July 2000 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Lately I have been trying to improve my Tai Chi Chuan. Or rather, trying to make the transition from Tai Chi to Tai Chi Chuan. I've read a lot of material and heard the theories.
— Daniel, USA
The best way to make the transition is to learn from a master who teaches Tai Chi Chuan. It would be difficult to find such a master, but if you persist you will succeed.
Reading about Tai Chi Chuan and knowing its theories is very useful, but by themselves they cannot transform your Tai Chi to Tai Chi Chuan. The key factor is practice, and you can only practise Tai Chi Chuan, and not Tai Chi, if you learn it correctly from a master. Your theoretical knowledge of Tai Chi Chuan will be very useful in directing you to the master and showing you what and how to practise.
It is my opinion that although Tai Chi Chuan is infinitely complex, the form, the qigong exercises, all of it, would be greatly enhanced if I could feel my meridians. I feel that any imperfections in the form would correct themselves, and any type of energy work I would do would be much more effective many times over.
Your opinion is incorrect. Feeling your meridians, which you may do if you consult a good acupuncturist, is no guarantee that you will enhance your Tai Chi Chuan. Even if you can perform good chi kung but do not relate it to Tai Chi Chuan your Tai Chi Chuan form will not improve. Sometimes, if your form is faulty, increasing your energy through chi kung will not only not correct the imperfect form but may cause harm to you.
The golden way to enhance Tai Chi Chuan, or any art, is to practise, practise and practise it correctly and regularly. Hence, to enhance your Tai Chi Chuan form, first you have to correct your imperfection — at a physical level, without worrying about the energy dimension. Then you practise, practise and practise the correct form. In your practice if you add the energy dimension to your correct form, the enhanced effects will be many times more.
Whether Tai Chi Chuan is simple or complex, depends on different perspectives as well as on different levels of attainment. To a beginner even learning the physical movement of Tai Chi Chuan is complex.
When he moves a leg forward, for example, it is not just moving a leg forward. He has to differentiate between his “solid” leg and his “empty” leg for that situation, glide forward his “empty” leg, rotate his waist and his knees, gradually transfers his weight from his “solid” leg to his “empty” leg so that they are eventually balanced, and focus himself at his abdomen.
But when he has practised this movement adequately, it becomes simple. He will be able to make the movement perfectly and unconsciously in a split second.
From another perspective, all Tai Chi Chuan movements are simple, but not simplistic. They are simple in the sense that not a single action is superfluous or unnecessary. In this respect, all great arts and all great philosophies are simple, and at the same time very profound.
If a master wishes to channel his energy to his palm for a strike, for example, he simply does that, i.e. he channels his energy to his palm for a strike. He does not need any warming up, he does not worry how the energy travels to the palm, and he does not care whether the amount of energy used can be quantified by scientists.
When Lao Tzu said that the Tao that can be named is not the Tao, he summed up the whole philosophy of Taoism in the most simple way. He did not need to explain what the Tao is or is not, or why that can be named is not the Tao.
Other people do not understand this truth, or do not understand how a master can channel energy to his palm, not because the art or the philosophy is complex, but simply because they have no direct experience of the truth or of channelling energy.
As a rough analogy, let us say you offer me an orange and ask me how does it taste. After a bite, I say the orange is sweet. You will know what I mean because you have eaten an orange before.
But someone who had not eaten an orange would not know. If I attempt to describe the sweetness of an orange by comparing it to the sweetness of sugar or honey, or to attempt a scientific analysis of the ingredients that cause sweetness, I would only confuse him.
So the question becomes, how do I raise my sensitivity? This is my most recent issue, and though I still have much reading to do (90% of it is by Dr.Yang Jwing-Ming and yourself), I have yet to find any specific exercises to raise that sensitivity.
Like many people, you make a big mistake here. You raise your sensitivity by practising sensitivity, not by reading about it. In the same way, one becomes proficiency in kungfu, chi kung, spiritual cultivation, painting, playing football or any art or activity by practising it, not by reading about it — a mistake many people, especially in the West, often make. One may read law or history, or even physics and biology in a university, but one becomes a practitioner by practising.
