October 2001 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I have practised Aikido for many years, but I have only really begun to understand the deeper concepts and philosophy the last six months. That, in turn, has improved my physical, mental and spiritual performance greatly.
I have discovered the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism and find myself understanding things that I never before even dreamed of (like complex mathematics and physics). My understanding of Aikido has reached a certain level in every sense of the word, so why is it then, that I feel there is something missing?
— Chris, United Kingdom
Many people have asked me questions about Aikido, especially regarding a comparison between Aikido and the Chinese martial arts. I have given a fairly detailed account about the comparison between Aikido and Taijiquan in one of my question-answer series.
You feel something missing in Aikido because something essential is really missing when compared with Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan. This something missing is as follows. In Aikido one talks about ki, or chi, and about spiritual cultivation, but never really experience them. In Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan, one may or may not talk about chi and spiritual cultivation, but experience them directly. This feeling of something missing may be manifested in numerous ways.
For example, you have read that in Aikido ki is very important, but in practice you have never experienced ki. You have read that Aikido is not concerned in winning combat but in spiritual development, but virtually all your training deals with combat and nothing with spiritual development. Despite all that has been said, you may not even be sure what actually spiritual development means.
You may have concluded that Aikido deals with the internal, but in practice all you have done in your training is body mechanics, which is external. You know that Aikido means “the Way of Energy Harmony”, but you only know it as empty words; you do not really know what energy harmony is. Worse, you come to the realization that “the way” you have been practising is only mechanical and external.
I have been studying the techniques and philosophies of Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi at a purely academic level, and yet I can feel a burning desire to practice every facet of them; physically, mentally and spiritually.
It is natural for you to fervently want to practise Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan after reading their philosophy, because there is so much more depth as well as scope in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan than in Aikido. This is no surprise when we realize that Aikido has a history of about 50 years whereas Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan a history of about 1500 years and 800 years respectively.
For example, apart from some casual descriptions on the flow of ki and energy harmony, the literature on energy, spiritual development and related topics found in Aikido is limited, when compared to the vastness and richness of similar literature in Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan.
In Shaolin Kungfu you can find a lot of literature on both the principles and practice of using energy to develop fantastic force, to cure so-called incurable diseases, to enjoy radiant health and vitality even at old age, and to investigate into the cosmos and experience spiritual joys. Such literature, as far as I know, is not found in Aikido.
But if you merely study such rich literature at a purely academic level, you would also eventually be frustrated. You would also find them as empty words, and you may even suspect whether what has been written in such literature is really true. You have to practise, and personally experience these wonderful benefits described in classical Shaolin or Taijiquan classics.
And you have to learn from true Shaolin or Taijiquan masters, who are understandably hard to find now as in the past. If you merely register yourself in a Shaolin or Taijiquan class that you conveniently come across, most probably nine out of ten times you would be learning external forms, and nothing of the wonderful benefits described in classical Shaolin or Taijiquan texts.
I can loudly say that what the masters have written in the classics is true. Why am I so sure? Because I know from direct personal experience as well as the experiences of my students. I am writing this reply immediately after a Shaolin chi kung class at Cortes de Frontera in southern Spain. I am here reporting some random experiences of my students as they described them to the class.
Pedro, an gentleman of about 60, reported that he felt energy surging up his back, down his arms, and down his legs. He felt a flow of warmth and tremendous power. He felt his arms very powerful, and later he felt energy pulsing at the centre of his palms and feet — at the lao-gong and yong-chuan vital points.
Maria Carmen, who had pain in her hips and knees, felt tremendous energy gushing down her legs. After the training session, she told the class that, incredible it might be, the pain she had had for years, had miraculously disappeared!
Terasa was full of joy after the training session. She told the class that during Standing Meditation she felt her pores opening, and she was definitely sure that “golden dust” (to use her own words) was issuing from the pores into the cosmos. I told her and the class that the “golden dust” was her radiant energy, and that was what masters in the past described when they said golden light radiated from them.
Teresa further reported that at some moments she felt she had no physical body, and it was an inexplicably beautiful, joyful experience. I told the class that was a highly spiritual experience, confirming what great masters have said. One direct personal experience, I emphasized, is better than reading a hundred books.
I would add that these experiences, fantastic they may be to other people, are not the exceptions; they are the norms in my Shaolin and Taijiquan classes and courses. One may think that those who have such wonderful experiences must have practised chi kung for many years. No, they are my new students.
