SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DECEMBER 1999 PART 1
I wish to thank you for so generously giving of your time and advice to so many people. I write specifically to thank you for so frequently lamenting the proliferation of `Tai Chi dance' teaching, for after poring over your excellent question and answer series over the past three days, it led to a sort of breakthrough in my Taijiquan practice.
Last night as I went through my daily practice, I suddenly `saw' a potential martial application for the form which I know of as “Fair Lady Weaves at Shuttles”. This realisation altered my timing and performance of the form — just very subtly, but it felt `right'. I saw the upper arm as a block, so applied it slightly ahead of the bottom arm, which became a strike to an opponent's chest.
— Alan, New Zealand
I am glad of your progress in your Taijiquan practice. Your realization of the combat function of “Fair Lady Weaves at Shuttles” signals the beginning of an “enlightenment” process in your Taijiquan. Gradually as you continue in your training you will be awakened to and experience more wonders of Taijiquan.
The awakening will spread to other aspects of the art, beside combat function. For example, when one day you feel chi flowing in your arms or legs, you may suddenly realize why the Taijiquan movements are performed in that particular way. You will experience what a past master regarded as “the subtle joys” of practising Taijiquan.
Concerning the combat function of “Fair Lady Weaves at Shuttles”, if an opponent executes a high straight attack, it is better to use the pattern to “float” or deflect the attack upward instead of blocking it. If the attack comes down at you from the top, move in and block at his elbow or upper arm, not at his lower arm. This will give you close range to execute your other palm with internal force.
As I continued through the form I continued to find martial applications for everything, and began to visualise using each form against an opponent. Though I had been told to do so by my teacher, and had read of doing so in books, I was realising it intuitively rather than as an intellectual concept. (I guess up till then I'd been concentrating too much on getting the forms `right'.) And as I repeated the forms, this understanding influenced the way I was reproducing each one.
You are right. In Tai Chi Chuan, intuitive rather than intellectual learning is preferred. When someone attacks you, you do not intellectualize which pattern is a right response; you intuitively respond with the best pattern. You will find a lot of Tai Chi Chuan combat application in my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”.
As another example, the Brush Knee forms seemed to make more sense if I held the weight over the back leg for longer, till the brush knee lower arm blocking movement was nearly complete, before moving the weight forward onto the front leg, accompanied by a more powerful strike with the other arm. And all this can be accomplished without force. So, thank you for pounding away at the Tai Chi dance.
You are right about the Brush Knee pattern. It manifests the “swallowing” technique, the tactic of “retreating before advancing”, and the principle of “starting later but arriving earlier”. When an opponent attacks with a punch or a kick, “shallow” and brush away the attack, move your body forward without moving your legs and simultaneously strike him with your palm, following the momentum of your bodily forward movement, rotating your waist, channelling your internal force from your dan tian to your palm, with the momentum starting from your back heel
I don't sleep well, despite practising taijiquan, qigong and meditation for several hours every day. My usual qigong methods are “Lifting Water”, “Lifting the Sky” and just standing in a medium-low horse, and I perform this for about 30 minutes each night.
If you have been practising your Tai Chi Chuan or qigong correctly you should be able to relax physically and mentally, and hence going to sleep would not be any problem.
Try this method; it has worked for many people. Lie comfortably in bed, close your eyes gently and perform “lifting the Sky” about 15 to 20 times, paying attention to your breathing. After the 15 to 20 times, just relax with your eyes close and soon you will be sound asleep.
When young I injured a leg while doing supervised weightlifting. Although slim I was strong, and my trainer had me doing squat repetitions with a very heavy weight, when veins in my left leg burst. The vein has got worse over the years and bulges like a varicose vein in several places. Sometimes it aches when my energy level is low. Will standing, or sitting, qigong, harm this or improve it?
Stationary exercise like sitting or standing qigong may aggravate your leg problem. Self- manifested qi flow is excellent for your purpose. If you do not know this type of qigong, you can perform your Tai Chi Chuan set in an intuitive manner, then at the completion of the set, stand fairly still and let qi flow down to your legs. When this qi starts to move you, follow the momentum and sway happily.
If you wish to continue with your static qigong, which has given you much energy, you must supplement it with dynamic or moving qigong.
