March 2007 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

GRandmaster Wong and his sifu, Grandmaster Ho

Grandmaster Wong (right) posing with his sifu, Grandmaster Ho (centre), and his siheng, Ah Kai (left), after Grandmaster Ho returned from receiving an international award on traumatology, or kungfu medicine, from an international conference on Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.

Question 1

I would like to ask Sifu how he first met Sigung Ho Fatt Nam and Sigung Lai Chin Wah?

— Mohammed, England

Answer

As described in the March 2007 Part 2 issue of the Question-Answer series, my first sifu was Sifu Lai Chin Wah, who was more popularly known as Uncle Righteousness. He kindly accepted me as his pupil when he found me watching his kungfu teaching every night at Soon Tuck Association in Penang, Malaysia where my father worked as a clerk.

After learning from Uncle Righteousness for more than ten years, I went about seeking kungfu patriarchs to further my kungfu training. In a small town called Dungun in the state of Trengganu in Malaysia, I learned for about two years from Sifu Chee Kim Thong, the patriarch of Wuzu Kungfu, who was regarded by China as her national treasure. While Uncle Righteousness' kungfu was “hard”, that of Sifu Chee Kim Thong was “soft”. But I was too naïve at that time to understand and appreciate the “soft” aspect of kungfu.

Although my first sifu was a great fighter and my second sifu was famous for his internal force, for some faults of my own I was neither proficient in sparring nor good at internal force. I was, like most kungfu practitioners today, confusing kungfu forms for kungfu. I knew a lot of kungfu sets, and like most kungfu practitioners today too, I mistakenly measured my progress in kungfu by the number of kungfu sets I knew. It was the norm then, as it is still the norm now, that learning kungfu meant learning kungfu forms.

When a kungfu master was exceptional in his performance, like Uncle Righteousness was in fighting and Sifu Chee Kim Thong was in internal force, it was not necessary that his students were also exceptional. The masters were exceptional because they had spent many, many years practicing their arts, often in a dogged manner. There was usually a huge gap in attainment levels between the masters and their students. This is also the case now — with the possible or at least potential exception in our school, Shaolin Wahnam! Hence, it is no surprise that students of famous masters are often not a portion in abilities as their masters.

I was, therefore, searching for the two gems of kungfu, which I later discovered were also the twin pillars of any genuine, traditional kungfu training, namely internal force and combat efficiency. My search ended with my third sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, after which my journey changed from searching to practicing and developing.

Sifu Ho Fatt Nam was the third generation successor from the Venerable Jiang Nan of the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou in south China. Due to this closeness to its original source, the training I received from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam was vastly different from any kungfu training I had seen in all other kungfu schools. Instead of practicing forms, we focused on force training and combat application.

How I first learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam was an interesting anecdote. I sought an introduction to Sifu Ho Fatt Nam through one of his students. I was not at all impressed when I saw their training the first time nor the second. I made the same mistake many people unknowingly make today. I had pre-conceived ideas about kungfu training. I was trying to be smarter than the master.

We would not have any Shaolin Wahnam today if not for an incidental remark which actually proved to be of paramount significance. Besides looking for kungfu patriarchs to learn from, I was also looking for Black Belts in other martial arts for free sparring in the hope of improving my combat efficiency. I did not realize then the invaluable advice I now give to other kungfu practitioners, i.e. free sparring is not the way to train combat efficiency. A friend named Chiang introduced me to Yong, a title-winning body-builder and a top Taekwondo practitioner groomed by Korean masters to take over when the expatriates would leave.

Yong told my friend that he was planning to leave Taekwondo for Shaolin Kungfu taught by Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. Everybody was surprised. Taekwondo was the craze then, and Taekwondo exponents were frequently beating exponents of Karate, Judo, Boxing and other martial styles with their tenet that “legs are faster and more powerful than hands”. But Shaolin Kungfu? Very few people had met kungfu practitioners who could fight.

Why did Yong want to leave Taekwondo and miss a rare opportunity of heading Taekwondo in Malaysia when the Korean masters left, and choose Shaolin Kungfu which many people thought could not be effective in sparring? Yong sprained his ankle in his Taekwondo sparring and sought Sifu Ho Fatt Nam for treatment. While undergoing treatment he saw some Shaolin Kungfu training. He was intrigued enough to join with the hope that this would improve his mainstream Taekwondo sparring. But he found Shaolin Kungfu superior beyond comparison. And all these happened within a few months.

