September 2001 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
When I first learned of you, your books, and your website almost 3 years ago, I was overjoyed. My greatest desire in life was to learn the traditional Shaolin arts. But plans don't always go the way you think they will. Over the past 2 years I met and fell in love with a beautiful woman who eventually became my wife. And just 8 months ago we had our first child, a boy. I am a happy man, Sifu. My wife and son bring more joy to my life than I ever thought possible.
— Kevin, USA
You are a blessed man. You must have done something very good in your past.
To be happily married and to be a father are two of the happiest things that can happen to any man. They are more important than practising the Shaolin arts. Even when you have become a Shaolin disciple, your first duty is not to practise Shaolin Kungfu diligently but to provide for your wife and son.
So I am writing to you, Sifu, because I highly value and respect your opinion, for you are wise and compassionate. Sifu, I have a job now, but it doesn't meet our financial needs. My wife has had to take a job working nights and weekends for us to make enough money. I volunteered to get a second job, but she said she would rather work than me have to work two jobs.
It is never a sin to be poor, but it is sinful not to improve yourself and your family when you know that you have not been providing for them adequately. You live in the richest country in the world. If you make some effort you can surely improve yourself and your family.
But whatever you do must be ethical and honourable; that is very important. Never do anything that can harm others, no matter how attractive the financial returns may be. “You may cheat heaven and earth, but you can never cheat your own conscience. No matter what you do, you must be clear in your conscience.” This is the best teaching my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, taught me.
The greatest teaching this great Shaolin master taught me was not Shaolin Kungfu or Shaolin Chi Kung, though these Shaolin arts are par excellence without comparison; his greatest teaching is being clear in our conscience. This teaching has enabled me to be very happy and to have no fear — not because I am competent in Shaolin Kungfu but because I know I have never done any wrong wilfully.
I look for higher paying jobs, but just can't find any. All I want to do is support my wife and son (and not have my wife work). The situation saddens me. I would greatly appreciate any advice you might have.
All the Shaolin principles that are used for combat can be applied to our daily living. Here is one that will be helpful to you. “If your opponent exhibits a weakness, exploit his weakness. If he exhibits no weakness, create an advantage for yourself.”
Translated into everyday non-martial application, it reads as follows: “If there exists an opportunity, exploit the opportunity. If there exists no opportunities, create an opportunity for yourself.”
If you use your brain you can create many opportunities. If you use your brawn you can translate the opportunities into practical benefits. It is perfectly legitimate to do good for yourself, but in doing so you must not harm others. And while you progress materially, do not forget your spiritual development.
You do not have to look for higher-paying jobs to improve yourself. Why don't you work for yourself? Be your own employer; you will certainly earn more money working for yourself than working for others.
All of my family and friends would tell you that the Shaolin arts are my passion. You have advised me before to follow the training outlined in your books. Once again, any advice you can offer me is greatly appreciated.
Continue your training from my books. At the same time improve your financial position ethically and honourably. When the time is ripe, attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia.
I have always wondered which was better kung-fu or karate. You answer that quite vehemently. What of kung-fu enables it to be better? Is it the smooth, circular motions compared to the straight forwardness of karate?
My answer is only my opinion, and as I am speaking from the perspective of kungfu it is naturally favourable to kungfu. To be fair, you have to seek the opinions of karate masters.
There are many styles of kungfu, and I shall use for comparison what I consider the best style, Shaolin Kungfu. What is said about karate below may also be applied to most other martial arts like taekwondo, kickboxing and judo.
It is significant to point out that here we are concerned with comparing kungfu and karate as arts, and not debating whether kungfu or karate exponents are better fighters. In fact I believe that most students who have practised kungfu for many years are no match against karate students who have practised for a few months. The reason is that most of these kungfu students only practise external kungfu forms, and they have never learnt how to fight.
The smooth, circular motions of kungfu compared to the straight forwardness of karate mentioned by you are just a very small aspect. There are many major aspects, and we may examine them under the following headings
- training procedure
- daily application.
The fundamental philosophy of Shaolin Kungfu is personal development, whereas that of karate is effective fighting. If your preference is personal development, then you would choose Shaolin Kungfu. If your preference is effective fighting, you would also choose Shaolin Kungfu because, in my opinion, it is more effective than karate. This will become evident when we examine the headings of techniques and force.
Shaolin Kungfu has a continuous history of 1500 years, karate a history of about 200 years. Early Japanese masters went to China to learn southern Shaolin Kungfu, and returned to Japan to develop karate. My opinion is that due to their short time in China, as well as the general distrust of the Chinese public towards Japanese at that time, the Japanese masters could learn only the rudiments of southern Shaolin Kungfu — straight-forward fighting techniques, but without the deeper dimensions of energy and mind training.
