February 2001 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
After your course and your pupils practise on their own, how do you avoid they have troubles in their practice? After they have left you, their practice might be perfect, but what if a mistake happens once?
— Jorge, Portugal
My intensive chi kung course is complete by itself. This means that a dedicated student, without any prior knowledge and experience of chi kung, and without learning anything extra from me or elsewhere, can competently practise on his own after the course and attain a fairly high level and may eventually become a master.
In fact some students come back for more intensive courses, not to learn new things but to repeat what they have learnt. They understand and appreciate the “secret” to becoming a master is not learning more and more techniques, but deepening what they already know. They repeated the “same” course content, but the results were vastly different. Jeffrey and Luis are two good examples. You can read their comments, made after their intensive courses, at Teaching Me to Smile from the heart and Seeing Life in a Different Way and Experiencing its Beauty. It is expected that in his own training, a student may make mistakes, even though he has learnt and could perform the methods correctly during the intensive course. But the course is so designed that the exercises which cause harmful effects will at the same time generate energy flow that can wash away the harmful effects.
If the harmful effects are too strong to be washed away by the same exercise, the student can perform remedial exercises, such as self-manifested chi movement, to clear the harmful effects.
Such safety precautions are necessary and have been proved effective, otherwise I would never have thought of teaching such high level chi kung at an intensive course of a few days.
How do I substantiate my claim of high level chi kung? Just one example. Virtually every student of my intensive chi kung class could generate internal energy flow on the very first day of the course. How do they know that? They know by direct experience.
Your intensive course in Malaysia is quite expensive for me. An immediate option would be to attend the 3-day course at Madrid. Are the teachings you will give there good for what I need?
Are those teachings at the same level of the intensive course?
By ordinary standard, my intensive course is expensive for most people, including the rich. Charging US$1000 for three days of lessons is exorbitant compared to what most chi kung teachers charge, which is about US$50 for a month.
On the other hand, my intensive course students have repeatedly told me that the time and money were well spent, and that they had some of their best experiences of their lives. In fact I just received an e-mail from Neil of Canada who told me he would gladly have paid a hundred times more.
If coming to Malaysia for an intensive course is not within your budget at present, a good alternative is to attend one of my chi kung classes in Spain, Portugal or other places where I teach. These classes certainly serve the students' needs, or else I would not offer them. Even if I offered them, no students would attend if their needs are not fulfilled. My chi kung classes are also expensive when compared to other chi kung classes, but they are much cheaper than my intensive courses.
The content of these chi kung classes and of my intensive courses in Malaysia are externally the “same” but the result are vastly different. Many people, including Jeffrey and Luis mentioned earlier, who have attended both the classes and the intensive courses have mentioned the vast difference.
In fact Jeffrey who just completed my intensive course a second time recently (in December), wanted to attend the next intensive course in March. I told him that while he would certainly benefit from the “same” intensive course the third time, it might be better for him to repeat my Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan intensive courses instead.
The level as well as nature of my teaching in chi kung classes and in intensive courses are different. It is not that because students pay me more in intensive courses, I teach better. I believe a good teacher gives his best, and I practise what I preach.
The methodology and pace in teaching a class of 100 students are understandably different from teaching a course of 20 students. If they were the same, then either he is a poor teacher (he does not know how to tailor his teaching to suit the situation); or he does not give his best (he uses the same methodology irrespective of the situation).
When I have a small group, as in an intensive course, I employ the highest level of teaching, i.e. transmitting skills from heart to heart. This is not feasible when the group is large, in which case I employ the highest level of teaching suitable for the situation, which is often instructing according to the progress of the students.
There is also a vast difference in the learning process. In a small group I can easily monitor the progress of every student. When a student meets an obstacle, for example, I can go to the student immediately and help him overcome the obstacle. thus speeding up his progress.
In a large group I also try to monitor every student, but due to the large number each one would logically receive less personal attention. Hence, obstacles of some students may be overlooked, or even if I could detect them I might not have sufficient time to attend to them at the same time. Their progress is therefore delayed.