No matter how much you read about sensitivity and how many exercises you know to raise sensitivity, you cannot raise your sensitivity without practising. But if you do not know any specific exercises to raise sensitivity, how do you practise? You learn from a master who has high level of sensitivity.
Actually there are no specific exercises to raise sensitivity. That is the reason you have not found them even you may have read a lot. On the other hand, there are many exercises which can raise sensitivity, but you are unaware of them even though you may have read them. For example, all the exercises on Pushing Hands and on combat application in my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”, raises sensitivity.
When I practised Wing Choon Kungfu, my arms were so sensitive that I could effectively defend against attacks from my sparring partner even when I was blind-folded. How did I develop my sensitivity?
Very simple — so simple that many people may not believe it. I practised “chi sau loong”, or “sticking hands in circles”, which basically consists of two persons standing at the Goat-Stance, sticking their arms together and moving them in circles. In principle it is similar to Pushing Hand in Tai Chi Chuan using the “peng” and “lu” techniques performed in a stationary position.
My Wing Choon master, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, told me that after learning from Sifu Choe Onn in Malaysia, he returned to China to learn from Sifu Choe Chun. All he did everyday with Sifu Choe Chun was practising “chi sau loong”, not for ten or twenty minutes but continuously for one or two hours.
About all I know is that visualization is used in the beginning, and then discarded later when it is no longer needed. Is there a specific exercise you can “give” me that can help me realize my goal?
Here again you make a mistake, and the mistake is due to reasoning based on intellectual reading. No, increasing your sensitivity does not need visualization. In fact if you attempt visualization at any stage of sensitivity training, you retard your progress, and if you force your visualization you may cause serious side-effects. One does not visualize or think about sensitivity, but feels it. And one does not read about sensitivity, but trains it.
There are many methods to train sensitivity, and most of them are actually very simple but very effective. One very simple example from Tai Chi Chuan which you and many people know and do not know, is explained below. You know the method, but you do not know that by performing the method you can develop sensitivity.
Train with a partner. Both of you stand at the right Bow-Arrow Stance. Hold your right arms forward with the forearms touching each other. Keep the arms gently in contact throughout the exercise. You gently push forward your right arm and your partner retreats his right arm accordingly. Then he pushes forward his right arm and you retreat your right arm accordingly. Repeat hundreds or thousands of times. All movements should be in smooth, gently curves — not in straight lines.
Both of you must be totally relaxed throughout the exercise — physically, emotionally and mentally. Do not use strength. Do not think. Do not visualize. Do not waste your time trying to reason why or how this training can raise your sensitivity. Just practise the exercise as explained — mechanically at first, but as you approach its depth, you will be practising intuitively and flowing with energy.
Both students and masters practise this exercise. The students do not feel much effect; the masters not only have high levels of sensitivity but can throw opponents many feet backward with a push. What makes the difference? The students go over the exercises for a few minutes; the masters practise it for many years.
Or will I read of it in your book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”? If I will run across it in your book, there is no need to spend your time explaining it to me, of course.
Any one of the many exercises described in my book can increase sensitivity as well as internal force. Even when I have explained the exercises in details, as I have sometimes done in my book, you may not acquire any sensitivity or internal force. Why? Because the onus is not on reading but on training.
My aims are high sensitivity, so that I can actually feel the channels. I realize of course it is probably progressive; it won't happen overnight by any means. But if it takes years of meditation, I'm more than willing, and I already know I have the patience for it.
To train for years just to have high sensitivity to feel chi flowing in your channels is an extremely unwise use of time. Virtually every student who attended my intensive chi kung course felt chi flowing in his channels in his very first lessons with me.
You also have confused symptoms with purpose. Having high sensitivity to feel energy flow is a symptom indicating your progress; it should not be the purpose for which you devote your time to Tai Chi Chuan. The purpose of Tai Chi Chuan training is for good health, combat efficiency and spiritual development.
Even if you did not have high sensitivity or did not feel the channels, but have good health, can defend yourself decently and enjoy inner peace, your time in Tai Chi Chuan training has been well spent. On the other hand, even if you are highly sensitive and feel your channels strongly, but are still weak and sickly, do not know what to do if an assailant grabs your collar, or are often nervous and unsure of yourself, then you have wasted your time in Tai Chi Chuan.