My friend, Chiang, asked Yong how effective Shaolin Kungfu was in sparring, and he later reported it to me. Yong remarked in earnest, “I can handle any Taekwondo exponents comfortably, except the Korean masters.” After a short pause, Yong continued, “Even the Korean masters. If I can't beat them, I won't be far behind.”

If a top Taekwondo practitioner made such a remark after a few months of Shaolin training, I would be a fool not to find out the truth or otherwise from direct experience. So I visited Sifu Ho Fatt Nam the third time and begged him accept me as his student.

“I've heard you've practiced some Shaolin Kungfu before,” Sifu Ho Fatt Nam said.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Show me your best kungfu.”

I performed my best kungfu set, “Dragon Strength”, for which I was known to be excellent at, and thought Sifu Ho Fatt Nam would be impressed.

He was indifferent. “That is a very beautiful set,” he said, “but you lack force, and you can't apply that for combat.”

My sifu hit the nail on the head. I was extremely happy. Those were exactly the two gems I was looking for.

True enough, like my siheng Yong, with prior kungfu experience my free sparring with other martial artists improved tremendously after just a few months. Soon no Taekwondo Black Belts wanted to spar with me

Training under Sifu Ho Fatt Nam was not exactly he same as the training you now receive in Shaolin Wahnam, though the spirit and essence are the same. Experiencing internal force after a year and being combat efficient after three years would be a remarkable attainment, considering that most kungfu practitioners would take more than ten years to achieve either, that is if they ever achieve.

Today, a typical Shaolin Wahnam student practicing Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan would be able to experience internal force and apply kungfu techniques for combat after just a few months, if not weeks. This is simply incredible. Of course your force and combat efficiency are not comparable yet to someone having trained for many years, but it sets the tone and pace for cost-effectiveness. When you train for another three years, your internal force and combat efficiency will be improved for three years because you train with purpose and direction, whereas for most others their total benefits when added together may only be a few weeks though they train for three years because their training is haphazard.

Question 2

Claire and I would like to know more about Grandmaster Lim Yit Liang and how she came to study at the Shaolin Temple.

— Akemi, USA

Answer

Grandmaster Lim Yit Liang was the sister of Lim Yian who taught my Wuzu sifu, Sifu Chee Kim Thong. When Sigung Lim Yian retired, he introduced Sifu Chee Kim Thong to Grandmaster Lim Yit Liang to continue teaching Wuzu Kungfu to Sifu Chee Kim Thong.

Although Grandmaster Lim Yit Liang was elderly, being a traditional woman she did not touch Sifu Chee Kim Thong when she taught him. She used a long stick to correct mistakes made by Sifu Chee Kim Thong.

Grandmaster Lim Yit Liang did not study at the Shaolin Temple directly, though her Wuzu Kungfu, or Kungfu of Five Ancestors, came from the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou.

Shaolin Kung Fu sparring

An old photo showing Liang executing a flying kick at Yong during a sparring session. Both are inner-chamber disciples of Grandmaster Ho, and senior classmates of Grandmaster Wong.

Question 3

I would be interested to know what direction Sigung envisages Shaolin Wahnam going in future and if there is any one aspect he feels that should be particularly developed.

— Niall, Scotland

Answer

Our main aim is to spread the wonderful benefits of the Shaolin Wahnam arts, especially Shaolin Kungfu, Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung and Wahnam Taijiquan, to deserving people irrespective of race, culture and religion. One particular aspect that is crucial for our future development is internal unity.

Right now while I am still active as the Grandmaster of the School, although there may sometimes be slight differences of opinions and approaches, masters of various Shaolin Wahnam centres all over the world co-operate very well and love one another as brothers and sisters. This is a remarkable achievement many people may not realize or may take for granted.

But it is inevitable that as an organization grows, there will be differences, and these differences may lead to conflict. Those interested in the Chinese philosophy of Five Elemental Processes may see this as “water begetting wood, and wood begetting fire”.

My concern and wish is to see that after I have retired, all Shaolin Wahnam masters will maintain this internal unity, that if differences in opinions and approaches occur they can settle these differences amicably among themselves, and will not allow them to evolve into conflict. Fortunately, besides the will, we have the means to do so. Continuing from the philosophy of the Five Elemental Processes, conflict which may destroy an organization is symbolized by fire. The elemental process that subdues fire is water, which is symbolic for growth.