I wish to ask you what the advantages and disadvantages of long-reaching strike used in Northern Shaolin had over the close combat of Southern Shaolin Kung Fu.
— Gurmeet, UK
Long range kungfu is good for fighting in open plains as in north China, whereas short range kungfu is good for fighting in narrow lanes as in south China. Long range kungfu makes much use of kicking attacks, whereas short range kungfu makes much use of hand techniques, like the Eagle Claw.
Saying that Northern Shaolin is long range and Southern Shaolin short range is only speaking relatively. Both versions of Shaolin Kungfu have both long and short range. Eagle Claw Kungfu, for example, is Northern Shaolin but has many short range hand techniques.
After reading your book 'The Art of Shaolin Kungfu" which I really enjoyed, I was inspired to learn kung fu. In Scotland, kung fu teachers are few and far between so when I found a teacher I took lessons. And now I am starting to doubt its authenticity. The style is called XYZ. I was given an information booklet giving the history of the style, but when I started to try and find out more, I could not find anything.
— Iain, Scotland
Real kungfu teachers are very rare, even in China. What is usually taught is kungfu forms, and now wushu forms, for demonstrations, not kungfu for combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation.
I haven't heard of this style. It could be a style invented by a master recently, and it is possible that small groups practise it in the UK and the USA.
It is also not uncommon for a teacher to combine a few styles they have learnt into a style of his own and give it a new name. Personally I find that such a new style is not deep or advanced. If the teacher is deep or advanced in any of the styles he has learnt, he would not need to invent a new one.
The teacher has had a lot of karate experience and it seems a little karate-like in its nature. For instance in your book you say that kicks in kung fu rarely go above the waist. I have been taught kicks that go above the waist to the head.
In the last thirty years or so, there were many kungfu masters who could not use kungfu to fight, and therefore they incorporated karate into their kungfu sparring. Often they invented a new name for their kungfu styles which frequently ended in the word “do” (or “tao” in Chinese), taking inspiration from the “do” in karate-do and taekwondo.
Some of these masters were sincere in their effort. They lamented on the inability of kungfu for combat and they tried their best to do something about it. (Here I am using the words “kungfu” and “masters” in the way the public generally uses it.)
Such kungfu-do was (and still is) superior to kungfu dance, and many kungfu dance practitioners held kungfu-do practitioners in awe. In sparring, one who has practised kungfu dance for many years is no match at all against another who has practised kungfu-do for only a few months.
This is actually no surprise. If you only learn how to dance or demonstrate to audience, you will only be able to dance or demonstrate; you will never know how to spar no matter for how long you have danced. On the other hand, if you learn sparring you will be able to spar after a few months, even though you may not spar very well.
Kungfu-do inventors thought they had improved kungfu, but paradoxically they had further debased it. Because of their insufficient understanding, they used (from genuine kungfu perspective) third-class techniques, thinking they were first-class. Instead of attaining good health, their students often sustained internal injury routinely left unattended to.
And there was little or no internal force training or spiritual cultivation. I recall my master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, often commented that kungfu-do was turning kungfu into “sei pat jeong”, a Chinese colloquial way of saying “turning a cow into a horse, or a horse into a cow”.
Often kungfu-do practitioners are better at sparring than karate practitioners, but they find it difficult to defend against taekwondo practitioners. The reason generally is that kungfu-do practitioners have more hand techniques than karate practitioners have, but they do not know how to counter against the various kicks of taekwondo. Some people even thought (mistakenly) that there were no kicks in kungfu.
Consequently kicks, especially high kicks, were incorporated into kungfu-do. In fact at one time the general opinion seemed to be that the higher one could kick, the better he was in combat. Jumping up to break with his toes a tile held some distance above his head, or spinning round and round to slap the face of an opponent countless times with the sole or instep of his foot, became popular in martial art demonstrations and movie entertainment.
This is an illuminating example showing the huge gap between public opinion and genuine knowledge. Any master who has used kungfu for real fighting will know that such above-head kicks and spinning kicks are both useless and risky. If a master demonstrates such kicks, it is meant to show his leg flexibility, and not meant for combat.
