November 2001 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
My teacher says, as you say on your website in response to various questions, that without proper training, kung fu forms will not be anything other than dancing, and not terribly effective. To that end, I have tried to research into chi kung starting at its source, Bodhidharma. I was wondering if you could tell me where I could locate some of the writings of him and other practitioners of chi kung.
— Billy, USA
The great Bodhidharma, whom we greatly honoured, is the First Patriarch of Shaolin Kungfu, Shaolin Chi Kung and Zen, but he was not the source of chi kung. Chi Kung already existed for a long time even before the Shaolin Monastery was built in 495 BCE.
For example, about 400 years before Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Monastery in 527 BCE, Hua Tuo, revered as the God of Chinese Medicine, formulated a system of chi kung exercises known as the “Five-Animal Play”, which is still popularly practised today.
“Nei Jing” or “Inner Classic”, considered by many as the most authoritative text of Chinese medicine, recorded the successful use of chi kung principles and practice in overcoming illness and maintaining health by the Chinese people at least two thousand years before the Common Era.
Yet, the earliest written record of chi kung was found a few thousand years earlier, engraved on a piece of jade pendant discovered by archaeologists. It described in a most arcane manner the chi kung technique for the Small Universal Chi Flow.
A comprehensive description of the history of chi kung from the earliest times to the present day can be found in my book, “The Art of Chi Kung”. My other books, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” and “The Complete Book of Zen”, gave some important information about Bodhidharma, including evidence that he was a real person and not just a myth as mistakenly claimed by some scholars, who probably have never practised Shaolin Kungfu, Shaolin Chi Kung or Zen (the very arts initiated by Bodhidharma).
I already have “The Bodhidharma Anthology” and “The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma”, but neither of these texts really talks about chi kung.
I do not know who wrote “The Bodhidharma Anthology” and “The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma”, but I suspect they are not authentic. The reason is powerful and simple: they directly contradict the central point of Bodhidharma's teaching. Despite your interest n Bodhidharma, and presumably your great respect for him, you have missed this central point.
“Burn your books and carry on with your training” was the central point Bodhidharma had been telling his followers. In other words, do not be tied down with intellectual studies, but experience practical results from your practice. It is simply incongruous for Bodhidharma to have written so much that his writings could be gathered into an anthology or collection.
The essence of Bodhidharma's Zen teaching can be summed up in the following sentence: “Sit in a lotus position, think of nothing and do nothing.” This was in fact what my Shaolin master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, told me when he taught me Zen The comments and explanations of the masters on Bodhidharma's teaching on Zen may be compiled into a book, but certainly not the Patriarch's own writing.
I have encountered the titles of several other chi kung works online, but have not been able to locate them, namely Muscle/Tendon Cleansing Classic and Brain/Marrow Cleansing Classic. I have seen these same titles in various forms, and am hoping that if you know them under another name you will nonetheless be able to recognize what I'm talking about.
While we can find a lot useful information on the internet, there is also a lot of rubbish. So you have to differentiate the grain from the chafe.
It is well known that Bodhidharma taught three sets of chi kung exercises at the Shaolin Monastery to help the Shaolin monks in their Zen cultivation. They were “Eighteen Lohan Hands”, “Sinew Metamorphosis” (or what you call “Tendon Cleansing”) and “Marrow Cleansing”.
The first two are well recorded in writing as well as in illustrations, but nothing much is mentioned or illustrated for “Marrow Cleansing”. This is because “Marrow Cleansing” does not refer to a definite set of exercises like “Eighteen Lohan Hands” and “Sinew Metamorphosis” where specific patterns are used. It refers to the operation and effects of chi or vital energy going into the bones and nerves to cleanse them. Any pattern from “Eighteen Lohan Hands” and “Sinew Metamorphosis” can perform “marrow cleansing”.
Are there any texts which discuss the methods of chi kung and their use? My teacher has already told me that internal chi kung is of little or no use, is in fact dangerous to the user, without a master's teaching.
So please do not think I am trying to circumvent my master or trying to get ahead of myself. I have gotten my sifu's blessing to read as much on it as I can. He very much encourages me to do so, -with the stipulation that I discuss with him what I read, but he has learned everything he knows word-of-mouth and not from texts, so he cannot point me anywhere.
