THE ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE APPLICATIONS
Review of Essence of Shaolin by Sifu Zhang Wuji
Sifu Zhang Wuji
Shaolin Wahnam Singapore
7th December 2017
Review of Essence of Shaolin (1)
Molly reminded me over lunch that I used to take copious notes at courses and post a full review during major courses. Although I have not been active on this forum, today is as good a day as any to start again.
.... happened 3 days ago, but is still fresh in my mind. Guess what we did at the very start. That's right - enter into a qigong state of mind. But Sifu has been adding this phrase to the instruction: "at whatever level you are". Initially, I just followed the instruction without really comprehending it, but after a few exhortations about not over-training, it occured to me that it is not only our qigong or kungfu attainment that Sifu is referring to, but also our needs at that point in time. If we are already fully charged with energy, our qi flow can be more gentle, or our qigong state of mind less so.
As every kungfu student expected, we began with the stances, which allowed me to cheat because I could dispense with my stance training for the day in good conscience for once. We then went through the form and routine. To our great dismay, Sifu practically raced through the whole set in less than an hour. To add to the consternation, Sifu made a number of changes to the patterns, eliciting silent groans from those who had already (and diligently) learnt the set by heart. As for those who had not learnt the set (like yours truly), there were no groans, just resigned signs of despair.
I told Molly I hesitated to write this post, as I did not want to ruin things for the second batch. But I have decided to follow the new tradition of today's movie reviewers. I will just flash a spoiler alert. Ergo, caveat lector! My fellow Essence Shaoliners, read on at your own risk.
Sifu divided us into groups to work out the applications of assigned patterns. We took about 30 minutes for this, and truth be told, the applications, for the most part, turned out to be pedestrian. But as Sifu promised, we would become more marvellous as the course progresses(ed). The modus operandi was simple. First, demonstrate the pattern and then show the application with a partner. Sifu expected, and as more people cottoned on, received masterpiece demonstrations of good form and force.
Sifu continually reminded us that this is an elite masterclass, and we should ("should" being a negative term) have a minimum level of attainment. As it turned out, demonstrations of the patterns and the applications were often interrupted because of deficiencies in basic principles like safety first, covering the opponent, element of threat, spacing and proper form. Sifu was quite prepared to halt the class to reiterate these essential principles because "these are more important than the applications".
There are a few other gems from Sifu that I will record here in shorthand, namely:
1) Do not twist the pattern to suit the application or situation. Choose the best pattern for the situation.
2) "Sin hop kei seong, hou yin kei bin" (apologies for the poor Cantonese translation - I am only a Mandarin speaker). Sifu took pains to reiterate this phrase several times, and it means, first learn the basics, then react to the variations.
3) Retreat from the arena in 3 circumstances: (a) when you have accomplished what you have set out to do (either victory, or having completed your planned sequence even if you have not defeated the opponent); (b) when in difficulty (but don't give up too easily), or (c) when in doubt (of your own sequence, plans, skills or intentions).
On my part, I realised, as did many others, that the demonstrations of the sequence applications directed by Sifu on the stage and performed by the two instructors/students were one thing, but the actual exectuion during partner practice was quite different. We thought we remembered the sequence but would end us forgetting steps, or the technqiue that looked so effortless on stage became a dog's breakfast when we met with some resistance from the partner. Truly, it was a case of easier watched than done. Kind of reminds me of my lectures and tutorials in university. We may think we understood the lecture but when actually setting pen to paper to answer the tutorial questions, we would draw a blank.
The above discussion is reproduced from the Post 56 thread Essence of Shaolin in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.
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