Teresa told me she had no prior chi kung training, though she had practised transcendental meditation for about 20 years but never had had such wonderful experiences. I explained that her years of meditation were not lost. That she could have such wonderful experiences was due to a large extent to her prior meditation training. The Shaolin chi kung just opened her up.
A more wonderful, though less poetic, benefit Teresa has is that before she came to my Shaolin chi kung class, she could not close her eyes without losing her balance. Her condition was so bad that she could not stand with her eyes close; she would fall over. Her doctors told her that her condition was incurable; they told her that in a few years she had to be on a wheelchair for life.
Yet, she has overcome this so-called incurable illness in four days of Shaolin chi kung! We do not have any medical tests to support this claim. Teresa does not need the tests; these four days she has been standing and moving about often with her eyes close — without falling over. Teresa told me she literally cried with joy.
Cases like Teresa's are an inspiration to me. They remind me that my sacrifice, like spending more than nine months a year from home and family, is worth it. There are literally hundreds of cases like these, but this is the first time, I believe, I am reporting them in details in my webpages. Here I wish to do justice and honour to generations of great masters who have generously passed on wonderful arts to us, by confirming that what they have said is true, though incredible to ordinary people.
Many people may not believe what I have just written. That is their business, as well as their right. I do not want to waste my time proving to them. I do not even want to ask them to come to my class or course to find out for themselves. Indeed, those who have insulted the great masters by implicitly suggesting that they were liars, have to prove their worth before they could be accepted in my class or course.
Nevertheless, anyone (who may have nothing better to do) can easily verify whether I have said is true. He may, for example, find out from the organizers of my chi kung classes (their particulars can be found on my home page) the addresses or phone numbers of the people I have quoted (the names quoted above are their real names) and check out the cases with them. He may even check up with the respective hospitals to find if the diseases they had suffered from were true.
What I have mentioned above is actually more for visitors to my question-answer series than for you. However, if you have the opportunity to attend any of my intensive courses in Malaysia, which are of a higher level than my overseas classes, you can experience some of such wonderful experiences on the very first day of your training.
I feel that the flow of ki or chi in my physical body is probably better suited to the Chinese styles. Aikido, for all its grace and fluidity, subtlty and undisplayed power, along with the deep and hidden teachings of Samurai conduct, does not really give me the 'release' that I am looking for.
The flow of chi in the physical body of any person is universally the same. Whether you are white or black, yellow or brown, male or female, young or old, a king or a pauper, your chi flow is basically the same as any other person.
Nevertheless, a person's chi flow may be influenced or modified by various factors, like his culture, life-style and the particular art he practises. For example, while the general structure and pattern are the same, the chi flow of a westerner who adores a muscular body and practises Karate will differ in detail from an oriental who prefers grace and elegance, and practises Taijiquan.
Any body, irrespective of whether it belongs to a western aristocrat or an oriental monk, can be suited to the Chinese styles of energy training. What you mean is probably that the Chinese martial arts like Shaolin and Taijiquan will give you more benefits than Aikido and Karate do. Yes, I agree with you totally. The Chinese styles of energy training are not only more suitable for your body, they are also more suitable for any body, including mine, otherwise I would have been training in Aikido and Karate instead of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan. The reason for my choice is that energy training in Shaolin and Taijiquan is of more depth and wider scope than that in Aikido and Karate. Some examples have been cited above.
I do not know what “release” you are looking for But if it is a release of emotional tension, the kicking, yelling and all-out striking in Karate, Taekwondo or Kendo would be an effective outlet, though the release may only be symptomatic and temporary because eventually you would be tensed with aggression. Aikido, being gentle and on the receiving end, would be ineffective. If you are thinking of spiritual release, these aggressive arts as well as Aikido could not serve your purpose.
Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan would give you release in all forms, and these Chinese styles work on your release from inside. You require release because you are blocked, not just physically but may also be emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
The internal energy flow generated in Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan will clear your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual blockage. Clearing your physical and emotional blockage results in your being free from pain and illness. Clearing your mental blockage makes you intellectually sharp. Clearing your spiritual blockage brings you joy and inner peace. These are not empty words; the wonderful benefits experienced by my students quoted above are some manifestations of such release.
I want to continue training in Aikido and Karate, but I also want to try and channel my energies through a form that will allow me to blend with nature far more easily.
Aikido, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan will enable you to blend with nature, but perhaps Taijiquan with its philosophy and practice originated from Taoist teaching may enable you to do so the most efficiently. It is well known that Taoist teaching pays much importance to blending with nature.