Such fine points may not make any difference in teaching or learning gymnastics or dance, but they make a great difference in internal arts like chi kung where training of energy and mind is involved. For example, if a dancer tenses a muscle, he can still perform his dance. But if a chi kung student tenses a muscle and it is not detected and corrected, he may have energy blockage throughout that exercise instead of enjoying beneficial energy flow.
I've learned Chinese martial art for one and a half year. One of my jibengong is zhan zhuang (also called horse-riding stance). I found that this is the most difficult to train. After two to three months of training horse-riding stance, I am just capable of standing for 2 minutes.
— Yasmine, Malaysia
“Ji-beng-gong” means fundamental force training. “Fundamental” does not mean “the lowest level”, but means “most important, being the foundation for all future development”. Most people merely know the surface or dictionary meaning of these terms; they do not really appreciate their meaning. If they did, they would have spent at least five times more effort on “ji- beng-gong”.
“Gong” is provisionally translated here as “force”. Actually “gong” is much more than what the term “force” can suggest, but there is no suitable English term that can convey the complete concept of “gong”, and “force” is the nearest equivalent available, though it is in fact still very far off. The whole idea of kungfu (spelt as “gongfu” in Romanized Chinese) is the training and application of “gong”.
Besides force, “gong” includes aspects like accuracy of form, speed, fluidity of movement, temperament, mental clarity and freshness, spontaneity of reaction, and quick decision making. In some ways “skills” many be a better substitute than “force” for “gong”. but it may sometimes give a wrong connotation.
“Zhan zhuang” means “stance training”. Some people translate “zhan zhuang” as “standing on stakes”, which is a literally translation and, in my opinion, translated wrongly. A Chinese word has many meanings, sometimes related, sometimes different from one another. One of the meanings of “zhuang” is “stakes” or piles driven vertically into the ground to support a building. Another, more usual, meaning is foundation, the result of a collection of stakes. In kungfu, “zhuang” means “stance”, related to the meaning of “foundation”.
One of the most popular stance used in “zhan zhuang” is the Three-Circle Stance, or the Taiji Stance as it is widely used in Taijiquan. In southern Shaolin Kungfu, the most important stance is the Horse-Riding Stance. It is the most demanding exercise in all kungfu. The Three-Circle Stance by comparison is child-play. If you can persist in training the Horse-Riding Stance, you can do anything in kungfu or in life.
Remaining correctly at the Horse-riding Stance for two minutes is quite an achievement. Most people cannot remain for half a minute. But you should aim at five minutes, which is the minimum requirement for a reasonable attainment in this stance training. You must progress gradually. It may take you many months, or even years, but the effort will be well spent. Many people expressed amazement at my internal force when they sparred with me. This is one of the rewards of my many years of stance training.
Can you show me the way to stand longer? Should I stand longer? How long should it be?
The way all masters have travelled is sheer hard work. If you are not ready to put in hard work everyday for at least a few months, you can forget about developing internal force with the Horse- Riding Stance.
Of course you should stand longer, but the increase of time must be gradual. It is reputed that great Shaolin masters in the past like Hoong Hei Khoon and Thit Kiew Sam remained at their Horse-Riding Stance for hours everyday! Nevertheless, with reference to our present standard of kungfu, if you can remain at your stance for 15 minutes, you would have done well.
Here are some advice which may make your hard work more pleasant. Indeed, initially most people find practising the Horse-Riding Stance a “torture”, but gradually the few who persist and succeed in overcoming the initial pain, will find subtle joys in the stance training.
Most important of all you must relax — physically and mentally. Asking how to relax is like asking how to speak or how to eat. You just relax, like you just speak or eat. If you can relax you will have removed the most significant obstacle preventing you from lengthening the time of your stance training.
It is important to have your form correct, and remain at this correct form throughout the exercise. See that your body is upright, your mouth slightly open, and your fists held firmly at your waist. Your eyes may be open or gently close. Breathe naturally and gently. Place your mind at your abdominal dan tian (energy field) and count your breathing.
