March 2007 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Uncle Righteousness and Shaolin Kung Fu

An old, invaluable picture of Sifu Lai Chin Wah, better known as Uncle Righteousness, holding the Green Dragon Crescent Moon Knife

Question 1

I'd like to know the difference in training methods (not only in Kungfu, but also in Chi Kung) between Sigung Ho and Sigung Lai, and how each of their methods have influenced Sifu's own teaching.

— Alex, England

Answer

Both Sigung Ho and Sigung Lai taught Southern Shaolin Kungfu, but that of Sigung Ho came from the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou, a city in the southern province of Fujian, whereas that of Sigung Lai came from the southern Shaolin Temple at Jiulianshan, or Nine-Lotus Mountain, which is also located in Fujian but near the boarder with Guangdong.

The style of Southern Shaolin from Sigung Ho is Fujian Shaolin transmitted from the Venerable Jiang Nan, whereas that from Sigung Lai is Guangdong Shaolin transmitted from the Venerable Chee Seen. While there are a lot of similarities between these two styles of Southern Shaolin, there are also discernable differences.

Relatively speaking the forms of Sigung Ho's kungfu are straight-forward, like level fists and a palm strikes, whereas those of Sifu Lai's are more elaborated, like tiger-claws and dragon-hands. Kungfu sets in our school like “Four Gates” and “Dragon Form” are from Sigung Ho's lineage, whereas those like “Tiger-Crane” and “Dragon-Tiger” are from Sifu Lai;s lineage.

There were many kungfu sets from Sigung Lai's teaching, including many different types of weapons. Sigung Lai paid much attention to perfection of forms. The beauty of my kungfu forms was due to Sigung's Lai's teaching. There were not may kungfu sets in Sigung Ho's lineage, and he also did not pay much attention to exactness of forms. Sigung Ho emphasized force training and combat application.

Force training in Sigung Ho's lineage was mainly internal. “Lifting the Sky”, “One-Finger Shooting Zen” and the ability to spar for more than an hour without panting for breath were from Sigung Ho's teaching. Sigung Lai's teaching was more external, like sandbags, wooden-man and three-star knocking. Nevertheless, stance training was much emphasized in Sigung Lai's lineage.

Sigung Lai was thorough and precise in every movement, and his forms were a beauty to watch. “Every movement is a masterpiece” was derived from Sigung Lai's teaching. I developed systematic and penetrating observation, and was able to learn a kungfu set by merely watching it performed just a few times.

On the other had, Sigung Ho emphasized combat application as well as kungfu principles. He told me that there was at least one counter, usually more, for every form of attack, and that “once you understood the first mile, you could travel hundreds of miles”, meaning that once you understood the underlying principles you could counter any attacks even though you might not have learn them before. I spent interesting time asking him to show me counters to various complex attacks and learning important principles behind the moves. This enabled me to understand not only all the kungfu patterns I had learnt but also all the techniques of other schools and styles.

We in Shaolin Wahnam are very fortunate to inherit the teachings of these two great grandmasters. Whenever we make a move, in kungfu as well as in everyday life, we ensure we are safe first. This is a legacy from Sigung Lai. After learning combat sequences 1 to 4, we are able to counter any strikes as well as be able to have a great variety of strikes ourselves This is a legacy from Sigung Ho. In whatever we do, our form is perfect and movement elegant. These are benefits from Sigung Lai's teaching. We have mental clarity in our actions, are not tired even after performing for a long time, and our actions are guided by philosophical ideals and practical benefits. These are from the teachings of Sigung Ho.

Question 2

I'm a relative new-comer to this forum and Sifu Wong's website, so I'm not sure if this has already been told, but I have been curious about Sifu's former classmates. Who they were? What special skills did they have? Where are they now? Was there anyone whom he looked up to as an older kungfu brother? And stuff like that. If that's covered anywhere and someone could give me a link, that would be just as great.

— Matt, USA

Answer

My first sifu, Sifu Lai Chin Wah or better known as Uncle Righteousness, was a well known master and had many students. Two of my senior classmates who were a great inspiration to me were Chiew Shi Khern and Wong Choy Wah.

