December 2007 (Part 3)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Merry Chrismas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Abdominal Breathing

Grandmaster Wong in a deep meditative state of mind while performing Abdominal Breathing in a relaxed and upright position

Question 1

I have just started training in a kung fu style called Hung Kuen 7 months ago. This is both an external and internal style and I am really enjoying it but I would also like to learn a lot about the other aspects of Shaolin. I already have one of your books, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”, and this is what got me so interested in the other aspects of Shaolin. I would like to ask you for your advice on how I can learn more about them and how I can practice them.

— Daniel, UK

Answer

I am glad you enjoy your training. Enjoying what you are doing is one of the best benefits in any training or in life in general.

It is helpful to understand that Hung Kuen or any other kungfu style can be classified into four aspects:

  1. Philosophy.
  2. Forms
  3. Force or Skills
  4. Application

If one practices only forms, which is what most kungfu practitioners today do, he will at best get only one aspect of what he is training. As forms are in many ways the least important aspect, he will get less than 25% of what he could get.

By “forms” I mean kungfu sets. Most kungfu students today learn kungfu sets after kungfu sets, but have no benefits or understanding of the other aspects. When we develop force or skills, apply kungfu for combat or in our daily non-combat situations, or illustrate certain philosopical points, we use forms too. But this is not what I refer to when I list “forms” as one of the four aspects in kungfu training.

You should have a sound philosophy of why you spend time practicing kungfu. If it is just learning kungfu sets for demonstration to please spectators, it is not a wise use of your time. You training should enable you to live your life better. You should, for example, have better health (not sustaining injuries from your training) and be more relaxed (not more tensed).

These benefits are derived from force or skill development. For example, as a result of your kungfu training, you should be faster and more confident in making decisions, and take responsibility for your decisions. Your training method should be conducive to health, not detrimental to it. Striking your fists on sandbags to the point of causing deformity in your hands, for example, is detrimental.

You should be able to apply your kungfu for combat. Unfortunately, most kungfu practitioners today, including some masters, cannot do so. If you use Kick-Boxing or any other martial techniques in combat, even when you can do it well, is not fulfilling this aspect of kungfu training. Kungfu should also be applied to our daily non-combat situations. You should, for example, be more agile in your daily activities.

Therefore, if you understand these four dimensions of kungfu and develop yourself in them, you can derive more benefits from training.

However, due to various reasons many kungfu schools today pay attention to only one dimension, i.e. form. If you school also pays attention to other dimensions, then you are lucky. But if your school happens to pay attention only to form, you can supplement your training by getting help in the other dimensions of philosophy, force training and application from other sources. My book, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”, my website and our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum are some helpful sources. You can, for example, view kungfu combat applications from the many videos in my website.

Question 2

Please give me the addresses of teachers of Choe Family Wing Chun.

— Marek, Poland

Answer

I am sorry I could not give you any addresses of masters of Choe Family Wing because the masters do not wish to be known, and this style of Wing Choon is quite exclusive. In the past I helped to convey invitations from overseas organizations to these masters to teach, but all of them declined.

Question 3

What forms do you teach in Choe Family Wing Chun? I train in Yip Man Wing Chun and Cheng Kwong Wing Chun.

Answer

I do not know about Cheng Kwong Wing Chun, but the forms or kungfu sets of Yip Man Wing Chun are different from those in Choe Family Wing Choon. As far as I know, there are three unarmed sets and two weapon sets in Yip Man Wing Chun.

For unarmed sets, they are

For weapon sets, they are

There are many unarmed sets and weapon sets in Choe Family Wing Choon.

Unarmed sets include

Cham Khiew (Sinking Bridge) and Phiew Ji (Thrusting Fingers) do not exist as separate sets but are incorporated in Siu Lin Tau (Little Beginning).

For the weapon sets there are

But the fundamental philosophies of Choe Family Wing Choon and Yip Man Wing Chun are the same. The arts of Wooden Dummie and of Sticking Hands are also similar.

