SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
APRIL 1998 PART 2
Are there many different styles practised in the East? Can you tell me how the martial arts schools are run and the method used to teach. Is it much different than in the U.S.A.? Can you tell me about the kungfu you teach?
— Martin, USA
There are many styles of martial arts practised in the East, such as kungfu (including taijiquan), silat, Siamese boxing, karate, taekwondo, aikido and judo. Regarding kungfu, there are many schools, including Hoong Ka, Wing Choon, Praying Mantis, Choy-Li-Fatt, Eagle Claw, Chen style taijiquan and Yang style taijiquan. Modern wushu is also very popular.
The various martial art organizations may be classified into two main categories, namely those run as associations where decisions are made by a committee elected from their annual or bi-annual general meetings, and those run as private business bodies where decisions are made by the sole propriators who are often the instructors themselves.
Generally an instructor holds classes twice a week, about an hour per session. Karate, taekwondo, aikido and judo have belt systems, as in the U.S. There is no belt system in the other arts. Siamese boxing emphasizes combat; one can be a formidable fighter in six months. Silat is comparatively still exclusive, although some schools are now open to the public.
There used to be a lot of free sparring in karate and taekwondo, but the present trend is to move towards practising them as sports with emphasis on katas. Judo and aikido are martial sports. Kungfu, including taijiquan, is almost always taught as a demonstrative form. If there is any sparring, it is pre-arranged, and is meant for demonstration.
Most kungfu exponents cannot apply their kungfu techniques in sparring; those who can spar, use karate, taekwondo or kickboxing techniques, not the kungfu patterns which they may perform beautifully in solo practice. With rare exceptions, taijiquan has virtually become a dance. Modern wushu is a sport.
The martial arts taught here are generally similar to those taught in the U.S.A., but there are also some shades of difference. One, students here, although they also pay fees as in the U.S., regard learning martial arts, especially kungfu, from their masters as a previllege, whereas those in the U.S. generally regard it as a business deal. Hence, the kind of respect shown to the master is different.
Two, no one in the East would ever think of teaching kungfu unless he is well trained for many years; in the West especially in taijiquan and chi kung where being tested in combat seldom happens, one may become an instructor after learning the art for only a few months.
Three, students here focus on practical work, whereas in the West much time is spent on book study and academic questioning.
The kungfu I teach is different in philosophy and practice from the norm. I teach Shaolin Kungfu, which I sincerely believe is the greatest martial art in the world. Please visit my webpage Shaolin Kungfu is the Greatest Martial Art for the justification of this claim.
Philosophically, I strongly hold that for any art to be called kungfu it must be capable of being applied for self defence, without the need to borrow or steal techniques from other martial arts. The crucial point is not whether a kungfu exponent would win or lose in a combat, but that he should be able to apply kungfu in combat using the typical kungfu patterns he has learnt.
I also beleive that while Shaolin Kungfu and taijiquan are excellent for self defence, their greatness lies in spiritual cultivation. In fact, Shaolin Kungfu and taijiquan were first developed as a means to further spiritual training.
In practice, I emphasize skills instead of form. For example, I teach students how to generate energy flow and develop internal force, whereas in most schools the training is mainly on learning kungfu sets. I teach students how to apply their kungfu patterns for combat, whereas sparring is often absent in the normal curriculum of most kungfu schools here.
Because of this difference in philosophy and practice, I am an “outcast” in mainstream kungfu circles here, although I was very active and actually started the kungfu federation in my state. While this was not the immediate reason why I voluntarily left orthodox kungfu circles here, it was crucial in my decision to leave, for I did not want this difference in opinion and approach to cause my friends to become my enemies.
There is a saying: if you cannot fight them, join them. But I do not want to join them, for that would be betraying the very principle which I hold dearly and live by, namely Shaolin Kungfu is excellent for combat and spiritual cultivation.
I must clarify that I have never suggested that those kungfu masters who teach mainly kungfu form are not formidable fighters; some of them are, and there is no doubt that many have tremendous internal power. And they also have a right to teach kungfu in a way they choose to teach it. I have never questioned their right or ability. But there is certainly a difference in philosophy and approach, and I am very grateful that the other masters also have left me alone to teach kungfu the way I choose to teach it.
I am studying Shaolin Lau Gar KungFu but can't find any information anywhere. Can you give me any help? I train in the south of England and it has become a huge part of my life. I would like to give up work and study all day!