There are so many books that discuss chi kung methods and their use, although from their writing it is obvious to me that some of the authors never have any personal experience of what they wrote. For example, some of the patterns illustrated by some authors as “Marrow Cleansing” are merely physical exercise. These authors did not even know the difference between physical exercise and chi kung, which is energy exercise.
In other instances, if the authors themselves had practised what they wrote and obtained the desired effects, they would not have described the methods in their books giving the impression that if readers follow the methods they would obtain the desired effects. These authors would realize from their personal experience that not only incorrect practice of the methods (which are often reported correctly) would bring serious side-effects, even correct practice of the methods by uninitiated readers would not obtain the desired effects!
Why is this so? Let me give you an example from real experience. In fact I taught a class of Sinew Metamorphosis this morning at Banyoles in southern Spain. After performing “Flicking Fingers”, a pattern from Sinew Metamorphosis, the students went into flowing Zen.
At the end of the session when the students were asked to comment on their practice, Roberto Lamberti who is a master himself, told the group that he had a fantastic experience. He clearly felt three streams of energy flowing down the inside of each arm, then up the other side, up his head, down his body and through his internal organs, down each leg on the outside, then up the inside, up the body and through his organs, and down the arms again. I told him and the class that the Sinew Metamorphosis exercise had generated his Big Universal Chi Flow, or Macro-Cosmic Flow.
Jeffrey Segal, who has learned chi kung from me for many years, told the class that people might not believe what he was going to say but it was true. In his Zen state after performing the “Flicking Fingers” exercise, he clearly saw the inside of his bones and joints. If you wish to confirm with Jeffrey or Roberto, or find out more details, you can contact them directly. Their e- mail addresses are found somewhere in my extensive website.
It was the first time Roberto and Jeffrey practised Sinew Metamorphosis. They had extra- ordinary results because of their “gong” (pronounced as “kung”), which may be poorly translated as skills, and which they acquired from my intensive chi kung course in Malaysia.
But even fresh beginners who joined my chi kung class the first time had remarkable results. Practically all students felt powerful and at the same time peaceful and happy. One woman, for example, who was a beginner reported that she felt her palms were so powerful she believed she could floor an adult male with just one sweep.
These effects would be considered extra-ordinary by other people, but to us they are the norm, as these are the effects Sinew Metamorphosis will produce. If they did not have these results, then either they practised wrongly or what they practised was not Sinew Metamorphosis. The really extra-ordinary thing was that they had these results on the first day of their training, whereas most other people would need at least a few months, if not a few years.
The most important point I want to convey is that even if I tap-recorded every instruction I gave in the Sinew Metamorphosis class for you to follow, you and even your sifu would not have the results described above. Please do not be mistaken that I wanted to slight him. I only want to help you and him, because from what you have written it is apparent to me that both you and your sifu are sincere and dedicated to Shaolin Kungfu. I do not want to see someone who is sincere and dedicated to waste his time.
The gist of what I told my students in the Sinew Metamorphosis class was as follows: Stand upright and be relaxed. Straighten your arms and hold your palms with your fingers pointing in front. Close your mouth gently and place your tongue at your upper gum. Flick your fingers twenty four times.
You will find the same instructions in every book on Sinew Metamorphosis (except that you will be asked to flick your fingers forty nine times instead of twenty four). Why don't you have the desired results if you follow the instructions? Because for an advanced internal art like Sinew Metamorphosis you have to learn it personally from a master who himself has practised Sinew Metamorphosis and has derived the desired benefits from it.
You may read all about Sinew Metamorphosis, but if you do not have the transmission from a master, usually from heart to heart, you would not have the desired results. In the same way, you may read all about surgery, but if you have not been personally trained by a senior surgeon, you would not successfully operate on a patient.
“Burn your books and carry on with your training”, the great Bodhidharma advised. Of course you do not really burn your books, but if you want the benefits of Sinew Metamorphosis or Marrow Cleansing, learn from a master who personally practises the art, and, more significantly, who is willing to teach you.
Once you have practised Sinew Metamorphosis, Marrow Cleansing or any genuine high-level Shaolin chi kung, you will realize that all your questions above become irrelevant. Let us use an analogy. You wish to speak or read Chinese and so you read all you can about the language, finding answers to questions like what the future perfect tense of “go” and the plural of “ox” are. But no matter how much you read about Chinese, you still cannot speak or read the language. But once you can speak or read Chinese you will find that all your questions about Chinese grammar are irrelevant.
