SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
OCTOBER 1998 PART 2
Isn't Wong Fei Hoong's kung fu style Hoong Family Kung Fu and not Shaolin Kung Fu as described in your webpage? Also, can you give me this kung fu style's history.
— Jeffrey, United Kingdom
Yours is an illuminating question that will help to clarify some historical points for many other people. You are right. Wong Fei Hoong's style is Hoong Family Kungfu, also spelt as Hoong Ka or Hung Gar Kungfu. It is also Southern Shaolin Kungfu. There are many styles of Southern Shaolin Kungfu, and Hoong Family Kungfu is probably the most representative of Southern Shaolin. A brief history, described below, will make this clear.
Actually Wong Fei Hoong himself or his immediate students did not call their kungfu Hung Gar or Hoong Family. By the way, the Chinese character “Hoong” in Wong Fei Hoong is different from the Chinese character “Hoong” in Hoong Family, although they sound the same, and therefore their English spellings are also the same. “Hoong” in Wong Fei Hoong is the name of a kind of big bird, whereas “Hoong” in Hoong Family is a surname and means “turbulent water”.
Wong Fei Hoong learned from his father, Wong Kei Ying, who in turn learned from Luk Ah Choy. Luk Ah Choy was a junior classmate of Hoong Hei Khoon. Both of them were distinguished disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen, the First Patriarch of Southern Shaolin, at the southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian province in south China.
After the burning of the southern Shaolin Monastery by the Qing army, Hoong Hei Khoon escaped to Guangdong province and taught kungfu, which was later called Hoong Family Kungfu after him. (One of the monks who also escaped from the burning southern Shaolin Monastery was the Venerable Jiang Nan, who transmitted the Shaolin arts outside China, and after four generations to my school.)
Contrary to what many people believe, Hoong Hei Khoon did not invent Hoong Family Kungfu (or Hung Gar Kungfu) in the way Yim Wing Choon invented Wing Choon Kungfu, or Chen Harng invented Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu. Hoong Hei Khoon might have modified some of the kungfu he had learnt at the southern Shaolin Monastery, but generally he taught what he had learnt from the Venerable Chee Seen (whose name means “Extreme Kindness”).
Hence, among the various Southern Shaolin styles, which include Wing Choon, Choy-Li-Fatt, Dragon Style, Black Tiger, Pak Mei and Lau Gar, Hoong Family Kungfu is the direct transmission from Southern Shaolin; Hoong Family Kungfu is in fact the parental Southern Shaolin Kungfu. That is why although Wong Fei Hoong's style is not directly descended from Hoong Hei Khoon but from Luk Ah Choy, many people today rightly refer to it as Hoong Family Kungfu.
Incidentally, this interesting historical background has some parallel meaning for me. When I learned kungfu from my first master, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, better known as Uncle Righteousness, he always called his kungfu Shaolin, and not Hung Gar. Later when my master had passed away, some of my classmates founded the Chin Wah Hung Gar Association to teach my sifu's kungfu. They chose “Hung Gar” because the term was popular then. If I were present then, I would have suggested “Shaolin” instead. Today many students of the Chin Wah Hung Gar Association might not know that what they are practicing is Shaolin Kungfu.
I know that you offer specialized one week courses at your school in Malaysia. But I wanted to ask if you allow students to come and train with you for extended periods of time, months or even years. I realize that much can be learned in your one week courses, but I would like to dedicate a lot more time to my learning and training.
I understand that such long training would be difficult at times and intense, but I am ready to put forth the effort and dedication. I would like to be like you and study for many, many years, until I was skilled enough to go and teach others of the wonderful benefits Shaolin has to offer.
— Kevin, USA
I would very much like to have a sincere student like you for prolonged study, and hopefully train you to become a real Shaolin master one day. But various factors make prolonged training with me impracticable. One main reason is that I travel often, and it would be difficult as well as expensive for students to follow me wherever I go. I am now in Germany. A few days ago I was in Belgium, and prior to that in Holland. I shall be going to Austria the day after tomorrow, and after that to Spain, before returning home to Malaysia at the end of October.
