SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JUNE 1998 PART 1
I am new to the practice of Zen and am looking for some symbols to decorate my house with.
There is no specific symbol for Zen, although many take the full and empty circle as a popular Zen symbol. It is fulll as it is a complete circle, and it is empty as there is nothing in it. This symbolizes Zen, which is also full and empty at the same time, and can be manifested at different levels.
The space in front of you, for example, is usually considered empty, yet it is really full of life — not only of micro-organisms but also of infinite beings that we cannot see with our limited eyes.
To ordinary people, the phenomenal world is full of myriad entities, yet to the enlightened and the awakened it is empty — devoid of real substance as everything is merely a creation of mind. Indeed the word “phenomenal” means appearances. The entities we ordinarily see are only appearances, and they appear differently to different beings, such as humans, bacteria and faries, because of their different conditions.
Please refer to my webpages on Zen for further information. You will have a more detailed explanation if you read my book “The Complete Book of Zen”, to be released by Element Books in June.
I am a dancer and a martial artist now for respectively 18 and 7 years. Unfortunately, I had been somewhat of a martial arts gypsy, never finding the art that I felt I was best with — that was until I began reading your books. They have been wonderful. They have renewed my passion for the martial arts. I have especially enjoyed the books on Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan. I believe these to be what I have been looking for all my life. I have been a martial arts scholar since I was young(er).
Although martial arts are not a dance, they are not incompatible. It is great if you can combine them appropriately; you would not only achieve the benefits of both disciplines in one go when others would have to practise them separately, but more significantly you would add depth to either of them.
For example, your spectators or students would be enthralled when they discover that your beautiful dance movements can be effectively used for self defense, while on the other hand martial artists would admire not just the elegance and grace but also your agility and fluidity of movement which contribute to effective combat.
Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan are excellent choice for your purposes. While martial arts are basically experiential, not academic, your scholarly study on the martial arts will now provide a good theoretical foundation upon which you can build your practice. The theoretical knowledge is like a map showing you not only how and where to go, but also what the destinations will be.
Of course we do not merely hold the map in our hands; we have to do the actual travelling, and with guidance from the map you will not only know what your destination is and reach it faster, you will also find the travelling more pleasant, while others without a map would waste much time aimlessly wandering about in the wilderness.
My only disappointment is that I cannot seem to find any qualified teachers of both of these disciplines. I have finally found what I was looking for, but still cannot seem to attain it. I live 25 miles north of Seattle, Washington. I guess that kind of isolates me a bit.
The fact that you mentioned you could not find any qualified teachers, while many mediocre dancing and martial art instructors, or mediocre Chi Kung and Taijiquan instructors abound, is a clear indication of your search for excellence. Real masters are very rare. What is important is that you know what you are looking for and that you realize the great importance of having good teachers. When the time is ripe the master will appear.
I was wondering if you had any suggestions regarding my dilemma. I am 28 years young (smile) and think that I would very much like to teach others both Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan. First, of course, I have to learn myself. Although your books are WONDERFUL, I don't think that I can become qualified from their absorption (smile).
Yours is not a dilemma but an essential stage many seekers have to go through in their path to becoming masters. And you have a right attitude to start with, which will eventually prove to be very significant.
Not only you have to learn, more importantly you have to practise and practise what you have learnt so as to master your skills before attempting to teach others. In terms of becoming a master, at 28 you are indeed young, and this reminds me that although I am double your age I am also young. If you take ten years to become a master — which is actually a short time — you are not even half the potential life span of real masters.
A good book is at best a poor substitute for a true master. Keep on searching. If you are sincere in your search and are willing to make the appropriate scarifice, which is actually a small price to pay for learning from a real master, you will eventually find one. My webpage Qualities of a Good master provides some very useful information for your search.
Is your Wing Chun similar to the one practiced by Yip Man or Bruce Lee or the many other of Yip Man's students or followers all over the world?
— Fredrick, Malaysia
The type of Wing Chun I learned is different from the type taught by Sifu Yip Man, Bruce Lee or their students, but the fundamental principles are similar. A noticeable difference is that many of my Wing Chun sets employ wide stances like those of Southern Shaolin Kungfu, whereas Sifu Yip Man's Wing Chun generally uses narrow stances.
I learned from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, a well known Wing Chun master in Malaysia. My line of Wing Chun is traced to Leong Yi Tai, whereas that of Sifu Yip Man is traced to Wong Wah Poh. Wong Wah Poh and Leong Yi Tai were the two students of Leong Pok Kow, the husband of Yim Wing Chun. Leong Yi Tai's successor was Yik Kam, who was previously a Choy-Li-Fatt master. Hence much of my Wing Chun also has Choy-Li-Fatt characteristics.
I have started practising Yang style Taijiquan and I was wondering if it would be possible to combine the stance training and the 1st form training with my Chi Kung training.
Taijiquan itself is a form of chi kung. Indeed, without the training of chi, it ceases to be Taijiquan and often degenerates into Taiji dance. For various reasons, more than 90% of people who think they practise Taijiquan are actually doing Taiji dance.
Practising Taiji dance is not without its benefits. It promotes grace and balance, as well as improves blood circulation, but it does not give the benefits that Taijiquan is well known to give, such as being fit and healthy at 60 and beyond, mentally fresh, combat efficient and having internal force.
Chi kung means “energy work”. If you work on your energy, such as consciously generating energy flow, when practising Taijiquan, you are already doing chi kung. If you merely work on your muscles or body form, such as paying attention to where you should place your hands and feet, you are merely doing Taijiquan form which virtually all Taijiquan masters and classics have said is the least important.