My Siheng Chiew Shi Khern was famous for his “Iron Arms”. He would spend much time striking at a wooden man every night, and apply medicated vinegar to strengthen his arms. (Medicated vinegar was a specialty of my sifu, Uncle Righteousness. It was made from brewing a mixture of herbs and lots of rusted iron nails in a pot of vinegar.) None of us could beat him in “three-star knocking arms” though he was quite skinny.

After my sifu had passed away, many of my classmates formed the Chin Wah Hoong Ka Kungfu Academy in honour of my sifu, and elected my Siheng Wong Choy Wah as the master. My siheng was well known for his Horse-Riding Stance and his specialty was the Hoong Ka Triple-Stretch Set, which was noted for developing internal force. During a public demonstration, his internal force was so powerful that its vibration broke a hard wooden staff he was performing. This siheng taught me, on behalf of my sifu, the Butterfly Knives and the Pakua Long Staff.

On the other hand, my other sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, kept a low profile of his kungfu skills, though he was well known as a spiritualist and Taoist master. About three times a week many members of the public would convene at his house which served as a temple to seek his spiritual guidance. I was amongst the last of his private students, though later when he taught publicly for a short time, I was one of his assistants.

Two of my sihengs were a source of inspiration for me. One was Lim Hock Seng, whose nickname was Poh Lok. His specialty was Iron Fist. Even my wife who knew little kungfu at that time was absolutely convinced that a punch from him would kill an able-bodied adult. Yet, interestingly, my sifu called this “third class kungfu”. My sifu said that although it was third class it was best suited for him, a rough, tough ironsmith whose daily work was his kungfu training, but my sifu advised me to aim for first class. Hence, he taught me Cosmos Palm instead of Iron Palm.

My other siheng was Ah Kai, who was small in size but was very tough. He would rub his arms against the sharp edges of square-shaped wooden beams hundreds of times per session, making the beams rounded and shining. Once when we were free sparring, he purposely let me grip his two arms in double tiger claws. Then he released his arms with a circular twist and struck my chest with a vertical fist within three inches. As it landed gently, he pulled back the fist quickly, and apologized sincerely and profusely. But the internal force transmitted by that gentle tap put me out of action for six months!

Poh Lok and Ah Kai knew that I had learned “Tiger-Crane” from Uncle Righteousness before, and they were very keen to learn it from me in exchange for their favorite sets. Poh Lok taught me Dragon Form, and Ah Kai taught me Seven Stars, which later my sifu also taught me and asked Ah Kai to continue teaching me on his behalf.

Among my classmates I am the only one teaching openly and widely. Although it was once highly regarded by the public, the Hoong Ka Chin Wah Kungfu Academy is now no longer active. Uncle Righteousness' son, my sidai Lai Chak Weng practiced kungfu as well as Lion Dance, but he does not want to teach.

Sifu Ho Fatt Nam's eldest son, my sidai Ho Kok Choong, is an excellent acupuncturist well respected in his community. I believe he maintains his kungfu training but he prefers not to teach. His two brothers, Ho Kok Hin and Ho Kok Seng, are businessmen and not interested in teaching kungfu. Poh Lok and Ah Kai also have become successful businessmen, and now practice kungfu as hobbies.

Question 3

What is the most common mistake made by students (old and new)?

— Sifu Andrew, Switzerland

Answer

The most common mistake amongst kungfu practitioners all over the world is inconsistent practice. Luckily it is not so common in our school.

One main reason is because we experience the result of our practice quite quickly, which serves as strong motivation for continual practice. Another main reason is that we have clear aims and objectives. A third important reason is that we have sound philosophy of what we practice.

Denied of these three great benefits, most students practice inconsistently, or not at all. Many students, and even “masters” especially in the West, have confused practice with learning, as well as practical results with theoretical knowledge.

They mistakenly measure their progress by the number of techniques learnt or the amount of knowledge they have read. They may know a lot of techniques, or have much knowledge about their art, but they do not practice sufficiently.

