August 2002 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I have been studying Shaolin Kung-Fu, and Shaolin Chi-Kung for a couple of years and recently Zen Buddhism. If I may, I would like to tell you about my development, and possibly receive some feedback as to my progress.
— Thomas, Australia
What you have done is similar to what many other people interested in martial arts but training without a master are doing. There are three common factors. One, you and the others are inspired by the ideals of martial arts. Two, you are ready to dedicate time and effort to your study and training. Three, unfortunately and it is precisely here that my answers can be very helpful, you have wasted much time and effort.
Regarding the ideals of martial arts, bear in mind the following two points. One, some martial arts are not ideal, they are just brutal fighting. Two, even when a particular martial art has high ideals, there is often big difference between what is said and what is practiced.
Your choice of Shaolin Kungfu, Shaolin Chi Kung snd Zen for your pursue is excellent. They are, in my opinion, the best of the best. While some martial arts involve merely punching and kicking, Shaolin Kungfu is courage and strength in poetic movement. While some types of chi kung are not much more than dance and gymnastics, Shaolin Chi Kung is management of energy and mind. While some spiritual disciplines merely talk about higher realms, Zen emphasizes practical realization ranging from simple relaxation to the highest spiritual goals.
If you want the best, you must be ready to pay the price for the best. You should learn from the best master available, or at least from a good master. If you learn from a mediocre instructor or from videos, you are unlikely to get good results. If you learn from books, you may obtain good knowledge and some practical benefits but you are unlikely to have great practical benefits. If you practice good chi kung from a good book, for example, you may relieve pain or feel well being, but you are unlikely to experience inner peace or tremendous joy.
I first decided to invest some time in pursuing a physical activity to get some additional exercise about two years ago. I bought two Bokkens to swing, but found that I didn't know what I was doing, and got bored quickly.
This was an obvious example of having wasted your time. It was obvious because you realized you did not know what you were doing. If it were not obvious, you would have wasted more time!
Suppose you knew what you were doing. You wanted to learn some self defence with the Bokkens, or wooden swords, as well as to improve your health. You might swing the Bokkens for a year yet might not be able to defend yourself efficiently. If you learned from a master, you would be able to defend yourself in a month. Incorrect swinging of the Bokkens, which was likely if you did not have a master to supervise you, would result in energy blockage in your body, leading to bad health.
The two statements above are no exaggeration. Many participants of my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or Intensive Taijiquan Course, learn in two hours how to efficiently apply martial art techniques which they may have practiced without any awareness of their martial application for many years. This morning during my Special Taijiquan Course, for example, a Taijiquan instructor could effectively apply Taijiquan techniques against various kicks. Previously, although he had taught Taiji for about 15 years, he would be quite helpless if an attacker continuously kicked at him.
I continued my search and scanned the local bookstores for a martial activity to inspire and fulfill me. This led me to a book called "Total Stick Fighting", on Shintaido Bo-jutsu, and also bought a double headed Bo, a Bo-Jo and a Jo. I started practising diligently.
This was an example where your waste of time was not obvious. Your objective was to practice a martial activity to inspire and fulfill you. It was not sure whether your training of the double-headed Bo, the Bo-Jo or the Jo (the various types of sticks) was a martial activity. Do you, for example, now feel competent enough to handle a street fighter charging at you with a spike?
You may not realize that to handle any attacker competently, besides knowing the necessary techniques, which you may practice from a book, more importantly you have to develop sufficient skills such as relaxation, mental clarity, good judgment, reflexive response, and fluidity of movements, which you need to train from a master. Even training with instructors may not enable you to acquire these skills. Some instructors are not even aware that these skills are essential for effective combat.
Now, even if we grant that your training is a martial activity, how well can it inspire and fulfill you? It is unlikely that you will find hitting somebody effectively with a stick inspiring and fulfilling. It is more likely that you are inspired by great martial art masters of the past who had radiant health, and who were kind as well as righteous, and that you find emulating them fulfilling. But, would diligently training your stick according to your book leads you to these goals?
I found your book "Introduction to Shaolin Kung-Fu". After reading the first few pages I knew that this was the activity I was looking for, both physically and mentally. It took me almost a year to get through the 36 patterns of the Dragon-Tiger Set.
“Introduction to Shaolin Kung Fu” was my first kungfu book written more than 20 years ago. My second kungfu book was “The Art of Shaolin Kungfu Fu”, written about 10 years ago. My latest kungfu book is “The Complete Book of Shaolin”, published this year. I would strongly recommend you or anyone interested in any martial art to read this book. I myself find it very inspiring and fulfilling.
Here is one inspiring and fulfilling story from the book. After rolling bamboo for three years, the student asked his master when he could be taught kungfu. “You can pack your things and go home,” the master said. The student was astonished. He knelt and apologized for his rashness. The master said, “I have taught you Shaolin Kungfu, and you have done remarkably well. Go home, your parents are waiting for you. Have mercy on your opponent if ever you have to use your kungfu on them.”
