October 2009 (Part 1)


White Snake Shoots Venom

White Snake Shoots Venom

Question 1


One technique I find more difficult to counter is in close, bridging range a "White Snake" that glides over my bridge to attack me. This technique is very formidable as it is so fast and hard to sense.

I tend to swallow or rotate my waist and thread or brush it away. Is it a case of training my awareness to be faster to counter this? Often I counter this but occasionally it slips through undetected.

— Sifu Jonny Say, Scotland


You can improve your awareness to counter this. In this case, you are faster than your opponent, particularly at the point when you thread or brush away his attack. But you can also slow down your opponent. You can move his arms in a circular way to such a position that he cannot apply his White Snake.

There are also other methods.

"White Snake Shoots Venom" is a deadly attack that can also be very tricky. If you tame it, it can slip over, under or alongside your taming hand. But an excellent counter is to grip it with a powerful Tiger-Claw or Eagle-Claw.

A Tiger-Claw grip is itself combat ending. An Eagle-Claw grip is usually supportive for the exponent to apply a strike, but an Eagle-Claw master with internal force can make the grip combat ending too.

If all other things were equal, a Tiger-Claw or an Eagle-Claw is the "hak sing" against a snake technique. The strong point of a Tiger-Claw or an Eagle-Claw attacks the very weakness of a snake thrust.

"Hak sing" is a Chinese (Cantonese) term that is very difficult to be translated into English. Literally "hak sing" means "controlling star". It refers to a technique, thing, person or animal that controls or subdues another technique, thing, person or animal. For example, a cat is the "controlling star" against a mouse, Wellington was the "controlling star" against Napoleon, and felling is a "controlling star" against kicks. It may be translated as nemesis.

This concept of "hak sing" or "controlling star" is actually very important in martial arts, though many martial artists are unaware of it. Obviously, if you know the "controlling star" of and apply it against your opponent, you have a much increased chance of beating him.

Suppose you meet a Taijiquan master who is very good at controlling your movements with his Pushing-Hand skills, or a Wing Choon master who is very fast with his finger-thrusts. You may find yourself overwhelmed. The Taijiquan master has skillfully slowed you down, and you find yourself at his mercy to be struck any time. On the other hand, the Wing Choon master is so fast with is thrusting attacks that you could not cope up with his speed. What would you do?

Use their "controlling star" against them. Interestingly, the "controlling star" against both the slow movements of Taijqian Pushing Hands and the fast movements of Wing Choon thrusting attacks is chin-na.

The Pushing-Hand movements of the Taijiquan masters are slow enough, so you can grip him easily with your Tiger-Claws. The thrusting attacks of a Wing Choon master are fast, so you have to first slow him down or to grip him flowing with his speed (not against it).

If all other things were equal and you use their "controlling star" against them, you would defeat these two masters. But, of course, other things are not equal, otherwise how would relatively small-sized Yang Lu Chan or elegant Yim Wing Choon defeat powerful Tiger-Claw or Eagle-Claw masters.

There are many skills and techniques in Taijiquan and Wing Choon Kungfu to counter chin-na attacks. This is natural. A great art, like Taijiquan or Wing Choon Kungfu, always incorporate many skills and techniques that can overcome its "controlling star".

So, even when you grip your opponent's Snake thrust with your Tiger-Claw, be ready that he may respond with a good counter. When he does so, you use another appropriate move to overwhelm him. This makes free sparring so interesting.

Question 2

Is the principle "if an attack is short range counter with hand movement, medium range counter with waist movement and long range counter with feet movement" more of a safety precaution?

At a higher level one can glide away a long range attack and attack the opponent's face with a tiger claw or dragon hand without moving the feet, or move the feet in to intercept a short range attack or rotate the waist more without moving the feet as an opponent comes in closer for any attack.

I ask because if an attacker moves in a lot (long range attack) and I retreat my feet, it seems to allow his momentum to build.