No matter how good an art is, if one does not practice sufficiently and regularly he will never be proficient in it. On the other hand, even if an art is only mediocre, if a student practices sufficiently he may master it. But if he practices a low level art, he will only be a master of a low level art. This is logical but not many people, surprising, appreciate or even realize this.

In our school the most common mistake made by our family members both old and new is to regard what is actually elementary in our repertoire as something quite advanced. This is understandable because what is taught at the beginning levels in our school is already fantastic by common standard. Many people may accuse us for being boastful, but it is beneficial for us as well as for the future of the arts to know this fact.

When chi kung practitioners feel some chi effects, like their fingers expanded or energy flow swaying their body, they regard these as fantastic results, obtainable only after many years of dedicated practice. When kungfu practitioners learn some combat applications of the patterns they have been practicing for years or how to neutralize the force of bigger opponents, they regard these as fantastic, available only to advanced selected students. Yet, these are typical results our ordinary students get in their first lessons!

A look at the publicity of our courses shows such expected results as generating energy flow, developing internal force, expanding the mind, and feeling peaceful and happy. Students are expected to experience these results in a few days! Most practitioners in other schools will be happy if they can experience them in a few years. Hence, many people do not believe us and say we make outlandish claims. But many who have attended our courses kindly testify that our courses have fulfilled all their expectations and more. Yet, these are beginners' courses.

Given such background situations, it is easy for our students, including advanced ones, to believe they have reached high levels in their practice. They actually have, when compared to what most others have reached. But compared to what they can attain if they continue their dedicated training, they are still at the beginners' level. This relates to my answer to Damian's interesting question of giving “A” based on de facto situation, but “C” based on our potential.

Sifu Ho Fatt Nam and Shaolin Kung Fu

An old, invaluable picture of Sifu Ho Fatt Nam sparring with his senior student, Ah Sing

Question 4

My love for family has grown. My linear narrow perception of the real world has utterly fallen away given that no matter how bad things can be people can be poetically loving to each other.

I sense greater wishes to be a monk but I have feelings for a women that I was fond of when I was a child. I sense she has feelings for me. Monkhood is strong in me as well, if not stronger.

— Tony, USA

Answer

It is very noble to give up everything to become a monk so as to cultivate to attain Enlightenment. But from what you have written, you are not ready for this momentous decision yet.

You should direct your time and effort to leading a rewarding life, get married and have children. You can still cultivate spiritually as a lay person and attain very high spiritual levels without neglecting your family.

Later when you have fulfilled well your obligations to your family, and with their blessing, you may become a monk if you still have the irresistible wish to do so.

Question 5

I sometimes think I should be an abbot along with a wife in a new style temple that is family oriented. I am glad to say that I took the spiritual path after reading your Sukhavati book and have tread it ever since.

Answer

It defeats the very purpose of becoming an abbot or even an ordinary monk if you still have a family. This is another indication that you are not ready to enter monkhood yet.

To be a monk marks one of the highest point in spiritual cultivation. It is a rare opportunity as well as a heavy responsibility. It signals that you are ready to renounce everything to cultivate for the highest spiritual attainment.

What is this highest attainment and why is it necessary to give up everything? This highest attainment is Enlightenment, i.e. a total merging into Cosmic Reality where there is no differentiation. In other words, there is perfect Oneness, with nothing else.

Giving up everything is necessary to achieve this supreme aim. Even if there is just a single craving or a mere thought, there will be differentiation. So, there is not just Oneness, because besides this so-called Oneness there is also a craving or a thought, which will start the transformation back to the phenomenal realm.

Now, when you have a wife, not only you will have many cravings and thoughts, such as a desire to provide well for her, and your thinking of her as your wife, you have a solid mass of flesh and bones and many things else that go into making your wife as a living person.

Even if we presume there were nothing else, there are still your cravings, your thoughts and your wife in this otherise Oneness. Hence, if you still have a wife, you will never be able to attain Enlightenment, for which very reason you want to be a monk in the first place. So why become a monk then? You may as well remain a lay person to enjoy the reality of your wife and children.