You must realize that practicing a kungfu set, like the Dragon-Tiger Set, is only a mean, not an end itself. Many students and even instructors do not realize this. They learn sets after sets, and often they do not even perform a single set well. Hence, they have wasted a lot of time.
An obvious objective of practicing kungfu sets is to familiarize oneself with kungfu techniques so that one can apply them spontaneously in combat. But most kungfu students do not do this. They may perform kungfu sets beautifully, but when they have to spar, they throw the kungfu techniques they have learnt in the sets to the winds.
A less obvious objective of practicing kungfu sets is to develop skills like elegance, balance, agility, fluidity of movement, and energy flow, which are employed not just for sparring or real fighting, which fortunately does not happen often, but for enriching our daily work and play. If you realize this fact and put it into practice, you would have found your kungfu training inspiring and fulfilling.
An even less obvious and higher level objective of practicing kungfu sets is for spiritual cultivation. At the lower range of benefits, such training will make you mentally focused and relaxed. At the higher range, you will feel free and joyful, and may have a glimpse of your Original Face, which in Western terms means a touch with God.
I found your great Internet site and I also did as much reading and searching for Shaolin content as I could.
It is helpful to differentiate between study and training, between knowledge and practical effects. Both aspects are important, though the onus on any art is training and practical effects.
Many Westerners are confused over these two complementary aspects. Thus, they talk of studying kungfu, and believe they can be proficient if they have much knowledge of it. This is a big mistake. No matter how much you read about kungfu or any art, no matter how knowledgeable you are in it, you cannot be proficient if you do not practice sufficiently.
This, of course, does not mean knowledge is useless. Knowledge, which you can obtain from reading, is very useful. It is like a map. It shows you not only the routes but also the destination — not only how to get there but also what it will be like when you have eventually arrived. Many students have neither the routes nor the destination. Hence, they waste a lot of time doing things which are not only unnecessary but may sometimes be harmful.
My internet site is a very useful map. It provides knowledge about routes and destinations, as well as advice on avoiding pitfalls and blind alleys. But merely holding the map in your hands is not enough. Basically you have to do the traveling.
Later, I found Dr Yang Jwing Ming's book, "The Root of Chinese Chi-Kung", but heeding your advice I didn't practice anything but the Small Circulation, different abdominal breathing exercises, and the Eight-Section Brocade.
Dr Yang Jwing Ming is a famous master who has contributed much to our understanding of kungfu and chi kung. His books are a rich source of knowledge. The best person to ask for advice concerning the exercises mentioned in his book is of course Dr Yang Jwing Ming himself.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, Small Circulation is not suitable for those practicing on their own without a master's supervision. You may attempt the different abdominal breathing exercises but do so with respect and care, and progress gradually. Eight-Section Brocade is a very safe exercise, and can be practiced on your own. It will also bring many benefits.
I also started to practise some of the 18 weapons, like Taiji Sword, Three Sectional Staff, weighted rope, weighted chain, double short sticks, and Small Sweepers, apart from the Bo, Bo-Jo and Jo.
While practicing classical weapons in modern times is not without its benefits, you will probably get more benefits from the same time and effort spent if you focus on unarmed training, especially when you do not have a master to teach your personally. You should therefore take weapon practice more for fun than for serious training.
I've not been able to train under a master for various circumstances. My development is lacking in many areas. I feel that Zen cultivation will help me greatly, but severe depression and certain intolerance have gripped me, and I am unsure how to overcome them, as medicinal methods have not been able to. Is there any course of action which you might recommend to me?
Your problem is as follows. You are not sure of what you want, and consequently much of your training is purposeless. In other words, you are unsure of your destination, and therefore have no proper routes to travel. You have wasted much time going round and round, often without knowing what you are doing.
For example, you mention that your development is lacking in many areas. Do you clearly know what kind of development you are talking about, and what areas you are lacking in? It seems you have been using words without actually realizing their meanings. You feel that Zen cultivation will help you greatly, but do not really know how it can help you?
You have spent much time practicing various types of sticks and other weapons. Are you aware why you practice them? What benefits you wish to obtain from your practice and have you obtained them? You wish to practice a martial art for fulfillment. But are you clear about what kind of fulfillment you want, and how martial art training can help you to achieve it? Answering these questions will give you direction and purpose.
Overcoming depression is easy. Overcoming intolerance is not as easy, but it is not difficult. Almost any chi kung or kungfu training can achieve that. You have to practice genunine chi kung or kungfu. Merely practicing chi kung forms or kungfu forms, which for convenience I call chi kung dance and kungfu gymnastics, is ineffective.