Shaolin Kung Fu Tiger Tail Kick

The famous Tiger-Tail Kick in the pattern “Lazy Tiger Stretches Body” performed by Grandmaster Wong more than 30 years ago

Question 4

Is it permissible to use the same horse stance for more than one exercise. For example, my horse stance time is up to 45 minutes. I use the first 15 minutes for “Iron Fist”, the second 15 minutes for “Iron Palm”, and the final 15 minutes for Chi Kung breathing exercises. Is this OK, and if not, how should it be done?

— Jantsen, USA

Answer

It is alright to use the Horse-Riding Stance, or any other stance, for more than one exercises provided you are still relaxed on your stance.

In your case, if you are still relaxed on your Horse-Riding Stance, you can practice all the three exercises, namely Iron Fist, Iron Palm and chi kung breathing exercises on it. However, even if you can do this correctly, it may not be the best choice. Iron Fist and Iron Palm are normally practiced on the Horse-Riding Stance, but chi kung exercises are not, unless it is specified that those particular exercises are to be performed on a Horse-Riding Stance.

Take “Lifting the Sky” and Abdominal Breathing for example. They should be performed while standing in an upright, relaxed position, though at an advanced level, Abdominal Breathing may be performed in a Goat Stance. If one performs them in a Horse-Riding Stance, especially if he is a beginner, he is likely to have adverse side effects.

If he is able to perform them correctly in the Horse-Riding Stance, he will not have adverse effects but his benefits are less than if he had performed them in a upright, relaxed position. To get the best benefits any exercise can give, it is only logical to practice it according to the way it has been taught.

Being able to stand in a Horse-Riding Stance for 45 minutes is a remarkable achievement. Many masters may not be able to do that. If you can remain in the Horse-Riding Stance correctly for 45 minutes, you would have developed tremendous internal force, more force than what many Iron Fist, Iron Palm as well chi kung practitioners could have from their practice.

In other words, if you have practiced the Horse-Riding Stance correctly for 45 minutes, you would not need to practice the three exercises you mentioned. Moreover, you would also know from direct experience that you can remain at the Horse-Riding Stance comfortably to perform any other exercises should you want to. You would also feel mentally fresh and bouncing with vitality.

Therefore, it is likely that you are performing your Horse-Riding Stance incorrectly, and this can be dangerous if you do so everyday for 45 minutes. The most common mistake is to tense your muscles to keep remaining at the stance. A tell-tale sign is that you feel blocked and emptied of strength.

If you have such symptoms, you should stop this training and performing “Lifting the Sky” as a remedial exercise. Breathe in gently through your nose and breathe out loudly but in a gentle manner with your mouth wide open. Repeat about 30 times. Then stand upright and be relaxed, thinking of nothing and doing nothing. If the chi sways you, follow the sway. If the movements become vigorous, slow down the movements. As chi clears your blockage, you may feel some pain. This is what we call good pain, which is an indication that your remedial exercise is taking effect on you.

Question 5

My next question deals with my own kung fu practice. I continue my efforts in the ways of kung fu as best I can, but what are some classical kung fu calisthenics that you could suggest? I know the horseriding stance is excellent by far for your thighs, but would I simply rely on pushups, crunches and back-bridges for the rest of my body?

— Astrip, USA

Answer

You may honestly think you are practicing the best you can, but actually you are not. You are wasting a lot of time, and risking yourself to harmful side effects.

This is clearly evident from the fact that despite having read and benefited from my book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, you still ask me for classical kungfu calisthenics, and suggest that the Horse-Riding Stance is merely for the benefit of your thighs!

I teach what I myself practice, and I teach the best — in my courses as well as my books. If you practice faithfully and respectfully what I have described in my book, you would have more benefits in three years than many people would get in ten years in typical kungfu schools today. If you learn from me or any of our certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors, you would get benefits in a year what most people never will in today's typical kungfu schools.

