Novemeber 2005 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I have recently taken up the art of Shaolin Kung Fu at a local club. I know that I am a serious beginner having only had a few lessons in Karate when I was 18. Now at 34, I wish to do Kung Fu for two primary reasons. 1) To learn how to defend myself in a violent world. 2) To re-attain personal fitness lost to hours of sitting and programming computers.
— Robert, Germany
Thank you for your questions which touch on some fundamental issues facing kungfu today. It is precisely to address such issues that I spend more than 9 months a year traveling the world to teach regional and intensive courses, whereas certified Shaolin Wahnam kungfu instructors in various parts of the world are teaching regular classes.
The two reasons you have for practicing kungfu are legitimate and logical. In fact, in theory, any kungfu school should fulfill these two needs, which are actually not demanding or of a high level. But in reality, very few kungfu schools today fulfill these basic needs. It is a big irony that more than 80% of those who practice kungfu today, cannot use what they learn to defend themselves. Most of these practitioners are fit, but they may not be healthy. Often they have internal injuries and are aggressive.
I have taken a few classes at the club and I am profoundly troubled. It could be that I am totally incorrect in my feelings and that would be great to hear. However, after reading your book “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” I am having doubts about the school and the lessons.
When I came into the course, the teacher paired me with an advanced student to teach me stances. Then they went on to teach me a specific pattern that they use for greeting. After that, the training has been mainly forms. Specifically, we seem to spend a lot of class time running in circles or stretching and then the lessons seem to be disorganized. I don't get the feeling that they have an actual plan. Perhaps this is a result of the fact that I am in a class with other students more advanced than me.
What I describe in my book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, is what we now practice in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, and what we believe was practiced in the southern Shaolin Temple in China a few hundred years ago. What we practice is actually very different from what most other kungfu schools practice.
What most other kungfu school practice is like what you have described. As you have said, most other kungfu schools today mainly practice forms and external training, and when they spar they do not use typical kungfu forms but techniques taken from other martial arts, especially from Karate, Taekwondo and Kick-Boxing.
But the discomfort goes deeper than that. I watched the second course which is focused on fighting and I was frankly dismayed. I thought I was watching a boxing lesson and not a Kung Fu lesson.
The students were wearing boxing gloves which is fine but then they were also guarding their head boxing style. When blocking attacks, they were doing simple hand blocks you might expect of Karate or Thai Boxing. I didn't see them using “Beauty Looks at Mirror” or any of the other blocking techniques. Quite frankly this bothers me as I am not interested in Thai Boxing.
What you have described is the norm in most kungfu schools today. We believe that for various reasons these schools have lost the essence of genuine, traditional kungfu. They focus mainly, and sometimes solely, on external kungfu forms but without any internal force training and combat application.
Many schools attempt to off-set their lack of kungfu combat application by imitating sparring methods used in other martial arts, like in Boxing, Karate and Thai Boxing. Usually the result is pathetic, but some kungfu practitioners actually have become quite good fighters using these other martial art techniques, but sadly they cannot use kungfu techniques.
It is also worthwhile to note that throughout kungfu history not a single traditional kungfu master of any style used boxing gloves in combat training.
We in Shaolin Wahnam are sincere in helping kungfu practitioners, irrespective of the styles they practice, to restore kungfu combat application if they desire to. Hence we have released a lot of information and video clips on kungfu sparring methodology. Such a move would be unthinkable in the past. We are actually sharing secrets that many schools may not even tell their ordinary students. But we are willing to do so for the sake of preserving kungfu sparring as well as internal force training.
Now I have read your book, I'm dismayed by the fact that there is little to no instruction on the hand forms, the simple patterns of punches and blocks and so on. The first class seems to be entirely taken up with learning a fairly long pattern.
When I expressed that I would like to be able to defend myself from the standard hand techniques of bar fighters within two years, the advanced students were doubtful and pessimistic. Indeed, I seriously doubt (based on my rough growing up experiences) if these students would be able to actually defend themselves any more than without the course.
Again this is the norm today. It is an alarming fact that most kungfu practitioners today, including some masters, cannot defend themselves if attacked by bar fighters even when the kungfu practitioners may have practiced so-called kungfu for many years. This is because they have never learnt how to fight. They have only learnt how to perform beautiful solo forms. This also applies to wushu practitioners.
