June 2003 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
In my teenage years I've learnt a little about Wuzuquan. Then in my university I've no choice but learn Taekwando. I'm now 27 and currently studying for a Master Degree. I have read a few of your books and feel very interested to learn from Sifu Wong. I'm not interested in attending intensive course but I want to be an actual disciple of Sifu Wong. Please tell me how I can become your disciple as I'm genuinely interested in Shaolin Kungfu.
— Chin, Malaysia
Many people have expressed similar aspirations to me.
My conditions are straight-forward and are summarized as follows.
- I am not teaching regular classes now, and it is unrealistic as well as unreasonable for any intending student to expect me to change my present condition to suit him.
- Those who wish to learn chi kung from me, can attend my Intensive Chi Kung Courses. Participants to these chi kung courses do not need any prior chi kung experience.
- Those who wish to learn Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan from me, can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Courses or Intensive Taijiquan Courses, but they must have prior experience in Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan. Those who have prior experience in other martial arts may be considered.
- Those who have no prior experience but wish to learn Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan from me, must learn some Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan from elsewhere first. It is best if they can learn from Shaolin Wahnam instructors in various parts of the world, but it is still alright even if they just learn external kungfu forms or Taiji dance. The important requirement is that they can perform some kungfu or Taiji forms, so that when they learn from me they can focus on force training and combat application, instead of spending time again over forms.
- It is understandable for many people to wonder what can be learnt in a few days of intensive courses when what they have learnt after many years is just external Shaolin or Taijiquan forms. But I have repeatedly said that they can learn in a few days what they and many others many not have learnt in twenty years. If they do believe in what I have sad, then they should not attend any of my courses. If they attend my course but find that what I have said is not true, or if they are dissatisfied with the course, they do not have to pay any fees.
- Those who have successfully completed my courses may attend further courses if they wish, and may be selected to train to become Shaolin Wahnam instructors.
- The most important requirement for attending my courses is to follow and be abided by the Ten Shaolin Laws. The next most important requirement is to work hard — before, during and after the courses.
Although, my background on martial art is Taekwondo, I have became fond and very interested in kung fu, and my favorite style is Tai Chi. In your opinion, do you suggest starting out with external styles or internal styles of kung fu will be more efficient based on my early studies of Taekwondo?
— Nguyen, USA
This depends on your needs and aspirations. If you have sustained a lot of injuries, which is not uncommon for Taekwondo students, I would advice that you start not with any external or internal styles of kungfu, but with chi kung. The priority is to overcome your internal injuries with chi kung training. When you are healthy again, you can choose between an external style or an internal style.
If you cannot find a genuine chi kung master, then you should start with genuine Taijiquan, which includes chi kung. Take note that finding a genuine Taijiquan master is as difficult as finding a genuine chi kung master.
If you are fit and healthy, but wish to learn some kungfu to enhance your Taekwondo performance, starting with an external style of kungfu is advisable. It is best if you can learn from a master who can teach you a genuine external style of kungfu, which means he can teach you how to apply the external kungfu for combat. But even if the master taught only external kungfu forms and no combat, the sophisticated kungfu forms will enhance your Taekwondo repertoire.
If external style is efficient, what do I need to learn to get the fundamentals of kung fu?
The most fundamentals of kungfu, whether it is external or internal, are “mabu”, or “ma pou” in Cantonese. “Mabu” literally means “horse-step”. Hence, there are two aspects in “mabo”, namely stances and footwork.
Stance training, called “zhan zhuang” in Mandarin or “chat ma” in Cantonese, and footwork training, called “bufa” or “pou fatt”, are known as “ji ben gong” in Mandarin or “kei pun kung” in Cantonese. “Ji ben gong” or “kei pun kung” means fundamental force training. These two aspects of fundamental force training enable the practitioner to be both forceful and agile.
It is interesting to note that today many kungfu and wushu practitioners, including some masters, do not pay importance to stance training and footwork training. As a result they bounce about like boxers.
If Taiji is more efficient, what can I do to improve my techniques and skills? How can I sense attacks; improve my speed; and improve power.
Whether you art is Taiji dance or Taijiquan, football or cooking, and irrespective of whether your techniques and skills are low level or high level, the essential way to improve them is practice.
Even if your art is Taiji dance, and your techniques and skills are low level, if you practice correctly and sufficiently you will eventually become a master of what you have practiced. This, in fact, applies to most people who practice Taiji today. They are relaxed and graceful, and their Taiji performance is elegant to watch.
The same essential principle of practice applies to techniques and skills for sensing attacks, speed and power. You may ask a sparring partner attack you in different ways, and you try to dodge his attacks. Eventually you may adopt a boxer's bouncing stance as this will enable you to move faster. To improve speed in your attack, you may punch a springy ball, and to improve power you may carry weights.