One of the most beneficial aspects of our school is that we do not just grow spatially or geographically but also personally or spiritually. As the leaders in Shaolin Wahnam grow in wisdom and spiritual attainment, they will be able to overcome any conflicts from within or without which may threaten the success and prosperity of Shaolin Wahnam.

Question 4

I have been learning Shaolin Kung Fu for six months and I was wondering how I could know if I had a good instructor?

— Ricky, USA

Answer

My webpage Qualities of a Good Master will provide you with useful guidelines. You will also find helpful advice in another webpage, Getting the Best Benefits from your Training . If you have the very good fortune to find a good master, show him due respect as explained in Showing Respect to the Master There are, of course, other ways to find out whether you have a good master or instructor. One practical way involves some simple arithmatics.

First, list out what you actually want from practicing Shaolin Kungfu. Check how many items on your list your instructor can help you realize them.

Next, list the negative effects from practicing with this instructor.

Then match the plus list with the minus list to find the balance. This will give you a good picture how good or bad your instructor is with regards to your needs and aspirations.

As different students have different needs and aspirations, their idea of a good instructor will be different.

For example, if you are interested in taking part in competitions and winning trophies, an instructor who pays much attention to this aspect will be good for you. On the other hand he may have little kungfu philosophy and his training may result in much injury. If you are not interested in kungfu philosophy, this aspect is not important to you, at least for the time being, but you will have to balance his plus points in competitions and trophies against the minus points in injuries to decide whether he is a good instructor for you.

On the other hand, if your aim of practicing Shaolin Kungfu is to improve your quality of life, an instructor good for competitions and winning trophies may not be good for you. Sustaining injuries would be a big negative factor.

But you need to be specific with what you mean by improving your quality of life so that you can measure how well the instructor helps you to attain your objectives. You may, for example, examine whether your training has made you more relaxed and mentally fresh, or give your more energy to do your daily work.

A good instructor teaches by example. If he merely talks about winning trophies or improved quality of life, but he himself has never taken part in any competition before or leads a messy life, he is obviously not a good instructor.

Question 5

What is training typically like in Shaolin Kung Fu and what are the different emphasis in training as a student progresses and for how long? For instance, like stance work mainly is emphasized at the beginning, then forms, and then sequences, and then sparring.

Answer

The answer depends on various factors, like who is asking or answering, as well as where and when.

For most people all over the world today, typical Shaolin Kungfu training is teaching and learning kungfu sets from day one to as long as they teach or learn. For them there is little or no emphasis on stance work, and they are generally unaware of what sequences are or their significance.

Many of them have never sparred throughout their kungfu career. Those who spar, usually do not use kungfu techniques. They usually use Kick-Boxing and some times Karate although they perform beautiful kungfu sets in solo practice. Their main emphasis is on performing kungfu forms for demonstration.

What you mention about stance work, sequence and sparring is not the norm. The norm is performing forms. Your example of first emphasizing stance work, then forms, then sequences, and then sparring is probably taken from our mode of training in Shaolin Wahnam.

But your example is not quite correct. We do not emphasize stance work just at the beginning, followed by forms. We emphasize stance work and picture-perfect forms throughout our kungfu training, right from beginners' to masters' levels.

At the beginning we ensure that our forms in correct stances are picture-perfect. Then we employ these forms and stances as sequences in sparring. We also emphasize force training. Force training and sparring are emphasized throughout our training. I believe this is also how Shaolin Kungfu was practiced at the Shaolin Temple in the past.

Question 6

You mentioned other elements of training like force, combat application, and fluidity. Are they all sort of combined little by little from the beginning? I am just trying to gain a clear picture of the Shaolin training method to clear up any of my assumptions as well as to discern whether or not my instructor is training me in the correct manner in genuine Shaolin Kung Fu.

Answer

The various elements in kungfu training, like force, combat application and fluidity of movement, are practiced holistically, although they may be learnt one at a time. For example, when a student performs a combat sequence for combat application, he does not only practice combat application, he must do so with force and his movement must be fluid.

However, when he first learns to apply a sequence for combat, he focuses on combat application. He does not distract himself by learning force development and fluid movement at the same time.

