December 2007 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Shaolin Kung Fu

This picture is extracted from a video showing Shaolin Wahnam students applying Shaolin patterns in free sparring. If one cannot apply Shaolin patterns for sparring or fighting, then it is only demonstrative Shaolin forms and not genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu.

Question 1

First, I'd like to express my deepest respect for your lineage, wisdom and knowledge of the Shaolin arts. I have been a student of the martial arts for about 11 years now, starting in karate/taekwondo, but often found myself frustrated with poor techniques, pretentious teachers, irritating partners in the schools I attended. Thus, much of what I have learned has been from friends and elders in the martial arts, primarily in muay thai, jujutsu and kickboxing.

— Alex, USA

Answer

Thank you for your kind words.

In the past, having spent 11 years in any martial art was nothing. But nowadays it is quite a long time. If you had a good teacher you would have benefited much.

Your experience in the various martial arts, unfortunately, is common. Good schools and good teachers in any martial arts are hard to find. It is worth every effort to find a good school and a good teacher before starting one' martial art career — a fact most martial artists discovered only after they have spent much time with mediocre teachers.

A good teacher is, of course, instrumental in a student's progress, but if the teacher practices a low-level art, the student's result would not be very good even though he might have practiced well according to his teacher's teaching.

Learning from friends and elders, while beneficial in many ways, is different from learning from a good teacher. Friends are your peers but a teacher is at least one, but usually many levels above you. Friends and elders teach you as a favour, whereas a teacher teaches you professionally. We are of course speaking about genuine teachers, who are rare today, not bogus or incompetent teachers, who are plentiful

Question 2

I picked up the “Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” and have found it to be an irreplaceable asset in my discovery of the beauty of Chinese martial arts, and have been practicing what I can from it due to the nonexistence of any kung fu school within 100 miles of where I am.

I have used your website in conjunction with this book and have achieved a seven-minute Horse-Riding Stance, learned both Shaolin hand attacks and “Lohan Asks the Way” (after learning the technique “Golden Dragon Plays with Water” to replace the book's version of “Beauty Looks in Mirror”) and have polished my kung fu footwork to a flowing grace that, while certainly not nearly as good as many, is much better than which I had learned in karate or taekwondo. I've learned to float those high round kicks that used to only be handled with covering up or ducking.

Answer

Congratulations for achieving good results with my book.

“Yhe Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” serves as a good guide to show what is genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu and what is not. One can use three crucial criteria as yardsticks, namely combat application, internal force and spiritual cultivation.

  1. If one can apply Shaolin kungfu patterns for combat, it is genuine, otherwise it isn't genuine or it has been debased.
  2. If one can apply Shaolin techniques to develop internal force, it is genuine, otherwise it isn't genuine or it has been debased.
  3. If the training can develop him spiritually, it is genuine, otherwise it isn't genuine or it has been debased.

For example, if a practitioner uses Kick-Boxing or any other martial arts for combat, although he may perform Shaolin Kungfu patterns in solo, what he practices is not genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu but debased Shaolin external forms.

If he uses in his force training methods such as lifting weights and skipping over a rope, which were not the methods traditionally used by Shaolin masters in the past, what he practices in not high-level genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu. If he can apply his Shaolin forms for combat, his is still genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu but is external, and has been debased from its former higher level where internal force was a crucial factor.

If he is tensed and brutal, what he practices is not genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu. If he can use his Shaolin forms for combat, his may be traditional Shaolin Kungfu but has been deviated. Genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu is not just for combat, it is more significant for spiritual, but not religious, cultivation. At its lowest level, training in genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu enables a student to be calm and relaxed, even during sparring or fighting. At its highest level, he may have a glimpse of the Original Face, called variously by people of different cultural background as being with God or union with the Supreme.

You would notice that these three indicators are progressive. First of all, the forms he practices must be Shaolin forms. If the forms are not Shaolin, even if he accomplishes the above mentioned results, it is not Shaolin Kungfu.

On the other hand, if he does not achieve the first result mentioned above, i.e. combat efficiency using Shaolin forms, his practice remains as Shaolin forms but not genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu. Combat efficiency is the basic criterion. This is the lowest level of genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu. That of a higher level involves internal force, and of the highest level involves spiritual cultivation.

But even if he practices at the lowest level, so long as his is genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu, he will develop spiritually. At the least he will be relaxed and peaceful. When his attainment is not yet high, he may be tensed or agitated while sparring or in demanding situations, but on the whole he will be relatively more relaxed and peaceful in his daily living than before he started his training.

In practical terms, the three categories of results mentioned above are reversed in their usefulness. How often do we really fight? Combat efficiency is useful, but it is comparatively less useful than having vitality, which results from internal force training, in our daily work and play. Yet the most useful result of genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu training is to be relaxed and peaceful everyday and everywhere.

When you have the mental clarity to see the validity of this philosophy, you will realize how silly it is to punish oneself in his training, physically in free sparring and mentally in becoming aggressive, so that he can damage opponents brutally in fights which seldom occur, or if they ever occur may still land him in trouble if he brutalizes his opponents.