In regards to your article, “Showing Respect to the Master”, what etiquette is proper when one's respected master has an obvious sexual attraction to her?
— Michelle, USA
In the Eastern tradition, it is most unbecoming for a master to have any sexual dealings with his students, male and female. He is a father to his students — not a friend, not a lover and certainly not a sex partner.
Any teacher, often under the pretext of injecting power, enticing sexual favours from his female students is as disgusting as a brute forcing himself sexually on his daughters, even adapted daughters.
If a female student shows sexual interest to a master, which sometimes happens, he must tactfully but decisively avoid it. If he succumbs, irrespective of his situations or excuses, such as “I'm merely doing it for her sake”, then he does not measure to the rank of masters — he may at best be an expert in his field.
With this background your question therefore becomes irrelevant. If someone whom you think is your respected master indicates an obvious sexual attraction to you, then that someone is not a real master. A proper etiquette is to politely but in no uncertain terms reject his advances.
If he persists, you should leave him and his school. However, if you like him (even though he is not a real master) and if your relationship does not harm anyone, you may react in whatever decent ways you think fit.
On the other hand, if it is you who are sexually attracted to the master, as suggested literally by your question, you should divert your attention from him to someone more appropriate, if you truly respect him as your master. Treat him as you would treat your own father. If the attraction is overwhelming, you should leave him, even though it may be painful initially.
You have to accept the fact that there are things that one can do, and there are things that one cannot do. But the pain will subside as soon you will discover that the sexual attraction or what you thought was love is just a passing fancy.
I have been studying Kung Fu for 6 years now. Unfortunately it is an external style and does not emphasize the internal as much as other styles. Lately I have been having pain in my lower left abdominal region (for about 2-3 weeks). I am going to a doctor, but in the meantime, I was wondering if you had any meditations/exercises I could do to balance chi flow to my lower abdominal area.
— Jon, USA
Due to various reasons, much of kungfu taught today, including Taijiquan which is actually an internal art, deals with only external forms.
If the pain in your abdominal region is due to energy blockage, it is unlikely your doctor can find anything wrong with you. The usual conventional treatment is prescribing a pain killer, which from the kungfu and chi kung perspective is only treating the symptom.
Practising chi kung is an excellent way to overcome pain. Just a minute of reflection can show that this is only logical. Pain is a symptom of energy blockage. A principal Chinese medical tenet states that “wherever there is injury to blood flow, there is swelling; wherever there is injury to energy flow, there is pain.” The forte of chi kung is to ensure harmonious energy flow.
It is amazing how many people think they can easily pick up a meditation or chi kung exercise from an e-mail, a book or a video in the way they pick up a cook's recipe. Actually, asking a chi kung master for a description of a chi kung exercise is like asking a surgeon for a description of a surgical operation. Would you operate on yourself by following a surgeon's description?
This shameful situation in chi kung is due to many people, before they themselves have practised the art adequately, start teaching what they claim to be chi kung like teaching physical exercise.
I have been practising Hung Gar Kung Fu since I was 10 year old (I'm now 17). Do you know of a set named Lai Kio Sau? This is the set we used in our school for strengthening our arm and also for developing our internal strength. Everywhere on the net, I haven't seen any mention of this set. Could you give me some information and on it's history?
— Gabriel, Canada
What you refer to is “Leen Kiu Sau”, which in Cantonese means “training the arms”. Having powerful arms is a characteristic of Hung Gar Kungfu.
“Leen Kiu Sau” is a generic term. There are many methods to “leen kiu sau” or strengthen the arms. One way is to practise the zhang zhuang pattern called “Ting Kam Kiu”, or “Golden Bridge”. This is also an excellent way to develop internal strength. Another way is to practise “Ta Sam Sing”, or “Three Stars Striking”. This is an external method.
There is one famous kungfu set in Hung Gar Kungfu for strengthening the arms and developing internal force, and it is called “Thit Seen Khuen”, or “Iron Wire Set”. The set you practise is probably this set. It is very important that you practise “Thit Seen Khuen” correctly. Incorrect practice may lead to serious harmful effects.