Question 6

Shuai Chiao is said to be the oldest martial art in China and is used by the military of the early Chinese Emperors

— Ricky, Malaysia

Answer

Strictly speaking, “Shuai Chiao” (“Shuai Jiao” in Romanized Chinese) or Chinese Wrestling is a martial sport, and not a martial art, because it is restricted by safety rules whereas in a martial art there are no rules. In a Shuai Chiao match, for example, a practitioner is not allowed to gore his opponent's eyes or tear his testicles, wherea such attacks can happen in a real fight.

However, this distinction between martial arts and martial sports, while useful, is not normally adhered to. By the definiion of safety rules, practices that are normally referred to as martial arts, like Judo, Kendo, Karate, Taekwondo, Wrestling, Boxing, Kick-Boxing and Muai-Thai, are martial sports. All styles of kungfu and Jujitsu are martial arts.

One may object by saying that in a kungfu or a Jujitsu competition, there are also safety rules preventing particiapnts from goring one another's eyes or tearing one another's testicles. The answer is that these are the safety rules of the competition, and not of kungfu or Jujitsu itself. In the training of any style of kungfu and of Jujitsu, students are taught how to attack their opponents' eyes and groins, though they do not actually perform them on their training partners, and how to defend against such attacks. But in Judo, Muai Thai and all the other sports, such attacks and defences are not taught at all.

In fact, these arts, or sports, would not be what they are if there were no safety rules. A Judoka, for example, would not attempt any of his Judo throws, a Taekwondo exponent would not throw many of his high kicks, a Wrestler would not go for his opponent's legs, and a Muay Thai fighter would not hug his opponent to give him his typical knee jabs if there were no safety rules. Without safety rules, the typical attacks of these arts would be suicidal.

Shuai Chiao was an ancient sport. It was already very popular during the Han Dynasty, which was more than 2000 years ago. It was older than any style of kungfu known today. The oldest style of kungfu or of any martial art was Shaolin Kungfu, which has a continuous history of about 1500 years. But this does not mean Shuai Chiao was older than any martial art.

Martial art existed first. Almost as soon as there were people, there was fighting. Soon, arts of fighting, where there were no safety rules, evolved out of necissity. But there were no special names, like Shaolin or Xingyi, to designate these fighting arts; they were just called fighting arts, or “jiji” in Chinese in those early times. Only much later, when societies had become more peaceful and settled, the dangerous moves in martial arts were removed and safety rules were introduced to make them into sports for recreation and entertainment.

But Shuai Chiao was not the oldest marital sport. Shuai Chiao was already quite advanced during the Han Dynasty, indicating that it had undergone a period of development. A cruder martial sport was “Jiaoli”, which literally means “butting-strength”. Jiaoli matches, where combatants attempt to butt their opponents over using sheer strength, existed many centuries before Shuai Chiao. Jiaoli was a sports; there were safety rules, and like our modern martial sports, it was practiced not out of necessity but performed for recreation and entertainment.

chi qi flow

Experiencing chi flow, considered by many practitioners as a fantastic result obtainable only after many years of training, is a typical benefit our students attain in their first lessons

Question 7

Shuai Chiao has many similarities to Judo and Jujutsu. However, this art does not seem to be very well known today.

Answer

Although superficially there may be similarities, Shuai Chiao is quite different from Judo. Both its techniques as well as training methods are more sophisticated, and in my opinion more elegant.

For example, Shuai Chiao masters classify 10 different ways of using the head, and 20 different ways of using the legs to defeat an opponent! Training methods include skillful application of simple but ingenious tools like ropes, towels, pulleys, poles and weights to strengthen various parts of the body, including the wrists, ankles and neck! Internal methods like chi kung and meditation are also used. And the accumulated knowledge of past masters is recorded in poetic writing.

The following is an example illustrating how a Shuai Chiao practitioner goes into ready position for combat:

Upright and relax with spirit brightShift out front leg into proper stanceHide chest, round back and elbows droppedBody solid on back leg with false leg in frontFists held firmly in a relaxed stateAttain good balance with four-six paceNose not extended beyond front toesChest not beyond the back footholdWhen an opponent move in to fightRespond spontaneously as in normal light

Notice the emphasis on being relaxed and natural in combat both at the start and the end of this verse. This combat philosophy contrasts sharply with the tension and frenzy many modern martial artists work themselves into.

