SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
MAY 2010 PART 2
I write seeking your advice on my course of self-study and training. From my own experience, as well as common sense, I know that it would be impossible to match what I could learn from the feet of a master in person simply by consulting a book or two.
As a student in college right now, much of my money goes towards paying for school and helping my girlfriend meet our bills, and so I will be saving up as much money as I can to attend one of your intensive Shaolin kung fu courses. In the mean time (which could be over a year), to prepare myself (as there are no Shaolin kung fu teachers remotely close to where I live), I seek your advice, wisdom, and blessing in preparing a course for self-study.
Using the format from your book, I thought up this possible course:
Name: Fundamentals of Shaolin kung fu
Duration: 6 months
- To be able to sit properly in the Horse Stance for 15 minutes and to develop internal force through the Horse Stance.
- To become familiar with and be able to correctly perform the fundamental stances (Horse Riding, Bow-Arrow, False Leg, Single Leg, and Unicorn Stance) and basic hand patterns.
- To be able to perform several rounds of each hand pattern flawlessly and with proper breath control, speed, and force.
- To be able to perform the "Shaolin Hand Attacks" set flawlessly and with proper breath control, speed, and force.
- Daily practice of Lifting the Sky.
- Daily practice of the Horse Stance, preferably right after Lifting the Sky.
- Daily practice of at least 3 exercises from the Art of Flexible Legs.
Going into chi flow and then Standing Meditation after each practice session.
— Federick, USA
Editorial Note: Federick's other questions are found in the May 2010 Part 1 issue.
This is a good programme.
You have left out the practice of hand patterns, and linking them into "Shaolin Hand Attacks", which is now called "Lohan Asks the Way" in our school. You can practice these patterns, or a selection of the patterns in whatever way you like, after the "Art of Flexible Legs".
At this stage you need not worry too much about breath control, speed and force. You can learn these skills when you attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. It will be more cost-effective for you to focus on correct form and fluid movement.
While you may aim for excellence, you should not push yourself to your limit. Follow the three golden rules of practice, namely:
- Don't Worry.
- Don't Intellectualize.
- Enjoy your Practice.
You will find Parts 1 to 7 of my video series, Lessons from the Sabah Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course very helpful.
I also had a few questions about this regimen, and about changing my stance training in the future.
I am curious as to the best way to learn the hand patterns such as "Single Tiger Emerges from Cave" and "Black Tiger Steals Heart". After the above course (in line with the notion of gaining internal force before learning any techniques), how should I integrate learning hand patterns?
This is an example of worrying and of intellectualization, which is common amongst many people, especially amongst those who learn on their own.
You can take my words as a Shaolin grandmaster who has produced many excellent students with my methods of teaching that if you don't worry about or intellectualize on the best way to learn the hand patterns and how to integrate the learning with your later training, but just learn the patterns and integrate the learning, and enjoy doing it, your training will not only be more enjoyable but also more fruitful.
Please note that "don't worry" and "don't intellectualize" means "don't worry" and "don't intellectualize". The two expressions do not mean you don't care about your training. You just don't worry about and don't intellectualize on your training.
In practical terms, you practice the hand patterns as best as you comfortably can from my books and videos. You don't worry, for example, how fast you should move your hand or at what angle you hold your Tiger Claw or Snake Palm.
You don't intellectualize whether it is better if you move your hand in three seconds instead of five seconds, or why these particular hand forms are called Tiger Claw and Snake Palm. You just perform the movements as best as you can, and enjoy doing it.
Notwithstanding this, I shall give you an intellectual answer. There is no best way for all students. The best way for one student may not be suitable for another student, or the same student at a different time.
This intellectual answer partially explains why the first two golden rules of practice are not to worry and not to intellectualize.
Another reason is that worrying and intellectualizing may cause you much mental stress. A third reason is that they slow down your progress. A fourth reason is that the onus of practice is doing, not thinking. This does not mean that thinking is not beneficial, but when you practice you should "do" instead of "think".
Shall I practice each pattern individually for a time, for instance, practicing only "Black Tiger Steals Heart" for a month, then "Single Tiger Emerges from Cave" for a month, then "Poisonous Snake Shoots Venom" for a month, and so on?
Or can I overlap the training, for example, practicing "Black Tiger" for a week, then "Single Tiger" for a week, then "Poisonous Snake" for a week, and continue to cycle through the patterns, eventually returning to "Black Tiger" and repeating the cycle?
I want to make sure I make the best use of my time and do not waste any more time than I already have in practicing wonderful arts.
This is another example of intellectualization.
An intellectual answer is yes and no, yes or no, and neither yes nor no.
A practical answer is to practice the patterns as best as you comfortably can in whatever way you like, and enjoy your practice.