All your observations above are correct. There is no absolute in sparring.

The principle, "if an attack is short range counter with hand movement, medium range counter with waist movement and long range counter with feet movement", is for initial training purposes as well as applicable in general situations. It is not just a safety precaution.

When you have become proficient, you may make modifications, or in special situations you may reverse the principle or use other principles. Past masters summed up such experiences in the kungfu tenet, "First learn the standard procedure, then modify to suit specific situations", or "seen hok kai seong, yien ying kai ping" in Chinese (Cantonese).

Moreover, the terms "short", "medium" and "long" in reference to the range of attack are relative. They may refer to the intention of the attacker, the point of contact you make with the attack, or the space you have allowed to pass before interception.

For example, your opponent is about three feet away. He shoots in with a White Snake at your throat. From his perspective, it is a long range attack.

You are at your right Playing the Lute poise. When his White Snake has just passed your front hand, without moving your feet or sinking your body, you glide it away and following its momentum you thrust his throat with your own White Snake. For you, this attack is short range.

However, he senses your move. He brushes away your White Snake, and executes another White Snake at you, leaning his body slightly forward to add reach. Now you have to sink your body to glide away his second White Snake. This becomes a middle range attack.

As you sink your body, your opponent glides his back leg to his front leg and glides his front leg a step forward to attack you with a third White Snake. Now his attack is long range, though he is actually at close-quarters with you.

However, when you have high level of awareness, even when his foot movement is long range, you can maintain short range control over his hands, and strike him or fell him onto the ground as he moves forward, without you sinking your body or moving your feet.


If all other factors were equal, chin-Na is a "controlling star" against Taijiquan and Wing Choon. But this does not mean that a chin-na master would defeat a Taijiquan master or a Wing Choon master because other factors are not equal.

Question 3

Can all the defence modes be executed at all three points of an attack, specifically "defence cum counter" and "no defence direct counter" at point 2?

Related to this is it best to intercept (by jamming the upper arm) at point 1 and once it reaches point 2 or 3 it is better to shift the body?


When we first learn the technique and develop the skill, we respond at point 3 in time and space. As we become more proficient, we can progress to point 2 and then to point 1.

This applies to all the three modes of counter, namely first defence then counter, defence cum counter, and no defence direct counter.

When we are very skillful, we can choose to operate at any points of time and space. This also applies to interception.

If an opponent executes a Black Tiger, it is best to intercept at point 1, like jamming his upper arm.

You can also intercept at points 2 and 3 in space and time, but you will probably need a different technique than that in point 1. For example, in our Shaolin Basic Combat Sequence 8, we intercept at point 3 in time to break an opponent's elbow at point 2 in space, or break his wrist at point 3 in space. In this case, it would be more complicated to intercept at points 1 or 2 in time.

Generally, when we spar with our students and other people we usually operate at point 3 in time and space. This will give our students some fun; operating at point 1 or even at point 2 would confuse them.

With other people, operating at point 3 gives us a better position to observe and access them. We may then move to point 2 or point 1 to control them or defeat them. Most of the time, if not all the time, they will not be aware of the different points of time and space we choose to operate in.

Question 4

In friendly sparring I often find that I may have a perfect strike in which I control and then my partner may ignore or not see this and move quickly into a place where they can again hit me.


Seeing it from the Shaolin Wahnam perspective, it is an excellent opportunity for you to develop the very desirable skill of instant, correct and spontaneous defence or counter, without prior thought or preparation.

In my earlier years of teaching, I had to use this skill in numerous occasions. After controlling a student in sparring, I paused to explain to other students. That student released the control and counter-struck me. I just brushed off his attack and continued with my explanation as if nothing had happened. I suppose this must have impressed them much, though being respectful they continued listening also as if nothing had happened.

The secret in developing this skill is to be in a state of Zen -- with no muscular tension and no thought.