An intensive course with me is probably the best alternative. During the course I shall make sure that you will acquire the necessary skills and techniques to be able to practice competently on your own. This is fairly easy with chi kung. You need to take only one course from me, or may be two if you are more ambitious, but if you follow my instructions faithfully and practice regularly for two years what you have learnt from me during the course(s), you will attain a chi kung level higher than what MOST of those who teach chi kung today (including so-called masters) have attained.
This is not an exaggeration; it is true because what most people today teach and practice is merely external chi kung forms which are actually gymnastics or dance. Hence what they can achieve at their best, even if they have practiced for 20 or 30 years, are what gymnastics and dance can give, such as elegant performance and improved blood circulation. They cannot achieve those benefits that chi kung can give simply because they have not practiced genuine chi kung, which basically involves a training of energy and mind.
The skills and abilities you will acquire in my course are actually fundamental in chi kung, but they are fantastic to those who do not know chi kung, or who merely practice external chi kung forms. You will, for example, be able to tap energy from the cosmos, generate your internal energy flow, clear physical and emotional blockage, and channel energy to wherever you wish inside your body.
It may not be so easy with kungfu, mainly because there are much more techniques to learn and the training is more demanding. It would be better if you learn some kungfu forms, even if they are gymnastics or dance, before you see me for my intensive kungfu courses so that we can spend the time in internal force training and combat application. You would probably need two or three intensive courses spread over about three years. If you train conscienciously, in three years you should not only be able to handle blackbelts comfortably but more importantly have vitality, mental freshness, and zest for work and play.
While Zen is the hightest of the Shaolin teaching, it is found at every level of the Shaolin arts. I do not teach Zen formally, but it is incorporated in everty aspect of Shaolin training. Zen, which actually means mind training, is essential in genuine chi kung and kungfu. Without the respective proper state of mind, which is attained through Zen, one cannot attain any remarkable result in chi kung or kungfu. For example, a chi kung practitioner can tap energy from the cosmos, or a kungfu exponent marshals internal force, only if he is in an appropriate state of mind. Zen gives us inner peace, enables us to do better whatever we do, and leads us to the highest spiritual fulfilment anyone can ever attain. I am sure you will enjoy and benefit from my book, “The Complete Book of Zen”.
I have been starting my early morning walks and exercise routine in a nearby park. My exercises include some simple qigong moves I read from books. Books have their limitations and we need an elder to show us the finer points and to instill discipline.
— Omar, Malaysia
Morning walks may give you some general well being, but they do not give you the wonderful benefits that qigong does. They are not cost-effective — you get little benefit compared to the time and effort spent. Moreover, for someone who has chronic pain or illness, or who wants more rewarding benefits than merely loosening his muscles, morning walks do not fulfil this need.
Unless you are already well versed in qigong, learning from books without a master's help can only give you the outward forms, but seldom the inner essence of mind and energy which are crucial in any qigong exercises.
I have throughly enjoyed your art of Shaolin Kung Fu and your art of Chi Kung. I enjoyed your case histories as I am also a Western Medical Doctor.
— Ian, Singapore
I sincerely believe that chi kung has a lot to offer conventional western medicine. If you pracice genuine chi kung, not just chi kung forms, and understand its philosophy, you may one day be instrumental in helping conventional western medicine overcome many of its present problems. My webpage Qigong, a cure for cancer and chronic, degenerative diseases? may provide you with much food for thought.
I have been learning various styles of Kung Fu for at least 15 years. I definitely have acquired a lot of forms, however I really feel that they are all “flowery fists and embroidery kicks.” I have never learnt any qigong or force training related to the styles.
15 years is a long time to spend on “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”, but at least you are eventually awakened to the difference between genuine kungfu and flowery fists. What you need now is to convert the flowery fists into real kungfu.