A few years ago I read your book “The Art Of Chi Kung ”, and found it most fascinating and informative. I did start to try and put into practice some of the lessons which you described in the book, but I was very aware of the various warnings you had given as to the damage that I might do to myself.
— Richard, Ireland
You can attempt safe exercises like “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon”, and you will find that even you perform them at a low level compared to the level you will perform when you learn from me personally, the benefits are remarkable.
I also realise that it is impossible for me to learn from a book.
It is not impossible to learn from a book. But it is not advisable to learn advanced chi kung exercises from a book if you have no adequate chi kung experience. A chi kung master, on the other hand, can benefit very much by learning from a book.
There are three factors involved regarding learning chi kung, kungfu or anything from a book, namely the book, the exercise and the reader.
If the book is specially written as a self-taught manual on subjects like gardening and carpentry, one would not imagine any risk in learning from it. But if it is written in arcane language meant for initiated students, or if the author specifically mentions that the exercise is not meant for self- learning, it is only wise to read it for information or fun only.
I once read a book on “Brain Surgery Self-Taught”. The author mentions that you must use a strong rope to tie your patient, or friend, onto a really strong bed. And make sure your chisel is sharp and not rusty. It is obvious that it is a book for humour. No one in his right sense would attempt brain surgery on his friend by learning it from a book. One should also have the same common sense not to try advance chi kung exercise on energy and mind on himself.
If the reader is a master, he would have no difficulty or risk learning from a book on his subject or a related subject. A karate, taekwondo or kungfu master teaching external kungfu forms can benefit much from learning the principles, techniques, tactics and combat strategies I explain in my Shaolin and Taijiquan books — though he may still have difficulty understanding some fine techniques if they are not illustrated in details. But it would be unwise of him to attempt exercises which he has no experience, like creating a ball of energy at his abdominal energy field, or challenging internal force to his hand for a powerful strike.
It would be foolish for beginners to attempt these advanced exercises, yet many of them do so, and believe they could achieve results in shorter time than the masters did.
I am 33 years old, married and we have 5 children. About 25 years ago I started to learn a version of White Crane Kungfu. Unfortunately, after about 6 years, we moved countries and I had to give up going to kungfu classes. For many years I tried various martial arts but I found none that had the same impact on me as White Crane Kungfu and my sifu. In the end I took up Boxing and became a coach after a few years.
Despite your respect for your sifu and your kungfu style, which is the right thing to do and I am proud of you, you must have missed the beauty and depth of kungfu, otherwise you would not have given up kungfu for boxing. It is like giving up diamonds for some sand. Of course it must be real diamonds. If they are useless stones which you mistook for diamonds, it might sometimes be better to exchange the stones for sand.
Once you have experienced the beauty and depth of genuine great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan, not having your teacher with you is not a problem. You can, and should, continue to train on your own. Continue to polish your diamonds and they will forever shine.
Most of my students have little chance to train with me for a long time. They may have trained with me for only three days (in chi kung) or five (in Shaolin and Taijiquan), but those few days were sufficient for them to acquire fundamental skills and techniques that have changed their lives and have given them tremendous joy. Many of them have told me they could never thank me enough. This is one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
Over the years I have always threatened to join a Tai Chi class but it has been difficult to find the time.
I do not know what you mean by the word “threatened”. If you thought you were so frustrated for being unable to learn a good martial art that you would condescend to try Taijiquan, you were grossly mistaken. Except Shaolin Kungfu, there are no martial arts in the world that can come close to Taijiquan in terms of wonders and benefits.
But if you are thinking of Tai Chi as it is popularly taught today, which I would regard as Taiji dance, I would advise you to forget it. Why? Because it would make a mockery of your purpose and aspirations.
If you are thinking of health, more likely than not your Tai Chi teacher would turn out to be someone weaker in physique and duller in mind than you.
If you are thinking of combat, your Tai Chi teacher would be unable to defend himself (or herself, as there are many female Tai Chi teachers nowadays) if you throw him some boxing punches.
If you are thinking of spiritual development, you would be learning from someone, despite his (or her) good nature, who has no direction in and is ignorant of what he is teaching! Most Tai Chi teachers today do not know where they are leading their students to, or what Taijiquan actually is.