Understandably, many people who have not been exposed to our practical teaching, may call us boastful or accuse us for being liars. That is their business, not ours. But I would like to mention that all our Shaolin Kungfu and Wahnam Taijiquan students who have practiced regularly for a year are relaxed and peaceful, have vitality to enjoy their work and play, and be able to apply their Shaolin or Taijiquan forms for combat — accomplishments which are normal in our school but which many practitioners in typical kungfu schools today will never achieve even though they may practice for their whole life.

Strengthening the thighs is never an objective, not even a minor objective, of the Horse-Riding Stance, though it may occur as a bonus. The Horse-Riding Stance is meant to train energy and mind.

Although I do not know what you mean by “crunches and back-bridges”, I am quite sure that with the increase of energy and mental clarity the Horse-Riding Stance when practiced correctly will give, you will have more and better results than what “pushups, crunches and back-bridges” can give. As a result of your faithful practice of the Horse-Riding Stance, you will, for example, have the energy to work effectively from morning to evening without feeling fatigued, and have the mental clarity to see solutions in problems when earlier you could only ses chaos. These practical benefits are some of the reasons why we in Shaolin Wahanm train our kungfu diligently.

Shaolin Kung Fu Purple Bell

An old photograph showing Sifu Goh Kok Hin, Grandmaster Wong's most senior disciple in Shaolin Wahnam, demonstrating a “reverse-kick” in the pattern “Reverse Kicking of Purple Bell”

Question 6

I've been studying the kicking techniques of Shaolin Wahnam and have found them to be very clever, almost all of them being delivered in the Hung-Gar method of “No-Shadow.”

Answer

The kungfu taught in Shaolin Wahnam comes from two main traditions, one from Uncle Righteousness and the other from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.

Although the kungfu sets are different, the style of kungfu taught in Hoong Ka (Hung-Gar) is similar to the style I learned from Uncle Righteousness as both lineages traced back to the Venerable Chee Seen. Hence, the Hoong Ka “no-shadow kicks” are also found in Shaolin Wahnam.

There are two main types of “no-shadow kicks”, namely “organ-seeking kicks” and “tiger-tail kicks”. Being merciful, the thrust kick, though slower, is often used instead of the “organ-seeking kick”.

There are two types of “tiger-tail kicks”, namely “straight-body tiger-tail kicks” (“ching sun fu mei kheuk”) and “sideway tiger-tail kicks” (“chak sum fu mei kheuk”). The side-kick is a variation of the more-refined sideway tiger-tail kick.

Technically speaking, your statement suggesting that almost all Shaolin Wahnam kicking techniques are similar to Hoong Ka “no-shadow kicks” is incorrect because there is only one “no-shadow kick” in the four kicking techniques specially taught in our Combat Sequences 9 to 12. This is in Combat Sequence 11, “Yellow Oriole Plays with Water”, which introduces the organ-seeking kick. The kicks in the other three combat sequences are the side-kick, the thrust kick and the whirlwind kick.

However, on deeper examination you are right. The thrust kick and the side-kick may be considered no-shadow kicks too. Moreover, a tiger-tail kick is embedded in Combat Sequence 15, which means that of the five explicit kicking techniques in our basic combat sequences, four are no-shadow kicks. I would like to congratulate you for your sharp observation.

But you based your observation on our 16 Basic Combat Sequences , which are practiced at our elementary stage. Please note that the term “elementary stage” is relative. For many people, some of the material we train at this elementary stage is quite advanced.

For convenience, our training programme is divided into three main stages, namely elementary, intermediate and advanced.

The elementary stage is the most important; it lays the foundation for future kungfu development. It is divided into 12 levels and it includes besides the 16 combat sequences weapons like the staff and the saber.

At the intermediate stage, our students choose one of a few specialized sets, like “Shaolin Five Animals”, “Tiger-Dragon”, “Tiger-Crane{, “Monkey Set” and “Pakua Set”. At the advanced level, our students master a specialized art, like “Qin-Na”, “Dim Mark” and “Cosmos Palm”.