Let us take an example of two students, X and Y, of similar abilities and resources. X intellectualizes like what you have mentioned. He thinks and reasons and works out the best methods to practice the hand patterns as well as to integrate this practice with his force training. Y follows my advice. He does not worry, he does not intellectualize, and he enjoys his practice. His methods are also not as good as X's.
Who will have better results? It is almost certain that Y's results are not just better, but many times better. X may even develop adverse effects like anxiety and stress.
Why are Y's results better when X has better methods? It is because results depend on other factors too besides methods -- an important fact for cost-effectiveness that many people do not realize or appreciate. In fact this is one of the main reasons why students have much better results when they learn personally from me or my certified instructors than those who learn from my books.
The same principle applies in daily life. If you want to ask your girlfriend to marry you, just ask her to marry you instead of thinking what time of the day is best to make the proposal or how you should shape your lips when proposing to her.
If you want to market your product in a particular city, do so as best as you can, instead of worrying whether the people in the city will like your product or intellectualizing whether your managing director prefers you to do so in a neighboring town. It is not for no reasons why successful businessmen say that making a wrong decision is better than not making any decision.
When would be a good time for me to change from the Horse Riding Stance to another zhan zhuang posture, in particular Golden Bridge? It is another goal of mine to develop "powerful arms and solid stances" like you mention in "The Art of Chi Kung," and don't want to toughen my arms by striking poles or metal bars against my arms.
This is yet another intellectual question. The practical answer is to change the stance whenever you think is the best time to do so.
In one training session, you may change after ten seconds, in another session it may be after three minutes. In both cases, you change at a time when you think or feel is best.
One student may practice the Horse Riding Stance for two weeks, then change to Golden Bridge. Another may practice the Horse-Riding Stance for a month before changing. A third student may practice both stances interchangably. Who will get the best result? It depends on many other factors. But it can be quite certain that the one who worries and intellectualizes a lot would get the worse result.
I apologize greatly for the extreme length of this message; I have had many of these thoughts circulating in my mind ever since first picking up and reading your books, and have only now overcome my shyness and gained the conviction to put these thoughts to an email to send to you.
I realize that learning on my own from a book and from long-distance correspondence is no substitute for actually being in the presence of a master, and I tried to stay away from pointless "intellectual" questions and tried to stick to "practice" questions to ensure that I was doing the best I can do while physically removed from a kung fu and qigong master. I want to thank you once again from the bottom of my heart for all you have done to restore the glory of the Shaolin arts and eagerly await your reply.
Let me tell you a secret. One of the reasons why our students can obtain very good results in a relatively short time is that we help them to attain "no mind" or "non-thought".
These are Shaolin terms and at the lowest level they mean mental clarity and freshness. Although you learn from me via this question-answer process, if you follow my advice as best as you comfortably can, you too can attain "no mind".
For those who may feel uncomfortable with the Zen terms "no mind" and "non-thought", which are "wu xin" and "wu nian" in Chinese, be assure that these terms do not mean an inability to think. In fact if you attain "no mind" or "non-thought", which are similar though there are fine shades of differences, you will be able to think many times better.
The explanation is straight-forward. When you mind is free from thoughts, which means attaining mental clarity, you will be able to think more efficiently than when your mind is filled with a lot of thoughts.
How do I choose a style of martial art to practice?
— David, USA
The following three-step approach is helpful.
- Find out the scope and depth of different types of martial art.
- Define the aims and objectives of why you wish to practice a martial art.
- Choose the one that best fulfills your aims and objectives.
Choosing a good teacher is perhaps more important than choosing the style. You may apply the following steps in choosing a teacher.
- Spend some time to find out who are the available teachers teaching the martial art of your choice. You may look locally or globally.
- Eliminate those teachers who do not have high moral values.
- Among those who profess high moral values, list out those whom you believe can help you realize your aims and objectives.
- Choose the best available teacher according to your resources.
I have practiced several styles, and I cannot choose one. I like several arts.
Either the best art or the best teacher has not arrived or you are not ready to make the choice. When the time is right, the art or the teacher will be so outstanding that you will have no doubt at all that it or he is the best.
Should I choose which one is best in combat, or should I choose one I love to practice? Is it too much to ask for both?
The choice depends much on the personality of the student. If he is young and aggressive, he will probably go for the most combat effective. If he views his martial art training as a hobby, he will probably go for the one he loves.
Another student who likes exhibition would choose a style that focuses on demonstration. A more matured student may choose one that gives him good health and even spiritual joys. Someone who is more ambitious may choose one that gives a combination of some or all of these results, including asking for both combat effectiveness and personal enjoyment.
Which one or more of these personalities fit you? If none does, you need not rush to make a choice. Or, if you like, you may choose now but give allowance for changes later on when conditions change.
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