SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JULY 2014 PART 1
I have been reflecting on some of the key innovations you have introduced, or 'essences' you have re-introduced, as part of your path in keeping the Shaolin Arts alive:
- the fundamental importance of chi flow in all of the arts
- the understanding of the difference between techniques, skills and outcomes (and how to teach and apply that understanding)
- how to teach people to develop the skill of chi flow to achieve reliable outcomes at the level of illness, good health, vitality, clarity of mind and spiritual development
- the importance of chi flow in developing internal force
- how internal force can be developed through both the flow and force methods or a combination of the two
- how the skills of chi flow and internal force can be used across all aspects of life
- the importance of having students understand and apply their kung fu forms as combat applications from the beginning of their training
- you also have talked about your own 'enlightenment' in combat application you were able to see how to use sets (like Wuzuquan) for combat where you had previously found it "inadequate for combat".
Are there any other areas that you would consider key in keeping the essence of the Shaolin Arts alive and could you make any comments on how you became 'enlightened' to each of these areas.
Also, I understand you developed the first 12 combat sequences in the 1980's when teaching in Malaysia. When you began to teach internationally, in 1990, you developed the new 20 combat sequences. Where does your development of the Lohan Asks The Way set fit into this history?
— Sifu Barry Smale, UK
Your reflections are both interesting and important. I shall comment on each of the innovations you have mentioned, paying attention to their being key in keeping the essence of the Shaolin arts alive and explaining how I became “enlightened” on each of them, before answering your subsequent questions.
- The fundamental importance of chi flow in all of the arts.
As Tim (Sifu Tim Franklin of UK) mentioned in a private communication with me, chi flow is the hallmark of our school. A few hundreds years from now, as Tim commented, when people point to our school, they will point to our chi flow.
Chi flow is the essence that helps people overcome pain and illness, including so-called incurable diseases. Chi flow is the essence that gives us good health, vitality and longevity. Chi flow is the essence that gives us mental clarity and spiritual joys. Chi flow is the essence that enables us to have internal force in a ridiculously short time.
It is pertinent to note that I did not discover chi flow. Chi flow has been present for thousands of years. I discovered that it is chi flow and not the relevant techniques that gives practitioners benefits. In the same way, it is cash flow, not the jobs people do that gives them economic benefits.
The process of the discovery on chi flow was gradual, spread over many years. When I practiced chi kung and kungfu in the past, I had chi flow, but like most other practitioners I did not realize it. Hence, it took me more than 10 or 20 years to attain the benefits my practice was meant to give, whereas our students would take only1 or 2 years!
When I first taught chi kung to the public in the 1980s, some of my early students had visible chi flow movements after 4 to 6 months. As these students also had good results compared to those who did not have visible chi flow movements, I encouraged my students to have more chi flow gradually. My teaching was supported and guided by my study of chi kung classics.
But the realization or "enlightenment" that it was chi flow and not the techniques that gives benefits was sudden. It came as an “aha” experience. It happened just a few years ago, sometimes in 2009 or 2010, and I wasted no time to pass on the discovery to our students.
- The understanding of the difference between techniques, skills and outcomes (and how to teach and apply that understanding)
Like my realization of chi flow, my understanding of the difference between techniques, skills and outcomes (or results, or benefits) came about gradually. This understanding was before the chi flow realization.
This understanding and its application in my teaching are a key in keeping the Shaolin arts alive, for without this key, it would be difficult as well as it would take a long time for practitioners to derive benefits from their practice. Without benefits the arts will be eliminated as a matter of course, or at best they will only maintain their outward forms as it already has been for both Shaolin Kungfu and chi kung.
I came to this understanding when comparing the Shaolin arts practiced in our school with the Shaolin arts practiced in other schools. In most other schools, practitioners practice the same forms or techniques as we do, but they do not derive the outcomes or benefits. Shaolin kungfu practitioners of other schools are unable to use their kungfu techniques for combat. Chi kung practitioners of other schools do not overcome illness and have good health.
I asked myself, “Why can’t other Shaolin kungfu practitioners use their techniques for combat, and why don’t other chi kung practitioners overcome illness and have good health?” These are benefits these arts will give and the practitioners have the right techniques. Then it dawned on me these practitioners lack skills.
This awareness first occurred in chi kung. I found that other practitioners did not have chi flow. This led me to the next discovery that they did not have chi flow because they did not enter into a chi kung state of mind. I recalled my sifu told me that if I had irrelevant thoughts or if I was not relaxed, I might as well not practice because my practice would not bring benefits.