While four out of the five kicking techniques we explicitly teach at our elementary level are no-shadow kicks, there are many other types of kicks in Shaolin Wahnam. Some examples of these other kicks, with the name of a pattern that can implement the kick given in brackets, are “embracing-dragon kicks” (Golden Cockerel Stands Solitarily), “toe-showing kicks” (Little Bird Shows Toes), “reverse-horse kicks” (Dragon Fly Dots Water), “clutch-kicks” (Little Bird Goes up Trellis), “step-kicks” (White Crane Steps on Snow), “shovel-kicks” (Poisonous Snake Emerges from Pit), “reverse-kicks” (Reverse Kicking of Purple Bell), “testing-kicks” (Naughty Monkey Tests Cave) and “gold coin kicks” (Golden Coin Spinning on Floor). Perhaps those who attack me for saying that there are more kicks in Shaolin Kungfu than in all the other martial arts combined, may now have a better idea of my statement.

To make the topic more interesting — or frustrating for the uninitiated — even in our 16 basic combat sequences, there are other leg techniques besides the four no-shadow kicks. These leg techniques are embedded, not explicitly taught. Shaolin Wahnam students may have some fun attempting to find them. They can be found in patterns like “Fell Tree with Roots” and “Lead Horse Back to Stable”.

Yet, at even deeper levels, your suggestion that many Shaolin Wahnam kicks (and other leg techniques) are delivered in the “no-shadow” manner is correct when we use the term “no-shadow” to refer to skills, which is actually the case, instead of to techniques. All the kicks are executed so fast and in such an inconspicuous manner as if they did not cast any shadows.

Therefore, the answer to whether almost all Shaolin Wahnam kicks are no-shadow kicks ranges from no to yes, back to no and then to yes again. Our kicks are even cleverer than what you think they are. It is one of the many reasons why we in Shaolin Wahnam find our kungfu training so fascinating.

Shaolin Kung Fu Purple Bell

As Grandmaster Wong moves in to attack, Sifu Goh Kok Hin drops to the ground to avoid the attack and simultaneously counters with “Reverse Kicking of Purple Bell”. Many people would be hit by such a surprised counter, but thanks to his long years of training, Grandmaster Wong manages to escape the kick just in time with his agile body-movement and footwork.

Question 7

A technique I found in sparring against local martial artists against a high roundhouse/whirlwind kick is to deliver a reverse roundhouse (a so-called “hook kick”) against the chest to drop them. Is this a technique in kung fu? If so, what is it called and what styles use it?

Answer

The reverse roundhouse or hook kick is, of course, a kungfu kicking technique. Otherwise I would not have made the statement that all the kicks in Taekwondo, Muay Thai and other martial arts are also found in Shaolin Kungfu. It is called a reverse-hanging kick, and can be found in such styles like Hoong Ka, Choy Ka, Mok Ka, Choy-Li-Fatt, Lohan, Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw, Huaquan, Hungquan and Chaquan.

But it is not used the way you have described. Your application is not only slow but also unwise as you unnecessarily expose your back to your opponent. If you found it effective against your opponents in your sparring, it was because your opponents were not of a high level in combat efficiency.

On the other hand, many people could not counter roundhouse kicks simply because they did not know how to. They merely moved back, which gave the initiative to the opponents to continue attacking. If you could stop them, even when your counter was of a low level, you might think of yourself to be very clever. Indeed, this same scenario applies to many different situations where different techniques are involved.

Let us examine a typical combat situation where you may use your reverse-round house as you have described. You and your opponent are facing each other. You face north and he faces south. He has his left leg in front, and you have your right leg in front. When he executes a right roundhouse kick, his right kicking leg moves 180 degrees in an anti-clockwise semi-circle from north to south. Suppose he takes 4 seconds to complete the kick.

When you counter with a left reverse-roundhouse, your left leg also moves in an anti-clockwise semi-circle but from south to north. If both of you have the same speed, your counter will also takes 4 seconds to reach him. Hence, both of you will be hurt.

But actually you will be able to stop him before his kick can reach you because he needs more time to prepare his attack than you need to prepare your counter. He needs to shift his body slightly backward to gather momentum, then shift his body forward again for balance to execute his kick. If this takes 2 seconds, his kick will need 6 seconds to reach you.

