July 2003 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I have been reading about the Shao Lin arts and found them fascinating, though the information I could find was tantalizingly incomplete.
— Chris, United Kingdom
Shaolin has the most extensive range of arts. These arts were classified into 72 types, known as the Seventy Two Arts of Shaolin. Due to the long history of Shaolin, what the exact 72 arts were, might be different at different periods, but the main arts remained the same. Almost any specialized arts found in other martial art systems can be found in these Shaolin Seven Two Arts or their derivatives.
These Seventy Two Arts were recorded in kungfu classics, and I believe there is a translation of one version in English. The main objective was to record the arts, and not to teach them. Moreover, these were specialized arts, taught to advanced students after they had completed their basic training. Further, these arts were Shaolin secrets, hence the authors who recorded them only mentioned the main points, which were often described in jargons. It is no surprise that you and most people would not understand the descriptions.
I am particularly interested in the Cinnabar Palm and One Finger Hand Stand (or “One Finger Tsan”) art. From the limited information in the books I have found I understand the basics of practice but the explanations only give the first part of each discipline.
Cinnabar Palm and One Finger Zen (One Finger Tsan) are two of the Shaolin Seventy Two Arts. What you have read is not the basics; they are actually the later parts of the training methods after the practitioners have mastered the basics.
The basics were not mentioned in the kungfu classics where these arts were recorded simply because those readers for whom the classics specially addressed to, already knew the basics. And the basics of most of these Seventy Two Arts were similar, though the actual techniques might be different.
The intended readers also knew the intermediate and advanced methods. As mentioned above, the kungfu classics were not meant to be teaching manuals for beginners, but notebooks to remind the practitioners what they had learnt.
Actually, Cinnabar Palm and One Finger Zen are two of the core arts in our Shaolin Wahnam repertoire. Most Shaolin Wahnam students would be surprised! Those who have learnt Shaolin Kungfu from me may not be surprised that One Finger Zen is our core art, as we learned “One finger Shooting Zen” right at the beginning of our Shaolin Wahnam kungfu career, but most would be surprised that Cinnabar Palm is in our repertoire. This answer to your question here, therefore, would be of much interest to them.
We normally call our art “Cosmos Palm” instead of “Cinnabar Palm”. Those who have practiced our Shaolin Wahnam arts for some time, irrespective of whether they practice Shaolin Kungfu, Wahnam Taijiquan or chi kung, will understand if they look at their palms. They will find their palms pink or vermilion in colour, from which Cinnabar Palm derives its name.
There is a good reason why I do not normally mention that Cinnabar Palm, or Cosmos Palm as we call it, is our core art in Shaolin Wahnam. Cinnabar Palm is also translated into English as Red Sand Palm. I want our students to be well versed in the basics. Once they have strong foundation, progressing to specialized arts like Cinnabar Palm, Tiger Claw and Golden Bell will be easier, though the training will still be long and demanding.
Incidentally this shows the great scope and depth of the Shaolin arts, a fact that is not easy to impress upon even my senior students. If after training for two years, you honestly know you have surpassed many others who have trained for twenty years, it is difficult for you to appreciate the meaning when told that you have not even completed the basics.
However, when you realize that others have wasted their twenty years training in superficial forms whereas you have spent two years laying the foundation for genuine arts, you will realize how lucky you are, and when you know you still have many more years ahead to master a chosen specialty, you will become humble rather than proud.
In the Cinnabar Palm Art, one has to daily rub his hands in sand in a basin until he is exhausted. This appears to lead to the ability to move the sand without touching it, and even being able to generate electricity between the palms, at which point he substitutes ever larger and heavier stone grains.
The information also makes reference to “rubbing hands, pushing rocks, rubbing sand package, slapping medical sand, grasping beans and rubbing iron sand” but gives no more details. Because of the danger of blind practice I wonder if you would consider giving me some guidance into what exercises these brief references might refer, or where I might find more information.
The palms of a Cinnabar Palm master are soft and smooth, though he is very powerful. The techniques you have described above are correct, though it is often not necessary for him to do all of them.
But if you were to practice what you have described, not only you would not attain Cinnabar Palm and your palms would be very rough, they would also be deformed and lose their physiological functions. It was wise and lucky of you not to follow these instructions blindly, though the instructions in principle were correct. This is one of many reasons why one must learn from a master if he wishes to accomplish great arts.