Many people use these methods and think they have improved their Taiji. However, we at Shaolin Wahnam believe otherwise. While these methods may be excellent for Western Boxing and Kickboxing, they are not suitable for Taijiquan. Hence, in our opinion practicing these methods to improve sensing abilities, speed and power in Taijaiquan would be low level. If they were high level, Taijiquan masters in the past would have used them.
To improve sensing abilities, speed and power as well as many other skills like generating energy flow, exploiting an opponent's strength and starting later but arriving earlier, Taijiquan masters in the past developed and employed an ingenious, high level method known as ”Tui Shou” or “Pushing Hands”. In other words, by practicing “Pushing Hands” you can develop these skills and more!
As in any high level method, you have to learn “Pushing Hands” from a master or at least from a competent instructor, and then practice it for some time under his supervision. In the past, “Pushing Hands” and zhan zhuang (stance training) were two of the most fundamental practices both Taijiquan masters and Taijiquan students did. Today, “Pushing Hands' is seldom taught. When it is taught, it is often done mechanically like wrestling, without awareness of the subtle skills the ingenious method was specially designed to train.
I would very much like to work on having a proper foundation in stance training until I am able to train with a master such as yourself. Do you in any of your books explain and teach the relaxation, mental and energy training techniques used when practicing the horse riding stance?
— Ainsley, USA
Yours is a very reasonable and sensible question. But actually in all my books where the Horse-Riding Stance is taught, I have explained very clearly all the necessary points needed to practice the stance well.
Indeed, a few students have told me that after having leant from me personally and derived a lot of benefits, they found that my description of the respective exercises were so accurate and concise. Had I described more, it would make the exercises confusing.
Were they surprised why they could not derive the same benefits from my books when the explanation was so accurate and concise? Those who are used to learning from books and videos, as well as those who mistake kungfu and chi kung as physical exercises, would be. But not my students. They know from direct experience that many things in genuine kungfu and chi kung have to be transmitted by a master.
Take the Horse-Riding Stance for example. Some people may practice the stance from my books for months. They may have some muscular strength at their legs, but they still feel tensed and have no idea of internal force. Yet, students at my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course not only had no doubt of what internal force was, they also reported that they were so relaxed, peaceful and happy after just one session of stance training!
Why is there a difference between learning from a master personally and learning from his instructions in his books? Great masters have answered this question many times, though many uninitiated people ignore it or do not believe in it. Great teachings — like feeling of internal force, joy and inner peace — have to be transmitted from heart to heart.
But if you do not have access to a master's personal teaching, follow the instructions in my books as best as you comfortably can. You can still gain a lot of benefits.
Between Taijiquan and Zhan Zhuang (movement & stillness), which should be emphasized more, or should both be emphasized equally e.g. practise both for equal amounts of time?
— Yang, Singapore
I suppose what you mean is whether performing Taijiquan patterns or zhan zhuang (stance training) should be emphasized more. In mathematical terms, Taijiquan is a set, and zhan zhuang is a sub sub-set.
In the set of Taijiquan, there are four sub-sets, namely form, force training, application, and philosophy.
Performing Taijiquan patterns is a sub sub-set of form. Other sub sub-sets include combat sequences and footwork.
Zhan zhuang is a sub sub-set in the sub-set of force training. Other sub sub-sets include abdominal breathing and energy flow.
While an awareness of such classification is helpful, we should not be limited by rigid classification. For example, this classification into sets and sub-sets give us a better idea of the scope and depth of Taijiquan. But we must remember that such classification is for convenience, and there is often much overlapping. When we practice zhan zhuang for force training, for example, we need form, and when we practice the form of patterns we can also develop force.
Now we return to your original question. You are right. Practicing Taijiquan patterns and zhan zhuang should be given about equal emphasis. In a wider sense, both movement and stillness should be balanced. In philosophical terms, there should be yin-yang harmony.
Expressed in a simplified manner, if you only practice patterns you have techniques but no force. If you only practice zhan zhuang you have force but no techniques. To go a bit deeper and use force as a point of reference, if you only practice zhan zhuang you build up force but it is not flowing. If you only practice patterns you let your force flow but you lack force accumulation.
I was delighted to find that you had included some information in your Q&A on how to use Wing Chun to defend against the fast jabs of a boxer, as I cannot find a way to defend against this particular attack which has almost made me lose faith in Wing Chun.
However although the techniques you have prescribed against a boxer's jabs do work, I am loyal to my style of Wing Chun, which is Yip Man Wing Chun. My sifu teaches that “tan sao” can be used on the inside gate of the opponent's arm to parry heavy punches, but often I find that the opponent uses a fast second punch which catches me off guard. Could you suggest any methods of countering these fast jabs from the perspective of the Yip Man Wing Chun style?
— Christian, England
Using “tan sau” (Mirror Hand), while sitting on your typical Four-Six Stance, on the inside of a Boxer's arm to parry his heavy punches, is using your weak point against the opponent's strong point. No wonder you were often hit by his second punch.