All the techniques found in all other martial arts are found in Shaolin Kungfu, but karate techniques consist mainly of straight-forward punches, kicks and blocks. For example, the elaborate locks in jujitsu, the various throws in judo, and the knee and elbow strikes in Muai Thai are found in Shaolin Kungfu but nor normally in karate. Thus, a karate student would have much difficulty if his opponent applies a jujitsu lock on him.
Karate force training is hard and external. It is powerful and effective for fighting, but it lacks, from my perspective, the soft and internal aspects, whereas Shaolin Kungfu has both hard and soft, external and internal. Karate hardens the physical body for tough fighting, whereas Shaolin Kungfu develops not just the physical body, but also the energy and the mind.
Regarding the physical body, I would differentiate hardening the physical body in karate, from developing it in kungfu. In karate training, the purpose is to harden the body, with little or no concern for its health aspects. In kungfu training, the purpose is to develop the body, always paying utmost importance to its health aspect.
Hence, after a period of kungfu training where internal energy flow strengthens a student's internal organs, his physiological functions improve. But karate training puts extra burden on a student's internal organs without improving their work capacity, thus eventually weakening them.
Karate students also talk about energy or ki training, as well as meditation or mind training. But, as far as I know, their ki training consists mainly of combining isometric exercise and voluminous breathing to strengthen muscles, and mind training consists of occasional sitting meditation. By comparison, energy and mind training in Shaolin Kungfu are immeasurably deeper as well as more extensive.
A Shaolin student does not merely practise special energy or mind exercises once a while; he does so all the time! Every movement in Shaolin Kungfu involves the training of energy and mind. For example, when he executes a punch, he uses his mind to direct energy flow from his dan tian to his punch, as well as builds up a reserve of energy at his dan tian.
At the end of each short training session he lets his energy flow to clear blockage as well as lets his mind expand. In other words, when a karate student trains for ten hours, he may devote an hour for energy and mind training. When a kungfu student trains for ten hours, he has energy and mind training for ten hours. It is no wonder that a kungfu student is mentally sharp and full of energy.
Let us compare a typical karate training session with a Shaolin Kungfu training session, like one in our Shaolin Wahnam Institute. After an hour of karate training, students are thirsty and tired, and have to rest for some time before wanting to perform any physical or mental activity. After four hours of vigorous kungfu training at a stretch, students need not drink any water, are more fresh and energetic than before the training, and are more efficient in any tasks they immediately perform.
Why is this so? In a typical karate session or any vigorous physical exercise, students tense their muscles, lock up energy as well as expend energy for work done. In a Shaolin Kungfu training, students relax their muscles, enjoy energy flow and have more energy after the training than before!
In karate training, free sparring results in injuries routinely left unattended to. These injuries when accumulated over many years can lead to far-reaching harmful effects. Moreover, students who are hit often bear grudges against their fellow trainees, resulting in anger and ill-will. On the other hand, injuries are almost never sustained in systematic kungfu sparring. If a student is accidentally hit, he is attended to immediately, and the injury is usually relieved. Comradeship is built in kungfu training.
Shaolin Kungfu pays much attention to the training of mind and energy. With a trained mind and more energy, a Shaolin student can do better anything he does in his daily work and play. As karate does not pay so much attention to these internal dimensions, it may not have these benefits. To me the benefits of karate training are mainly for effective fighting.
I wish to stress again that what I have mentioned above is only my opinion, and is given from the perspective of kungfu. Karate masters will surely think otherwise.
I also wish to stress that I am referring to ideal Shaolin Kungfu, which is exceedingly rare today. Much of kungfu today is far from ideal, and is nothing more than a physical fighting art with little or no internal dimensions of mind and energy.
Bruce Lee had identified the pros and cons of each martial art and thus created his own fighting style, Jeet Kune Do. What do you think of this?
I disagree that Bruce Lee identified the pros and cons of each martial art. With due respect to this great master, I believe Bruce Lee did not know the wonderful benefits of Shaolin Kungfu, especially its internal aspects of energy and mind.
Had he known the Shaolin art of energy management, or chi kung, for example, he would not have used drugs and machines to strengthen his external body without correspondingly strengthening his internal organs. He committed a very grave mistake of what energy masters call “externally strong but internally empty”, or “ngoi keong chong khon” in Chinese (Cantonese).
Jeet Kune Do is not traditional kungfu. It is more like taekwondo.
Sensei Kanazawa (karateka) said that he had studied Tai Chi along with his karate and the results were positive. What is your opinion?