But if you are thinking of blending with Nature, rather than with nature, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan will be more suitable. By Nature, I mean Zen in Shaolin terms, or Tao in Taijiquan terms. In western terms it means the Ultimate Reality or God. The supreme aim of Shaolin Kungfu and of Taijiquan, which was also the original aim when these arts were first developed, is to attain Ultimate Reality.
Can I do so without feeling like I have turned my back on the teachings of Aikido and Karate? Can I practice the Chinese styles alongside the Japanese without spiritual, emotional or even physical conflict between them?
This depends not on the arts involved but on your personal philosophy and values.
Let us take an analogy. You are studying at, say, Clifford College, and now you have an opportunity to enter Cambridge University. Would you feel you will betray Clifford College?
Japanese masters openly and proudly acknowledge that their arts originated from the Chinese. Many masters of Aikido, Karate, Judo, Jujitsu as well as other styles turn to Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan at the height of their martial art careers. Some have personally confided in me that they find they have come to the end of the road in their own martial arts, and are looking to Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan for further development as well as inspiration.
These masters love their arts, having devoted some 15 to 20 years to their training. There was no feeling of shame or regret, and certainly they did not feel any sense of betrayal. In fact it was the reverse. They felt it was their duty; they learned Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan almost religiously from me not because they wanted to become Shaolin or Taijiquan masters but because they wanted to improve their own arts. Respecting their courage and dedication, I thought them sincerely, without reserve.
Without exception they were amazed. Some told me that in their 15 or so years of training, they never had such wonderful experiences like internal force surging inside them, their hearts feeling of joy, and their spirit merging with the universe. They never thought such experiences were possible.
Did they have any physical, emotional, mental or spiritual conflicts practising the Chinese styles like Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan alongside their own Japanese or other styles? Of course, not. Particularly, everyone of them felt released.
Some had conflicts before learning the Chinese styles. They sustained much internal injury — physical conflict with the idea that their training would make them healthy. Some were tensed — emotional conflict with the tenet that a good warrior must be relaxed. Some were confused — mental conflict with what they read and what they actually practised. Some felt lost — spiritual conflict over something missing in the universe. Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan helped them to overcome these conflicts.
Whilst I fully understand that the deepest teachings of any TRUE martial art are essentially all the same, I desperately seek guidance on the issues I have raised previously.
You are much mistaken. Martial arts differ from one another greatly in many aspects — in history, philosophy, form, structure, methods, approaches and aspirations.
While there is no doubt that genuine Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan (as distinct from modernized wushu and Taiji dance) as well as Jujitsu are true martial arts, there is some debate whether Karate, Taekwondo and Muai Thai are martial arts or martial sports. On the other hand, Judo, Aikido, Western Boxing and Wrestling are certainly martial sports and not true martial arts!
What essentially differentiates a martial art from a martial sport? A martial art is meant for real fighting and not for sport, whereas a martial sport is meant for sport and not for real fighting.
Aren't Karate, Taekwondo and Muai Thai meant for real fighting? No! Although exponents of these arts can use them for real fighting, they are actually meant for sport. That is why there are many safety rules. You cannot, for example, choke your opponent in Karate sparring, or hold the leg of a Taekwondo exponent, or kick the groin of a Muai Thai fighter. You are not allowed to do so. But in real fighting there are no safety rules.
Judo, Aikido, Western Boxing and Wrestling are sports. If you use Judo or Aikido against a seasoned street fighter, you could be killed or maimed in less than five minutes. When a Judo expert grips your collar for a throw, or an Aikido expert manoeuvres you for a lock, poke two fingers into his eyes or jerk your knee hard into his groin. Then when he grimaces in pain, thrust your knuckles into his throat. You may not do any of these drastic things, but a street fighter would.
A properly trained exponent of a true martial art like Jujitsu, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan will never rush in to attack you with total disregard for his own safety. Amazingly this is exactly what many martial sportsmen do.
Taekwondo exponents often expose their vulnerable sexual organs glaringly in high kicks. A seasoned street fighter would side-step then move in to give the exposed sexual organs a hard punch. If a wrestling sportsman goes low to grab the legs of a seasoned street fighter, he would strike down his elbow at the sportsman's head. If a Muai Thai sportsman holds on to the street fighter's neck and throw knee attacks onto the latter, he would grip the sportsman's testicles and squeeze really hard.