But the fact is that genuine, traditional kungfu, regardless of its style, is very effective for fighting. There is no doubt about it at all. Then, why do so many kungfu practitioners today cannot use their kungfu to fight?
The straight-forward reason, which can become a very sensitive issue, is that most kungfu practitioners today do not practice genuine, traditional kungfu, they only practice external kungfu forms. This is an alarming situation for kungfu today. If this is not arrested in time, genuine, traditional kungfu will disappear form our world within two generations.
So, am I in the wrong school or am I just too much of a beginner to understand things correctly? If I am in the wrong school, there is a problem because there are only 2 Kung Fu schools in my city. So if this is the case, what can I get out of this course other than personal fitness?
Like the great majority of kungfu students today you are in a wrong school if your aim is to practice genuine, traditional kungfu. It is creditable that you realize it, but most others either do not realize this pathetic situation or simply refuse to accept the situation.
What is more alarming is that even world known kungfu masters explicitly say that kungfu forms cannot be used for fighting! Equally alarming is that although it is obvious even to non-martial artists that what they use in sparring is Boxing, Kick-Boxing, Karate or Taekwondo, the kungfu practitioners themselves, including masters, stubbornly insist that theirs is authentic kungfu passed down from past masters. As these practitioners are the majority, they form the main stream of kungfu today, and they hold important positions in national and international kungfu organizations.
Besides fitness, you will also learn beautiful kungfu forms. These kungfu forms are genuine. If you learn how to use these forms in combat and how to develop internal force, you can convert what you learn into genuine, traditional kungfu. My Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan Course are meant to help people with such aspirations.
Kai Uwe Jettkandt, who is my inner-chamber disciple and one of our best instructors in Shaolin Wahnam, teaches Shaolin Kungfu in Frankfurt, not far from where you live. Kai is an inspiration. He was already a grandmaster of Jujitsu and a master of many styles of martial arts besides being a former international free style sparring champion before he learned Shaolin Kungfu from me. After learning from me, he gave up his 28 years of teaching other martial arts to his master-students, and concentrates on teaching only Shaolin Kungfu.
I would strongly recommend that you make some special arrangement to learn from him. His particulars are as follows. Tel: 49-69-9043 1678, 49-179-690 5135. E-mail: email@example.com, Website: https://www.shaolin-wahnam.de. Or you can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. As you are a professional person and author, you have good potential to do well in genuine, traditional kungfu, and hopefully help to preserve and teach it in the future. Please see my website.
Should I talk to my teachers about my personal goals and desire for instruction in the hand forms or would that be too arrogant?
Personally I think it is futile to talk to your teachers. They would be unable to teach you genuine, traditional kungfu even if they wanted to, simply because they themselves do not know genuine, traditional kungfu. Had they known it, they would have taught you in the first place. Don't embarrass them by asking.
I have never had instruction from a teacher and it is not likely that I will. I practice my own forms of chi kung, and I would like to think that I am a beginner/an expert. However I fear that I might be harming myself, even though everything “feels” great. Is it possible for me to practice chi kung my way? Wouldn't my body know if I was harming it? I am addicted now, and it would be inconvenient to stop. After a lot of progress I can see I have a lot more progress to make.
— Chris, Canada
Without seeing how your practice or even a description of your practice from you, I cannot tell whether you are practicing correctly. But from my experience I can suggest the following answer.
Generally if you feel great, you are practicing correctly. However, the question is whether you are practicing chi kung or just a form of gentle physical exercise. It is more likely that you practice gentle physical exercise but mistake it to be chi kung. Even many people who learn from a teacher, practice gentle physical exercise but mistakenly think it is chi kung. When they feel relaxed and fresh from their physical exercise, they regard their result as great.
The crucial difference between gentle physical exercise and chi kung is that the former works only on the physical body but the latter works on energy besides working on the physical body and mind. In chi kung terms, physical exercise works only on “jing”, whereas chi kung works on “jing”, “qi” and “shen”.
If you have worked on energy and mind, you would know it, just as if you have eaten a mango you would know it. If you do not know whether you have worked on energy and mind, or do not know what energy and mind are, most probably you have not worked on them.
