SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JANUARY 2014 PART 1
Our school, Shaolin Wahnam, is named after our two patriarchs, Sitaigung Lai Chin Wah and Sitaigung Ho Fatt Nam. How do you decide which of the Sitaigung Lai's or Sitaigung Ho's art to teach us?
— Juan, Colombia
Our school is called Shaolin Wahnam. "Shaolin" is obvious. The arts we teach originated from the Shaolin Temple, the imperial temple of China regarded by many as the pinnacle of kungfu. We also teach Taijiquan, which originated from Shaolin Kungfu.
What about the other term, "Wahnam"? Some people who know Chinese mistakenly think that it means "South of China", as that can be the literal meaning of the two words "wah" and "nam", which is in Cantonese pronunciation. In Mandarin they are pronounced as "hua" and "nan", though the written words are the same. But that is not the actual meaning.
"Wahnam" is taken from the name of my two teachers, “Wah" from Sifu Lai Chin Wah, and "Nam" from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. My other two teachers were Sifu Chee Kim Thong and Sifu Choe Hoong Choy.
All my four teachers were patriarchs of their arts. This was no co-incidence. Except for my first teacher whom I was led to by divine guidance at the age of 10, I sought the best teachers to learn from.
Sifu Lai Chin Wah was better known as Uncle Righteousness and was the patriarch of Southern Shaolin, popularly called by the general public today as Hoong Ka Kungfu. Sifu Chee Kim Thong was regarded as the Living Treasure of China. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam was the third generation successor from the southern Shaolin Temple. Sifu Choe Hoong Choy was the patriarch of Choe Family Wing Choon Kungfu.
Most of the arts I teach came from Uncle Righteousness and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, some were from Sifu Chee Kim Thong and Sifu Choe Hoong Choy. Hence, I named my school "Wahnam". Naming it "Wah-Thong-Nam-Choy", in the order I learned from my sifus, would be too long a name.
I did not and do not consciously decide which of the arts from my sifus to teach. I teach what I consider the best for the needs and aspirations of my students. What I learned from my sifus has been integrated, though if I examine the instructional material closely I can trace its source of greatest influence.
The source of greatest influence is mostly traced back to Uncle Righteousness or Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. This is the result rather than the cause of my teaching material. In other words, I did not consciously select from what I had learned from my teachers, and then teach it to my students. Rather I taught what was best for the students, and on looking back I could trace its sources. Almost always the sources were not from one teacher but from all my teachers, though I could usually tell the source of greatest influence.
Much of the form I teach was from Uncle Righteousness. Uncle Righteousness was very particular on stance training and picture-perfect form. Many people have kindly commented that my stances are solid and my form perfect. This is the legacy of Uncle Righteousness.
Much of force training and combat application came from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam emphasized that force training and combat application were the twin pillars of kungfu training. Many people also have kindly commented that I have much internal force and that I can handle any combat situation. This is the legacy of Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.
More important than the forms, internal force and combat application is the moral and spiritual teaching. As his honorific nickname indicates, Uncle Righteousness was well known for righteousness as well as courage. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam was famous for wisdom and compassion. These values -- righteousness, courage, wisdom and compassion -- have been ingrained in our school
I also have learnt many invaluable lessons from Sifu Chee Kim Thong and Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, and our school has benefited tremendously. If I were asked to name the most outstanding lesson, I would say "mm men yong lak" or "don't use muscular strength" from Sifu Chee Kim Thong, and "sum yap chean chuit" or "profundity in simplicity" from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy.
So, the next time you are asked to relax, which is one of the most widely given instructions in our school, you can remind yourself that it is the legacy of Sifu Chee Kim Thong. When you find that a simple movement can have many amazing results, you are reminded of the legacy of Sifu Choe Hoong Choy.
Is your teaching now the same as what you learned from from Sitaigung Lai and Sitaigung Ho? If not, what important changes you have made and why did you make them?
No, what and how I teach now is very different from what and how I learned from my sifus, Uncle Righteousness and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.
What a fresh beginner can attain in a 4-hour chi kung course today was what I would take more than a year to attain! It is incredible but true, and I am very proud of it. I must add that I was a fast learner, and I had excellent teachers.
Two main reasons that cause the difference are improved teaching methodology and direct transmission of skills. I made the changes so as to be effective in my teaching, and to enable students learn the arts in a relatively short time, and to enjoy the benefits the arts they practice are meant to give.
My own learning was orthodox, like what most other students undergo today. Both the teacher and the students have no clear idea of aims and objectives, as well as the time-frame involved. Typically, a teacher would teach his students a chi kung exercise or some kungfu movements, but apart from the fact that they constitute a prescribed syllabus, both the teacher and the students do not really know why they perform the exercise nor would they check the result after a period of practice.
Our teaching is different. We have set aims and objectives and a time-frame. We access the result to check whether our teacher and the students' practice are effective.
