SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JULY 2014 PART 2
Editorial Note : The questions and answers here are continued from July 2014 Part 1. The opening question is repeated here for easy reference.
I have been reflecting on some of the key innovations you have introduced, or 'essences' you have re-introduced, as part of your path in keeping the Shaolin Arts alive:
- the fundamental importance of chi flow in all of the arts.
- the understanding of the difference between techniques, skills and outcomes [and how to teach and apply that understanding].
- how to teach people to develop the skill of chi flow to achieve reliable outcomes at the level of illness, good health, vitality, clarity of mind and spiritual development.
- the importance of chi flow in developing internal force.
- how internal force can be developed through both the flow and force methods or a combination of the two.
- how the skills of chi flow and internal force can be used across all aspects of life.
- the importance of having students understand and apply their kung fu forms as combat applications from the beginning of their training.
- you also have talked about your own "enlightenment" in combat application you were able to see how to use sets (like Wuzuquan) for combat where you had previously found it "inadequate for combat".
Are there any other areas that you would consider key in keeping the essence of the Shaolin Arts alive and could you make any comments on how you became "enlightened" to each of these areas.
Also -- I understand you developed the first 12 combat sequences in the 1980's when teaching in Malaysia. When you began to teach internationally, in 1990, you developed the new 20 combat sequences. Where does your development of the "Lohan Asks The Way" set fit into this history?
— Sifu Barry Smale, UK
I shall continue to comment on the remaining innovations you have mentioned, paying attention to their being key in keeping the essence of the Shaolin arts alive and explaining how I became “enlightened” on each of them, before answering your subsequent questions.
- How the skills of chi flow and internal force can be used across all aspects of life
This is a very important point. It makes our training meaningful.
Shockingly, the training of most other practitioners is not meaningful, and worse they are not even aware of it. Not only they do not enjoy the benefits their training is meant to give, they even become more unhealthy the more they train. Most martial artists fall into this category.
Only a small minority of practitioners enjoy benefits of their training across other aspects of their daily life. In other words, not only they become better chi kung and kungfu performers, they also become better persons. But, as far as I know, we are the only school that systematically teach our students to use the philosophy and skills not only of chi flow and internal force but also of all their training to enrich their daily life. This certainly is a key innovation to preserve the greatness of the arts we teach.
As in other areas of our teaching, the progress was gradual but the "enlightenment" was sudden. Since the start of Shaolin Wahnam, chi flow has helped to overcome illness and promote good health, and internal force has contributed to mental clarity and abundant energy for peak performance.
But it was in the later part of my teaching, in late 1990s, that while answering questions from students or explaining relevant philosophy during intensive and regional courses, that I articulated how chi flow overcame illness and promoted good health, vitality and longevity, and how internal force maintained life, enhanced life and enabled us to do better no matter what we did.
My own realization of these facts earlier was also due to my having to answer questions from students and to provide philosophical explanation to students. It is an excellent example of a teacher learning while teaching.
- The importance of having students understand and apply their kungfu forms as combat application from the beginning of their training
This is another important key innovation to keep Shaolin Kungfu and other kungfu styles taught in our school as effective martial arts. It is notorious that most kungfu practitioners today, including many masters, cannot apply their kungfu for combat, though some of them may be good fighters using kick-boxing or other martial systems.
All my four sifus were great fighters using the same kungfu they practiced. When I first taught at Shaolin Wahnam Association in the 1980s, my students could use kungfu to fight. In fact many of them who had learned kungfu before were pleasantly surprised because they could not apply their earlier kungfu for combat.
But it took a relatively long time for my early students to apply kungfu for fighting. It took them at least 3 years. This is relative, as most other kungfu practitioners could not apply their kungfu for combat even if they have practiced for 30 years.
So I made a big innovation when I taught Shaolin Kungfu in intensive courses. Instead of teaching classical kungfu sets which was the normal way in most other kungfu schools, straight away I taught combat sequences, and used the combat sequences for combat. Then these combat sequences were linked together to form sets.
The inspiration of this innovation was from Douglas, my most senior student since I started traveling regularly to teach overseas. I complimented Douglas, who is American, for his proficiency in speaking Spanish. He told me that he learned Spanish in just two weeks. He paid an expensive fee but it was more than worth it. His Spanish tutor, who happened to be a charming Spanish lady, spoke nothing but Spanish with him everyday from morning to night for two weeks.
I thought that the same principle could also work in kungfu sparring. If our students used nothing else but genuine kungfu forms for sparring every minute for a few days, at the end they would be proficient in kungfu sparring. It worked. All our students can apply kungfu forms for fighting.
- You also have talked about your own "enlightenment" in combat application. You were able to see how to use sets (like Wuzuquan) for combat where you had previously found it “inadequate for combat”.