Shuai Chiao is also different from Jujitsu. Jujitsu is a complete martial art: it trains its practitioners to be competent in any form of attack without having to borrow from other martial arts. Sports are incomplete. If you kick at a Judoka or hold the leg of a Taekwondo exponent, for example, he has no techniques in his sport to counter such attacks. This does not mean a Judoka or a Taekwondo exponent cannot counter a kick or a hold, but he will have borrow the counter techniques from other arts or sports.

Shuai Chiao is complete, but it is not a martial art. If you kick at or hold the leg of a Shuai Chiao exponent or attack him in any other manners, he has techniques within the sport to counter such attacks. Then, why is it not a martial art?

It is because Shuai Chiao is heavily governed by safety rules. Without the safety rules, most Shuai Chiao techniques would be impractical. A Shuai Chiao exponent can go in safely to grab an opponent for a throw using a typical Shuai Chiao technique, much like a Judo technique, because safety rules prevent his opponent from kneeing his testicles or bitting off his ear.

But aren't there counter techniques in Shuai Chiao against kneeing testicles and bitting off ears? This question concerns some important points many martial artists may not be aware of. If you knee his testicles or bite his ear while a Shuai Chiao exponent is at his ready poise, he can ready counter your attack. But when he is grabbing you at close quarters for a throw, and you knee his testicles or bite his ear, he may not be able to counter although he knows how to.

This is the reason why Shaolin or Taijiquan exponents would not normally use Judo throws or Wrestling holds on their opponents. It is not because such throwing and holding techniques are not found in Shaolin or Taijiquan, as many people mistakenly think, but because do so without the protection of safety rules would place the attacker in a vulnerable position.

Question 8

What is your opinion of this art in terms of combat effectiveness and what is its contribution to Chinese martial arts?

Answer

Although Shuai Chiao is a sport, it is also very effective for combat. One must, however, remember that in a real fight, safety rules do not apply — a fact many martial artists often forget.

Shuai Chiao has contributed much to Chinese martial arts. Many throwing and holding techniques in Shaolin and Taijiquan, I believe, come from Shuai Chiao. But as Shaolin and Taijiquan are fighting arts, and not sports, modifications or improvements to the techniques are necessary.

In an over-shoulder throw, for example, in Shuai Chiao the opponent's hands are left free because he is not allowed to strike the eyes or grab the throat while being thrown. But in the throwing technique known respectively as “Hoeing Rice Field” and “Emptying Rug Sack” in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, the oponent's hands must be imbolized first as there is no protection covered by safety rules.

Some effective force training methods are from Shuai Chiao too. Two such methods I learned from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, were “Rolling up Weights” and “Pulling Rope”.

In “Rolling up Weights”, fasten a weight to one end of a rope and fasten the other end to a short rod. Go into a Horse-Riding Stance and hold both ends of the short rod with both hands close together, with the weight handing down the rope in the middle of the rod. Extend the arms forward at shoulder level. Slowly turn the rod round so that it rolls the rope and raise the weight.

When the weight has been rolled up near to the rod, slowly turn the rod the other way to unwind the rope and lower the weight. Repeat many times.

This is an excellent method to strengthen the wrists and grips, and build internal force especially at the arms.

In “Pulling Rope”, tie a weight to one end of a rope, let the rope go through a pulley hung high, and make a small loop at the other end of the rope. Repeat with another rope. The two pulleys should be hung at the same height at about shoulder's width apart.

Go into a Horse-Riding Stance. Hold the loop of each rope with each hand, and pull the ropes back by extending the elbows back so as to raise the two weights. Repeat many times. This exercise strengthens arm muscles and tendons

.To save space, my sifu made the following improvisation. Instead of using a long rope, a pulley and a weight, he tied a short rope to a piece of tough deflated inner rubber tube fastened to a strong support.

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