I then realized that being relaxed and free from irrelevant thoughts were the basic conditions for entering into a chi kung state of mind. It struck me that these were skills, not techniques. It led to the realization that even when practitioners performed techniques correctly but lacked skills, they would not be practicing chi kung. They only practiced the chi kung techniques as gentle physical exercise, just like Taiji practitioners perform external Taiji forms as a dance.
I also recalled reading a classic saying that mind was the most important aspect of chi kung. Some masters, the classic continued, even called chi kung, which was energy-cultivation, "shen kung", which means "spiritual cultivation".
- How to teach people to develop the skill of chi kung to achieve reliable outcomes at the level of illness, good health, vitality, clarity of mind and spiritual development
Why do we practice an art, any art? It is because we want to enjoy its benefits.
One practices Shaolin Kungfu so that he can use Shaolin Kungfu for combat. One practices chi kung so that he can overcome illness and enjoy good health. They do not practice kungfu or chi kung just to know their techniques.
But it is shocking that most kungfu and chi kung practitioners today do not realize this important point. They have spent years practicing kungfu but cannot apply kungfu for combat. They have spent years practicing chi kung, but are still sick and unhealthy.
To keep the Shaolin arts alive, it is key to realize this point and help students overcome illness, attain good health, vitality, mental clarity and spiritual development, otherwise the Shaolin arts will be debased into mere external forms.
My theoretical understanding of chi flow and of the difference between techniques and skills contribute greatly to the practical achievement of these benefits. Indeed, we have become so cost-effective that people outside our school find it hard to believe us.
But the theoretical understanding as well as practical achievement underwent a gradual progress of many years. I went through the orthodox way in my own training. The orthodox way is that kungfu and chi kung practitioners take 10 or 20 years to attain good results, and that only a small proportion of practitioners succeed.
Ours is the smart way. Our students take only a tenth of the orthodox time to attain good results, and a very high proportion of our students succeed.
One important reason contributing to our cost-effectiveness is that I teach more than a hundred classes a year. Even if I make only an improvement after every 10 classes, there are a lot of improvements in one year. Most other masters teach only two or three classes a year.
- The importance of chi flow in developing internal force
This is relatively a later realization, after my realization of chi flow being the factor that brings benefits, and of the difference between skills and techniques.
This realization becomes a key innovation in my teaching to keep the Shaolin arts alive. Despite training form many years, many masters do not have internal force. But all our students, regardless of whether they learn chi kung or kungfu from us, experience internal force and derive many benefits from it.
Like most concepts in Eastern philosophy, its realization follows experience, and not the other way round. In other words, it was having seen our students develop internal force quite fast that I realized this was due to their knowing chi flow. It was not that first I thought chi flow was necessary for internal force, then I justified my hypothesis by observing our students develop internal force.
This realization and application in internal force training is a key innovation in keeping the Shaolin arts alive. Its effectiveness was best seen in my teaching of Iron Wire courses. Experience showed that using the flow method, which emphasized chi flow, produce more force and in a faster manner than the orthodox method of consolidating force.
The process happened gradually in my early years of training, but the "enlightenment" came about quite suddenly on reflection. After practicing One-Finger Shooting Zen for some time, people started complaining about my internal force which I myself was unaware of initially.
It was on hindsight that I realized the importance of chi flow in developing internal force. This realization was confirmed when students first learned chi kung from me, and then they learned kungfu. Without special force training, they became quite powerful in their internal force.
- How internal force can be developed through both the flow and the force methods or a combination of the two
Our students have been using both the flow method and the force method since the beginning of Shaolin Wahnam, though the realization came later. As internal force is a hallmark of the Shaolin arts, this realization and its application in teaching constitute a key innovation to preserve genuine Shaolin arts.
When I first learned from Uncle Righteousness, my force training was external, consisted mainly of hitting a wooden man. When I learned from Sifu Chee Kim thong, although his school was famous for internal force, I had a taste of it on the receiving end, but I did not develop any internal force myself.
It was when I learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam that I began to develop internal force practicing One-Finger Shooting Zen. This was the flow method. Later when I practiced forceful Big Windmill in my Cosmos Palm training that I learned the force method. When I learned from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, my sifu taught me using the force method in Siu Lin Tou to develop internal force.
Our students' introduction to internal force was through entering a chi kung state of mind, or entering Zen or Tao in Shaolin and Taijiquan training. Initially those who practiced Shaolin Kungfu used the force method, and those who practiced Taijiquan used the flow method. But after my realization that the flow method and the force method can be interchangeable, Shaolin and Taijiquan students use both methods.