But knowing the teaching procedure by itself does not guarantee that the art is genuine. An instructor may teach a sequence for combat, and his movement may be fluid and forceful, but what he teaches may be a sequence of Kick-Boxing techniques although he calls it Shaolin Kungfu.

On the other hand, even when the forms are genuine, what he teaches may not be genuine Shaolin Kungfu. He may just be teaching kungfu forms for demonstration, without force and without combat application. This, in fact, is the norm today.

A simple and logical way to determine whether what your instructor teaches is genuine Shaolin Kungfu is firstly define what genuine Shaolin Kungfu is, then examine whether his teaching matches this definition. A basic definition of Shaolin Kungfu is as follows: Practicing established Shaolin kungfu forms (like those painted on some walls of the Shaolin Temple) for combat and good health.

If his teaching matches this definition, you can conclude that he teaches genuine Shaolin Kungfu. If he teaches his students to bounce about instead of using stances as in established Shaolin kungfu forms, or use Kick-Boxing techniques for combat, or his teaching results in his students being injured or aggressive, then he is not teaching genuine Shaolin Kungfu.

Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Combat training is an essential aspect of genuine, traditional kungfu training. Sifu Tim of England practices sparring with Maxime of France during an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia.

Question 7

I am thinking about getting a vasectomy. It is a surgery where the vas deferens, the tubes leading from the testicles which carry sperm, are cut. I have read that it is a reasonably safe surgery without complications. My question is, from a Chi Kung perspective, is there anything wrong with this? Would you recommend against this? I have looked into alternatives for permanent birth control, and this appears to me to be the best method that enables sex without a condom with a trusted partner. What are your words about the vasectomy?

— Marcus, USA

Answer

As vasectomy is a modern technological method, there is no mention of its relation with chi kung in classical chi kung texts.

Nevertheless, castration, i.e. surgical removal of testicles, was performed on imperial eunuchs in classical China. Apart from psychological effect, there was no negative influence on their health, vitality (apart from sexual) and longevity. Indeed, many eunuchs were martial art experts.

Personally I beleive that from a chi kung perspective there is nothing wrong with vasectomy. Chi will still flow smoothly even when some internal organs, in this case the tubes leading from the testicles, have been removed. In other words, people who have undergone vasectomy still enjoy good health, vitality and longevity like other people.

While I would not recommend against vasectomy, I would strongly advice you to consider carefully and deeply before attempting it. The main reason is that vasectomy is irreversible.

Question 8

I am currently learning Shaolin Kung Fu in China. For my studies I have read your book titled “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”. I am very impressed with your knowledge in the subject matter, and just as impressed with you grasp of the English language. The problem with my training is that so much gets lost in translation. I am wondering what the rates are for training with you in both a six month “Intensive Chi Kung Course” along with six month “Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course” with the two ideally taken simultaneously.

— Scot, China

Answer

You need not take a six-month course from me. As you already have Shaolin Kungfu background, your best option is to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course and my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, which cover 5 days and 7 days respectively.

It is understandable that many people would wonder what can be learnt in just 5 or 7 days. In reality, and at the risk of sounding boastful, you would learn in 5 days of my Intensive Chi Kung Course and 7 days of my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course what most other people would take many years to learn, if they have the chance. This is unbelievable but true.

And the best is that you can find out whether it is true or not from direct experience. If at the end of the course you find that the claims are not true, or if you are dissatisfied with the course, you can ask for a full refund of the fees, and they will be refunded to you without questions. At the Intensive Chi Kung Course itself, amongst other skills you will learn and be able to generate an internal energy flow, tap energy from the cosmos and send chi to various parts of your body and internal organs. If you are ready, you may have a glimpse of Cosmic Reality.

At the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, you will learn and be able to develop internal force, understand the combat applications of kungfu patterns, be fast and forceful yet relaxed in your kungfu performance, apply kungfu techniques and skills in sparring, and spar for more than an hour without feeling tired or out of breath.

It is important that you continue to practice on your own what you learn at the course. You would also be able to transfer what you will learn at my course to what you are currently practicing. If you wish to attend, please apply to my secretary at shaolin@pd.jaring.my as soon as possible, and you will be informed whether your application is successful. The fee for the Intensive Chi Kung Course is US$1000, and for the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course US$1500. Food and accommodation in a comfortable hotel where the courses are to be held, is about US60 per day. There are no other fees. But the most important condition for attending my courses is to follow the Ten Shaolin Laws .

LINKS

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Selected Reading

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