Novemeber 2004 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Sifu has said in the Q&A series that the needs and aspirations are different for people today, and that the standard of gongfu has deteriorated tremendously. Is it still possible for us today to reach the standards of classical knights (wuxia), since we are practicing the same qigong and gongfu taught to the Shaolin monks 200 years ago (assuming diligence and consistent practice)?
— Chris, Singapore
In theory it is possible, but in real life it is not. This is being practical.
The standard of kungfu (gongfu) has deteriorated tremendously. Most "kungfu" masters today cannot apply their kungfu forms for combat (even though some of them may be good fighters using other martial art techniques). Some "kungfu" masters explicitly say that kungfu forms cannot be used for fighting, and many do not believe in internal force!
Without false modesty I believe my combat efficiency is high (in today's low standards), but if I compare myself with classical kungfu knights (wuxia), I am just a child. When a classical kungfu knight walked though a street, for example, if 30 opponents ambushed him with spears and arrows, he could come out of the ambush unhurt!
On the other hand, we need not train like classical kungfu knights because our conditions are different. For most of us, our concerns are good health and vitality so that we can enjoy our daily work and play. We also want some effective self defence so that we can meet any eventualities confidently and safely. And although we still have to live and work in our phenomenal world, a glimpse into cosmic reality once awhile gives us tremendous joy and inspiration, and meaning in our life.
While we may not be as skilful in practice as the classical knights, we aspire to their ideals. We are honorable and righteous, wise and courageous. We aim for excellence in both our public and private life. We live life to the full, and are generous to others in our dealings with them as well as in our teaching.
In many ways we are luckier than the classical knights. For example, while I can enjoy what they did, like composing poetry and listening to passing clouds, they could not have the scope and richness of my experience. Classical knights appreciated fine food and beautiful places in China on foot, I appreciate fine food and beautiful places of the world via cars and planes. They could not, for instance, admire the water city of Venice and the mid-night sun of Finland, or enjoy gigantic grilled prawns of Lisbon or chicken satay of Malaysia as I did. Neither could they generate energy flow or channel energy to whatever part of their body after three days of training as you have done.
How is it that practicing Taijiquan forms and zhan zhuang can increase one's internal force. I understand how Pushing Mountains might achieve this since we are actively taking in cosmic energy when we breathe in. But in zhan zhuang or form practice, it seems to me that the practice is only circulating the qi that is already there. How does the practitioner increase his qi if it is just flowing around as if in a closed circuit? Does qi flow in from the cosmos even though the practitioner is not actively taking qi into his body?
There is no doubt that practicing Taijiquan forms and zhan zhuang correctly can increase one's internal force. By now you would have verified this fact through direct experience. What you seek, therefore, is the philosophical explanation of this practical truth.
On the other hand, the great majority of those who practice Taijiquan forms and many who practice zhan zhuang do not develop any internal force. Logically they have not practiced the exercises correctly, though many of them may not realize it or even if they are told the fact, may not accept it.
As mentioned earlier, all qigong exercises involve circulating qi as well as increasing qi, and when we are skilful we can regulate the proportion between these two dimensions according to our wish. And Taijiquan exercises are qigong exercises.
In principle, practicing “Pushing Mountains” is the same as practicing any Taijiquan forms, like “Lifting Water” and “Green Dragon Shoots Pearl”. They are all dynamic patterns. Hence, in Taijiquan forms you can also tap energy from the cosmos. It is not just circulating qi that is already there.
And in principle, practicing zhan zhuang like the Three-Circle Stance is the same as practicing Standing Meditation, which is the Wuji Stance in Taijiquan. They are all static patterns. Although they are static, you can use them to tap cosmic energy, or use them to circulate energy, whichever you like if you are skilful. You did that during the Sabah Intensive Qigong Course. While at Standing Meditation after “Lifting the Sky”, you tapped energy from the cosmos and let it flow from heaven through you to the earth. Then you built a ball of energy at your dan tian to increase your internal force.
When you are more skilful you can do this in other stances like Three-Circle Stance and Golden Bridge, besides Standing Meditation and Wuji Stance. Technically, all other factors being equal, it is easiest to perform these two fundamental qigong skills at Standing Meditation. But zhan zhuang using other stances, especially Three-Circle Stance and Golden Bridge, are more powerful. This is because the other factors are not equal, and will become clear in the later part of this answer.