Question 3

Your art is beautiful, and I wish to thank you for authoring such a fine book to bring such a light to my life and to my vision of being a martial artist and a better human being. My questions, however, might seem to be prying, but in light of the wonder that I have indicated your book bringing to me, please do not be offended.

I read that you do not have much regard for Bruce Lee, sir, and before I continue, I must say that I do not think of him as the godlike figure that many of my peers do. He was certainly genius in his own regard, but I have read how he disregarded Tai Chi Chuan and find that to be most puzzling, considering Mastuatsu Oyama of Kyokushin Karate, the most successful style of karate of the 20th century and possibly the most successful style of martial art in its heyday, reinvented his straight-line theories and reworked the footwork and delivery of technique from its linear Shotokan and Goju roots to feature softer, circular techniques that certainly assisted its rise to fame.

Answer

I am glad that, more than the techniques and combat applications, you have grasped and benefited from the philosophy of Shaolin Kungfu, especially when many Shaolin practitioners themselves, including some masters, don't practice the wonderful Shaolin philosophy which they may or may not know. I am certainly not offended by your questions. In fact, I like your asking them sincerely and respectfully.

You are mistaken about my feeling for Bruce Lee. Actually I have great respect for Bruce Lee, though I also disagree greatly with his philosophy and practice. Incidentally, this reflects an important aspect of my Shaolin training, that of non-dualistic thinking.

In deadly combat in the past, a Shaolin master often had much respect for his opponent even when he might have to kill the opponent for some noble reasons, or be killed by him. He would not, for example, stab him behind his back, literally or figuratively, even when he knew missing such an opportunity might render his own life at great risk.

Bruce Lee was great and was a genius. He contributed greatly to the popularity of Chinese martial arts, though the concept as well as the image of Chinese martial arts he conveyed to the world were different from the ones that traditional kungfu masters held. Traditional mungfu masters would not train or fight the way Bruce Lee did.

Bruce Lee's disregarded Tai Chi Chuan and all other kungfu styles because he lacked a deep understanding of them. Like many masters today, Bruce Lee did not believe in the internal force and combat application of kungfu, including Tai Chi Chuan, because he had not personally experienced their practical effectiveness. But unlike some masters today who pretend that they believe, Bruce Lee had the courage to speak out and the perseverance to improve his own art.

Eventually Bruce Lee became a very formidable fighter using non-kungfu techniques and training methods. Genuine kungfu masters themselves might not be a match against him. But this is not the issue. The issue is that Bruce Lee did not practice and teach genuine, traditional kungfu, nor did he say he did. It was mediocre kungfu practitioners who claimed Bruce Lee's Jeet Kwon Do to be kungfu in order to side-step their own incompetence.

Bruce Lee

A picture reproduced from an old kungfu magazine, “Martial Art Hero”, showing Bruce Lee executing a high kick. Both the attack and the defence are not typical kungfu movements. A typical Shaolin counter, for example, would be squatting down to strike the opponent's knee with a leopard punch using the pattern “Angry Leopard Charges at Rock”, or floating the kicking leg with one hand and gripping his groin with the other using the pattern “Bail Moon from Sea Bottom”.

Question 4

I merely wish to point out the error in your belief that Bruce Lee believed in high kicks and “bouncing about.” Though certainly I see the hypocrisy in him trying to teach from movies but featuring such poor technique as a sort of highlight, his belief was not in bouncing around or high kicking, but rather trapping, closing and taking out an opponent in a small, economical maneuver.

His low oblique kicks from French Savate and his ferocious hand techniques from Wing Chun kung fu and Western boxing, all stripped to the barest essentials he envisioned, and delivered in logical manners he found from his experience in European fencing and other arts are rather brutal, simple and direct, and are certainly viable and effective.

Answer

You are again mistaken about my belief. I do know that in his actual fights Bruce Lee used low kicks, and not the flashy high ones he exhibited in his movies, as well as economical hand maneuvers he learned in his Wing Choon days. But his low kicks were also not typical of those in kungfu. His hand movements were probably the closest to kungfu one could find.

Bruce Lee used stances, but not typical kungfu stances. Similarly practitioners of Boxing, Kick-Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo, Wrestling and other martial arts use stances too, but they are typically different from those in kungfu. However, today most martial artists, including masters and including kungfu practitioners, disregard their stances and bounce about in their sparring. This is undoubtedly a world-wide influence from Bruce Lee.

Question 5

His vision was rather extreme in my opinion of the rejection of old ways, but his theories, which proved to be highly effective, and still do as I've seen of my JKD-practicing peers take down many successful members of a local taekwondo school with students going to national tournaments. My belief is that one should learn the classical forms and then move towards their own way of combat. My question is this: What are your thoughts on this, sir?

Answer

There is no doubt about Bruce Lee's combat efficiency, or about the combat effectiveness of Jeet Kwon Do. This is not an issue.