But let us, for the sake of academic discussion, forget about sport and real fighting, and regard these arts as martial arts, as we often do. In form or content, Judo is characteristically different from Taekwondo, and Taekwondo different from Taijiquan. In methods and aspirations, Aikido is characteristically different from Muai Thai, and Muai Thai different from Shaolin Kungfu. In Karate and Taekwondo, the guiding principle in combat is to attack at all cost; in Aikido an exponent often does not know what to do if the opponent does not attack. In Muai Thai, exponents sacrifice their health in harsh training methods so that they could win in competitions, whereas Taijiquan training enhances the exponents' health, and losing a combat does not matter so long as they emerge unhurt.
When I attempt to relax and practise meditation, I often experience an unusual tension in my forehead. I feel it acutely in the center of my forehead, just above my eyebrows. It is somewhat difficult to describe the sensation. It is not like a headache, although it is uncomfortable. It is as though there is pressure, or tightness, beneath the skin, but not deep inside my head, maybe just outside the skull. This has been very confusing to me. I would appreciate hearing your point of view.
— Matt, USA
There are three possible reasons for the tension in your head when you practise meditation.
One, you are tensed, although you think you are relaxed. To overcome this problem, learn to relax first. For the time being, leave aside the meditation. One useful technique is as follows. Sit or stand upright. Keep your lips gently open throughout the exercise. Keep your eyes open gently but do not attempt to observe anything. In other words, look but do not see.
Breathe gently and spontaneously. Then gently focus on your breath. When you naturally breathe in, be aware that you are breathing in. And when you naturally breathe out, be aware that you are breathing out. Soon you will be deeply relaxed. Just enjoy the relaxation as long as you like. Practise this technique as often as you like, with each session lasting about 5 to 10 minutes. Only when you can relax comfortable, resume your meditation practice.
Another possible reason for the tension in your head is that there is some energy blockage. Perform the following two exercises for about 10 to 15 minutes per session, three sessions per day, in the morning, in the evening and at night.
First perform “Lifting the Sky” for about 30 times. Read my book, “The Art of Chi Kung” or “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality” to find out how to perform the exercise. Then gently turn your head horizontally left and right three times. Next turn your head up and down three times. Finally rotate your head in as big a circle as you can three times to your right, and then three times to your left.
You must keep your mouth gently open, and breathe naturally throughout these head-turning exercises. After turning the head in various ways, close your eyes gently and enjoy the deep relaxation. You may feel some slight pain as chi or vital energy pushes through your blockage. When the pain disappears, your blockage has been cleared. Then resume your meditation practice.
The third possible reason is good news for you. Your meditation has progressed to a stage where your third eye, or psychic eye, is about to be open. The opening of the third eye may result in some discomfort, sometimes even pain. You need not do anything. Just continue with your meditation.
If you are unsure which of the three possible reason is most likely the case, you can play safe by practising both types of remedial exercises I have described above. Practise the first and second type at different times. They do not conflict with each other.
If yours is the case of opening the third eye, the remedial exercises are also useful. They can help to minimize the pain or discomfort involved.
I started studying the Northern Shaolin of Gu Ru Zhang. My teacher did not know the true name of the system before Gu Shigong (grandmaster) changed the name when he went to Guangdong. So, what was the original name of this Northern Shaolin style.
— Will, USA
Sifu Gu Ru Zhang was a great master of Northern Shaolin Kungfu. He is best known for applying his Iron Palm to kill a horse without leaving any external mark. A Russian master brought a trained horse to China and challenged Chinese martial artists to fight with it. A few Chinese exponents were injured by the horse. When the Russian master started insulting Chinese martial arts as being useless, Sifu Gu Ru Zhang emerged to take up the challenge. He gave the horse a seemingly gentle pat, and the poor animal collapsed.
As far as I know, Sifu Gu Ru Zhang did not change the name of his kungfu style; he always referred to it as Northern Shaolin. I am also not sure if Sifu Gu went to Guangdong. I thought he went to Nanking where he was instrumental in leading the Nanking Chinese Martial Arts Institute. His favourite disciple, Sifu Long Zi Xiang, later taught Northern Shaolin Kungfu at the Shanghai Chin Woo Athlete Association, a famous Chinese martial art organization founded by another great Northern Shaolin master, Sifu Fok Yuan Jia, who was nick-named “the yellow face tiger”. The Chin Woo Athlete Association has branches in many parts of the world, especially in Southeast Asia, but today it focuses on promoting kungfu as a sport rather than a martial art.