The "enlightenment" in this case came gradually. If I remember correctly it was while teaching the Triple-Stretch Set during the UK Summer Camp in 2010 that I realized using the flow method would greatly enhance the force method normally used in triple-stretch training.
Its cost-effectiveness as well as the interchangeablity of the flow method and the force method were well demonstrated in the Wuzuquan course in 2012. Students used San Zhan and the flow method, or the force method, or both to develop a lot of internal force in a very short time.
Editorial Note : Sifu Barry's questions will be continued at July 2014 Part 2 issue of the Question-Answer Series.
I am currently a 3-time World Record Holder in Power Throwing knives. I've developed an effective technique but have done it all with biomechanics and physical training.
A friend of mine has studied Qigong for many years, and he teaches Tai Chi in Maryland. He tells me that I should embrace qigong, learn to meditate and visualize, and develop my Qi. I would like to learn this and to do some needle throwing as I hear this is one of the 72 Shaolin arts.
What do you recommend I do to develop qigong for this particular feat?
— Mark, USA
Congratulations for being three-time world champion in power throwing knives. It is a remarkable achievement.
My sigung (sifu's sifu) was an expert in throwing coins, which were a secret weapon in the past in kungfu culture. My sifu (kungfu teacher) did not use coins, he substituted them with stones, which I believe is more econonical.
I tried practicing throwing secret weapons in my young days, and in fact had special coins made by a blacksmith because using real coins would be too expensive. But I did not continue the training for long because I thought coin throwing as a secret weapon did not have much practical value.
Nei kung, an internal art and another name for high-level chi kung in the past, would greatly improve the efficiency of throwing such secret weapons. Not only it would enable you to have more force in your throw, but it would also increase your accuracy when aiming at a moving object in a distance because of your mind power. This reminds me of a story I read long ago in a book, "The Zen of Motorcycling". A Zen master, who obviously had much mind power, shot an arrow in the dark to reach a target even when he did not see the target.
I would recommend you to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course or regional courses in various parts of the world. Please see my website for details.
Although your immediate objective is to increase you efficiency in your already accomplished knife throwing, you will find other benefits which I am sure you will find even more rewarding when you practice high-level chi kung, like good health, vitality and longevity. It is precisely for this reason of enhancing my health, vitality and longevity that I discontinue my coin throwing training for other chi kung purposes. I am now 70 but have the vitality of 30 and cannot remember when I was last sick!
Is there any difference between a chi kung state of mind and chi flow?
— Pio, Italy
Yes, they are different.
One is in a chi kung state of mind when he is relaxed and focused at the same time. He is in chi flow when chi, or intrinsic energy, is flowing inside his body, often manifested as external chi flow movement.
It is necessary to be in a chi kung state of mind before one can have a chi flow. But being in a chi kung state of mind is not necessary in chi flow.
As an analogy, one needs to open his mouth before he can eat something. But opening his mouth does not necessarily mean he is eating something.
Most, if not all, great works of art, science, philosophy, religion and sports were attained when the artists, scientists, philosophers, masters and sports persons were in a chi kung state of mind, though they probably had not heard of the term, which will be better known as a heightened state of consciousness.
Every living person has chi flow. Chi flow is necessary to maintain life. But the term is used here to mean more chi flow than is normal in every person. All masters who have internal force, have experienced chi flow, though they may not be aware of it.
Is it necessary to have chi flow and wu-wei when performing Bone Marrow Cleansing?
When performing Bone Marrow Cleansing or any chi kung exercise, it is necessary to have chi flow, but it is not necessary, though recommended, to have wu-wei, which means spontaneity.
In Bone Marrow Cleansing, a practitioner must first generate his chi flow. Then he directs his chi flow to flow at various levels, like his skin, flesh, meridians, internal organs and bone marrow.
He can continue using his mind to direct his chi flow, in which case there is no wu-wei. This is not recommended as it is stressful to his mind.
It is recommended that after he has successfully directed his chi to flow at the level he desires, he lets go so that the chi flow will continue on its own at the chosen level. This is yu-wei followed by wu-wei, and is the normal procedure in chi kung practice.
If he feels that the chi flow has slackened or if he wishes to change to another level in his Bone Marrow Cleansing, he can use his mind to direct the chi again, after which he returns to wu-wei.
- Energy Different from That of Other Masters
- The Secrets Lies Not in the Form but in the Application
- Intercepting and Counter-Striking a Boxer
- Fell Tree with Roots
- The Legacy of Shaolin Wahnam