Yes, this was true. My “enlightenment” about combat application occurred gradually when I learned the Shaolin Pakua Set from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. Before this I could not make out the combat application of many patterns of many sets.
When I learned San Zhan, for example, I thought that this set was only meant for developing internal force, for which Wuzuquan was famous, and thought, wrongly, that the set was "inadequate for combat". If an opponent were to kick at me, fell me to the ground, or grip my arm, I would not know how to defend myself with patterns from this famous set. I would also have difficulty countering a simple strike!
I believe many Wuzuquan practitioners would be in such a situation. This is no slight to them, and in fact it is a tribute to Wuzuquan, which will become clear later. If I could spar comfortably with other martial artists, and still could not find combat application in the patterns of San Zhan, it was not unreasonable to think that Wuzuquan exponents who had not sparred at all, did not know the combat application. After all, most kungfu practitioners do not know the combat application of the kungfu they arduously practice, otherwise they would not have to resort to kick-boxing or children fighting.
But after learning the combat application of Shaolin Pakua Set from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, I was “enlightened”. Now I can look at any kungfu set, including those sets that I have not seen before, and tell the combat application of every pattern in the set. I have also transmitted this invaluable skill to students in our school at special kungfu courses.
An excellent example was Damian (Dr Damian Kissey of Sabah) at the Special Shaolin-Taijiuan Course in Sabah in 2011. Wuzuquan exemplifies profundity in simplicity. The patterns in its fundamental set, San Zhan, are simple, yet very profound. Not only they can develop tremendous internal force, but also they are very effective in combat – if you know how, and most people do not know how.
At the course Damian chose San Zhan as his selective set. Knowing that I would inevitably ask each of the course participants to demonstrate the combat application of their selective set, Damian asked me, during the Intensive Chi Kung course which preceded the Special Shaolin-Taijiquan Course, how patterns from San Zhan could be used against some sophisticated attacks. I told him not to worry about it, but he would know it when the time came.
True enough, at the Special Shaolin-Taijiquan Coruse, Damian could effectively use patterns from San Zhan to counter various attacks covering strikes, kicks, felling and chin-na. In felling, a bigger-sized exponent would have a clear advantage over a smaller-sized exponent. Despite his small-size, Damian has a lot of internal force.
In order to show the effectiveness of San Zhan techniques in countering felling attacks, I chose an exponent who was not only big-sized but also had a lot of internal force. We had an ideal choice in Jeffrey (Sifu Jeffrey Segal of Australia). Jeffrey attacked Damian randomly with a variety of felling techniques, and each time Damian countered effectively.
To keep the genuine arts alive, it is not enough just to know the common combat application of common patterns. A master should also know the combat application of all the patterns, including simple looking ones as well as those that are complicated and sophisticated. It is precisely that many masters today do not know the combat application of the patterns they teach, as well as are unable to help their students apply the patterns they perform in solo practice for combat, that most kungfu practitioners today use kick-boxing or children fighting when they spar.
We are proud and happy that in our school there are no such things as kungfu sets or patterns inadequate for combat. The coming Xingyiquan course at the UK Summer Camp 2013 will be a classic example. (This answer was given before the UK Summer Camp 2013.) Xingyiquan looks so bafflingly simple, yet it is so profound. Even just its typical pattern, pi-quan or thrust-palm, can be used to counter any attack! It is just unbelievable to many martial artists. Our students attending the course will have the rare opportunity to learn this key innovation as well as other lessons that will enrich not only their kungfu but also their daily life.
Are there any other areas that you would consider key in keeping the essence of the Shaolin arts alive and could you make any comments on how you became “enlightened” to each of these areas.
Right now there are no other areas that we are unaware of in keeping the essence of the arts we teach. This is because as soon as we are aware of a necessary area, we take immediate action to cover it.
This, in fact, was how we progressed. All our key innovations were made to meet expedient needs. For example, when I found that chi kung students could not generate an energy flow, our instructors initiated them into energy flow. When I found that kungfu students could not apply their kungfu for combat, I devised combat sequences to enable them to be combat efficient using kungfu forms in a surprisingly short time.
When I found that Taijiquan practitioners practiced the art as an external dance, we taught them internal force and combat application. When our chi kung healers found that patients did not practice sufficiently to derive benefit, we made our healing exclusive so that only those who wanted it and were willing to pay the high fee could participate.
Nevertheless, this does not mean there are no areas for us to improve upon, though we are aware of these areas. One example is the legality involved in helping people overcome so-called incurable diseases. We are convinced that our chi kung healing can help patients overcome these so-called incurable diseases, but at the same time we are aware of the legality involved. We are aware that the legality is meant to protect innocent people from being swindled, but it can be restrictive and sometimes abused.