Sifu Long Zi Xiang was well known for a series of kungfu sets collectively known as Zhan Quan, or Battle Sets, as well as for qin-na, a unique Shaolin art of gripping opponents' vital points.
I'm interested in knowing if I am able to study the art of Northern and Southern Shaolin styles in the Shaolin temple. I read from a web page that foreigners are able to learn at the temple, so I'm curious to know if it is true.
— Nguyen, Australia
As far as I know, kungfu as a martial art is no longer taught in the Shaolin Temple in China today. But there are many schools around the temple teaching wushu, which is a form of modernized kungfu for sport. You can learn both Changquan and Nanquan, which are modern versions of Northern Shaolin and Southern Shaolin, from these schools. I would like to remind you that although wushu means “martial art” it is now taught as a sport.
I have a friend who has been ill from a cancer that has something to do with the spine and needs bone marrow transplant. I also had cancer when I was young (leukaemia) and I've managed to get through it alive. My friend seems to have lost faith and is in hospital getting weaker each day. I know you're not a doctor but I am just curious to know your view.
Congratulations for overcoming leukaemia. It is a great achievement.
Actually I am a Chinese physician trained in the traditional way. I did not study traditional Chinese medicine in college or university, but followed my masters as an apprentice for many years.
Cancer can be cured. I am sure of this because I have personally helped many people recover from cancer.
In traditional Chinese medicine there is no illness called cancer. The modern Chinese term for cancer, which is “ai”, is not a traditional Chinese medical term; it is a modern term translated from western medicine.
This does not mean that patients who had symptoms for which western doctors would label as cancer, did not exist in China in the past. But these patients were not described as cancer patients. A patient's illness was described according to its cause in the Chinese medical paradigm, and not according to its symptoms as in the case of western medicine.
Three patients described by western doctors as suffering from leukaemia, would be described differently by Chinese physicians because the causes of leukaemia may be different among them. Hence, one patient may be described as suffering from “insufficient yang in the liver system”, another may be suffering from “blockage of the spleen meridian”, and the third may be “excessive fire at the bone marrow”.
The great difference for the patients is that if you call their illness cancer, you are telling them that you don't know what they are suffering from and hence you do not know what illness to cure, whereas if you call their illness by the causes as in the case of traditional Chinese medicine, you are telling them that if you can overcome the causes they will be cured of their illness.
Hence, if you can increase yang in the liver system of the first patient, clear the blocked spleen meridian of the second patient, and reduce fire at the bone marrow of the third patient, all the three patients will be cured. If the diagnosis is correct, recovery is a matter of course.
The wonderful advantage of chi kung is that you need not even have to know the causes! This may sound crazy, but it is true. Why is it so? Because while the other healing systems, western as well as Chinese, work at higher levels of the body, such as at the levels of cells, organs or systems, chi kung works at the most fundamental level, that of chi or energy.
For example if a physican makes a mistake in his diagnosis, thinking that the cause insufficient yang in the liver system when actually it is in the colon system, or thinking that there is too much fire in the bone marrow when the cause is actually insufficient yin in the kidneys, then the treatment would be inappropriate.
In chi kung the problem of mistaken diagnosis does not arise because there is no need for diagnosis. Why? Because in the chi kung paradigm there is only one root cause, that is yin-yang disharmony. Yin-yang disharmony may have many and varied manifestations, such as insufficient yang in the liver system, too much fire in the bone marrow, or insufficient yin in the kidneys. But a chi kung therapist or master needs not worry about the manifestations; he deals with the root cause.
An analogy may make this clearer. Your refrigerator is not working. Your dinner is not cooked. And you cannot watch your favourite television programme. Why? Because your power supply has been cut. You need not examine your refrigerator, cooker or television set. Restore your power supply and everything works well again.
Restore harmonious energy flow and every part of your body works well again, which is another way of saying you have yin-yang harmony. The forte of chi kung is restoring harmonious energy flow. In western terms it means that good energy makes good cells, which in turn make good tissues, which in turn make good muscles, organs and systems. If all your systems, organs, tissues and cells are functioning well, you will not be sick.
It is highly recommended that you and your friend practise chi kung. You have to practise genuine chi kung, and not physical exercise. Most people may not tell the difference between chi kung and physical exercise. Physical exercise works on muscles, whereas chi kung works on energy.