Some people, especially New Age healers, may say they work on energy, but actually they do not know what energy is. They say it out of fashion, but actually have no experience of it, just as some people say that they are on a spiritual path, mainly because they are dirty and beg for money, but they do not really know what spiritual cultivation is.
You are certainly not an expert because you do not even know what chi kung is. You may not even be a beginner because you may be practicing gentle physical exercise. However, if you feel great, it is unlikely that your practice is harming you.
It is possible for you to practice chi kung your way, just as it is possible for you to become the Governor of Canada or the President of the United States, but it is most unlikely. Your body will know if you harm it by incorrect chi kung practice, or incorrect physical exercise or other means, but you may not be able to pick up the signals. Just like today many martial artists are harming themselves physically and emotionally in free sparring, and they experience clear signals like pain and feeling of aggression, but they may still not relate these signals to their harmful martial art training.
If you are really keen in enjoying the wonderful benefits of chi kung, I would recommend that you attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course. You will be amazed to find out that what you think is a lot of progress is actually marginal when compared to the benefits you will get even on the first day of the course.
How much does having titanium rods and screws placed in my spine and ankle effect the flow of qi in my body? I was not crippled or maimed, just hurt very badly.
I was studying qigong with my TCM doctor for about six weeks before the accident, and I am still hoping to reach master level of qigong. My teacher admits he is not of a high level, and there are questions he is unable to answer. With patience and diligent practice, will I still be able to reach a high level, eventually?
— Scott, Canada
Titanium rods and screws, or other metals placed in one's bones, teeth or other parts of the body do not affect qi flow much.
With diligent and correct practice you certainly can reach a high level eventually, even with the titanium rods and screws in your body. Even if you may not understand the philosophy of your art, if you practice correctly long enough you will be able to master what you practice.
Understandably if you have a sound philosophy of your practice, you will not only arrive faster but also attain more. But the essential path to mastery is practice, not knowledge.
It is worthwhile to realize that if what you practice is a low level art, you will eventually become a master of a low level art. No matter how much you practice and how much you know philosophically, your attainment is necessarily limited by the potential of the art you practice. Hence, if you are ready to dedicate your time and effort to master an art, it is only sensible to choose a high level art. It is also wise to choose a high level teacher.
What is Dim Mak? Is Dim Mak really a dangerous martial art? I've seen many articles that continuously associate it with the “Death Touch”.
— Ryan, USA
“Dim Mak” is an advanced martial art whereby the exponent “dots” or strikes an opponent's vital points. “Dim Mak” is in Cantonese pronunciation, in Mandarin pronunciation it is called “Dian Xue”. The usual hand forms used to implement Dim Mak are One-Finger Zen, Two-Finger Zen, Sword-Finger, or Phoenix-Eye Fist.
Dim Mak is actually a compassionate way of fighting. By doting or striking an opponent's vital points, the exponent can distort the opponent's energy network, thereby temporary putting the opponent out of action. Later the opponent may seek a master to help him “release” the blocked vital point, thus restoring his normal functions. Hence the Dim Mak exponent can disable an opponent without seriously hurting him. Had he broken his bones or cause him internal injury, the damage would be more serious.
However, if the exponent is unscrupulous, Dim Mak can be dangerous. The victim may be dotted or struck without being aware of it. If he does not release the energy blockage caused by Dim Mak he may wither and die without knowing why.
In my opponent, “Death Touch” is not an appropriate translation for Dim Mak, although this term has been commonly used. It denies the compassionate aspect of Dim Mak, which actually is the main principle behind this advanced art. Moreover, Dim Mak is usually not fatal. If the victim seek a master's help, the blocked vital point can be released and good health restored.
Personally I would use “Dotting Vital Points” as a translated term for Dim Mak. Literally, “dim” means “dot”, such as striking with a finger or a phoenix-eye fist, and “mak” means “meridian”. But the strike is usually on a vital point along a meridian, or a vital point where many meridians meet.
- Seeing the Diamond and Not the Rough — Michael Chow
- Black Tiger Steals Heart
- Why I Train with Sifu — Sifu Mark Appleford
- The Benefits of Simple, Direct and Effective — Sifu (Dr) Neil Kelson
- Fun and Laughter in Free Sparring