If you wish to learn a great art and benefit much from it, you have to find the time not just to practise the art, but first of all seeking for a good master who is willing to teach you. If you are unwilling or unable to meet this requirement, you have to be contented with merely reading about its wonderful benefits but never having a chance to experience them.
I have recently moved cities and, again, I have gone in search of a Chi Kung teacher, but to no avail. I know, from reading your web pages, that you are coming to Ireland very soon but I am not able to attend your course this time, but I hope to attend a future one
You did not really search for a chi kung teacher, but hoped you would meet one conveniently. Real chi kung masters are rare; you have to spend time and effort to search for them. I taught chi kung at Tralee in your beautiful country in February this year, and the results were so good that I was invited again to teach in Killarney in July.
If you could not attend my chi kung classes, you could call up the organizer and some of those who attended the classes to find out their opinions.
If you are serious about finding out what genuine Shaolin Kungfu is, and if you are ready to work hard, I would suggest that you attain my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course . But if you are not prepared for hard work, you can attain my Intensive Chi Kung Course and find out in three days from direct personal experience, answers to questions which have troubled you for years.
How could chi kung be used to cure myopia or nearsightedness of the eyes?
— TJ, USA
Chi kung is very effective for overcoming myopia and other eye problems. It does so by restructuring your eyes from inside. This may sound incrediable but it is true. It clears away the bad cells that cause problems to your eyes, or any other organs for that matter, and regenerates healthy cells.
But you have to practise genuine chi kung.. If you merely learn external chi kung forms, which is the norm today, at best you only improve your eye muscles, but not change the cells.
I have talked to my husband about chi kung and he has become very interested in attending the next seminar. Besides hypertension and column problems he has exostosis inside his ears. He is submitted to surgery in order to correct it in one of his ears. The surgery consists of cutting the excess of the bone, and it is very delicate. He will also have to do surgery on the other ear.
The doctor told him that it would be better to do it this fall because the ear is completely shut, and it is even impossible to observe its inside. This brings problems of infections and reduces his hearing. I would like to know if chi kung may solve this problem because if there is a chance he will postpone the surgery and wait for the next seminar.
— Ana, Portugal
A few of my students had ear problems similar to your husband's. Their specialist doctors recommended surgery, saying that nothing else could be done to save their ears and their hearing. But they did chi kung instead, and overcame their ear problems without surgery.
I cannot guarantee that your husband's ear problem will definitely be cured, but he certainly has a very good chance. He will also cure his hypertension, colon problems and other illness if any, for chi kung treats the whole person.
It is better for him to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course in December in Malaysia than a chi kung class or seminar.. The quality of chi kung in the intensive course is much higher.
My beleife is that a once great school now seems to be substandard, and basically a business more than a learning institution. The classes are no longer structured, and training generally comprises of that which you want to practice and not so much a lesson.. The instructors are not highly qualified. The instructor who teaches the classes I attend has admittedly never spared, not even once in his life time.
— Robert, Australia
Every learning institution, whether it teaches kungfu, economics or dancing, is a business. The important point is that the institution and its teachers must be professional and ethical, which means, among other things, they know what they are teaching, and that it has value for the fees collected.
Unfortunately, but it is a fact of life, many chi kung and kungfu (especially Taiji) teachers are not professional. They think they teach chi kung or kungfu, but they do not know they are actually teaching physical exercise. Nevertheless, they are not unethical because their ignorcance is honest and their fees are usually low. Their students normally get their money's worth in the physical exercise or socialization in class.
Practising rather than learning is the most important part of kungfu training, especially at a high level. But the practice must be appropriate and directed to the goals in mind. Immediate goals are developing internal force and combat efficiency. Practice without direction is usually a waste of time.
If the instructor has never sparred even once in his life time, he cannot be combat efficient. It is therefore a case of the blind leading the bliind. Nevertheless, if your immediate goal is not combat efficiency but learning kungfu forms, practising with the instructor is purposeful.
Some students want to attend my intensive Shaolin Kungfu course but have no prior kungfu experience. I advise them to learn kungfu forms first then come to me later for internal force training and combat application, but even that it is difficult in some places to find schools teaching just external kungfu forms.