I recall reading a Japanese classic about a very famous Japanese swordsman explaining how his practice of Zen greatly enhanced his swordsmanship. I think I mention this in my "The Complete Book of Zen".

The great Japanese master explained that if you focus on a certain part of your body or your opponent's body, your mind abides on that part of the body. If you do not focus on anything, you have no thought, which leads to no mind, which is All Mind. When you are in All Mind, and anyone attacks in anyway, you can respond instantly, spontaneously and correctly.

Anticipating that some people, including some Shaolin Wahnam instructors, are amazed that I share such a secret in the open, let me share another secret as the answer.

Even when people understand the dictionary meaning of what I have explained, they do not really understand the meaning. They do not understand, for example, what is actually meant by "your mind abides on that part of the body" or "you have no thought, which leads to no mind".

Even when some people really understand intellectually, they have no means to achieve this experientially. In other words, even when they intellectually know that no thoughts lead to no mind, they have no experience at all of no thought and no mind. They need to train under a master to achieve this experientially.

But for you and many of our senior Shaolin Wahnam members, they will understand both intellectually and experientially. This is a good example that our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum and my Question-Answer series are our Virtual Kwoon.

P.S. I just viewed an excellent video clip, "Bridging Skills and Applications", posted by Shaolin Wahnam Scotland on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HK6m-IyXZk0&NR=1. At the end of the clip you can see I was able to brush off Jamie's attack despite not observing him because I was in a state of "no-mind".

"Lohan Strikes Drum" is a no-defence-direct-counter against a Tiger-Tail Kick

Question 5

If I am fixed on my strike which is controlled then I will get hit. In this scenario I have found that either I retain the closed position and strike again (if my opponents are of a lower level). If they can release themselves from this position and counter strike (if they are more skilful) then I will execute a number of "no defence direct counters" or "defence cum counters" in a row in response to their attacks.


Covering yourself refers to the whole process, and not merely to the initial process of moving into your opponent before striking him. In other words, having covered your opponent to path the way for your strike, you continue to cover him so that he cannot strike back when you are striking him, irrespective of whether your strike is real, i.e. you actually hit him, or your strike is controlled, i.e. you stop an inch or two before him.

If you fail to do this, unless you are very skillful, your opponent can easily hit back, even when he is also being hit at the same time. This, in fact, is a major problem with our Shaolin Wahnam members when they spar with martial artists of other styles.

Because other martial artists are used to exchanging blows generously, they usually continue to strike and kick wildly even when your strike coming at them can be fatal had you not controlled it.

It is useful to remember this difference. For us in Shaolin Wahnam, which was also what past masters did, if a strike is coming at us while we are striking an opponent at the same time, we will withdraw our strike to defend against or avoid the opponent's attack. We will do this even when we know very well that if both strikes land, our strike is more damaging than that of our opponent's, and that we may not have another chance to strike the opponent again. This is our philosophy of "safety first".

It is not our main objective to hurt our opponent. Our main objective is to come out of combat unhurt, even if we lose the fight.

The philosophy of many martial artists is different. Often, it is "win at all cost". Because of this philosophy, which may not even be obvious to some of them, they are trained to hit their opponents often without concern for their own safety. Hence, when both strikes are occurring at the same time, they usually choose to carry on, even when they know their opponent's hit can be more damaging. Even if they choose to withdraw, they may not have the skill to do so.

If our students can overcome this problem of covering their opponents adequately, they should have no difficulty beating their opponents. This is because their opponents often do not know how to defend against typical Shaolin or Taijiquan attacks, especially when the attacks come in a smooth sequence; they only know how to exchange blows. In your teaching, you and other Shaolin Wahnam instructors should pay more attention to this aspect of combat training.

Question 6

Or I will execute my controlled strike then go quickly into more defensive mode to cover their follow up attacks.

Needless to say I don't always get these 3 options in time so is there any other advice you would give for friendly sparring when partners ignore or don't see your controlled attacks which get in (which in real fighting would prevent the opponents striking again).