Why would your palms be deformed and rough whereas those of a Cinnabar Palm master would be soft and smooth when you use the same methods? There are two reasons. One, you do not have the basics. Two, you only know the crude methods but do not know the finer points. In short you do not know the secrets. In Chinese terms, it is “chi kei phiew pat chi kei lui” (Cantonese pronunciation), which literally means “knowing the surface but not knowing the inside”, which is often the case when students try to be smarter than their teachers by “improving” their teachers' methods.
Basically the finer points are as follows. When you follow the instructions and rub your hands on a basin of sand, you do so mechanically and often with brute strength. But an initiated practitioner does so using energy and mind. Even when you know the secrets, as I have mentioned them here, you would not be able to do so — you would not know how to use energy and mind to rub your palms on the sand.
Sometimes the secrets are also mentioned openly though briefly. For example, the instructions might read “Focus your mind, channel your energy to your palms, then rub the sand until you are exhausted”. Because you do not understand the finer points of “focusing your mind, channel your energy to your palms”, you merely read over the words and miss the essence without realizing it.
“Until you are exhausted” does not mean until you are exhausted; it means until you have almost used up the energy and mind power meant for that exercise. Does that mean the instruction is misleading? No, the instruction is precise. But how does a practitioner know the finer meaning? Any initiated practitioner would know; if he doesn't, he is not ready to practice the art. Not only he knows he must not exhaust himself, he also knows how to replenish the energy and mind power used, so that at the end of the exercise he is more energized and fresh than before.
To give you further examples, in my Sinew Metamorphosis classes when I say “breathe out forcefully”, my students know it does not mean that they breathe out forcefully, but that they breathe out gently yet forceful enough to expel the toxic waste that has just accumulated in their mouth and other parts of their body as the result of performing the exercise. In sparring practice, when I say “do not use strength”, my students know it does not mean they do not use strength, but use internal force in such a way that they do not tense their muscles blocking their energy flow as well as making them tired easily.
In the One Finger Hand Stand Art, one hangs a heavy hammer in the hallway and he should hit it with the finger (I presume the fingertip) daily until it can be moved without direct contact with the finger. He then progresses to extinguishing candle flames simply by pointing at them and then to candle flames protected by paper and then glass. The references to other parts of the exercise are: “hitting rocks, thrusting into sand, grasping beans and penetrating wall with bare hands.” Again no more details are given. Because of the danger of blind practice I wonder if you would consider giving me some comments.
Standing upside-down with just two fingers supporting the body is a training technique of “Two-Finger Zen”, which was the specialty of the late great Shaolin monk, Hai Deng (Light in the Sea of Suffering). The Venerable Hai Deng taught traditional Shaolin Kungfu at the northern Shaolin Monastery at Henan when it was rennovated by the Chinese government, but due to policy difference he left the monastery later on. Since then, modernized wushu has replaced traditional kungfu at the monastery, although traditional kungfu forms are retained.
Some practitioners later stood upside-down with just one finger, instead of two. I am not referring to these practitioners in particular, but standing with one finger is not necessarily superior to standing with two fingers. Moreover, standing with two fingers, or with one finger, is just one of the techniques, which is attempted after basic training of energy and mind. Hence, being able to stand upside-down supported by just one or two fingers does not necessarily mean the performer has accomplished the art of One Finger Zen, or Two Finger Zen.
“One Finger Shooting Zen”, which is a fundamental technique to train the art of One Finger Zen and which also includes training the Tiger Claw, is taught in our Shaolin Kungfu programme. I clearly remember my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, told me when he first taught me “One Finger Shooting Zen”, that since One Finger Zen and Tiger Claw are very advanced Shaolin arts requiring a long time to master, we started training them right at the start of our kungfu career. Standing upright on one finger is not in our training repertoire, but the other techniques like striking a finger against a hard object and against a candle flame, are, though we practice them only when we specialize.
Unfortunately there seem to be very few people who are well informed about these arts. I have studied Wu Ji Qi Gong with a master in Beijing and he mentioned what would seem to be an allied art practiced by Ba Gua Zhang practitioners whereby one learns to strike a melon such that the skin of the melon is undamaged but the inner flesh is turned to mush, or one strikes the surface of a bucket of water without making a big splash and destroys a block of tofu at the bottom of the bucket. I wonder if you could give me some more information on this art or a reference where I might find such information?
