November 2002 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I read Sifu Wong's book on Shaolin Kung Fu, and on Zen, both about 5 times. Both were impressive. I would very much like to find out more about what he calls “One Finger Shooting Zen”. If you can open any doors for me in that department, even just a crack, I would be most grateful.
— Hugh, England
As you probably can perform the outward movement of “One-Finger Shooting Zen” from reading the description on pages 136-9 of my book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, I would focus on other aspects, including some real life stories which reveal important lessons.
When I learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the first two exercises he taught me were “Lifting the Sky” and “One-Finger Shooting Zen”. (I did not have to learn the Horse-Riding Stance, as other students did, because I had learnt that and trained for a long time with my earlier master, Uncle Righteousness.)
I still can clearly remember what my master said when I first learned from him more than 30 years ago. “We do not merely learn kungfu, we practice it,” he said. “Many people say they learn or practice kungfu. They don't, they only learn or practice external kungfu forms. Now you are going to learn kungfu, very good kungfu, in fact the essence of Shaolin Kungfu — One-Finger Zen and Tiger Claw. They are very advanced arts and need a long time to master. Hence we learn them right at the start. Practice this exercise everyday.”
“What is this exercise called?” I asked. “Yiet Tze Thow Sim”, which is the Cantonese pronunciation for “One-Finger Shooting Zen”.
For many years, I practiced One-Finger Shooting Zen everyday, but I did not feel anything special except, perhaps, that when I sparred with those who were said to be very powerful, like my si-shook (kungfu brother of my master), I did not feel they were particularly powerful.
Then, one day I had a discussion with a young Shaolin master who belittled Taijiquan, saying that Taijiquan was soft, and that his Shaolin Kungfu was powerful, training in such arts like Iron Arm and Iron Palm. To impress me that his arms were powerful, he swung his arms hard against an iron pillar which supported the porch of his house under which we were standing, causing the iron pillar to vibrate with a resonating sound. But I was unimpressed, and he must be annoyed. Then he asked me to do “three-star hitting” with him.
“Three-star hitting” is performed by two persons systematically knocking each other's arm to see whose arms are more powerful. Instead of free sparring to decide who is a better fighter, kungfu exponents sometimes use “three-star hitting” to decide the other person's force. This Shaolin master wanted to show off his force. He swung his arm hard against my arm, with the intention of hurting me. But instead of hurting me, his arm was bounced off by my arm. After three hard swings, he abruptly stopped the “three-star hitting”. Obviously he felt my internal force.
Interestingly, I did not harden my arms with such exercises like hitting sandbags or striking wooden men; I only practiced “One-Finger Shooting Zen.”
My sifu told me an occasion when he had a friendly discussion with an old Shaolin master on kungfu matters. While talking the old master moved his palm against some pieces of paper which happened to be hanging down from a string many feet away, causing the paper to flutter, although there was no wind in the room. “Old master,” my sifu exclaimed, “you have attained a very high level in your Strike-Across-Space Palm.”
While praising him, my sifu, who was sitting a few feet from the old master, moved his index finger in circles in front of him. “Young master,” the old master said, “your One-Finger Zen is not bad either.” He had felt my sifu's force. (Strike-Across-Space Palm and One-Finger Zen are two very advanced arts which can be used to injure opponents from a distance without physical contact. Together with Shaolin Marvelous Fist, they are regarded as the “three ultimate martial arts of Shaolin”.)
In our school, “One-Finger Shooting Zen” is the main method to train for the art of One-Finger Zen. One-Finger Zen is often used in tim-mark, where a master can disable an opponent by using a finger to strike the latter's energy point. Tim-mark can be very deadly, and therefore is used only when necessary. My sifu told me that in all his fights, he had used it only once. His opponent was like a bull, much bigger-sized and stronger than him, and was very aggressive. But by just striking his index finger at the opponent's vital point at the base of his throat, the opponent collapsed with white foam coming out of his mouth. My sifu had to administer chi kung therapy to revive him.
A few years ago when Dr Kay visited me with his family, I brought them to see my sifu. My sifu, Kay and I were talking, while Kay's daughter, Gillian, practiced some kungfu movements. My sifu then went over to explain some finer points to her, gently tapping her between her collar bones. Then he returned to us to resume our conversation. Later Gillian told us that that apparently gentle touch sent an electric shock down her body, causing excruciating pain, and she almost collapsed.
I could understand how excruciating the pain was. Many years ago when I was learning from my sifu, he gently poked at my abdomen with his index finger to show me One-Finger Zen. The apparently gentle poke penetrated the Golden Bell I was trained in, and I felt a sharp pain.