One way to overcome the setback is to disseminate genuine information, which we are doing now via our webpages and discussion forum. We could have done more but we are restricted by time and resources. We are keenly aware that we are a kungfu and chi kung school, and not a missionary or charitable organization to save the world.
Another area where we could improve if given unlimited time and resources is to spread the genuine arts to more deserving people all over the world irrespective of race, culture and religion. But time and resources are limited, and considering these limitations we believe we have done very well, having grown to become the biggest kungfu and chi kung school in kungfu and chi kung history, having thousands of students all over the world.
On the other hand, we do not want to waste our time on stubborn sceptics and distractors, like conducting research according to their terms or proving to them the truth of our statements. We have more than sufficient voluntary testimonials to back our claims, if sceptics and distractors care to investigate. We have been extremely generous, openly sharing secrets and benefits that most masters, past and present, would keep only for their very few selected disciples. If sceptics and distractors do not believe in us, that is their right and their business.
Also I understand you developed the first 12 combat sequences in the 1980s when teaching in Malaysia. When you began to teach internationally, in 1990, you developed the new 20 combat sequences. Where does your development of "Lohan Asks the Way" set fit into this history?
The 12 Shaolin combat sequences was a key innovation to help my early students when I taught at the Shaolin Wahnam Association in Sungai Petani, Malaysia in the 1980s. These combat sequences were based on the combat application I learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam earlier.
The combat sequences were very effective. They enabled my early students to be combat efficient in three years when most other kungfu practitioners could not use their kungfu for combat even after more than ten years of training.
I recall a student telling me that when he met his siheng who was an assistant instructor in his former kungfu school, his siheng asked what he had learned. He told him that he had learned some combat application.
“How would you counter this?” his siheng asked, simultaneously throwing out a punch.
My student spontaneously grap the punch and pressed his siheng to the ground, using “Lohan Tames Tiger”.
His siheng was shocked and did not know what to do.
When I first taught internationally in the 1990s, I improved upon the earlier 12 combat sequences into 20 combat sequences, which were more systematic and comprehensive.
Sequences 1 to 4 focussed on combat skills, sequence 5 to 8 on strikes, sequences 9 to 12 on kicks, and sequences 13 to 16 on felling, and sequences 17 to 20 on chin-na.
Each set of four combat sequences were linked together to form a kungfu set as follows, “Black Tiger Steals Heart”, “Fierce Tiger Speeds through Valley”, “Happy Bird Hops up Branch”, “Fell Tree with Roots”, and “Fierce Tiger Descends Mountain”.
However, when I first taught these combat sequences at a time when video clips on websites were unknown, I could hardly cover up to 16 combat sequences. As chin-na techniques which were found in Sequences 17 to 20, were also found in Sequences 13 to 16, I left out the last four sequences in intensive Shaolin Kungfu courses, leaving them as a selective set in “Fierce Tiger Descends Mountain”.
Later when video clips were available on webpages, we could cover more material in the same course. I used the extra time to teach other important aspects of kungfu training.
But before one could apply the first four combat sequences, he has to be familiar with basic Shaolin patterns. This need is well fulfilled by practicing the four strikes and their defences as follows:
- Black Tiger Steals Heart -- Single Tiger Emerges from Cave
- Poisonous Snake Shoots Venom -- Golden Dragon Plays with Water
- Precious Duck Swims through Lotus -- False Leg Hand Sweep
- Hang a Golden Star at a Corner -- Immortal Emerges from Cave
These eight patterns are linked together to form a sequence, and the sequence is repeated in its left and right modes to form a set named "Lohan Asks the Way".
Practicing Lohan Asks the Way trains students in many skills, which are important for effective combat but which students do not learn in most other schools. These skills include fluidity of movement, regulating breath, exploding force, and increasing speed without panting and without being tired.
I am writing on behalf of my mother, who is in the stage of macular degeneration.
I would like to know if there are exercises she can do to strengthen the meridians around her eyes and retina so it does not progress and can even heal.
— Oshana, USA
Most people have the same view as you, i.e. thinking that if one performs a correct chi kung exercise he can overcome a health problem.
This view is shared not only by ordinary people but also by chi kung practitioners, including chi kung teachers who have been teaching chi kung for many years. It is indeed surprising that these chi kung practitioners do not realize their mistaken view. They do not realize that despite practicing correct chi kung techniques for many years, they still do not derive the benefits that practicing chi kung will give. Many chi kung practitioners, including some chi kung teachers, have to take medication on a routine basis!
We in Shaolin Wahnam regard this type of chi kung whch does not bring the desired benefits as not genuine chi kung. We call it gentle physical exercise using chi kung patterns. Similarly we regard kungfu that cannot be used for self-defence as not genuine kungfu. We call it kungfu gynnastics. In the case of Taijiquan, we call it Taiji dance.