Nowadays, finding a master who teaches the basics of genuine, traditional Shaolin arts, which are energy and mind training, is difficult enough; finding a master of these very advanced Shaolin arts like Cinnabar Palm and One Finger Zen, is certainly very rare.
Nevertheless, information regarding these advanced arts is now relatively easy to obtain, and the information is usually accurate. There are pros and cons for such a fantastic assess to information which in the past people would be ready to exchange a fortune to obtain.
Many people do not realize that the classics which contain such information were not teaching manuals, but concise records for the already initiated. Most people also do not realize the concise information contains “secrets hidden in the open”. Hence, modern readers who often have little experience in genuine, traditional kungfu but attempt advanced arts treating them like physical exercises, not only do not obtain desirable results but also hurt themselves in the process.
Your Wuji Qigong master is right. Baguazhang masters practiced a similar art though they do not call it Cinnabar Palm or Cosmos Palm. Unlike in Shaolin Kungfu, such advanced arts in the internal styles are usually not given special names. They are simply referred to as Bagua Palm or Taiji Palm. The main reason is that in the internal styles, even at advanced levels the training is usually holistic, and not specialized into Cosmos Palm, Tiger Claw or No-Shadow Kicks as in Shaolin Kungfu. Indeed, from a historical perspective, Baguazhang and Taijaiquan just as Praying Mantis and Wing Choon, are specializations from Shaolin Kungfu.
While many people may not believe it, it is true that a specially trained practitioner can smash a watermelon without damaging its skin, or break a block of tofu placed under water by hitting the water surface. By correlation, an internal stylist who has this type of internal force can seriously injure or kill an opponent who is so unwise as to grapple or wrestle with him, by striking the opponent's head without leaving any outward sign.
Skeptics may legitimately ask for proof that such internal force really exists. On the other hand, internal stylists are usually not interested to demonstrate their skills or to enter into competitions where they may have to kill their opponent to prevent their own defeat. To ask them how they know their internal force work if they have never tried it on an opponent to kill or main him, is like asking how do you know the gun you are holding work if you have never shot a bullet into someone's head.
Early this month, I was diagnosed with a 4th stage colon cancer. I had an operation to have 6 inches of the affected colon as well as 9 lymph nodes removed. I have a 6 inch incision on my abdomen which is expected to heal completely in the next 2 weeks. I am an ardent fan of Master Wong's chi kung books. I believe Master's chi kung course will help me in my fight against cancer. I would like to attend the course.
— Kenny, Malaysia
I am sorry to hear that you were diagnosed with cancer, but the good news is that cancer can be cured! I am so convinced with this fact that I wish to repeat it: cancer can be cured.
Actually there is nothing amazing about overcoming cancer. Right now millions and millions of people all over the world are doing that, just as they are also overcoming deadly viral diseases. The really amazing thing is that by nature, which means without having to do anything extra, we can overcome all diseases. It is our natural birth-right to be healthy and happy.
When a person becomes sick it is because one or more parts of his body are not working naturally. Chemotherapy, surgery, herbal medicine and acupuncture are some of the means to restore the natural working of the body, thereby restoring health. Chi kung is the most natural and the most fundamental means because life is basically a meaningful flow of energy, and the most fundamental task of chi kung is to ensure this meaning flow.
One of my students who had cancer and who recovered by practicing chi kung told me that at one stage her illness was so bad that she thought she would die any time, but the only time she knew she could be alive was when she did chi kung. This inspiring statement is not only poetic but actually real. As long as she did chi kung, such as doing exercises like “Lifting the Sky”, she took responsibility and control of regulating good energy entering her and bad energy going out from her. In other words she ensured a meaningful flow of energy.
Nevertheless, to say that every disease can be overcome is not the same as saying every patient will be cured of his disease. If a disease, any disease even a simple one, has developed beyond a threshold, then recovery may be impossible.
In your case, you have a good chance to overcome cancer. Cancer is not an acute disease like cholera or dengi fever. This means you still have time. And you have the most important ingredient to get well, i.e.the will to live. If a patient gives up hope, it would be difficult to recover.
I have devoted a whole, long chapter on “Cancer Can Be Cured” in my book, “The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine”. Read it. The facts as well as explanation on why cancer can be cured will further enhance your hopes and confidence. Then apply to my secretary to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course. Meanwhile practice on your own the wonderful chi kung exercise called “Lifting the Sky”. You can learn it from my books, “The Art of Chi Kung”, “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality” or “The Complete Book of Shaolin”.