Let us say in this first training session you can “sit” on your Horse-Riding Stance for 10 breaths. “Sit” for 10 breaths for the next two sessions. At the fourth session, i.e. after training for 3 sessions, increase 1 or 2 breaths. For the next 3 sessions “sit” on your stance for 11 or 12 breaths. Continue training in this manner, adding 1 or 2 breaths after 3 sessions. In this way, provided that your training is consistent and regular, you will be able to “sit” on your stance for about 15 minutes after a few months. You will also find that your breathing has become deeper and longer.
Zhan zhuang or stance training does not merely give your solid stances. More significantly it builds your internal force and gives you mental clarity and freshness. You should also complement your stance training with leg stretching exercises, so that your footwork is not only solid but also agile.
I had also added the training item called long-distance running into my jibengong, in which I run (but actually jog) 5 km to 10 km everyday within 45 minutes to 1 hour. I found it very effective. My stance and stamina become stronger.
Long distance running is a good way to train stamina and endurance, but you must know how to train correctly. Most people do not know how to train correctly, and consequently harm themselves seriously but insidiously.
The chief reason for harming themselves is that they over-work their internal organs, like their heart, lungs and kidneys. Because their organs are conditioned to being over-worked, they have an apparent increase of strength and stamina. An analogy is that you have a small car, but you run it like a big car.
In genuine kungfu training, long distance running is a chi kung exercise. In Shaolin Kungfu it is called the “Art of Thousand Steps”. First you have to loosen relevant muscles and strengthen your internal organs. You also have to learn appropriate breathing techniques, so that not only you have better intake of good energy but also more efficient disposal of toxic waste.
Suppose your initial work capacity is 3000 units. With methodical and systematic training you increase your work capacity to 5000 units. But you never push yourself to your limits. At the most you perform at 4500 units. When you perform at 4000 units, like when you are running long distance or sparring non-stop for an hour, you will find the task easy.
But most people perform long distance running as a physical exercise, and often without any relevant preparations, except perhaps warming up. Their work capacity is 3000 units, but they force themselves to work at 3500 units or even 4000 units. Because of conditioning, they may be able to do so for a while, and have an apparent increase of stamina and endurance, but prolonged over-working will wear them down or may even cause their organs to collapse.
I read a book published in China authored by a Shaolin master about an art called 'liu xing bu', in which the trainee attached ankle weights and run to improve qing gong. Is this true? Is it correct as a training item in kungfu?
Yes, this is true, but you must equip yourself with supportive exercises and trained under a master. Otherwise you will hurt yourself. Running long distance unmethodically is bad enough, adding weights to your ankles only aggravate your damage.
Some people have read that self-taught training of advanced kungfu exercises can be harmful. Here is one example.
I read a book authored by a Shaolin monk regarding dian xue, in which a thrust of finger at some points on the body can paralyse an enemy. Does that really work? How to train for that?
Yes, that really works. My master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, was an expert in this art, and had actually used it and confirmed its validity.
Please show some respect for a great art. If it can be so easily taught to any Tom, Dick and Harry, and over an e-mail, there would be thousands of kungfu masters swarming the streets.
This art, known as One-Finger Zen in Shaolin Kungfu, belongs to a class of arts which masters would not exchange for tons of gold, but would teach to deserving disciples usually free of charge.
To be a Shaolin disciple is my dream. And to spread Shaolin arts (Zen or martial arts) and Chinese culture is my vision. But I find it difficult to find a real master. I know it is hard for me to have a real master like you, Sifu Wong. I still want to ask whether you still accept in-chamber students? And who are qualified to be your in-chamber students?
From my experience, ten out of ten persons who said at the start that their dream was to teach and spread the Shaolin arts, even before they had learnt these arts, did not have the endurance to become ordinary Shaolin students. They fancied that becoming a Shaolin master was as easy as reading a book and practising some exercises at their leisure for three months.