— Ben, England
Lau Gar Kungfu was founded by Lau Sam Ngian, a Southern Shaolin master who lived in the later part of the Qing (Ching) Dynasty in China. Lau Gar and Lau Sam Ngian are Cantonese pronunciation; in Mandarin pronunciation they are Liu Jia and Liu San Yan.
Lau Gar means Lau's Family; it was common to name the style of kungfu after the master's surname so as to avoid using the term Shaolin because the Qing army was after Shaolin disciples. Lau Sam Ngian was actually the master's nick name, and it means Lau Three Eyes, because there was a mark on the master's forehead that resembled a third eye. He was famous for his Shaolin staff techniques.
Information on Lau Gar Kungfu is scarce. I made a passing reference to Lau Gar Kungfu in my books, “Introduction to Shaolin Kungfu” and “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”.
While it is commendable to practise kungfu diligently, it is unnecessary and unwise to give all your time to it, especially in our modern societies where practising kungfu is a hobby rather than a duty. There are other important aspects of life that need our time and dedication, such as fulfilling our obligations and daily chores, spending some time with our parents, spouse and children (if you are blessed enough to have them), and devoting ourselves to mind expansion and spiritual cultivation for those who are ready. Practising kungfu should enrich our lives, not to enslave ourselves to it.
Secondly kungfu is to be practised, not to be studied (through books or otherwise). Even if you know nothing about kungfu studies but can perform well, you can be a kungfu master. On the other hand, if you know a lot about kungfu and can deliver impressive lectures on it, but cannot perform, you may be a kungfu scholar, but you don't even qualify to be a kungfu practitioner, and not only you cannot defend yourself you may not even be fit and healthy. This of course does not mean that we should not study kungfu, but we need to bear in mind that kungfu is basically experiential, not academic.
I do not have a great deal of time to practise but do so everyday for about an hour or so. In your book you state that the Chen style of Tai Chi Chuan is best known for its martial aspects. Does this necessarily mean that it is the most effective style to be used in combat?
Also do you have any thoughts as to why there is such a discrepancy between the East and West with regards to the development of arts and philosophy? You yourself have performed tasks which would be seen as unbelievable by many Westerners. Why is it that throughout the history of the West the techniques which you and other masters perform, have not been discovered or developed? Why is it that the West only has such techniques through the teaching of the East and not through their own self discovery?
— Richard, England
Practising for an hour a day is sufficient. If your practice is appropriate you would reach a fairly high standard in a year. If all other factors are equal (a presumption which is almost never valid), the Chen style is the most effective among the various styles of Tai Chi Chuan for combat. Other factors which will influence combat effectiveness include the quality and nature of instruction, how you train, and the availability of support material (such as useful information).
The discrepancy is one of nature and not of quality. In other words due to differences in history, geography, culture and other factors, the arts and philosophies of the West are different from those of the East, but while those of the East may be superior in some, they are inferior in others. If we take the arts and philosophies of kungfu and chi kung, the attainment in the East is logically better than that in the West because of their much longer history in the East.
Some cultural traits may also be influential. Eastern students are by tradition more respectful of their teachers, which therefore gives them a more conducive mental state for better practical attainment. Western students are more inquisitive, which therefore makes them more knowledgeable.
In classical times many spiritual, religious and mystic masters in the West performed miracles, and while there could be interchange of ideas and teaching between the East and the West, the Western masters on a whole discovered and developed their own techniques. The interesting aspect is that the skills and techniques of the East and the West are actually quite similar, although they are described in different vocabularies.
Pythagoras, Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce are examples of great Western masters from ancient, medieval and modern times. Jesus and many Christian saints performed miracles to help people. But when wise men and women with special abilities were prosecuted and burnt at the stake by certain authorities, the mystic arts by whatever names they might be called, disappeared from the Western public.
In the East, not only such men and women were not procecuted, they were usually revered. Another crucial factor is the rise of science and the spread of industrialization in the West. As a result, Westerners looked towards objectivity and materialism as ideals, gradually loosing touch with intuition and spirituality which they earlier practised.
For many years I have sought to be the best person I can be, both inside and out. I seem to have a thirst for martial arts I cannot seem to quench. I have spent many years of my life trying this one or that. But they all leave somthing to be desired not in the art themselves but the teachings.
I am wanting to be a Shaolin Monk, not just learn Kung Fu. Some place to teach my mind not just my body. Some place where I will be treated as a brother, not a new student or an outsider. My ambition is stong as with my will. Are there any places in the world that will take an American with no money?