Among many weaknesses, which are mentioned below, you use one defence action against a series of fast attacks. If you try to use another “tan sau” against a second attack, and then a third “tan sau” against a third attack, and so on, you will be too slow. Moreover, you would be forced to defensive mode most of the time, which is what a Boxer would like you to do so that he can rain continuous punches on you while you only manage to cover up.
Even if you combine your “tan sau” with a simultaneous “phew chi” (Finger Thrust), which means you counter-attack when he attacks, your response is better, but it is still technically inferior to a Boxer's fast punches, because of the following reasons.
- Because you use a Four-Six Stance, which means you sit back on your back leg, your reach is shorter than that of the Boxer who usually leans forward with his leading hand.
- Moreover your “phew chi” (finger thrust) would be hindered by his other hand which acts as a guard.
- The jab of a Boxer curves inward from outside. Hence blocking his jab at his inner arm is going against his force.
- Not only you go against the forceful momentum of a heavy punch, you also use a weak block. In this case of “tan sau”, you block with the inner side of your arm, with your palm facing you and your elbow inward. If you reverse the position of your block, where you use the outer side of your arm with your palm facing forward and your elbow outward, your block would be stronger, but even this is not advisable against the forceful momentum of a fast punch.
What should you do then? The following is an effective counter. Let say your opponent gives you a fast and heavy right jab. To make the sequence simple for you, it does not matter much whether his jab is real or feign, and whether his right leg or his left is in front.
Move your left leg a small step diagonally forward and sit at the left Four-Six Stance. Simultaneously shoot out your right “phew chi” or “finger thrust” at his eye (making sure you stop a few inches from his eye), brushing his attacking arm from the outside, so that his attacking punch is at your “outside gate”, and he is struck about the same time his punch is spent.
In this situation he cannot effectively attack you with a second punch. His immediate concern is to protect his eye. He is likely to bounce slightly to his left side to avoid your “finger thrust” or pull back his right punch to block your counter-attack, or do both. This he can accomplish in a split second. Immediately he will attack you with a second punch. Most likely he will use his left hand, but he may also use his right hand.
It does not matter much whether he uses his right or left hand in his second punch. All you need to do is to move your body weight forward to your left leg, lift up your hands as a feign move, and execute a frontal thrust kick at his abdomen.
As in all combat sequences, merely knowing the techniques is not enough; you must have the necessary skills (including force and speed) to implement the techniques. Practice the above sequence 50 times daily for six months, and you will probably find that using these Wing Chun techniques, which are quite typical of Yip Mann Style, to defeat a Boxer is surprisingly easy.
The techniques are reviewed here for your easy reference. Move your left foot diagonally forward slightly to your left side to sit at a left Four-Six Stance and simultaneously strike out your right “phew chi” (finger thrust) slightly to your right side. Then move your body weight over your front left leg and execute a right frontal thrust kick slightly to your right side.
Next, from the kicking position, move your right leg diagonally forward slightly to your right side to sit at a right Four-Six Stance and simultaneously strike out your left “phew chi” (finger thrust) slightly to your left side. Then move your body weight over your front right leg and execute a left frontal thrust kick slightly to your left side. Repeat the procedure 50 times.
When you are familiar with the above techniques, you may make appropriate adjustment in spacing and direction according to where your opponent is. For example, before moving your body weight over your left leg, you may shift your left foot accordingly to get the best spacing advantage, and instead of kicking slightly to your right, you may turn right and kick straight in front.
If you are ready to surpass limitations imposed by your style and use a sideway Bow-Arrow Stance instead of a Four-six Stance while striking out your “phew chi” (finger thrust), you would have certain extra advantages. Using a sideway Bow-Arrow Stance, you will be nearer in your attack on your opponent, yet further away in your defence from his attack! Moreover, you can choose to move your body weight forward or move your body weight backward for the subsequent frontal thrust kick. If you realize that, in this case for example, even when you use the same techniques, but if you just change a stance, you can have three extra advantages, you may appreciate why stances are so important in kungfu.
If a small 120 pound guy who is a chi kung martial artist is attacked by a big 240 pound martial artist who has no chi kung background, what are the chances of the small guy surviving?
— Ricky, Malaysia
Assuming all other things being equal, the chances of the 120-pound martial artist surviving are excellent.
If it were a life-death combat, it would be more appropriate to ask what the chances were for the 240-pound person to survive. In this case his chances were poor.
Being over-weight is a big disadvantage in combat if the opponent is a genuine kungfu fighter with internal force. The over-weight fighter would be clumsy and slow. He is also easily out of breath.
A fighter with internal force does not need body weight for causing harmful strikes. He can kill with a palm strike to the opponent's head or heart. Even a nimble female martial artist without internal force can cause considerable harm to a big-size opponent. She can poke two fingers into his eyes or kicks his genitals.