SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
MARCH 2010 PART 1

kung fu sparring

Sifu Mark Hartnett sparring with Grandmaster Wong

Question 1

I am very much willing to work for training. I simply want to put as much energy into that training for as much time as possible, and am willing to teach once I achieve relative competence.

I have spent the last few years very much on the spiritual path of distancing myself from materialism and have little attachment to money. So the price of things such as your seminars does not seem high, but will take time in preparation to achieve. I have several thousand dollars saved but would need to gather the rest from scratch, perhaps working temporary jobs since there is no way I could get vacation so quickly in a job I am yet to have.

— Scot, USA

Answer

You have taken some time to save up your money, and you may need it in future for your living. Thus, you should not offer it to me, or to anyone, as payment for courses.

It is also not feasible for you to pay your fee in kind by working for me. Honestly I do not know what work you can do for me as payment for attending my courses, and I do not like the idea of housing and feeding someone who stays around doing nothing except having expressed his desire to learn from me.

I do not teach regular classes nowadays; I only offer intensive courses or regional classes which last only a few days. You need not pay several thousand dollars for an Intensive Chi Kung Course; you pay only 1000 euros plus your own transport, food and accommodation.

Question 2

I would find it of great benefit for myself and my sifu and school to work or labor directly for them or in some other way provide assistance,

Answer

No, it is not to your own best benefit or to the benefit of my school or myself for you to work for us. We believe in and practice cost-efficiency. We would like you to do the job you are best at, and for us we would like to get the best available person for our job.

You are not even a student, yet you want to teach. This clearly shows not only you have no idea of the arts we are teaching, but also you lack the qualities we want in our teachers.

Carrying the Moon

Students performing "Carrying the Moon" during an Intensive Chi Kung Course

Question 3

No great benefit other than finance can come from working for a corporation with many bad influences and ill reputed practices. I feel guilty for making another man rich at so many people's health and expense, but if it needs be, so be it.

Answer

No, it should not be so. You should never work for any boss or corporation with bad influences and ill reputed practices. You should also not make any people, including yourself, rich at the expense of other people's health.

Question 4

Anyhow maybe you have a better picture of me. Perhaps you can tell much more by the general nature of this letter. I am sure you are very knowledgeable, and have secured my trust. It is no difficulty for me to offer the whole of my finances, possessions, time, and devotion as an offering for your influence and instruction. If you have a formal school or are in want of a disciple or whipping boy of any kind I am at your service.

Answer

Indeed, one of the benefits we have derived from practicing our arts is to be able to tell a person's character and ability from what he has written. Obviously you are a good-natured person. But, in my opinion, you are not ready for full-time spiritual cultivation, which your letter indicates you aspire to. But you need not worry about this, as most people, including highly spiritual people, are not ready for full-time spiritual cultivation.

This does not mean that you need not cultivate spiritually. We all should cultivate spiritually. At the same time, we should also cultivate physically, emotionally and mentally.

First of all, you should be clear about what spiritual cultivation is. The term "spiritual cultivation" is actually straight-forward. It means cultivating the spirit, which may be called by different peoples as the soul, the mind, or the consciousness.

One should also note the difference between spiritual cultivation and moral development. One can be highly moral, like being honest and righteous, but still does not believe in the soul. On the other hand, a highly trained person in spiritual cultivation, like a black magician, may be immoral. All great masters have advised that morality should be the basic of spiritual cultivation. It is to his own peril if a person cultivates spiritually but is immoral.

Our school pays great attention to spiritual cultivation, as well as moral development -- right at the start of the training. Our students are abided by the Ten Shaolin Laws , which give excellent practical guidance to high moral living. Right at the start of their training, and often at the start of every lesson, they enter into a chi kung state of mind, also called entering Zen or Tao, which, amongst many other benefits, nurtures their spirit. Some of our students were nervous or depressed before they learned from us. But after some time tbey become calm and peaceful. This is a clear indication of spiritual development.

Besides cultivating our spirit, we also cultivate our physical body, our emotion and our intellect, otherwise not only our cultivation is incomplete, but also it is not cost-efficient. If you are sick or in pain, or have to worry from where your next meal will come, or do not know what you are actually talking about when you talk about spiritual cultivation, then your spiritual cultivation is unlikely to be effective.

When we are not yet ready to renounce all world affairs to cultivate spiritually full time, we realize that money is important, but we are not greedy for it. We realize that money makes it easier for us not only to enjoy the good things in life which in turn will contribute to spiritual cultivation, such as going on a holiday which gives more opportunities for our spirit to expand, but also to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations, such as providing well for our family and if possible helping those less fortunate than us. We also take great care to avoid the bad things money may entice some people to commit, like being arrogant and inconsiderate, and forcing our likes and dislikes upon others.

Three-Circle Stance

Sifu Joan Browne demonstrating the Three-Circle Stance

Question 5

I was very lucky that Sifu Mark Hartnett gave me a private Shaolin Kung Fu lesson before I left Ireland to come here to Korea. It was a most excellent introduction and I am extremely grateful to him for his time and warm teaching.

