November 2008 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Sifu Wong

Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan were originally practiced for spiritual cultivation. Here Grandmaster Wong demonstrates a pattern called “White Crane Flaps Wings”, which is found in both Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, in front of the Guan Yin Temple of the Shaolin Wahnam Centre on the Blue Mountain

Question 1

It is an honor to even speak to you sir. I am an aspiring martial artist. I am 15 years old and have been interested in the arts since childhood.

— Davon, USA

Answer

An ideal martial artist is one who is very combat efficient, yet he is very gentle and healthy. He is courageous and righteous, and has mental clarity and cosmic wisdom.

Unfortunately, many of today's martial artists are the opposite. They are rough and tough rather than gentle, and, suprising it may be to many people, they are not combat inefficient. Had they been combat efficient, they would not have routine injuries in their sparing. These injuries as well as the stoic nature of their training make them unhealthy. They are often fool-hardy rather than courageous, and have little or no cosmic wisdom which comes from the mind and spirit. Some may even regard spiritual cultivation effeminate.

Certainly I do not mean to discourage you to become a martial artist. But I would like to state the truth. I would like aspiring martial artists like you to differentiate between idealism and reality so that you will have a better chance of approaching the ideal.

Why have martial arts today deviated so much from the ideal? There are a few reasons.

The ideal that I have described above does not apply to many martial arts. If you practice Karate, Taekwondo, Western Boxing, Kick-Boxing, Muay Thai or Wrestling, for example, the nature of the art is such that you just cannot be gentle and combat efficient at the same time. If you want to be combat efficient, you have to be hard and tough.

These arts by themselves do not contribute to spiritual cultivation and cosmic wisdom. If some of their practitioners are highly spiritual and have cosmic wisdom, which in reality is the case, it is due to other factors and not due to their practiceing these arts. This is because these arts only cultivate the physical body and have no special provisions to cultivate the mind and spirit.

I am sorry if I appear to be running down these arts. This is not my intention. I only point out the truth. It was also not the original philosophy and aim of these arts to cultivate spiritually. Karate and Taekwondo, for example, were practiced by tough warriors so that they could kill their enemies effectively. Western Boxing and Muay Thai were practiced by professional ring fighters so that they could win money in competitions. They did not aim for mind expansion or spiritual development.

These views are mine, and of course others may disagree. To have a balanced picture, you should consult masters of these other arts.

In my opinion, genuine Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan are the two martial arts that can enable you to attain the ideal I have described. A Shaolin or Taijiquan exponent can be powerful and at the same time gentle because he uses internal force. In fact, if he is not gentle and relaxed, his force would be minimized! A martial artist who has no internal force training would be unable to be powerful and gentle at the same time. He has to tense his muscles to be powerful. Once he tenses his muscles, he is no longer gentle and relaxed.

Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan were originally practiced by Buddhist monks and Taoist priests not to kill others or to win competition money, but for spiritual cultivation. Attaining Zen and attaining Tao were two crucial aspects of Shaolin and Taijiquan training. In the process of attaining Zen or Tao, cosmic wisdom was realized.

Other styles of internal kungfu may enable you to have internal force, and therefore be powerful and gentle at the same time. But unlike Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, these other internal martial arts did not start with the aim of spiritual cultivation to attain Zen or Tao.

These other internal martial arts had meditation as an integral part of their training, but it was aimed at combat efficiency rather than spiritual cultivation. Their practitioners might acquire some cosmic wisdom as a bonus, but their result was nothing like that of Shaolin or Taijiquan masters. For example, great Shaolin and Taijiquan masters talked about the Cosmos, other realms of existence, and transformation of energy and matter, whereas other internal art masters only talked about good health and combat efficiency.

Hence, if your concept of an ideal martial artist is one who is not only powerful yet gentle, but also cultivates spiritually and has cosmic wisdom, you can attain this ideal if you practice genuine Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan. But if your ideal is different, for example, if your ideal martial artist is one who is strong and muscular and can break opponents' bones easily, or one who wins a lot of applaude and trophies in competitions, then practicing the other martial arts may serve your purpose better.

Then, why most of the Shaolin and Taijiquan practitioners today do not even come close to the ideal? This is because Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan have been debased badly. Most Shaolin and Taijiquan practitioners today know little or nothing about internal force and attaining Zen or Tao. They follow external methods like hitting punch-bags, lifting weights and doing push-ups in their training.

Why have Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan deviated so badly? One main reason is that high-level masters of genuine Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan are very, very rare today. Among the Shaolin and Taijiquan masters today, many use muscular strength instead of internal force, and very rarely do they teach attaining Zen or Tao.