Shaolin arts are meant not just to kill, but also to heal. Jin Leng, my student, had damaged his back and knees so badly in his young days that he could hardly stand or walk properly! I taught him One-Finger Shooting Zen. After a few months of training, his pain and injury disappeared. I also have used One-Finger Zen to open energy points and clear blockage for many people, not only relieving illness and pain but sometimes saving lives.
You can find some pictures of me performing One-Finger Shooting Zen on pages 47 of my latest Shaolin book, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”, where you will read not only about kungfu but also chi kung and Zen as well as the philosophy and legends of Shaolin.
Why is it that some chi kung masters, for example Dr Yan Xin or any other masters, can produce different results from their practice of chi kung? Could it be due to, say, personal natural abilities or longer dedicated practice etc. Why is this so?
— Chris, Australia
The results a student obtains in chi kung, or any art, depend on various factors. Three crucial factors are the type of chi kung he practices, the teacher who teaches him, and how the student practices.
If all other things were equal, a presumption which is never valid but is needed for meaningful comparison, practicing a superior type of chi kung, a good teacher, and a good student will logically produce better result than an inferior chi kung, a mediocre teacher and a poor student. The greater the difference between the quality of chi kung, teacher or student, the greater the difference between the results. Dr Yan Xin is an excellent teacher, and he teaches high level chi kung, but if a student practices badly his results will be poor.
Chi kung have many wonderful benefits besides good health, vitality and longevity. They may have some personal natural abilities, but Dr Yan Xin or any other masters, can produce different results because of their dedicated practice.
Would a genuine Shaolin kungfu master be capable of overcoming a much larger and incredibly strong non-martial art opponent? Would a real Shaolin master be able to defeat him in any situation?
Certainly, a genune Shaolin kungfu master could overcome and defeat a much larger and incredibly strong non-martial art opponent in any situation.
Obviously you have no idea how powerful and combat efficient a genuine Shaolin kungfu master is. I would tell you a real-life story of Grandmaster Kai Jettkandt, my host in Germany now, where I am conducting some kungfu and chi kung courses. Kai learns Shaolin Kungfu from me. He is a loveable, soft-spoken man, but once he was attacked by seven strong men who were much bigger sized than him, and they were using weapons, including a gas gun. But literally within a minute four of the attackers had to be taken to hospital with broken bones, and three landed in a police lock-up.
Kai is real master and a very good fighter, so handling some bigger sized and physically stronger opponents is easy for him. But even a student properly trained in genuine Shaolin Kungfu can defeat a larger and stronger opponent. Take the real-life case of Ronan from England. Although Ronan has learned Shaolin Kungfu from me for less than a year, he practices diligently with Dan everyday, especially force training and combat application.
A few weeks ago while he was walking home, a much larger and physically stronger person, who was muscular and taller than him by a head, shouted abuses at him and challenged him to a fight for no reasons. Ronan politely refused to fight and attempted to walk away. But the person charged at him. Ronan spontaneously sat down on his stance and executed a Shaolin pattern called “Black Tiger Steals Heart”, felling the bigger and physically stronger assailant with just one blow. Ronan himself was surprised. The assailant was dazed on the ground, so Ronan leisurely walked away.
It is understandable that you and many other people have doubt about the ability of some masters to defend themselves. For example, wushu masters, including modern Shaolin monks, would have difficulty defending themselves against larger, stronger non-martial art opponents because combat application is not a part of wushu training.
Can real Shaolin Kungfu be practiced in a real life way without sustaining injury?
Your question pinpoints how mis-informed the general public is about real Shaolin Kungfu. To ask whether real Shaolin Kungfu can be practiced in a real life way without sustaining injury is like asking whether a professional footballer can play football. The fact is that real Shaolin Kungfu is practiced for real life situations, and unlike many other martial arts or martial sports where injury sustained in sparring is routinely left unattended to, there is no injury in real Shaolin kungfu training where sparring is an essential part of the training.
For example, I am now in the midst of conducting a Shaolin Kungfu course in Germany. We have just completed four days of the five-day course. Each day, except for lunch break, students sparred almost non-stop for six hours. Except for a female student who has some bruises on her arms, which are being cleared by chi flow, not a single student has any injury.
When one understands kungfu philosophy regarding combat, he will not be surprised why no injury is sustained during training, including sparring. In traditional kungfu philosophy, we understand that even one blow can kill. Hence, in sparring, which is an essential aspect of kungfu training to enable us to defend ourselves, we are not to be hit even once. In the past, kungfu sparring often involved weapons, and just one slash of a kungfu knife or one pierce of a spear could kill.