— Eric, USA
Giving up everything for spiritual cultivation is one of the most blessed things that can happen to anyone. But you must be sure that is what you really want. Many people, especially those at a young age between 20 and 30, believe that spiritual cultivation is all they want in life, but often it is only a passing fancy or merely being in fashion.
First of all you have to be clear of what you mean by spiritual cultivation. In the Shaolin tradition, spiritual cultivation is the training of mind or spirit. According to one's developmental stage, there are three levels of attainment:
- To live a happy and righteous life here and now.
- To attain “eternal” heavenly bliss in the next life.
- To attain nirvana or enlightenment.
Nirvana is also called variously by different peoples as return to God. union with the Supreme Reality or merging with the Great Void.
You don't have to enter a temple to cultivate to attain the first two levels. Indeed you also can attain the third and highest level cultivating as a lay person; you do not necessarily have to be a monk. But of course you will have a better environment and training faculities if you become a monk and cultivate in a temple.
Your desire to be treated like a brother in a temple is an indication that you are not yet ready for serious spiritual cultivation in a temple. If you are lucky enough to be accepted in a real temple for the highest spiritual cultivation, you will be treated not as a brother, not as a student, not as a stranger, but as dirt. Believe me, you will be grossly mistaken if you think your seniors in a temple are unkind if they treat you as dirt. You will understand why when you are ready for giving up everything to cultivate in a temple.
Meanwhile, try your best to live a happy and righteous life here and now, and accumulate blessings so that you will go to heaven in your next life. Also spend some time to cultivate wisdom by reading good spiritual books or religious books of your chosen religion if you have one. If you wish to study Buddhism, the teachings of the Enlightened Ones, two excellent classics are
- Asvaghosha's “Awakening of Faith in Mahayana”
- The Heart Sutra.
The bigest problem is that even if you can get hold of these two wonderful books, unless they contain adequate commentaries, you are not likely to understand them. If you have accumulated sufficient blessings and wisdom, you may not have to go to heaven; you can attain the highest spiritual goal here and now — through Zen, through other schools of Buddhism, through other religions or other spiritual disciplines. If you don't understand what I am saying in this paragraph, forget at least for the time being about entering a temple for cultivation. You will develop much more spiritually by putting zest in and finding joy from your daily duties.
My mother had a stroke almost two weeks ago. I have been unable to practice since then. The stroke left her paralyzed on her entire left side, but she has regained some of her speech back. She was not expected to survive — the doctors telling me she would be dead within a few days from the original attack.
Could you offer any advice I could give her in order for her chi to flow better? She is still in bed, and unable to move, and she is very weak. She is 80 years old and she has not been to a doctor in 30 years. Also, is there anyting I can do for myself so my chi energy will not be scattered during this difficult time?
— Bill, USA
The following programme may be helpful. Prepare a bundle of salt as follows. Heat some kitchen salt over a small fire, then wrap it up with a clean (preferably white) cloth into a bundle about the size of your fist.
Let your mother lie down, sit or be in any suitable, comfortable position. Briskly kneed and massage your mother from her head down her body to her feet with your hands. Test to see that the heated salt in the bundle is not too hot that it might hurt her. Then stroke your mother with the bundle of salt from her head down her body to her feet. Gently visualize during the stroking that the heat from the salt opens blockages in your mother. Repeat about 20 to 50 times.
While letting your mother have a short rest, you move yourself away, preferably in some natural surrounding with trees or plants. Stand upright and relaxed. Take a few seconds to listen to your breathing, and feel that your “heart” which does the breathing is resonating with the whole cosmos. Perform “Lifting the Sky” for about 10 to 20 times, following the breathing procedure I have described in “The Art of Chi Kung” or “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality”.
As you breathe in gently feel, actually feel, good cosmic energy flowing into you (you don't have to worry from where the cosmic energy comes, or to which part of your body it flows ). As you breathe out visualize the good cosmic energy flowing to your palms and be focussed there. Then, when you feel that your palms are charged with energy, “stroke” your mother with your palms from her head down her body to her feet. Your palms during the stroking should be about 3 to 5 inches above her skin. In a meditative state of mind, visualize the good cosmic energy flowing from your palms into her, revitalizing her and generating her own energy flow.
Take a deep, gentle breath at the start of your stroking at her head, and gently breathe out during the stroking so that by the time you have reached her feet, you have breathed out about 80% of your breath, still with 20" at your abdomen (or whereever you normally locate your breath). Take a gentle, deep breath and repeat the procedure about 10 to 20 times. Later, when you are more proficient you can increased to about 50 times per session.