Question 2

Just recently I came across your book, ”The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”. Well, it's incredible. Without a doubt it is the best martial arts book I've ever read.

Answer

Thank you for your kind words. Some people refer to “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” as the bible of Shaolin Kungfu.

You should also read my other Shaolin book, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”. It provides descriptions of other Shaolin arts not so commonly known, like traumatology, sutra chanting and meditation.

Question 3

I practice these forms and other techniques from the book daily. And I'd like toknow more. But the problem is there are no kung-fu schools near here. What do I do? I still practice myself, but is it all in vain without a teacher? How could I improve my practice experience?

Answer

Even if there are Shaolin Kungfu teachers in your area, unless they are certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors, it is most unlikely that what you learn from them is vastly different from what I have desrribed in my Shaolin books. For example, they are unlikely to teach you internal force, or to use Shaolin patterns for combat.

Unless you already have some kungfu experience, it is not easy to practice Shaolin Kungfu from a book. You should try to learn from a Certified Shaolin Wahnam instructor .

If it is not feasible for you to learn from a living Shaolin Wahnam instructor, then learn as best as you can from my books as well as the videos I have provided on my website. When you are ready, attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course .

Spiritual cultivation is an essential part of our training right from the very beginning to the most advanced. Spiritual cultivation is non-religions, but it makes a person more devoted to his own chosen religion if he already has one becuae it enables him to directly experience some of the most important teachings in his own religion. One sure and rewarding way you can cultivate spiritually is to spend some quality time with your parents, and be kind to them.

Shaolin Kung Fu

If you wish to practice the version of Shaolin Kungfu described in Grandmaster Wong's book, "The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu", you have to learn it from Shaolin Wahanm, as other Shaolin masters are unlikely to teach you internal force and applying Shaolin patterns in combat like what is shown in the picture above

Question 4

It has come to my attention that I have to stop my Chi Kung training. You see, I had a whole day to think about my training, and then I pondered the question on what chi felt like. I suddenly realized that I didn't in fact know.

— Nicholas, Belgium

Answer

What you intend to do is of course your choice. But the following advice will be helpful.

One knows what chi feel like from direct experience, not from pondering over it. No matter how long or well you ponder, you still will not know what chi feel like. You can experience chi by practicing genuine chi kung.

As an analogy, you know what an orange taste like from direct experience, not by thinking about it. You can taste an orange by eating an orange.

It is unwise to spend a whole day pondering over your training. Just train, don't think. This does not mean that thinking or intellectualizing is not useful, but it should not be done while you are practicing chi kung.

And before you practice chi kung, make sure it is chi kung and not some gentle, physical exercise. This is a mistake many people make. They practice gentle, physical exercise although they think they practice chi kung. The forms are the same; it is the way how they perform the forms that is different.

A good way to tell whether you are practicing chi kung or physical exercise is to see whether you experience chi. Practicing chi kung enables you to experience chi, practicing physical exercise doesn't.

Different types of chi kung enable you to experience chi in different ways. If you practice low-level chi kung, you may need a long time before you can have some chi experience. It will take months, even years. Practicing high-level chi kung can enable you to have chi experiences much faster. If you learn form any of our certified instructors, you can experience chi within a few weeks, or even days.

In your case, you did not have any chi experience because of one of the following reasons:

  1. You only practiced physical exercise.
  2. You practiced low-level chi kung, and your time of practice is not yet sufficient to experience chi.
  3. You practiced incorrectly.

Question 5

Then I remembered what Sifu Wong said, “People can go through their whole life without knowing what chi feel like.” I don't want to be one of those people.

So I looked for whatever I could find in the books that Sifu Wong wrote and all I could find was what Sifu Wong's master said to him. “To reach the heights of kung fu, you must reach the heights of chi kung; to reach the heights of chi kung you must meditate.”

And so, my decision is to meditate for two years every day for ten minutes. This saddens me, but it is what I think for the best of my training.

Answer

You made some wrong conclusions from the advice of my Sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. Moreover, what you quoted was not exactly what my Sifu said, nor what I wrote. There is some crucial difference.

This was what my Sifu advised:

“If you want to soar to the heights and reach the depth of kungfu, you must practise Chi Kung; if you want to soar to the heights and reach the depth of Chi Kung, you must practise meditation.”

Can you see the crucial difference? What my Sifu said was that practicing chi kung would help a kungfu practitioner reach the heights of kungfu, but he does not have to be at the height of his chi kung to do so. In other words, as long as he practices chi kung, even if his chi kung is not yet at its height, his kungfu would reach its height.

What you said was that a kungfu practitioner must reach the height of chi kung in order to reach the height of kungfu. In other words, if his chi kung is not at its height, his kungfu cannot reach its height.