For example, in a 4-hour course on "Generating Energy Flow", our objective is to enable students to generate an energy flow, and we know that we are successful when students can do so within the course. Our aim is to enable students to practice it competently on their own at home so that they can overcome illness and pain, and to have good health, vitality and longevity.
We provide opportunity in the class for the students to practice on their own to access their proficiency. When we see our students again six months or a year later, they inform us their pain and illness have been overcome and they have better health and vitality.
If we just teach the students techniques, they would not be able to generate an energy flow in an hour. They would need a few weeks or months. But we transmit the skills to them, with which they can generate an energy flow within an hour.
When I first taught kungfu more than 30 years ago, I used the orthodox method I learned from my sifus. Because what we practiced was genuine, my students could develop internal force and apply their kungfu for combat, but it took them about 3 years. Others who practice only kungfu forms for demonstration would not have internal force nor be able to use kungfu for combat regardless of how long they have practiced.
But now in my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or Intensive Taijiquan Course, students can develop internal force and apply Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan for combat in just a few days! Both the material I teach and the way I teach it are different from what and how I learned from my sifus.
All my sifus were great masters with the highest moral values. They were also successful and happy in their private lives. But, as in all other schools, there was no conscious effort to teach students how to transfer the skills and philosophy they learned in formal lessons to enrich their daily lives.
This is a great benefit we have in our school, and it evolves over the many years of my teaching. We do not just learn chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan. We also learn how to apply these arts to enrich our daily living.
For example, we apply the skill of entering into a chi kung state of mind in our chi kung lessons to enable us to have better result no matter what we do in our daily life. We use the internal force we have developed in Shaolin Kungfu to produce better work in shorter time. We apply the flow of Taijiquan to be elegance in our daily activities.
I have a question about the characteristic opening patterns of various sets and styles of kung fu. The most common opening pattern I have seen in Southern Shaolin kung fu is "Lifting Sun and Moon".
— Frederick, USA
"Lifting Sun and Moon" is the most common opening pattern not only in Southern Shaolin but also in Northern Shaolin. It is found in almost all Shaolin kungfu sets and all wushu sets, which are derivatives from Northern Shaolin.
Not many people know its significance, and most of those who perform this opening pattern do so out of routine.
Why is it an excellent opening pattern? It enables a practitioner to be in his best physical, energetic and spiritual position -- jing, qi and shen, or in Western terns in an ideal position physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
For deeper understanding, take note that the Western concept of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual is not an equivalent of the Chinese concept of jing, qi and shen, but it conveys the idea that it includes all the dimensions of a person within his cultural framework.
The Western concept of the physical corresponds to the Chinese concept of jing, and the Western concept of the emotional, mental and spiritual corresponds to the Chinese concept of shen. The Chinese concept of qi, or energy, is missing in Western cultural framework.
This concept is very important in the topic we are discussing, and in all aspects of internal arts. It is due to their lack of this conceptual understanding that most Westerners do not understand and consequently miss the wonderful benefits of the internal arts as well as of recovering from so-called incurable diseases.
Returning to our topic, the opening pattern of "Lifting Sun and Moon" enables a practitioner to stand upright, attaining perfection of jing, to generate his energy flow, attaining perfection of qi, and to be relaxed, mentally fresh and peaceful, attaining perfection of shen.
In Western terms, the opening pattern enables him to attain his best physical, emotional, mental and spiritual condition as well as provides him with a flow of energy to do work more efficiency, though with his Western conceptual framework he may not realize its function and benefit.
A master will be able to attain all these benefits with just one movement of "Lifting Sun and Moon". Students need more repetitions. If we repeat the movement many times, the pattern becomes a training method.
The most common opening patterns I have noticed in Northern Shaolin kung fu are "Sun Emerges From Clouds" in Tantui and "Lohan Worships Buddha" from Lohanquan.
There are 12 sequences in Tantui, which is a famous style of Norther Shaolin. Every sequence starts with "Sun Emerges from Clouds". Strictly speaking, this is not the opening pattern of Tantui, though it is the first pattern of each sequence.
Before a Tantui practitioner starts his first sequence, he performs "Lifting Sun and Moon", or sometimes its variation or modification. Then he continues with "Sun Emerges from Clouds".
He also completes the first sequence with "Sun Emerges from Clouds", and continues with the second sequence. Hence, "Sun Emerges from Clouds" is both the ending pattern for the first sequence and the starting pattern for the second sequence. It is the same with all the other sequences, with "Sun Emerges from Clouds" ending a sequence and starting the next sequence.
I spent some time thinking why all the Tantui sequences start and end with "Sun Emerges from Clouds". "Sun Emerges from Clouds" is performed in only one mood, not in left and right mode. In other words, it is always the left palm that makes a circular movement and the right fist that thrusts out to the right side.