The issue is that he rejected traditional ways before understanding them, and this has led to a further and more rapid degradation of genuine, traditional kungfu. One serious adverse effect is that many people are harming themselves without their own realizing by following training methods that are actually considered taboos in traditional kungfu training. One obvious example is excessive over-conditioning using mechanical means. A less obvious example is a lack of yin-yang harmony.

Your belief of first learning classical forms, then moving to one's own way of combat (which usually results in random fighting without any forms) is actually what many people, including world-known kungfu masters, do nowadays. It is a good example of abundant enthusiasm but little understanding. Although you and the others do not mean it, it is also a great insult to generations of kungfu masters. You tacitly imply that the generations of kungfu masters were fools; they did not know what you know. You also imply that they were liars: they pretended to be combat efficient using their kungfu forms when they weren't.

But more importantly, this perverted view leads to harmful side effects. Physically you and the others harm yourselves in hitting and kicking one another in sparring. Psychologically you become brutal and aggressive. Even more serious is that it contributes to the rapid and ridiculous debasing of genuine, traditional kungfu.

If you want to drive a car to take you to your destination, you don't have to re-invent the wheel. Our present-day car is evolved from the olden day horse-carriage, which in turn was evolved from the hand-cart. The hand-cart did not come from the blues. It traced its long history of evolution to ancient times when men moved heavy objects by placing them on logs which acted like wheels.

In ancient times too people fought randomly, and hurting themselves mutually. It was over many centuries that masters evolved random movements into stylized patterns, then to sequences and sets along side with improving training methods and philosophy. When you learn genuine, traditional kungfu from a genuine master, you inherit this priceless legazy.

Question 6

I was wondering why the “Amitabha Sutra” on page 152 is different from the “Amitabha Sutra” on page 188 in your book, “Sukhavati, Western Paradise, Going to Heaven as Taught by the Buddha”.

— Ahmed, UK

Answer

There are different versions of the Amitabha Sutra as well as different translations of the same version.

On pages 152 to 157 of my book, “Sukhavati”, is my translation of the full version of the Amitabha Sutra, whereas on pages 188 to 191 is a translation of a shorter version. As you can read from the two translations, the main points are the same.

Wushu

A picture of a wushu demonstration reproduced from an old magazine. Wushu is a magnificent art and it demands much dedication to master, but it is different from traditional kungfu. Many people are confused over wushu and kungfu because the word “wushu” means martial art, but the modern Chinese government promotes wushu as a sport.

Question 7

I have read your book “The Art of Shaoiln Kung Fu” and found it quite satisfying. Before that I thought Karate was the one martial art to do. but I ended up practicing Tae Kwon Do. I am the highest belt in my class, but I still humble myself before any martial artist. Then,when I discovered Shaolin Kung Fu, I found that it was my true passion and desire.

— Nicolas, USA

Answer

In my opinion, genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu is the greatest martial art. Please see /shaolin/greatest.html for details. It has all the three treasures — radiant health, combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation — all in one.

It may come as a surprise to many martial artists, but when we examine the martial arts practiced today, most of them do not have even one of the three treasures, though their masters claim or even ignorantly believe otherwise. In other words, what they practice and experience do not match what they say.

Most martial arts practiced today are injurious to health. Their practitioners become unhealthy as a result of their training which bring tension and internal injuriess!

They may be rough fighters, being capable of causing much damage to their opponents, but they cannot effectively defend themselves, as is evident from the fact that sustaining punches and kicks in free sparring is normal in their training.

They are often irritable and aggressive, and many regard spiritual cultivation as effeminate. They have little or no understanding of spiritual wisdom, and little or no experience of spiritual joys.

Many martial artists today would not like to hear these comments, though the comments are made in good faith. Whether they value my comments and review their training methods or call me ugly names is, of course, their choice.

Question 8

I want to study this martial art with the Shaolin monks at the ShaolinTemple. I an 14 now and plan to visit the Shaolin Temple when I am 16 years old. My goal in Kung Fu is to master all of Kung Fu, and I know that it will take a very, very, very, very long time. I ask for your guidance and knowledge.

Answer

As I have mentioned many times in my Question-Answer Series, genuine traditional Kungfu is no longer taught in the Shaolin Temple of China today. What is being taught by modern Shaolin monks in China and overseas is modern wushu. Modern wushu is a magnificent art but it is different from traditional Shaolin Kungfu.

It is not possible as well as unnecessary to master all of kungfu. There are many different styles of kungfu, and Shaolin Kungfu is just one of them. Shaolin Kungfu itself is so wide and deep that it is impossible for anyone to master all of it. If you can master just one aspect of Shaolin Kungfu, or any style of kungfu, it will be sufficient to give you good health, mental clarity and combat efficiency. But first of all, you need to be a good student.

An important condition of becoming a good student is having a sound philosophical knowledge of the art you intend to devote yourself to. If you cannot even tell the difference between modern wushu and traditional kungfu, and are unaware that traditional Shaolin Kungfu is no longer taught in the Shaolin Temple today, you are not going to be a good student of Shaolin Kungfu, though you may, if you are dedicated enough, eventually become a wushu master.

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