More seriously, you are confused over the developmental stage of the practitioners to whom the advice applies. My Sifu's advice applies to those who are already advanced in their kungfu and chi kung training, or at least at an intermediate level, who wish to reach the highest level.

You are at the beginners' level. Not only the advice does not apply to you, it may be dangerous for you to follow it if you are not ready. As an analogy the advice for advanced drivers to reach the highest speed is to move to the highest gear and pick up in the shortest time. But if you are a beginning driver, doing so can be dangerous.

As you are at the beginning stage of chi kung, not only it is unnecessary but it may also be harmful to meditate every day for two years before practicing chi kung. While meditation will help an experienced chi kung practitioner to reach the height of chi kung, it is not necessary for a beginning student to practice formal meditation in order to benefit from chi kung training. If you do not learn from a competent teacher, you are more likely to make mistakes in meditation than in chi kung, and the harmful side-effects are more damaging.

: Nicholas replied as follows:

When I typed that email I was being immature. I beg your forgiveness in my foolishness. There was no excuse for misquoting you and your master, and for that I feel unworthy to talk to you. But I have changed long before I got your message. I started researching into the subject. I can say right now that I know what chi feels like.

Grandmaster Wong responded as follows:

It was kind of you to apologize though it was not necessary because I was never angry at you and I never thought you were disrespectful. Anyway it was thoughtful of you.

Practicing genuine chi kung is one of the best things anyone can ever do for himself as it will bring him many wonderful benefits. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact me or any of our certified instructors, though it may take me some time to reply.

Question 6

Could you give me some information about Fong Sai Yuk? What style of kungfu he learned, why he was famous, and how he died?

— Jefferson, Netherland

Answer

Fong Sai Yoke was one of the ten great disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen, the First Patriarch of Southern Shaolin Kungfu. His style was of course Souther Shaolin which he learned at the secret southern Shaolin Temple on the Nine Lotus Mountain in Fujian Province of China. His specialized in the Shaolin Fower Set, and his specialty was the Organ-Seeking Kick.

Fong Sai Yoke became famous when he killed a kungfu master named Looi Tai Pang, who was nick-named Tiger Looi. Tiger Looi set up a “Plume Flower Formation” in Guangzhou (Canton) to challenge any kungfu masters to fight with him. This “Plume Flower Formation” was made by poles driven into the ground in a pattern of plume flowers, and combatants would fight on top of the poles.

On both sides of the Formation was hung a poetic couplet to insult the martial art circles of Guangdong Province and the cities of SuZhou and Hangzhou as follows, “khun ta kong tung yeit shang; kuoik thet su hong leong chow” (in Cantonese), which means “Fist to wack the whole of Guangdong Province, Kick to sweep the cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou”. But Tiger Looi was such a formidable fighter than no one could match him. Many were injured and some were killed by Tiger Looi in the challenges.

Fong Sai Yoke's father, Fong Tuck, knew that his son would take up the challenge. To avoid trouble, he locked his son up in a room, but Fong Sai Yoke broke loose and fought with Tiger Looi. Although Tiger Looi was hugh and muscular, he was killed by Fong Sai Yoke with a strike on the solar plexus using the pattern “Black Tiger Steals Heart”. Fong Sai Yoke was only 15 years old at that time. He instantly became famous.

Tiger Looi's wife was Li Siu Wan, the daughter of Li Pa San, who was the First Patriach of Li Family Kungfu. Li Siu Wan challenged Fong Sai Yoke to an open duel. Although Li Siu Wan was an elegant lady, she defeated Fong Sai Yoke using “chiun sam thoui”, or “through-the-heart-kick”.

Fong Sai Yoke could have been killed had his mother, Miew Chooi Fa, not insisted that he wore a “protection mirror” on his chest. The protection mirror, which was made from strong but light metal, was badly damaged by a kick from an elegant lady, and Fong Sai Yoke despite the protection was internally injured.

Miew Chooi Fa, who was also one of the ten great disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen, challenged Li Siu Wan, and defeated her with a No-Shadow Kick. Then Li Siu Wan's father, Li Pa San, challneged Miew Chooi Fa.

In kungfu herarchy, Li Pak San and Miew Chooi Fa were “kungfu cousins”, because Li Pak San's teacher, Pa Mei, and Miew Chooi Fa's teacher, Chee Seen, were “kungfu brothers”. But Li Pa San was much older, about the age of Miew Chooi Fa's father, and his kungfu ability was also much higher. Miew Chooi Fa would be no match against Li Pa San, and could be killed should the challenge go on.