You will then find that the many forms you have learnt will become useful. Force training is essential in kungfu; in fact that is what the term “kungfu” really means. By force training it does not merely refer to developing force for combat; perhaps more importantly it is also developing force or vitality for daily living. Qigong, the art of energy management, is the way to high quality force training.
Unfortunately the emphasis now is on Modern Wushu and it is difficult to find masters teaching traditional kung fu, let alone in the systematic way outlined in your book “The Art Of Shaolin Kung Fu.”
This emphasis is everywhere now, since China explicitly proclaimed about 20 years ago that it was promoting wushu as a sport. The problem is that many people, including kungfu “masters”, have not really appreciated that there is much difference between a sport and a martial art. I am really concerned that if this trend continues there may be no more traditional kungfu within the next two generations.
More seriously, although it is not obvious, not many people realize that practicing a sport may make them fit but not necessarily healthy! Many top class gymnasts, for example, have serious arthritis problems even at the young age of 20, and many top class golfers suffer from back pain.
As a doctor, you will probably be interested to know that while western health experts promote taking up sports for health, from the traditional kungfu and chi kung perspective, this is putting the cart before the horse. The ability to participate in sports competently is the effect, not the cause, of health. A sportman, for example, has an apparent increase of health due to prolonged forced conditioning of his vital organs, particularly his heart and lungs, to overwork. In other words, his vital organs have not actually become structurally or functionally healthier or fitter, but because of prolonged conditioning, the sportman is able to endure more when his organs overwork.
This of course is both unnatural and dangerous, and it partially explains why the health of many sportsmen collapses soon after they have passed their prime. A 5-time world cycling champion was so unhealthy and painful that he is now literally a wretch, although he is a millionaire. No conventional medical experts could help him; they could not find anything wrong with this sick man, despite his constant back pain. From the chi kung perspective, his problem is simple; it is due to severe energy blockage. He was supposed to consult me a few says ago, and I am confident that chi kung can help him overcome his problem, but unfortunately he missed the opportunity as he did not turn up for the appointment.
The chi kung approach to health is different from that of the west. Bascially it involves improving the functional and subsequently the structural capabilities of the whole person. Methods include improving his breathing habit so that with the same breath he can now take in more fresh air and dispose off toxic waste, promoting more efficient energy flow so that, among other benefits, his vital ortgans become stronger, and training his mind so that he become better focussed and relaxed. Then, as a result of his mental and bodily functions having become stronger, he will be able to perform better than before in sports.
How can we influence or modify somebody's mind? If that is possible I will call it a medical revolution. We will be able to cure a lot of “incurable” diseases. We, somehow, know that by doing chi kung and meditation, the practitioner will eventually be freed of his disease.
— Daniel, Belgium
There are numerous ways we can influence or modify somebody's mind. One, by direct thinking on the person. Actually everyone does this in one way or another, but because the mind of ordinary people is not powerful, the effect is minimal. Masters' mind is strong, but as it involves ethical issues, masters do not normaaly try to influence others in this way.
Two, by teaching the person to visualize. It is particulary powerful when the person is at a subconscious level, or what we call a chi kung state of mind. When he is in his ordinary consciousness, it does not work very well. I have used this technique often to help many people recover from their so-called incurable illness.
Three, by cleansing off the bad imprints in somebody's mind. The influence here is passive; it eliminates undesirable effects, but does not directly put in desirable effects. It is nevertheless very helpful in overcoming “stuborn” illness. This mental cleansing can be effected through deep and powerful self-manifested chi movement, in what was probably called Bone-Marror Cleansing. In Chinese medical thought, bone-marror flows into the brain. Hence, when the bone-marror is cleansed, the brain is indirectly cleansed too.
Many diseases are considered incurable only from the conventional western perspective. From the Chinese medical perspective, there is no such a thing as an incurable disease. Because the conventional western therapeutic principle is to prescribe a particular remedy for a particular disease, western doctors do not know what to cure when they do not know the disease, which is the case in cancer, hypertension, diabetes, asthma and a host of chronic degenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders — which are labels given to symptoms and not to the diseases themselves.