I did karate for many years, a few other martial arts and finally for the last few years I have been studying Muay Thai.

Now I realize that Shaolin Kung Fu is the way for me. Would it be possible I can study with another master in Korea?

— Sean, Korea

Answer

Whether you could learn from a master in Korea is between you and him. But if you mean whether you can learn from Sifu Mark Hartnett or any of our Shaolin Wahnam instructors after you have learnt from another master, the answer is Yes.

If you realize that Shaolin Kungfu is the way for you and you have benefited much from Sifu Mark Hartnett's teaching, I would recommend that you continue to learn from Sifu Mark Hartnett. If this is not feasible as you are in Korea, I suggest that you attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course , which takes only about a week, and practice on your own in Korea what you have learnt at the course. When you return to Ireland, you can continue learning from Sifu Mark Hartnett.

Question 6

If after doing the dynamic chi kung patterns (without the induced chi flow), one starts feeling chi during the standing meditation should one immediately massage the navel and top of head or is it not necessary?

— Dr Vigas, India

Answer

No, it is not necessary to massage the navel or the top of the head. Just enjoy the chi feeling. If the chi moves you, relax and enjoy the chi flow.

Golden Bridge

Chris, Tom and Michael practicing the "Golden Bridge" at an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course

Question 7

I do Plucking Stars 6 times, Big Windmill 6 times, Carrying the Moon 6 times and Merry-go-Round 4 times for my digestive and muscular spasm problems.

Answer

This is a good procedure for those who learn from my books. After the series of exercises, stand upright and be relaxed. Don't think of anything. When chi moves you, go along with the movement which will gradually move you into a gentle chi flow. Enjoy the chi flow. If the flow is too vigorous, just gently think of slowing down.

If there is no chi flow for that session, it does not matter. Just enjoy the stillness.

After enjoying the stillness or chi flow, or both, for some time, which may range from 2 to 10 minutes or more, come to a graceful stand-still and have a gentle thought that your digestive and muscular spasm problems will disappear, and you will be healthy. Then gently think of your dan tian and complete the exercise.

Question 8

Is it OK for me to practice Three-Circle Stance' or Golden Bridge'?

Answer

Three-Circle Stance and Golden Bridge are powerful exercises to develop internal force, especially for martial art training. They belong to a class of chi kung exercises known as "zhan zhuang" which means stance training, and which focuses on building energy.

As your priority now is to overcome your health problems, these exercises are not suitable for you at present. Your focus should be on another class of chi kung exercise known as "dao yin", which literally means "leading and guiding" but which we figuratively translate as dynamic patterns. Dynamic patterns focus on circulating energy or chi flow.

It is a common mistake among many people, including some advanced practitioners, that building energy is superior to circulating energy, and that one becomes more advanced and powerful in chi kung by building more and more energy. This is not necessarily so. In fact, generally circulating energy is more important than building energy. If a person just builds energy and does not circulate the energy, it can become quite dangerous.

For those who are sick and weak, building a lot of energy, even when they practice the exercises correctly, is usually dangerous. The concept of yin-yang harmony is helpful to understand this. In this context, yin represents the physical body, and yang represents energy. When the physical body is sick or weak, adding more energy to the body aggrevates the yin-yang disharmony.

Some people, due to shallow understand, make this serious mistake. They are physically weak but think, erranously, that by taking energy-rich herbs like ginseng, injecting energy-stimulating drugs, or performing vigorous exercises, they can become strong. This is like putting a big, powerful engine on a small car.

Even for those who are healthy and strong, and are ready to add extra energy to their body, practicing zhan zhuang on their own poses some risks. Paradoxially because zhan zhuang exercises are simple, it is easy to practice them wrongly.

For example, there is only one form in Three-Circle Stance or Golden Bridge. A practitioner has to remain at this one form for a few minutes. If he makes just one mistake, he consolidates this mistake for his whole practice, which can lead to serious adverse effects. On the other hand, if he practices, say, a sequence of Taijiquan patterns, he performs many forms for a few minutes. If he makes one or two mistakes, the adverse effects can be compensated by the other forms he performs correctly.

Moreover, most people who practice zhan zhuang exercises do not know how to circulate energy. Energy, like cash, must be circulated to be ultized. Hence, even if they perform the form correctly, they may not have much benefit. Often they have adverse results. Their energy is not ultized but locked in their body as big muscles, which means their internal organs have to do more work to carry the extra mass. The locked energy also affect them psychologically, making them more easily tensed and agitated.

Of course, this does not mean that zhan zhuang exercises are not useful. In fact, we in Shaolin Wahnam place a lot of emphasis on zhan zhaung. Zhan zhuang exercises are excellent in developing tremendous internal force -- if they are practiced correctly.

Out of genuine concern, we are quite vocal in emphasizing this point. We advice students to learn zhan zhuang from competent teachers. If we spend just a few minutes to examine the kungfu world today, it is obvious that zhan zhuang is little understood and poorly practiced. Alll kungfu masters in the past mentioned that zhan zhuang, or stance training, was very important, but most kungfu students today discard stances. Why? Because those amongst them who practice it did not derive any benefit. They did not practice correctly.

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