Of course finding a real master is difficult, although there are plenty of bogus masters around. Practising what the real master teaches is even more difficult. If you want to learn from a real master, not only you have to search for him and beg him to teach you, more importantly you have to practise and practise according to what he says — and not according to what you like.
This is only logical, but looking back I have found that many students, including some of my advanced students, did not become masters although they had the golden opportunity to do so, simply because they practised what they liked instead of what their teachers asked them to. For example, I asked an advanced student to go over and over again some simple combat sequences for a few months, but, thinking that he was smarter than me, he practised other more complex sequences instead.
Inner-chamber disciples are selected by the master when they are ready, not applied for by the students at their whims and fancy. No sensible students will ask a master whether they can be accepted as inner-chamber disciples, because no master would accept such an application. Why? There are many reasons, and the most obvious to the master as well as to initiated students, although the uninitiated may not know at all, is that such an application is a clear indication that the applicants are not qualified.
When a student is ready, there is only one qualification I demand of him, and that is he practises and manifests in his daily life the Ten Shaolin Laws. Honestly, I would love to have many more inner-chamber disciples, and to pass on the Shaolin arts to them as quickly as possible. But facts of reality are not what I would love them to be. There is no doubt that had I push favourite students to become inner-chamber disciples and teach them advanced arts when they are not ready, I would do them a great dis- service — I may spoil their chance of ever mastering the arts in future. Indeed amongst my present inner-chamber disciples, I am often disappointed that they do not progress as fast as I would like them to be,
Can you be my master?
I offer intensive Shaolin Kungfu courses. Please refer to http://www.shaolin.org/general/kf-course.html for details if you are interested.
If you wish to learn from me, the best action to take is to attend my intensive Shaolin Kungfu course. But this course is not for beginners, aspiring students should have some prior kungfu or at least martial art experience. And the course is very tough.
I have read in several places that training in qigong without a master is dangerous. Are there any styles of qigong that are inherently safer than others? In particular, are either of Liangong or Tai Ji qigong relatively safe to learn from tapes?
— Steve. USA
Styles of qigong taught in public parks to large groups of people are relatively safe. These qigong styles generally use a lot of forms to generate energy flow, and are understandably of a low level, compared to qigong styles that focus on breath control and mind.
Over time, even the energy aspect of these low level styles is lost, and they degenerate into gentle physical exercise.
I do not know about Lianqigong.
If you are new to qigong, it is unlikely you can learn real Taiji qigong or any qigong from tapes. You can learn the outward forms, and may perform them elegantly, but you would miss the energy and the mind aspects of the inner art.
When you can perform these outward forms proficiently, and especially if you have been practising for some years, have some theoretical knowledge about qigong, and have derived benefits like relaxation, loosen limbs and joints and general well-being (benefits that physical exercise can give), it is easy for the uninformed public to regard you as a qigong master, when in fact you are not even an ordinary qigong practitioner.
I have been practicing tai chi for a few months now, mostly self-taught from videos although I have been corresponding with a tai chi instructor. I'm about halfway through the Yang long form, and when I practice, I can feel heat in my hands and forearms. Is this a normal step in taichi practice?
Yes, if you are referring to Taiji dance, and a definite no if you are referring to genuine Taijiquan.
Yours is a common example of most people who learn from videos, and who learn Taiji dance from mediocre instructors. After a few months, and for many others it is after many years, when they feel some heat or tingling sensations in various parts of their body, they think they have made some fantastic achievements.
Such effects are felt by those who practise genuine Taijiquan or any genuine qigong after a few days. And that is nothing fantastic. Taijiquan is much, much more than feeling some heat.
Do you know if the styles of Pa Kua and Xing Yi are more dangerous to learn from tapes than Taichi? Should I just stick with Taichi until I can find a trainer in one of these other styles? I am very interested in all three, but especially Xing Yi.
It does not really matter whether you learn Pa Kua, Xing Yi, Taiji or any other kungfu or wushu styles from tapes. It does not matter whether you stick with Taiji or change to other styles. In the end you will still be dancing or doing gymnastics.
It is safe, and for most people also more fun than training genuine kungfu.