We constantly exchange qi with the cosmos, but even if we presume that qi flowed around our body in a close circuit, we could also increase our internal force without increasing our absolute qi volume. How? By improving its flow. Why? Because internal force is a function not only of energy volume and also of its flow.
Someone may have 100 units of internal force, but if he has much blockage, only 10 units may flow out to strike his opponent. You may have only 50 units of internal force, but if your flow is smooth, 40 units may flow out to strike your opponent. Hence, although you have only half his energy volume, your strike can be 4 times more powerful.
Moreover, the amount of energy available for internal force application usually depends not on the total energy volume but on the amount of “free” energy stored at the dan tian. Suppose the total amount of energy in a person is 100,000 units. Much of the energy is required for life maintenance and much is reserved for expediencies, leaving him with, say, 20,000 units of “free” energy. If he is untrained, much of this 20,000 units of “free” energy is spread over his body, locked in as well as separated by tensed muscles, incidentally leaving, say, 100 units of energy in his dan tian.
But if you are properly trained, and even presuming that you did not tap new energy from the cosmos (but actually you do), you can gradually accumulate more of your “free” energy at your dan tian. If you can systematically accumulate 3000 units of “free” energy at your dan tian, you will have remarkably more reserved energy for internal force application than the untrained person, even when your total energy volume may be less than his. Over the centuries, past masters discovered that zhan zhuang using such stances as Three-Circle Stance and Golden Bridge was excellent for such energy building.
There is a question that has been making me quite curious. If Shaolinquan and Taijiquan cultivate a person's spirituality and morality, surely the advanced practitioners would all be good people. Evil people would surely impede their own progress because their heart is not right (xin shu bu zheng). Yet, how it is that Manchu lackeys like Bai Mei reached such high levels? Even Fong Sai Yoke, a great master, was killed by a Shaolin traitor.
For Taiji experts, Yang Ban Hou and Yang Shao Hou were reputed to be very vicious and ill-tempered, yet they were the best fighters in their time, using an art which was meant to make practitioners calm and spiritual.
Shaolin Kungfu (Shaolinquan) and Taijiquan are special. They are a class distinctly apart from all other martial arts, including other styles of kungfu. It is because whereas all other martial arts were initially developed for fighting, Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan were initially developed for spiritual cultivation. When Bodhidharma and Zhang San Feng, the first patriarchs of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan respectively, developed their arts, the original purpose was for spiritual cultivation — not for fighting, not even for promoting health.
Nevertheless, over many centuries, the original aim was sometimes forgotten, even by great masters. During the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, during which time Bai Mei and later Yang Ban Hou and Yang Shao Hou lived, due to pressing needs of current situations, the emphasis of both Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan was for fighting. Now the emphasis has also changed. Although Shaolin and Taiji practitioners say that they practice their arts for health, actually (and often without their own awareness) their emphasis was for demonstration. Most Taiji practitioners today do not realize that Taijiquan is an internal martial art, and most Shaolin practitioners cannot apply Shaolin forms for fighting.
We in Shaolin Wahnam are very lucky in this respect. Our two patriarchs were the Venerable Chee Seen (who initiated our “Wah” lineage) and the Venerable Jiang Nan (who initiated our “Nam” lineage). The Venerable Chee Seen was a revolutionary, and his emphasis was fighting. The Venerable Jiang Nan was a missionary, and his emphasis was spiritual cultivation. Hence, we inherit the best of both worlds. We practice Shaolin Kungfu and Wahnam Taijiquan for fighting as well as for spiritual cultivation.
Bai Mei, who was a kungfu genius, was the senior classmate of Chee Seen. Although he killed our first patriarch, Chee Seen, in combat, as well as Fong Sai Yoke (Chee Seen's disciple), we in Shaolin Wahnam do not hold any personal grudges against him. Although we regard him as a Shaolin traitor and arch enemy, we still respect him as a great Shaolin grandmaster.
Although we oppose Bai Mei's philosophy and actions, we do not regard him as evil. He did not, for example, kill innocent people, rape women, or abuse his kungfu skills to oppress others. Despite the opportunities offered him, he shunned wealth and power, remained celibate and led a puritan life as a Taoist cultivator.
