

Overview of the Questions-Answers Series

Selected Reading

Courses and Classes