On the other hand there were also instructors who were basically trained in karate or taekwondo but learned some kungfu. They incorporated kungfu techniques into their karate or taekwondo teaching, and invented new names for their styles, or sometimes they call their art kungfu or kungfu-do. But even if they wear kungfu uniforms, practise with some kungfu weapons, and talk in kungfu terms, their arts are still basically karate or taekwondo.
This style is said to be founded in the 18th century by a Chinese who spent some time in the Sera Monastery in Tibet. Is this history true?
I have not heard of this history, and I cannot verify whether it was true or not. A well known kungfu style from Tibet is Lama Kungfu. Dongbiquan (which means “Through Arm Kungfu”), Hap Ka Kungfu (Kungfu of the Family of Knights) and a version of White Crane Kungfu are also much influenced by Tibet.
I understand that the Chinese culture places emphasis on numerology. Does numerology play a role in Shaolin martial arts?
— Beth, Canada
While numbers are important and may have some special meanings — for example many Cantonese like the number 8 because it sounds like the word for prosperity — the Chinese on the whole do not place much emphasis on numerology.
Numerology does not play any special role in the Shaolin arts. Shaolin kungfu sets often consist of 36, 72 or 108 patterns. This is because Shaolin Kungfu originated from the Eighteen Lohan Hands, and these numbers are multiples of 18.
If you may, could you explain the significance of the three numbers, in particular, 5, 7, and 9 in Shaolin martial arts?
In the Shaolin arts, no numbers are by themselves more significant than any other numbers. All numerals from one to nine are used. The following list is an example. The Chinese pronunciation is in Cantonese.
- Yiat Sum — One Heart, meaning the undifferentiated unity of cosmic reality.
- Yee Moon —Two Doors, meaning the duality of phenomenal world.
- Sam Lou — Three Ways, i.e. the upper, the central and the lower levels of attack and defence.
- Sei Heong — Four Directions, i.e. top, middle, bottom, sides.
- Ng Harng — Five Elemental Processes, of metal, water, wood, fire and earth.
- Luk Hap — Six Harmonies, of hands, body and legs, and essence, energy and mind.
- Chiet Sing — Seven Stars, i.e. head, shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, knees and feet for attack.
- Pat Kua — Eight Trigrams, representing eight archetypical dimensions of the phenomenal world.
- Khow Kung — Nine Palaces, a metaphysical arrangement of the nine numbers.
I have learnt Filipino Ngo Chor Kun in USA. I was aware of the Beng Kiam school in Manila, but have since met some practitioners who have studied from Master Chee Kim Thong in Malaysia. Can you shed some light on the history of Ngo Chor Kun?
— Jim, USA
Ngo Chor Kun is the Fujian (or Hockien) pronunciation of Five Ancestors Kungfu. In Madarin pronunciation it is Wuzuquan.
Ngo Chor Kun was initiated by the great Shaolin master Pai Yi Feng (or Peh Gaik Hong in Fujian pronunciation) during the Song Dynasty. He combined the best features of five Shaolin styles of his time into one style. They were combat techniques from Tai Zu Kungfu (First Emperor Kungfu), hand forms from White Crane Kungfu, body movements from Lohan Kungfu, energy training from Da Mo Kungfu (Bodhidharma Kungfu), and leg movements from Monkey Style Kungfu.
During the subsequent Ming Dynasty, another Shaolin master, Cai Yi Ming (Chai Gaik Beng in Fujian pronunciation) popularized Ngo Chor Kun. In the Philippines today, Ngo Chor Kun is often called Gaik Beng Kun, or Gaik Beng Kungfu. Ngo Chor Kun is practised in many countries, and is particularly popular in Malaysia and the Philippines.
Today the best known patriarch of Ngo Chor Kun is Sifu Chee Kim Thong of Malaysia, from whom I learned Ngo Chor Kun many years ago. In many places, Ngo Chor Kun is practised as a hard, external form of kungfu, but because Sifu Chee Kim Thong had trained in many internal arts before, such as Wujiquan and Taijiquan, the form of Ngo Chor Kun he teaches is fundamentally soft and internal.
My most memorable experience of Ngo Chor Kun was that my siheng (senior classmate) and Sifu Chee's son, Chee Boon Leong, who taught on behalf of his father, often asked us “not to use strength, not to use strength!” I wondered how on earth could we fight if we were not to use strength, but when I sparred with my classmates I found them extremely powerful. They used internal force, not physical strength.