It is also noteworthy that when Hoong Hei Khoon, another famous disciple of Chee Seen, challenged Bai Mei to avenge his master's death as well as the burning of the southern Shaolin Temple, knowing that Hoong Hei Khoon was no match for him, Bai Mei asked Hoong Hei Khoon to return home. When Hoong Hei Khoon refused and the fight followed, Bai Mei spared his life and let him escape, though Bai Mei could have killed him too. Years later, Hoong Hei Khoon's son and adapted son, Hoong Man Thing and Wu Ah Phiew, employing the combined styles of the tiger and the crane, killed Bai Mei to settle all the scores.
Although Yang Ban Hou and Yang Shao Hou were good fighters, and although they never meet Bai Mei (who lived much earlier), the Yang brothers were nowhere close to Bai Mei in both kungfu skills and spiritual cultivation. While the Yang brothers were vicious and ill-tempered, and would kill or maim at the slightest provocation, Bai Mei fought for philosophical values and principles.
The Yang brothers were not calm and spiritual despite practicing Taijiquan because their emphasis was on combat. In my opinion, they did not live to a ripe old age (like Bai Mei) because they diverted much of the energy they had cultivated and which could otherwise be used for maintaining life and promoting longevity, for combat purposes.
Editorial Note: Chris's other questions are also found in the November 2004 Part 1 and Part 2 question-answer series.
I've been reading about Tai Chi and Chi Kung for about a year, and studying with a teacher for about 3 months. Two nights ago, with the aid of a mind-altering tryptamine substance, I think I figured out rooting in a matter of minutes. I know for certain that I will not be able to duplicate the experience while sober, but I am frightened by this and other tidbits of insight that I have gained.
Standing in the 'horse' position, I was not tensed but my lower legs were vibrating violently. As the vibrations slowed down and eventually stopped, I felt a sensation of being glued to the floor.
In addition to this rooting experience, I later penetrated deeper levels of meditation than I care to explore at this point in my training.When I rose from this period of meditation during which I laid in the sleeping tiger position without even realizing it, I felt an unimaginable power coursing through my veins. Panic was difficult to fight off. My breath became shallow and my heart rate increased.
Fortunately for me, this power also enabled me to speed up or slow my heart rate at will. In moments of increased panic, a slow and dull ache worked its way from my stomach area up through my lower left chest towards my heart. This was, perhaps the most frightening thing of all. As it turned out, I could also manipulate this ache with stunning accuracy, pushing it back down towards my stomach if I wished. Shifting my mind from the panic state fixed the problem completely.
— Jason, USA
Thank you for sharing your experience which will prove useful to many other people, demonstrating to them that mind-altering substances like drugs should not be taken at all without expert advice and supervision. Doing so would bring inevitable harm.
The celebrated Bruce Lee should be a lesson to all. In his eagerness to increase his power and combat efficiency, he took drugs to help him in his training. He had some initial gain but was eventually destroyed by drugs. He suffered from what in Chinese medical jargon is referred to as “ngoi keong choong kon” (Cantonese pronunciation), which means “externally strong but internally empty”.
What you experienced is totally different from what a kungfu practitioner would experience from genuine kungfu training. When he is rooted to the ground and totally relaxed, he would not be trembling. When he penetrates deeper levels of meditation he experiences peace and joy as well as an assured sense of confidence that these are expected results of his dedicated training.
He may find himself in a different cosmic dimension when he is deep in meditation, but he can readily return to this world, and he is always aware of his position and condition. He also feels tremendous force surging inside him, but he is always calm, peaceful and joyful while feeling powerful. There is never any sense of panic or fear at all. Both his breathing and heartbeat become slow and deep as well as powerful and comfortable.
As a student, I think I have now realized why masters sometimes withhold information from students who may not be ready to make positive use of such powerful insights and skills. I feel as though I have jumped way too far ahead. At this point, I feel that I can only hope that I will be able to embrace my fears and move forward without damaging myself or those around me.
To prevent malpractice that will inevitably harm their students is one important reason why masters withhold information from students who are not ready. There are also other reasons, such as to prevent abuse, to prevent their students coming to a blockage which they may never overcome should they attempt skills before they are ready, and to preserve certain established traditions.
Nevertheless, your case is quite different. Yours is not a case of masters withholding information from you. In fact, I am now giving you invaluable information highlighting the difference between wholesome benefits my own students have actually experienced in their stance training and the frightening effects you had from taking a mind-altering substance. I also have given important information about stance training in my question-answer series as well as in my books.