Not only we must not injure ourselves in sparring, we must also not injure ourselves, physically and spiritually, in solo practice. A basic tenet in kungfu philosophy is “seen keong sun, hou fong sun”, which means “first be healthy, only then talk about combat”. Many martial sports today, including wushu, do not pay attention to this tenet. Many wushu practitioners, for example, have arthritis problems, and their peak performance is over by the time they are thirty. Many people pursue wushu because they want to become film stars, failing which they become disappointed and resign themselves to become body guards, though ironically they actually cannot fight. Different people are entitled to their different opinions, but to me this is spiritually unhealthy.
On the other hand, genuine Shaolin Kungfu, besides being very effective for fighting, is meant for personal cultivation — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. A genuine Shaolin kungfu practitioner is healthier and fitter in all his physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects at fifty than when he was twenty.
Why do many people think that Shaolin Kungfu is not for real, or why one cannot train Shaolin Kungfu without sustaining injury? It is because they mistake modern wushu and kickboxing for Shaolin Kungfu. Modern Shaolin monks, for example, teach modern wushu or external kungfu forms without combat application. Unless one is well informed, it is easy to mistake such modern wushu or external kungfu forms, which cannot be used for fighting, to be Shaolin Kungfu, which is excellent for real combat.
It is actually a problem of semantics. In the Chinese language, kungfu is called “wushu”. As the wushu forms are taught by modern Shaolin monks, these forms are called Shaolin Wushu, which means Shaolin Kungfu, although practitioners of such wushu forms do not train for real combat. On the other hand, many people, including me, use the term “kungfu” to refer to Chinese martial art, and “wushu” to refer to external kungfu forms meant for demonstration and not for combat. To me, if an art cannot be used for fighting, it cannot be called kungfu.
Some wushu students attempt to use wushu for combat, and they call it “san-shou” or “san-da”. However, because they lack a systematic approach to combat training, they resort to free sparring straight away. As a result they cannot apply their wushu techniques, and have to resort to boxing and kicking, much like Western Boxing and Kickboxing with little or no semblance of traditional kungfu. As their training is not systematic, they usually hit and kick each other, and sustain internal injury in their sparring.
Does a real master of Shaolin Kungfu when in a fighting situation ever get angry and ever lose control and actually not fight in the right way as he has been taught over the many years of his training?
Not only a real Shaolin master, but even properly trained students in genuine Shaolin Kungfu would not get angry, not lose control and not be able to fight in the right way. Ronan mentioned above was a good example. In his sparring practice with Dan, Ronan has performed “Black Tiger Steals Heart” literally thousands of times. So when the assailant rushed in, Ronan just executed a movement which he has been so accustomed to doing — with the difference that it would be so much easier with the assailant. Dan would have moved in with proper coverage, and would be able to neutralize Ronan's strike and then counter attack. But the assailant just rushed in to offer a free target.
Being calm and relaxed, having control, including the control of not hurting the sparring partner, and fighting in an advantageous way are part and parcel of genuine Shaolin training. In genuine Shaolin training, one does not merely practice sparring. He learns the techniques and acquires the skills to focus his mind, regulate his energy flow, make quick decisions, respond intuitively, and execute his movements flowingly and precisely. These skills, acquired from combat training, are of course transferable to our daily work and play.
One of the facts that I am very proud of is that of the numerous Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan classes I had conducted, where sparring continuously for two or three hours was a norm, not a single participant felt angry at himself or at his sparring partner. Accidental hits did happen on some rare occasions. For example, in a sparring session just now, as Alex executed a whirlwind kick, Dan intercepted it using a pattern called “Bar the Big Boss”. Dan did it so precisely that his elbow hit a vital point in Alex's attacking leg, causing Alex much pain. Dan was genuinely sorry but Alex was not angry. After performing some remedial chi kung exercise to relieve the energy blockage caused by Dan's hit, they continued to spar happily.
But masters who teach modern wushu or external kungfu forms without combat application would be unable to fight in the right way at all, because they have never trained how to fight. They may or may not be angry in a fighting situation, but most probably they will be fearful, anxious and hesitant, and lose control of the situation.
In your teaching and in the teaching of other real Shaolin masters do you and they do any strengthening exercises such as lifting weights, situps, chinups etc or any means of conditioning the outer body and if so what exercises?
All martial art training, including Shaolin Kungfu, employs strengthening exercises, which are generally called force training. There are many different types and nature of strengthening exercises used by different schools. Some Shaolin schools use weight lifting, situps and chinups, but we in Shaolin Wahnam generally do not use them. Our methods are mainly internal exercises like stance training, chi flow and Sinew Metamorphosis.
Do you know of any genuine chi kung masters who died of any degenerative diseases? If not, what did they die of? What would natural death be caused by?