You can also combine or supplement your Taijiquan practice with other forms of chi kung training. You can, for example, perform “Lifting the Sky” or “Carrying the Moon” or any dynamic patterns from any chi kung styles before starting your Taijiquan set, and conclude the set with standing or, if you are advanced, sitting meditation.
Which way would give me the greater benefit, doing the Chi Kung training first followed by the Taijiquan stance and form training or the other way round?
You can do your chi kung before or after your Taijiquan training. When you do it before, you build up energy for your Taijiquan training; when you do it after, you consolidate your energy which you have worked at during the training.
A useful approach is to do some dynamic chi kung (such as “LIfting the Sky”) before, and some quiescent chi kung (such as Abdominal Breathing) after your Taijiquan. Actually all Taijiquan sets already incorporate this provision.
In the Yang Style Taijiquan set, for example, the first pattern, “Taiji Starting Pattern”, is dynamic chi kung, and the last pattern, “Wuji Stance” is quiescent chi kung. You should perform the first pattern at least 20 times (at advanced level you may progress to 200 times), and remain at the Wuji Stance for at least 5 minutes.
Most students perform the first pattern only twice (which would be the case if you are performing for public demonstration) and walk away before they actually commence the Wuji Stance, because they do not realize that these two patterns are meant to generate chi flow and consolidate their chi effect.
It is sometimes very difficult for me to still my mind and I was wondering if there was some other technique that I could try. My mind wonders especially during the Self-Manifested Movement.
This is a common problem with most people. There are many techniques to still the mind and they are quite simple, although it may not be easy to put them in practice. Here is where a good teacher comes in. He will lead you into a one-pointed mind often without you realizing it until he points out to you later.
Actually it is the skill rather than the technique that is required to still the mind. Once you have the skill, virtually any technique can be used. A very useful technique I frequently use to help my students acquire the skill to still their mind is “Lifting the Sky”. The techniqure, apart from the physical movement of the exercise, is simple and as follows: don't think of anything; just be gently aware of your breathing.
But the actual skill has to be acquired and practised, and is best learnt from a master. You and others may understand the technique and attempt putting it into practice, yet cannot still the mind. The reason is that you do not have the skill although you know the technique.
Perhaps an analogy may make this clearer. A football coach may tell his players that a good technique to score a goal is to kick the ball to a far corner of the goal post. The playsers try that but very few can accomplish it. It needs a lot skill to do so. Techniques can be learnt from any mediocre instructor or read from a book, but skills are best acquired from a master.
Three months ago I noticed I was going to the bathroom a lot more frequently than normal. I saw a doctor who gave me some medicine and solved the problem. But in two weeks the medicine was gone and my problem was back.
— David, USA
Your problem could be caused by faulthy chi kung practice. The medication removed the symptom but not the cause of your problem, which was likely to be injury of your kidney or urinary meridian systems.
Reflecting on the physical and mental benifits I had recieved from doing Qi-Gong, I decided that if I just kept doing the golden eight excercises I could cure myself.
The golden eight exercises, or the Eight pieces of Brocade, are wonderful chi kung exercises that will bring good health and fitness, but if you do them wrongly, just as you do anything wrongly, you will have harmful effects.
I decided I needed to push myself harder in practicing my Qi. Stretching as far as I possibly could, lowering my horse stance to some what uncomfortable levels etc. were all things I was doing in the morning. My problem is now worse and I am now feeling small pains in my abdominal area.
Over-training in kungfu or chi kung, even though the methods are right, can cause serious problem. You not only practised wrongly, you also over-trained, thus compounding your problem. You should seek the help of a genunine chi kung master (not a self-taught instructor who teaches merely chi kung forms) to help you solve your problem
Could I have inflicted this problem on myself from moving energy around my dantien forcefully and at the wrong times?
This is likely to be your case. Moving energy around the dan tian is an advanced technique, and should not be done by merely following some instructions from a book. Yours is an example of someone hurting himself seriously from wrong practice without a master's supervision.
Is masterbation similar to having sex in the sense that it will lower my energy levels to a level where I shouldn't practice for a full day?
Firstly, masterbation is different from having sex. Having sex, especially with the right partner, is a fulfilment, and the inter-exchange of sexual juices between the man and the woman is beneficial to both.
Masterbation is a manifestation of frustration, which is often more damaging than the loss of seman which weakens the masterbator.
Secondly, practising chi kung (but not for a full day) replenishes the energy lost through sex or masturbation. If you masterbate, which is not a wise thing to do, or have sex, which is wholesome provided it is not licencious or illegitimate, you should practise chi kung after the adventure.
Thirdly, whether you masterbate, have sex or not, you should not practise chi kung for a full day. Chi kung is wonderful, but there are also other wonderful things to do, such as spending some time with your parents or playing games with your friends. If you do some of these wonderful things, which are actually quite easy if you want to do them, you will have neither the need nor frustration for masterbation.
Should I completely stop practicing Qi-Gong until I can find someone very experienced to give instruction?
Yes, completely stop whatever chi kung (qigong) you are currently practising because it is obvious you have been doing it wrongly.
Seek a real master (which may not be easy), not to practise chi kung from him, but for him to help you remedy your serious adverse effects due to faulty practice.
Make sure you don't seek a mediocre instructor who merely teaches chi kung forms; he may aggrevate your problems.
Should I enroll in a Tai-Chi class?
Yes, enroll in a Taijiquan class if you want combat efficiency as well as good health.
But if you are quite satisfied with performing graceful movements and relaxing yourself, enroll in any Tai Chi class, which is also one of the many wonderful things you can do besides masterbation or practising chi kung the whole day.