Immediately after treating your mother, adjourn to some suitable place, preferably with trees and plants. Flick your hands as if you are flicking away water from them. As you flick your hands, gently visualize that any negative energy that might have back-flowed from your mother into you, is flicked away.
Then perform “Lifting the Sky” for about 20 to 30 times. For the first 10 or 20 times, visualize that any negative energy which might have back-flowed into you from your mother is cleansed out (you don't have to worry how) as you gently breathe out. For the remaining 10 or 20 times, visualize that you are being replenished with good cosmic energy as you breathe in (again you don't have to worry how).
Perform the whole procedure about 5 or more times a day, preferably at or near sunrise and mid-night, but avoid noon. If you perform this treatment daily for a few months, you may see miracles happening.
You had mentioned before that there is a difference between the Tai Chi dance taught today mostly and authentic Tai Chi Chuan. What is that difference?
I know that in many martial arts that a person must have strength and speed, how much is a person's speed or strength determined by what they have genetically or by practice and training?
I have heard that a dead body is a body without qi, so where is the qi after it is gone from a particular body?
— Lemeul, country not mentioned
Tai Chi dance pays attention to external movements like how to be graceful and whether the forms are correct; Tai Chi Chuan pays attention to internal force. Tai Chi dance cannot be used for defence; but Tai Chi Chuan is a very effective martial art. Tai Chi dance operates at the physical level; Tai Chi Chuan is a means to spiritual fulfilment.
While genetic factors may be important in academic debates, in practical terms Tai Chi Chuan masters pay little attention to them and emphasize on training. That is why all true Tai Chi Chuan masters believe and can demonstrate that even if you are born weak and small size, with proper training in genuine Tai Chi Chuan you can be radiantly healthy and able to defeat an opponent made strong by his genes.
Tai Chi dance teachers may say the same thing publicly, but privately they may not believe in it and certainly they cannot demonstrate its validity.
Figuratively speaking, the qi (chi) or vital energy that had kept him alive, left the body and returned to the external environment. In practical terms, to say that a dead body has no qi means that there is no energy to work the various body and mind systems.
Spiritually speaking, his physical body may be dead, but his mind (or soul or spirit or consciousness) is not. When the conditions are right, his mental energy will attract the appropriate factors for another physical life.
Regarding Shaolin kungfu, firstly I am wondering if it is at all an internal martial art or if it has internal exercises included in its system.
Shaolin Kungfu is often regarded as an external art although there are actually more internal exercises in it than all the internal exercises in the internal arts of Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan put together. In my oppinion, calling Shaolin Kungfu an external art, although this is what the general public as well as kungfu circles do, is mis-leading, but the term has been established.
Secondly do you believe that if a martial art does not have any internal excercises it can still be very beneficial in helping me to enhance my qi.
No. Practising a martial art without any internal exercises can still enhance your qi, but this comes as a bonus and not as a directed effect. Hence it is not cost- or time-effective. It enhances your qi in about the same way as playing football, swimming or any other physical exercise do.
The most beneficial way to enhance your qi is through qigong, which literally means “working on qi”. Besides working on qi, internal exercises also work on shen and jin, which mean mind and essence.
The reason I am asking this is that I have recently finished studying acupuncture and feel that it would make my treatments that much better if I could find something which would increase my own qi 'efficiency'.
While an increase of qi efficiency would improve anything you do, including practising acupunture, I believe you would achieve your purpose better by studying with acupunture masters rather than with internal martial art masters or even qigong masters.
With better qi efficiency you may channel your own qi through the acupunture needles when you treat your patients. But this advantage is minimal compared to the advantage of studying with acupuncture masters who can teach you, for example, how to use your needles (rather than your own qi) more efficiently, or how to employ acupuncture points as a coherent system (which would consider, among other things, the patient's secondary complaints and other organic functions) instead of merely a one-to-one approach of applying predetermined points to particular diseases, as many acupunture amatures do.
I have studied a traditional system of Japanese martial arts which included karate, judo and jujutsu for approximately 5 years but I recently stopped due to the fact that I felt that this particular type of training is completely lacking in any form of internal exercise. Thus I feel that this system (and in fact any Japanese system) of martial arts is limited in its potential.
I agree with your observation. There is so much more Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan can offer, but you have to learn from real Shaolin or Taijiquan masters.