Chinese physicians are spared this insurmountable problem simply because they do not treat diseases, they treat patients! They do not have to define what disease a patient is suffering from — which is dealing with unknown factors. Instead they find out what have gone wrong in the patient's natural body (and mind) systems — which is dealing with known factors. Once the patient restores his body systems, which is a natural phenomenon, health is restored.
Let us take a much simplified example. Suppose some bad influence has inprinted into a person's mind. The western doctor is at a loss, because mind is outside his territory; he only treats the body. Even psychiatrists are uncertain of mind; today many of them have denied the mind its existence and talk only of brain functions. A Chinese physicain, such as a chi kung therapist, does not have much problem. He does not even have to know what the bad influence is. As long as the bad influence is cleared away — irrespective of whether it is x, y or z — the patient restores his natural function, and consequently his health. This can be accomplished through harmonious chi flow.
Suppose a bad influence has lodged itself inside someone's body. This bad influence can be a toxin, a bacterium, a virus, a carcinogen, radiation, a blood clot, negative emotion, undigested good food like sugar and cholesterol, or anything unharm to the body. Typically, a western doctor has to find out what this bad influence is, and how, where and why it affects the body unfavourably. If he does not have satisfactory answers, he does not know what to do. The Chinese physician does not have to know the what, how, where and why of the bad influence. As long as the bad influence is cleared away, natural functions of the patient and consequently his health are restored. Again, this can be accomplished through harmonious chi flow.
It is actually simple — as all great things are. It is incrediable only to those who simply refuse to believe that this is true or who do not even bother to listen. I have cured many people from their so-call incurable diseases, some of whom you personally know. As I have mentioned to the distijnguished group of doctors and dentists who took chi kung from me recently, I have much respect for western medicine and western doctors (and dentists) — they came from the cream of any school population. Hence, the above description is never meant to be a slight on western medicine; instead it is meant to inspire western doctors and medical researchers to look at medicine and health care from a fresh, new perspective. If you do so, you may win a nobel prize one day.
My Sifu is a good man and a friend, but there are times when I feel that there is more out there.... So I have a conflict regarding loyalty to my style and my sifu, and my own needs to better my art.
— Greg, USA
Your sentiments above show that you are sincere. The conflict may be viewed from different perspectives. From one perspective, a conflict exists between loyalty to one's style and teacher on one hand, and on the other hand learning another style and from another teacher which also requires loyalty, an act which may imply a betrayal of the first style and teacher.
From a wider perspective the conflict does not exist, if your new learning is to better your art. “Your art” here may refer to your particular style, or to kungfu in general. If you are to learn from somewhere else to better your existing style, you are being more loyal to your style. Many masters have done that.
But should you later find that you prefer the second style to the first one, you may have a conflict of choice, rather than a conflict of loyalty. In many such instances in kungfu history, the master in question combined the two (or more) styles into one and gave it a new name. Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu founded by Chen Harng is a good example.
If you are to better your kungfu in general irrespective of any particular style, your loyalty is to kungfu in general. Therefore, a conflict of loyalty to a particular style does not exist. The famous Taoist priest, Sheng Shao, was a Wudang Kungfu master. While at the Shaolin Monastery during a visit, he was no match for the Shaolin monks who practiced a new, unknown style of kungfu called Praying Mantis. The abbot, not wanting to see Praying Mantis Kungfu discontinued but at the same time not ready to replace the traditional Shaolin Lohan Kungfu with it, made a deal with Priest Sheng Shao. The abbot, whose name is not known to us now, taught Sheng Shao all he knew about Praying Mantis Kungfu, and Sheng Shao was to spread it. All Praying Mantis practitioners in the world should pay respect to this great kungfu master, Sheng Shao, because if not for his loyalty to kungfu, rather than a provincial attachment to a particular style, there might not be any Praying Mantis Kungfu today.