“Thit Seen Khuen” is one of the three fundamental Hung Gar kungfu sets, the other two being “Kung Tze Fuk Fu” or “Taming the Tiger”, and “Fu Hok Seong Yin” or “Tiger-Crane Double Forms”. “Kung Tze Fuk Fu” and “Fu Hok Seong Yin” are mainly for combat application, whereas “Thit Seen Khuen” is for force training.
“Thit Seen Khuen” is reputed to be invented by the great Southern Shaolin master, Thit Kiu Sam, the foremost of the “Ten Tigers of Guangdong”. Thit Kiu Sam, which means “Iron Arm Three” was his honorific nickname because his arms were extremely powerful and he was the third in his family. His real name was Leong Khuan.
L'oiseau (the bird) is one of the Ba Duan Jin exercises we do at our school. When I do this particular chi kung exercise I feel good. Here is something that happened twice while I was doing this exercise: I felt light as a bird. In fact I saw in my mind (my eyes were closed) myself as a bird flying into nothingness. Also with each flapping of my arms I felt as if I was flying higher and higher, farther and farther.
There are no patterns in Ba Duan Jin, or the “Eight Pieces of Brocade”, called the Bird. The eight Ba Duan Jin patterns are
- Lifting the Sky
- Shooting Arrows
- Plucking Stars
- Turning Head
- Punching with Angry Eyes
- Carrying the Moon
- Nourishing Kidneys
They form the first eight patterns in the Eighteen Lohan Hands taught in my school.
Nevertheless, if you feel good doing the Bird exercise, you need not worry whether it is part of the Ba Duan Jin. Continue your practice and enjoy the benefits.
The Bird exercise you mentioned may be “Lifting the Sky”. While part of the hand movements in this exercise resembles the flapping of a bird's wings, and some practitioners may experience the sensation of flying into nothingness, its fundamental function is to harmonize the energy network of the whole body, as indicated in the poetic description of this exercise: “seong sau tok thien lei sam chiew'. Word by word the expression means ”double hands support sky harmonize triple warmers", which may mean nothing to the uninitiated.
I am very interested in learning about Chi Kung. I can read all the books I find on it, but I have found with other endeavours that there is still something missing. I have a Masters Degree in Holistic Medicine, but that is just the beginning. There is always something more to learn that can be helpful. The biggest problem I have is that I live “in the middle of nowhere.” Do you know of any Masters in this area, or do you have any suggestions?
— Ken, USA
If you wish to learn about chi kung, my books “The Art of Chi Kung” and “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality”, will be very useful.
But, as you have mentioned correctly, even if you had read all the books on chi kung, there would still be something missing, and this something is the essence. Chi kung is an art dealing with practical skills, not a content-subject dealing with theoretical knowledge. Knowledge is valuable, but the crucial point about any practical art is that if you do not directly experience its benefits, the knowledge becomes hollow.
You many know that practising chi kung gives you good health and vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy, and you may know many methods to realize the results, but unless and until you have actually practised the methods and personally experienced the results, you have missed the essence of the art. You may be a chi kung scholar, but never a practitioner.
And in an internal art like chi kung, you have to learn from and practise with a living master, not from books or bogus instructors who themselves have not experienced the benefits of chi kung they claim to teach. Many people have written to ask me to supply them via e-mails chi kung methods to overcome their illness or improve their health. As a master in holistic medicine, you will realize how naïve and ridiculous these requests are.
One may read chi kung from books, just as one reads medicine in a university, but to be proficient in chi kung, medicine or any art, one must practise. A graduate from medical school needs to spend some time in internship under the supervision of senior doctors. Yet there are many people who think they can become chi kung masters overnight without even having to be chi kung practitioners.
Chi kung has much to offer the modern world. Amongst many other things, chi kung can effectively overcome two pressing problems facing modern societies, namely the whole range of so-called incurable diseases and intra-personal loneliness.
If you wish to acquire good chi kung, you do not expect real masters flocking to you. Real chi kung masters are very rare today. You have to search for them and go to them.