One crucial piece of information which not only can help students save a lot of time but also enables them to have the best benefits from their training is that they should learn personally from a master. I have often emphasized this invaluable information but most people usually take it lightly.
Although you may not realize it yourself, yours is a case of a student trying to be smarter than generations of masters. Tacitly you implied that the masters were fools, not knowing that by taking some mind-altering substances they could accomplish in a few minutes what they took years to accomplish.
Nevertheless, you were wise enough to realize your fault. You certainly had jumped farther than what you could manage or should do. You should not just hope to avoid damaging yourself and others, but actually take concrete steps to do so. Stop trifling with mind-altering substances before they destroy you.
I started doing Yang style Tai Chi for about 6 months until I met a friend who taught me a chi kung style. I practice chi kung everyday, but there are times when I feel like I'd rather do Tai Chi exercises.
— Sid, USA
Chi kung is the art of cultivating energy. There are two main dimensions in energy cultivation, namely circulating energy which is called “xing qi” in Chinese, and accumulating energy which is called “yang qi”.
There are many different ways to cultivate energy. Practicing dynamic patterns like “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon” is one way. Practicing exercises like Small Universe and Dan Tian Breathing is another way. All these are different methods or styles of chi kung, and all of them involve circulating energy and accumulating energy.
When one practices Tai Chi Chuan correctly, he also circulates energy and accumulates energy. Therefore, Tai Chi Chuan is also chi kung.
Within Tai Chi Chuan itself, there are patterns like “Wild Horse Spreads Mane” and “Single Whip”, and training methods like “Three-Circle Stance” and “Pushing Hands”. Each one of these patterns or methods, when practiced correctly, can be used to circulate energy and accumulate energy. Hence, all these patterns and methods are also chi kung exercises.
However, as words are usually used provisionally, most people differentiate between Tai Chi Chuan and chi kung. When they say “Tai Chi Chuan”, they usually refer to a performance of Tai Chi patterns. When they say “chi kung”, they usually refer to specific chi kung exercises like “Lifting the Sky” and “Abdominal Breathing”, or to chi kung styles like Soaring Crane Chi Kung and Yan Xin Chi Kung.
Whether you should practice the style of chi kung your friend taught you or practice Tai Chi exercises depends on a few factors, such as your needs and aspirations, the benefits these different practices will give you, as well as your whims and fancies. If you do not have any specific objectives for your training but merely practice for fun, then you can choose whatever exercises you feel like doing.
I know many chi kung practices focus on certain aspects of cultivation, but is it alright to practice two different types of chi kung?
If by two different types of chi kung, you refer to two different chi kung exercises, like “Lifting the Sky” and “Abdominal Breathing”, or two different methods like “Three-Circle Stance” and “Pushing Hands”, yes, it is alright to do so. It may also make your training less monotonous.
If you refer to two different styles of chi kung, like Soaring Crane Chi Kung and Yan Xin Chi Kung, yes, it is also alright to do so, although you will normally have better results if you stick to one style. Some teachers forbid their students from learning another style. This is usually because of the teachers' personal policy.
Please tell me some exercises to improve my flexibility because I have a championship and our master does not give us enough information. I shall be so grateful for your advice.
— Aly, Egypt
To ordinary people the most obvious method to improve flexibility is leg stretching. Any suitable leg stretching exercises will do, so long as you practice them regularly and consistently.
You can find some helpful leg stretching exercises in my books, “Introduction to Shaolin Kungfu”, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”, and “The Complete Book of Zen”. In our school these leg stretching exercises are performed not as physical exercise but as chi kung.
We also employ many other methods to develop flexibility. The uninitiated may be surprised at some of these methods.
Meditation is one of these important methods. If one's mind is not calm and clear, his movements cannot be agile.
Qi flow is another important method. It loosens muscles and provides energy for agile movements as well as effectively clears away the resultant toxic waste.
Another fundamental method for flexibility is stance training and footwork. It is not difficult to understand why footwork improves flexibility, as it enables the exponent to move precisely with grace and balance.
But doesn't stance training slow down the exponent's movements as it makes him solid? It will if stance training is practiced as physical exercise to build big leg muscles. But if it is practiced as chi kung, it develops internal force which can enable the exponent to move very fast.
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