There is no record on why "Sun Emerges from Clouds" is the opening pattern of all Tantui sequences or why it is performed only in one mode. So I have to speculate based on my understanding of kungfu philosophy.
My conclusion is that it is a good way to start an energy flow and consolidate the energy on the punch. Why is it always in the right mode? I speculate that in Tantui the right fist is frequently used, and the left fist seldom.
In Lohanquan the opening pattern is "Lohan Worships Buddha", where the two palms are brought together in front as in prayer. It is also the greeting pattern.
In Southern Shaolin the greeting pattern is "Dragon and Tiger Appear". Instead of two palms, the left hand is held in an open palm and the right hand in a close fist, and both the left palm and the right fist are brought together in front.
It is interesting that while all Southern Shaolin kungfu sets start with a Shaolin greeting, most kungfu styles do not. Practitioners of Northern Shaolin styles like Eagle Claw and Xingyiquan, and internal styles like Taijiquan and Baguazhang just start their sets without any particular patterns, though frequently they may first perform "Lifting Sun and Moon" or its variations.
"Lohan Worships Buddha" is not just a kungfu greeting but also a general Buddhist greeting. Buddhists usually greet other people in this way even when they may not practice Lohanquan.
This situation is different from "Dragon and Tiger Appear". People who do not practice Southern Shaolin Kungfu do not greet other people in this way.
Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and Xingyiquan have a similar opening pattern whose name I do not know, though I've noticed Xingyiquan practitioners sink their fists while Taijiquan and Baguazhang practitioners keep their hands open.
The opening pattern in Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, which is the same in all the three arts, is called "Hun Yuan Yi Qi" or "Cosmos One Energy". (In our school we separate the movement into "Bring Qi from Cosmos" and "Qi to Dan Tian".
This is the counterpart of "Lifting Sun and Moon" in Shaolin Kungfu, which also concludes with "Qi to Dan Tian". Like "Lifting Sun and Moon", "Cosmos One Qi" has the function of enabling a practitioner to attain perfection in jing, qi and shen.
Xingyiquan practitioners sink their fists while Taijiquan and Baguazhang practitioners keep their palm open because the fists are generally used in Xingyiquan, whereas in Taijiquan and Baguazhang it is the palms.
After performing "Cosmos One Energy", Taijiquan practitioners start their sets with "Lifting Water" or "Cloud Hands", Baguazhang practitioners with "Old Monk Holds Bowl" and "Green Dragon Tests Claws", and Xingyiquan practitioners with "Father and Son Together" and "Three-Body Poise" (which is similar to "Green Dragon Tests Claws"). These opening patterns occur in every Taijiquan, Baguazhang or Xingyiquan set because they enable practitioners to attain the best conditions for their purpose in performing the set.
What is it about these opening patterns that makes them so useful and therefore popular io their respective arts?
Most practitioners today do not realize the significance of opening patterns, and therefore miss the essence and benefits. On the other hand, because we understand the significance and practice accordingly, we are able to derive their full benefits.
"Lifting Sun and Moon" in Shaolin Kungfu and "Cosmos One Qi" in Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan enable practitioners to attain perfection of from, energy and mind right at the start of their sets. This will enhance whatever that follows.
"Lifting Water" or "Cloud Hands" generates our qi flow, thus enabling us to have force, speed and elegance in performing our Taijiquan sets.
"Old Monk Holds Bowl" spreads qi to our palms, and "Green Dragon Tests Claws" rotates our waist, thus enabling us to be powerful and agile when performing our Baguazhang sets.
"Father and Son Together" consolidates force at our arms and fists, and "Three-Body Poise" focuses on six harmonies, thus enabling us to have tremendous force and presence of mind when performing our Xingyiquan sets.
"Lohan Asks the Way" in Shaolin Kungfu relaxes our body, sinks our qi to the dan tian, and lets our mind be crystal clear, thus enabling us to accomplish both solidness and agility in our set performance.
In my own practice, I've noticed the following: "Lifting Sun and Moon" leads to energy going up and down my body and the Baguazhang opening pattern brings energy to my arms and legs.
This is the natural result due to the way the patterns are performed.
For us, because of our advanced skills we can use our mind to enhance the result or modify it according to what we want. We may, for example, use "Lifting Sun and Moon" to bring energy to our arms and legs, or use the Baguazhang opening pattern to let energy go up and down our body.
One thing I find curious and interesting is that the force and energy flow I get from the Baguazhang opening pattern gives me a feeling of being energized and ready for combat while "Lifting Sun and Moon" gives me a feeling of serenity and a calm readiness for life.
Again, this is the result of the way the patterns are performed. The Baguazhang opening pattern is proactive, thus energizing you for combat. Lifting Sun and Moon is reactive, thus giving you serenity and readiness of life.
Using our trained mind, we can enhance the natural result or modify it in ways we want. This is one of many reasons why "the highest kungfu is at the mind".
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