Yes, most genuine chi kung masters died of degenerative diseases! This must be a big surprise to most people because chi kung is excellent for overcoming degenerative diseases. This will become clear and logical when we examine the issue deeper.
Chi kung enhances and prolongs life, but chi kung cannot overcome death. No matter how great a chi kung master is, he has to die one day. No one can escape death, but he should also not be afraid of death. What is more important is that he should live his life meaningfully and rewardingly, for himself and for others. Those who are spiritually awakened will understand that death is actually a rebirth to another realm of existence, unless he is ready for the highest attainment, i.e. Enlightenment.
During one's journey through life, good health is natural. Only when certain parts of his body (and mind) are not working naturally, does he become sick. His sickness may be classified, according to Western medical terms, as contagious, degenerative or psychosomatic. If he has not lived his potential life span yet, practicing chi kung will restore his natural functions and overcome his sickness.But if his potential life span is reached, his body will degenerate. Practicing chi kung will then be unable to overcome the subsequent degenerative diseases because as his body has depleted its usefulness, it is natural for it to degenerate and for him to die, just as earlier it was natural for him to overcome any sickness and be healthy. The cause of natural death is therefore the degeneration of the body systems due to completing its potential life span.
How does one recognize a good sifu in the arts of Chi Kung and Shoalin Kung Fu? Does a sifu have a certificate or a scroll?
— Maurice, Neitherland
A good sifu in chi kung or kungfu is recognized by his performance — in his art, his teaching as well as in his daily life. He does not need a certificate or a scroll, and he normally does not have one. Indeed, if someone tries to impress you that he is a sifu by showing you his certificates or scrolls, you have reasons to suspect whether he is a genuine sifu.
As chi kung and kungfu are so debased today that they often have lost their original meaning, it may not be easy for the public in general to judge a good sifu by his performance. Hence, many people judge a sifu by his reputation, which may or may not be correct. My own sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, once told me that “meng si” is not necessarily “meng si”! It is a pun. The first “meng” in the Chinese (Cantonese) expression means “well-known”, whereas the second “meng” means “enlightened”, and “si” means “master”. It means a well-known sifu is not necessary a good sifu.
To judge whether a sifu is good in the performance of his art, it is necessary to understand what really is chi kung and kungfu. Most people today have little or no exposure to genuine chi kung and genuine kungfu. What they are exposed to are debased versions of chi kung external forms and kungfu external forms which are like gentle exercise and gymnastics. Thus, a sifu who teaches such gentle exercise and gymnastics, where there is no management of energy and no combat application, is not even a practitioner of genuine chi kung or kungfu, least of all a chi kung or kungfu sifu. In my opinion, a modern wushu sifu is not a chi kung or kungfu sifu; he is not even a practitioner of chi kung or kungfu.
The issue here is not whether wushu or kungfu is better — each has its own pros and cons. The issue is that wushu as practiced today does not include chi kung, and is not the same as kungfu — although in the Chinese language “wushu” means “martial art”.
A good chi kung sifu, therefore, must perform well in chi kung, and a good kungfu sifu must perform well in kungfu. This is only logical, and may appear redundant to say it. But the fact is that today many people reputed to be chi kung sifus do not know how to manage chi, and many people reputed to be kungfu sifus do not know how to defend themselves. Yet the public, due to lack of understanding mentioned above, continue to call them chi kung and kungfu sifus.
Besides performing well in his art, a good sifu must also perform well in his teaching (if we think of a sifu as a teacher) and in his daily life according to the philosophy of his art. A good way to judge his teaching performance is to observe the results of his students. If his students can perform graceful exercises but still poor in health, or fight well but use kickboxing techniques, then he may be a good sifu in gentle exercise or kickboxing but not chi kung or kungfu.
A good sifu practices what he teaches. If he keeps fit by going to the gyms although he says that chi kung is an art of health and vitality, or if he gets angry and abusive easily although he says that kungfu is also trained for spiritual development, then we rightly suspect whether he is a good sifu even though he may have many certificates and scrolls.
Does he or she always need to ask money, or does he sometimes give his art for free to sincere persons?
A good sifu does not always need to ask money, but he usually does, especially if teaching is his profession. Not only he sometimes gives his art free to sincere persons, but also gives money to needy students.
In my experience I have noticed that those who teach their art free, irrespective of whether his students are sincere or not, are low level sifus teaching low level arts. This is a fact of life. High level teachers of any arts or high level professionals in any fields charge very high prices, in cash or in kind.
Kungfu students worked for and served their sifus to learn their arts. The great price disciples of the Buddha paid was to renounce all worldly pleasures, and disciples of Christ sometimes paid with their lives. Their rewards, of course, far outweighed the price they paid.