It is well known that many karate masters, at the height of their martial art career, turn to Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan for further development, and benefit much form it. But it must be genuine Shaolin Kungfu and genuine Taijiquan, not Shaolin gymnastics and Taiji dance.
Personally speaking, a few grandmasters and many masters of karate and other martial arts have learnt Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan from me and have benefited much. Virtually all of them succeeded in cleansing off the internal injuries they had sustained for years, and in using energy flow to enhance their work and play as well as combat efficiency.
How is kung-fu taught?
I would like to spilt your question into two, as follows.
- How is kungfu commonly taught today?
- How was the best kungfu taught in the past?
Today kungfu, or wushu, is commonly and almost solely taught through its external forms as sets or katas. There is little or no training of energy and mind, and little or no systematic sparring.
In the past the best kungfu, like Shaolin and Taijiquan, was taught as a comprehensive programme for personal development, besides combat efficiency. All the three dimensions of jing, qi and shen — physical body, energy and mind — were holistically involved. Most of the time was spent on force training and combat application; little time was spent on sets per se.
How long would it take for me to become reasonably good in kung-fu?
It depends on various factors. If you learn from a mediocre instructor who teaches only external forms, you can never be good. If you learn from a genuine master, you can be reasonably good in three years.
I watched a movie, “Shaolin verse Wudang”, where the founder of Wudang was expelled from Shaolin after defeating all the monks there. Is this just a movie story?
That movie story was not true. The First Patriarch of Wudang Kungfu, Zhang San Feng (Cheong Sam Foong) was a great Shaolin master at the Shaolin Temple, and he was well respected by his Shaolin classmates. He left the Shaolin Temple honourably and settled at Wudang Mountain to develop his Wudang Kungfu, which later evolved into Taijiquan.
I have trained in Muai Thai extensively over a 2 year period. I really enjoy taking Muai Thai, but I am already starting to find it quite limiting.
— Alex, Canada
Muai Thai is limited to being an effective fighting art. Muai Thai students sustain a lot of internal injuries which are routinely left untreated; hence Muai Thai is not conducive for health. Muai Thai pays no attention to internal force; hence it does not enable you to be full of vitality after you have passed middle age. Muai Thai sparring is aggressive and often brutal; hence it is not suitable for spiritual cultivation.
My own Shaolin master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, in his young days was a professional Muai Thai fighter who had won many championships. Some of my students were former Muai Thai instructors. They all gave up Muai Thai for Shaolin Kungfu because Shaolin Kungfu offered them many more benefits.
At first when I heard of internal strength I was ignorant enough to consider it a joke. But now I am starting to realize some of the potentials of internal strength.
Internal force can be manifested in many ways. In my kungfu courses, for example, students could practise vigorous sparring continuously for two hours. This was a manifestation of internal force. My female students could spar efficiently with male students double their size and weight. This was another manifestation of internal force.
I am now very interested in kung fu, but as you say, true kung fu. I am only 18 and I think I have fairly powerful external strength, but I do not know where to begin to start developing my internal strength. If you would be so kind as to guide me to my first step that would be greatly appreciated.
In kungfu terms, external strength is “dead” whereas internal force is “alive”. If you have external strength to break a brick, for example, it is limited to breaking a brick. You are unable to use it for other purposes, such as nourishing your internal organs or enabling you to work tirelessly for a few hours. If you have internal force you can use it for many and different purposes.
Internal force should be learnt from a master, or at least from a competent instructor who himself has internal force. If you learn from someone who has no internal force himself, but teach you what he has read from books, you would only be doing physical exercise. It is also likely you may hurt yourself internally.
All true high level kungfu training involves internal force. If you have an opportunity to attend my intensive kungfu course, you can experience internal force on the very first day of your training.
I think I would keep Muai Thai as my external fighting style, and learn kung fu for my internal fighting style so I could break some of the barriers taking Muai Thai has left me. Is this possible?
Yes, it is possible. After practising genuine kungfu, you will be able to break some of the barriers of Muai Thai. For example, you will not be out of breath after sparring for 15 minutes, you will know how to release your opponent's holds when he grasps your arms or legs, and you need not feel pain all over your body after each training session.
Many Muai Thai fighters, including my own Shaolin master, started to learn Shaolin Kungfu with the same objective as you have, i.e. overcoming the limitations of Muai Thai so that they would become better Muai Thai fighters. But they found that Shaolin Kungfu was incomparably superior in all aspects, including in combat efficiency. So they gave up Muai Thai for Shaolin Kungfu.
But of course it must be genuine Shaolin Kungfu, where internal force training and combat application are essential components. In the case of kungfu gymnastics, the transfer is the other way round. Many people left kungfu gymnastics for Muai Thai so that they could defend themselves.