Every morning and evening or at night pray sincerely according to your religion, or if you do not profess a religion, pray in whatever way you think fit. Seek divine help and it will be given. Make a vow to get well and then help other cancer patients by telling them that they too can recover from the disease. Reaffirm your vow everyday. Needless to say, when you have recovered, you must fulfill your vow to help other cancer patients.
I am fairly new to kung fu. I have been studying for about a year at a centre in Australia. My teacher is a certified gold sash. He went to China in the early 80's to do the official certification. He has been practicing for over 40 years.
— Donald, Australia
In traditional kungfu there is no coloured sash system to indicate attainment levels like the coloured belt systems in Judo, Karate and Taekwondo. Moreover, in the 1980s traditional kungfu was rare in China, what was popularly practiced was modernized wushu. But even in modernized wushu there is no coloured sash system.
We study the 3 internal arts, Ta Chi, Pa Kua and Hsing Yi. At our center we do an enormous amount of bag work and self defense. The focus seems to be primarily on developing a core of solid fighting skills before you begin your 'internal' training. The way we learn to fight initially is very similar to a no-holds-barred kickboxing. In fact, the Kung Fu we are learning is exceptionally brutal -- finish your opponent off by striking vital areas as quickly and as nastily as possible. The way we are being taught is very aggressive and much more external than internal.
What you have described is most uncharacteristic of Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Kua Kungfu, Hsing Yi Kungfu, or any other internal style. In any internal art, a student starts straight with internal aspects. There is no need to wait till he reaches an advanced level. Internal arts pay more attention to good health and spiritual development. Brutally finishing off your opponents is against the philosophy of internal arts.
To further credit our center and style we have an enormous wining percentage, like close to 100%, when we do exhibition sparring against other schools. Of course, our teacher's focus is mostly on defending yourself in the street and he feels competitive sparring should not be confused with self-defense and is much less important. He must be doing something right because he has the largest center in Australia boasting over 500 members.
Congratulations for the remarkable success of your school in winning competitions. Your teacher is also very successful, having the largest center in Australia.
But having a big enrolment of students does not necessarily indicate that organization is doing something “right”. It also depends on what is meant by “right”.
In my opinion, the way the teacher teaches internal arts is not right. By “right” I mean according to established traditions and practice. Moreover, I also believe that the great majority of people teaching and practicing Taijiquan today is not doing it right.
My concept of Taijaiquan is an internal martial art. When there is nothing internal and martial in what most of these modern schools teach and practice, I find no basis in saying what they do is right. But this is only my opinion, and it is a minority opinion.
I agree with you wholeheartedly that one's art depends on his instructor and the way he decides to teach it. I often tell people who are interested in taking up a martial art this fact but the uneducated seem to think that one martial art style has got to be better than another. It is their loss as I find kung fu to be the greatest thing I have done in a long time.
While it is true that one's instructor and the way he teaches the art are very important factors influencing his martial art attainment, the style of martial art is always very important. If all other things were equal, one style is better than another.
Which style is the best style depends on various considerations as well as personal preference. Those who practice Taekwondo, for example, naturally choose Taekwondo as the best style, or at least the best style available to him. Otherwise he would have chosen another style.
For me the greatest martial art is genuine traditional Shaolin Kungfu. My considerations include the facts that Shaolin Kungfu has the most extensive repertoire, the most profound philosophy, the widest range of fantastic force or skills, promotes health, vitality and longevity, expands the mind, and leads to the highest spiritual attainment.
Practicing kungfu, especially great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan, is certainly one of the best things one can ever do in his life time. Nevertheless, in your case the main benefits the style of kungfu you practice are becoming a brutal fighter, winning trophies, and being a member of the largest school in your country. If you are happy with these benefits, that is fine.
But I would like to say that there are more worthy objectives in practicing kungfu. Being combat efficient is a basic objective, but we need not be brutal while being combat efficient. If you train to be a brutal fighter, the first loser is you yourself! Before you even meet your first opponent in a real fight, you have hurt yourself emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Moreover, how often do you really have to fight?
More immediate benefits will be good health, vitality and mental clarity. Genuine internal kungfu styles offer great opportunities to obtain these benefits. But being brutal in training is detrimental to these objectives.