You need only to turn your body to execute your reverse-roundhouse. If you take 1 second for this preparation, your counter will reach him in 5 seconds. Therefore, if you can correctly read his signal when he shifts his body to prepare for his roundhouse, you can stop him a second before his kick reaches you.

But if he is more skillful and can execute a roundhouse in 3 seconds instead of 4, and needs 1 second instead of 2 to prepare for the kick, his kick will reach you in 4 seconds, whereas you need 5 seconds to reach him. So he will still strike you even when you have a right counter-technique.

If he is very skillful, like Bruce Lee, his preparation time is almost nil and gives no signal, and he may reach you in just 1 second. Hence, before you realize what has happened, you would be struck down by his kick even when you theoretically know how to counter. Here, it is not a question of techniques, but skills.

So to make a discussion of techniques meaningful, we have to presume that both combatants are of similar skill levels.

If your opponent is more knowledgeable in techniques, even when he is of the same skill level as you, your reverse-roundhouse will be unwise. There are many ways he can exploit your unfavorable position with your back turned to him as you apply your reverse-roundhouse. Here are two examples.

As your reverse-roundhouse is on its way with your back toward him, he drops his right kicking leg diagonally in front, roughly at south-west, and uses his left leg to kick you. He may use a left-round house or a left thrust kick His kick will reach you but yours will not reach him because he has moved away from his initial position. Alternatively, he may strike your back with his left palm, which may cause serious injury if he has internal force.

With your back towards him and your one leg in the air, it is ddifficult for you to defend against his changed attack. In kungfu terms, you hand him your own defeat by creating your own weakness.

Instead of using the unwise reverse-roundhouse, there are many effective counters against the roundhouse. As his roundhouse is coming in a semi-circle from north to south, you move your front right leg diagonally forward to north-east and execute a left thrust kick at him. You will need about 2 or 3 seconds. Hence your kick will reach him when his kick is just half-way through.

Instead of kicking him, you can drive a leopard punch into him at about the same time you move diagonally forward to north-east. This will take only 1 second, or at the most 2.

Even if he is more skillful and is about twice faster than you, which means he can execute the roundhouse in 3 seconds instead of 6, you will still kick him but his kick will not reach you. At the third second his roundhouse will reach the spot where you initially were, but you have moved away and your kick will reach him at about the same time. If you use the leopard punch, you will strike him when his kick is still continuing its journey.

Even if he is very skillful, and can execute a roundhouse kick in just 1 second, which is 6 times faster, you still will not be hurt. After the first second, his roundhouse will arrive at the spot where you initially were, but you have moved away. If you can execute a thrust kick within the next second, you may hit him as he attempts to recover his poise after the roundhouse kick. If you execute a leopard punch at the same time you move diagonally forward, you will strike him when his kick is just completed. Hence, by using good techniques, you can defeat an opponent who is skillfully faster.

The high roundhouse and the reverse-roundhouse, which are called “hanging kick” and “reverse-hanging kick”, are technically slow because the kicking leg has to cover much space before it reaches its target. It also needs more time to recover after a kick.

But there are occasions when these kicks are favorable. Suppose your opponent thrusts at your face with a sword. You can lead back to avoid the sword-thrust and simultaneously kick at his hand holding the sword with a hanging-kick to disarm him. This is preferable to using your hands. As you reach out for his sword-holding hand, he may slice your hands with his sword. But you have farther reach with your kick.

Now your opponent is standing behind you. As he moves forward to attack your back, you lean forward to avoid the attack and simultaneously execute a reverse-hanging kick at his ribs or head. Interestingly, your reverse-hanging kick here is technically faster than other techniques where you have to turn around to face your opponent.

Question 8

I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the United States, and as far as I know, the only good kung fu school is in Oklahoma. I wish to know, sir, if you knew of any closer, or of any qualified teachers in my area or some way I could find them.

Answer

We have three certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors in the United States. They are:

LINKS

Overview of the Questions-Answers Series

Selected Reading

Courses and Classes