Depression and intolerance are problems of “mind”, which in Chinese is often referred to as “heart”. As conventional Western medicine deals only with the physical body, and ignore “mind”, it comes as no surprise that it has no satisfactory methods to deal with such problems.
Despite your dedication and sincerity in your training, you have derive little or no benefits. This is because you have only practiced chi kung dance or kungfu gymnastics, and not genuine chi kung or genuine kungfu. This is usually the case with those who train on their own or with mediocre instructors.
Your best course of action is to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course or Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Malaysia. You do not need prior chi kung experience to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course, but you need some martial art experience to attend my Shaolin Kungfu Course. My training fees are very expansive if compared with what many other teachers charge, but you will realize why I charge such fees even on the first day of the course.
I am impressed by the No-Shadow Kicks of Wong Fei Hung. Could you explain how I can reach that level, please?
— Thammarath, USA
“No-Shadow Kicks”, or “Mo Yin Kheok” in Chinese (Cantonese), refers to a famous category of kicking attacks in Southern Shaolin Kungfu. The three most often used kicking techniques in “No-Shadow Kicks” are the front thrust kick, the organ-seeking kick and the tiger-tail kick.
The forte of “No-Shadow Kicks” is speed. The kicks are executed so fast that there is no time even for their shadows to form, hence the name. But speed alone is insufficient to make “No-Shadow Kicks”. The techniques must be executed in such a way that the opponent is unaware of the kicks.
The Southern Shaolin master, Wong Fei Hoong, was famous for his “No-Shadow Kicks”. His favourite kicking technique was the frontal thrust kick. Another Southern Shaolin master famous for the “No-Shadow Kicks” was Fong Sai Yoke, who was about two generations ahead of Wong Fei Hoong, and whose favorite kicking technique was organ-seeking kick.
The essential requirement to reach the level of “No-Shadow Kicks” is practice. But practice alone is not enough. One must understand the philosophy, know the relevant techniques and possess the necessary skills. If you were to kick the way one typically kicks in Taekwando or Muay Thai, for instance, you would have missed the philosophy of “No-Shadow Kicks”. While Taekwando and Muay kicks are fast and powerful, they are too obvious for the opponent to be unaware of them.
How is the Ching Wu School related to Wing Chun Kungfu? I watched two films starring Jet Lee and Bruce Lee showing Sifu Fok Yun Kap (Huo Yuan Jia) was poisoned and killed, and his school was restored later by his students.
The Ching Wu School and Wing Chun Kungfu are not related. The mistaken connection is probably due to the fact that Bruce Lee starred in a very popular Hong Kong movie called “Ching Wu School”. In the movie, Bruce Lee acted as Sifu Fok Yun Kap's disciple who later restored the Ching Wu School. As Bruce Lee was trained in Wing Chun Kungfu, Wing Chun techniques were demonstrated in the movie.
In reality, Sifu Fok Yun Kap's kungfu was Mizongyi, or “the Art of Deceptive Movement”, which was developed from Northern Shaolin, whereas Wing Chun Kungfu was developed from Southern Shaolin. Mizongyi is very different from Wing Chun Kungfu in philosophy, techniques as well as appearance.
To what extent were Chinese kung fu schools connected with nationalistic movements in the past?
In the past Chinese kungfu schools, especially those of the Shaolin tradition, were often involved in or indirectly connected with nationalistic movements. This was because of the Shaolin philosophy of supporting a good government and overthrowing an oppressive one. The Qing Dynasty, the last of the Chinese dynasties, was an interesting example.
Emperors of the preceding dynasty, the Ming Dynasty, were generous patrons of the Shaolin Temple. As the Ming capital was in Nanjing in central China, another Shaolin Temple was built in the south by imperial degree. When the Qing Dynasty replaced the Ming, this southern Shaolin Temple became a revolutionary center to overthrow the Qing.
Later when the Qing government brought peace and prosperity to the people, Shaolin disciples abandoned the plan to topple the Qing. But towards the end when the Qing Dynasty became corrupt, Shaolin disciples helped Dr Sun Yat Sen to set up the first Chinese republic.
I practice Tai Chi Chuan with my Chinese master. He is advanced in years but when he stands still, no one can move him, even the slightest! He is really like a mountain or a big tree. Could you kindly explain how we can acquire that skill please?
The best person to ask is your Tai Chi Chuan master. Nevertheless, I shall explain how one may acquire the skill.
The method is very simple, so simple that most people may not believe it. The method is zhan zhuang, or stance training. Your master probably used the Three-Circle Stance.
Practise the Three-Circle Stance until you can remain at the stance for hours, until your whole body is totally relaxed, your energy is flowing harmoniously and your mind is one-pointed or “empty”. You may, if you like, focus your energy at your feet, and a few able-bodied men cannot move you!