This series of challenges and counter-challenges could go on and on. Happily, the famous Shaolin nun, the Venerable Ng Mooi, who was highly respected in kungfu circles and who was also the best fighter at the time, stepped in to stop the continual fightings. Ng Mooi was the senior kungfu sister of Pak Mei, therefore was the Sikujei of Li Pa San. Faced with the possibility of having to meet Ng Mooi in a duel where he knew fully well he would be easily defeated, Li Pa San wisely withdrew his challenge to Miew Chooi Fa.

As a punishment for Fong Sai Yoke, Ng Mooi took him away to be “imprisoned” in her temple for three years where he had to meditate and repent. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him as he had a rare opportunity to be couched by Ng Mooi in his kungfu training.

Years later in a separate development, Pak Mei led the Qing army to burn the secret sothern Shaolin Temple at the Nine Lotus Mountain. The Abbot, Chee Seen, who was Fong Sai Yoke's kungfu teacher, was killed by Pak Mei. Fong Sai Yoke sought out Pak Mei in a duel hoping to avenge his teacher's death, but he too was killed.

It is illuminating to note that in genuine kungfu, age, size and gender do not matter in combat. Tiger Looi was huge, and Fong Sai Yoke was small-sized and only 15, yet Fong Sai Yoke killed the Tiger with a single punch!

This tiger-killer was badly injured despite wearing a hidden armour from a kick by an elegant lady, Li Siu Wan. Yet, Miew Chooi Fa who defeated Li Siu Wan was no match against Li Pa San, a man her father's age. But the best fighter of all, one whom the First Patriarch of a kungfu style would choose not to face, was an elderly nun.

Spiral Force

Grandmaster Wong demonstrates an application of spiral force in a Wahnam Taijiquan pattern called "Green Dragon Shoots Pearl"

Question 7

And what is your opinion about the Taijiquan master Chen Fa Ke?

Answer

Chen Fa Ke (please note that “Ke” is pronounced like “Ker” and not like “Ki”) was a great Taijiquan master, one of the last who applied Taijiquan effectively for combat. He also had high moral values, and he made friends rather than enemies from the other kungfu masters who challenged him.

It is a real pity that his legacy is not carried on. Today, Chen Style Taijiquan as well as Taijiquan of other styles are practiced as an external, demonstrative art rather than an internal, martial art.

Question 8

“He eventually reached a very high level of skill where his hunyuan nei qi was strong but also xuling, his silk reeling energy was both strong and soft, and his push-hands was also cu shen ru hua”.

What does “hunyuan nei qi,” “xuling”, and “cu shen ru hua mean”?

Answer

“Hunyuan nei qi” means “Cosmos internal energy”. It is internal force developed from tapping energy from the Cosmos.

Word for word, “cu shen ru hua” means “emerge-spirit-enter-neutralize”, which does not make much sense to those who do not understand Chinese. But collectively the expression “cu shen ru hua” means "marvelous.

The meaning of “xuling” cannot be as easily seen form its context. “Xuling” is composed of two words spelt in Romanized Chinese as “xu” and “ling”. But the spellings “xu” and “ling” can refer to many different words when writtern in Chinese characters with vastly different meanings. From the context, the best interpretation would be “simple” for “xu”, and “effective” for “ling”.

Why is it that “hunyuan nei qi” and “cu shen ru hua” can be easily translated, whereas “xuling” cannot be? It is because the first two are established terms in kungfu culture, whereas the last is not. As a rough anaolgy, if we say “internal force”, those who frequently read our literature would have no difficulty to understand what we mean. But if we say “inside strength”, many readers would have difficulty.

The term “silk reeling energy” mentioned in your quotation is translated from the Chinese term “zhan xi jing”. It is sometimes translated as “cocoon force”. Although these two terms have been commonly used in Western Taijiquan literature, personally I find they are bad translations, as they give a misleading idea of the terms. A more helpful translation is “spirial force”. When a Taijiquan exponent punches, for example, he does not merely push out his fist. He thrusts it out in a spiral manner, like the movement of a screw, resulting in spiral force.

Chen Fa Ke had tremendous internal force. He internal force was developed from tapping energy from the Cosmos, probably at stance training in a meditative state of mind. His internal force was powerful, simple and effective. When he struck, his internal force spiralled out from his dan tian into his opponent. He was powerful and relaxed at the same time. His Pushing-Hands ability was marvelous. For example, you might think that you had pushed him to fall over, but you found yourself sprawling on the floor instead, and without knowing what had happened!

It is worthy of note that the philosophy, training methods and application of Chen Fa Ke's Taijiquan were similar to what we do in Shaolin Wahnam.

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