Honestly we do not mean to belittle others nor glamorize ourselves, though understandably many who hear or read our statements out of context may consider us arrogant. Our statements are made in earnest, with the hope that those who practice chi kung and kungfu for years but do not gain the benefits these arts are meant to give, may realize their mistakes and make adjustment.
We sincerely wish them to benefit from these great arts, and they don't have to learn from us. We even openly share secrets that masters keep for their specially selected disciples. But if they do not believe us, that is their business, and we are not going to waste time arguing with them.
Let me repeat this mistaken view. It is the mistaken belief that if one practices a technique correctly he will get the benefits that technique is meant to give. This is simply not so, but many people do not realize it, especially in once esoteric arts like chi kung and kungfu but which are now widely practiced in their grossly debased external forms.
This fact, that practicing a right technique does not necessarily bring the desired result, applies to all arts, and is more easily noticed if we take some common examples, like the art of playing a musical instrument and the art of eye surgery. You can use the best technique of playing a musical instrument or of operating on your mother's eye, which you can obtain from some good books, but you will not succeed even when you know the best technique.
Why does one not get the desired result even when he uses the right technique? What is missing? It is skills. In many ways skills are more important than techniques. A salesman who earns $2,000 a month and another who earns $20,000 use the same techniques, but they have different skills.
Unless one is already skillful in the art concerned, skills need to be learned from a competent teacher, not from books, videos or e-mails.
Another common mistake many people make is to think that they can learn from any teacher. No, this is not so. A bad teacher not only wastes students' time but many also bring harm. Many martial artists today, for example, have sustained a lot of injuries because they learn from bad teachers.
You have to learn from a competent teacher, one who teaches the genuine art that brings the results the art is meant to give. Indeed, one should spend some time to search for the best available teacher within the student's resources, and learn from him.
What is the difference between Taijiquan and chi kung?
— Lucas, Italy
This is not an uncommon question amongst those who have heard of these two terms but have not seen the two arts. We can describe their difference under various headings, like definition, form and purpose.
Regarding definition, Taijiquan, or Tai Chi Chuan in English spelling, is a martial art, whereas chi kung, or qigong in Romanized Chinese, is an art of energy management.
Taijiquan forms are different from chi kung forms. Generally but not always, when one performs Taijiquan forms, he moves about, whereas when one performs chi kung forms, he remains stationary.
People practice Taijiquan for health and self-defence, whereas people practice chi kung for overcoming illness and for health.
To make things confusing or interesting, depending on your perspective, there is much over-lapping. For example, Taijiquan also involves energy management, and chi kung also contribute to martial competency.
Some Taijiquan forms are performed standing on the spot, and some chi kung forms are performed moving about. Some people also practice Taijiquan for health, and some people practice chi kung to enhance their self-defence.
The differences and similarities explained above are academic. If you do not know what Taijiquan is or what chi kung is, no amount of description can satisfactorily explain the difference. In other words, you have to see, or better still to practice Taijiquan and chi kung to appreciate the difference.
It is like a Westerner asking what is the difference between a ciku and a rambutan. Both are tropical fruit and are very different. But unless one has seen them, or better still eaten them, which are very tasty, no amount of description can satisfactorily explain their difference.
Or imagine someone from a remote village in Asia or Africa who has not seen a piece of bread or a piece of cake. No amount of description will satisfactorily explain their difference to him.
I know that we shall not waste our time to convince people of our beliefs when they are in doubt and only teach them when they are respectful and deserving. But showing internal force skills has the power to cut down endless discussions of convincing people to a single demonstration.
What are your thoughts about this?
Should we keep our skills secretive or use them to convince, inspire and motivate people so that they can also benefit from our arts?
— Sifu Leonard, Austria
You are right in saying that we do not want to waste our time on stubborn skeptics, but demonstrating internal force or some special skills can save much time in convincing and motivating deserving people. They must be deserving for us to demonstrate to them.
We don't demonstrate to convince people to become our students, including people who are deserving. We give them the opportunity to have the wonderful benefits that we enjoy, but we do not persuade them to learn from us. In fact, they have to beg us to teach them. We share with them secrets that some past masters did not teach even to their daughters.
On the other hand, we do not expect gratitude from them (in the sense that we want them to pay us back), though gratitude (in the sense of being thankful) is actually expected in any culture that has some sense of moral values. In the very unlikelihood that those whom we have helped turn against us, we let them go, without any feeling of remorse or regret, and wish them well.
Your best demonstration, however, is your good health and vitality, and feeling peaceful and joyful all the time. These are the wonderful benefits that we want to share with other people -- if they are humble enough to learn from us.
- Kungfu Forms for Fighting?
- What is a Martial Art?
- Spiritual Expansion into the Cosmos
- Shaolin Felling Techniques and their Defences
- Ho Family Flowing Water Staff