What you have described is very good, but there are other effective ways to deal with this situation. As you have said, when you hold your strike in control, your opponent strikes you instead. Your three options are

  1. Cover him and continue your strike.
  2. If he escapes from your cover and strikes you, you apply no defence direct counter or defence cum counter.
  3. Strike him then quickly move into defence mode.
As mentioned above, if you pay more attention to cover him adequately before striking him, he will have little or no chance to counter-strike you.

If he attempts to move back to escape your cover, you move in swiftly to bridge the gap and continue your cover.

If he releases your cover, following his momentum you cover him again -- and again and again if needed. Ensure that you cover him adequately before attempting to strike him. In other words, you change your emphasis on coverage instead of on striking him.

If he still escapes your cover and strikes you, besides apply no defence direct counter or defence cum counter, you can also use first defence then counter. Or you may cover him again. Or you may kick him or fell him onto the ground.

You can also apply chin-na on him besides just covering him. In other words, you do not merely tame or close his arms, you apply internal force to grip into his vital points on his arms. This itself is combat-ending. When you release your grip, he would be unable to continue fighting.

No Mind

Ben and Andrian enjoying "no-mind" during an Intensive Chi Kung Course

Question 7

The counter I tend to use when my partner executes no defence direct counter is to shift back in my stance and use my attacking hand or guard hand to brush or thread away his attack. One has to be very sensitive to this kind of counter-attack; it is so fast and formidable. What else I should consider in countering my partner's no defence direct counters?


Here are some of many possibilities.

  1. Don't just brush or thread away the attack, but lead it away and revert it back to him. This will slow down his momentum. Then strike him at close-quarters.
  2. First shift back in your stance to avoid or deflect his attack, then move forward and glide your hand along his attacking arm to strike him, taking care to cover him adequately.
  3. Lean back and apply a chin-na attack on his attacking arm.
  4. Lean back and strike his attacking arm, followed with a thrust kick at his chest or a organ-seeking kick at his groin.
  5. Lean back and simultaneously kick the elbow of his attacking arm with the tip of your shoe.
  6. Deflect his attack and lean forward with an elbow strike to his face.
  7. Shift your body sideway and kick him with your knee or shin.
  8. Tread away his attack and follow the thread with a strike to his face.

Question 8

Also please can you clarify an aspect of Meditation for me? In your wonderful book, "The Complete Book of Zen", you give a profound explanation on the Platform Sutra teachings of the Venerable Hui Neng. At one point you talk about non thought and the 6th Patriarch’s teaching on what not to do in meditation. You say: "Once we use our mind to focus on the void or an object, to visualize or to observe itself, thoughts abide."

I just wonder how this relates to our method of "Enjoy the Stillness" or "Enjoy Merging with the Cosmos". In these practices are we focusing on the Void or God and so using a thought?


Yes, when we use our mind to focus on the Void or God, we employ thought. When we think of the Void or God, thoughts abide. This is not no-thought, and not non-thought.

No-thought is when we remove thought after it has risen. We think of the Void, then we stop thinking of the Void.

Non-thought is when no thought arises. We do not just think of the Void or God. At the earlier levels, we dissolve ourselves in the Void or God, like many of us experienced in our training.

At the supreme level, we are the Void or God. To say that we are God is sacrilegious to most people, but that is what the greatest teachers meant when they said we return to God the Holy Spirit.

"Enjoying the Stillness" or "Enjoying Merging with the Cosmos" is applying the Venerable Hui Neng’s teaching of non-thought. It is also the teaching of the greatest of teachers in all the world's known religions.

In the practice, we do not think of the Stillness, and we do not think of merging with the Cosmos. We just enjoy the practice.

As a rough and mundane analogy, when you enjoy eating a mango, you don't think of the mango. You also don't think of eating the mango, or of enjoying the eating. You just enjoy the eating.


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