SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JUNE 1998 PART 2
What are actually the forms taught in your curriculum? Since you had stated you were teaching Shaolin kung fu, is it correct for me to assume that some of the basic forms taught by you are the Lohan quan, Da and Xiao hong quan, Wu Xing quan and some other animals sets not forgetting the set Yi Jing Jin?
— Hian, Malaysia.
My teaching is quite different from what is usually taught in most kungfu schools. While many kungfu schools spend as much as 90% of their time on set practice, we spend only about 10%. About 40% of our training time is spent on combat application, 40% on force training, and 10% on kungfu philosophy.
In our school, the Shaolin Wahnam School, I first teach my students Shaolin Chi Kung, such as exercises from the Eighteen Lohan Hands (or "Yi Jing Jin"), so that they can generate their own energy flow. Next I teach basic Shaolin force training, particularly One Finger Shooting Zen, the fundamental force training exercise in our Shaolin Wahnam school, and basic Shaolin patterns.
Then the students apply the patterns for combat, first as specific techniques to overcome particular combat situations, then as short combat sequences. They learn and put into practice combat tactics, in contrast to techniques. The students also learn to link the patterns and combat sequences into sets of their own.
Different students, therefore, have different sets, composed by themselves with help from me in providing the underlying principles. Gradually they process to free sparring using the kungfu techniques and tactics they have learnt.
Throughout their training, chi kung and meditaion are important aspects of their practice. In this way, within two years not only they should be able to handle a black-belt comfortably and understand fundamental Shaolin principles, they also have good health, internal force and mental freshness.
Hence although the sets you mentioned above, students do not generally lean them until they have been training with me for many years. And even when they have learnt them, with the exception of their chosen set which they practice as their basic sets, they would treat them as demonstrative forms as well as examples of different approaches to combat, rather than as the core of their training.
For the first two years or so, my students pay little attention to kungfu sets, instead they forcus on developing force and combative skill. But once they have acquired the fundmental force and skills, they could learn a kungfu set relatively fast, generally within two weeks. Neverheless, they spend much time practicing and studying their chosen set. The sets popularly chosen for special study in my school are Shaolin Five Animals, Taming the Tiger, Tiger and Crane, and Shaolin Pakua Palm.
How about the supplementary exercises like the iron palm, iron body and some other power development exercise?
While we pay much attention to force training, Iron Palm and Iron Shirt are not emphasized in our school. In our force training we emphasize One Finger Shooting Zen, Golden Bridge, Self-Manifested Chi Movement, Eighteen Lohan Hands, Sinew Metamorphosis and Cosmos Palms.
Besides developing force, we also pay much attention to developing skills, such as agile footwork, sound judgement, reflexive responses, breath control, and correct spacing and timing.
We also spend much time in energy flow and meditation. Actually the division into force and skills is for the sake of Western readers; in Chinese, developing force and skills, as well as energy flow and meditation, are collectively referred as “kung” training.
You mentioned that before one could spar, there was another step to be taken after learning the form. You didn't mentioned what it was, so I again assume that particular step is learning the sparring set. Is that right?
In our school, there are many steps — not just one — between form practice and free sparring. Broadly, these steps are as follows:
- Learn and practice the specific technique of each pattern. For example, students learn and practice how to counter against various punches, kicks, felling techniques and grips.
- Learn and practice linking attack and defence techniques in some advantageous ways into short combat sequences.
- Apply useful tactices into the short combat sequences.
- Make modifications and adjustment in the short combat sequences.
- Link short sequences into longer ones in some meaningful ways.
- Apply strategies in combat sequences.
There are sub-steps in each of the main steps mentioned above. For example, in the first step, at first the kind of attack is pre-determined and the attacker makes only one attack. Gradually the attacker can choose to attack differently and make multiple attacks in one encounter.
We have found from our experience that while sparring sets are impressive to watch and may develop some combat skills, they are far less effective than combat sequences in training to spar. It is significant to point out that learning in the above steps takes only about 5% of the training time; 95% of the time is spent in practicing.
As for your Wing Chun, how does your lineage look like? Is yours the Wing Chun brought to Malaysia by Yip Kin, the founder of Malaysian Wing Chun or the Penang version of Wing Chun which was brought to the island by the Cho family? If it is not both of them, if you don't mind, can you tell me how your Wing Chun came to Malaysia?
My Wing Chun is from the Choe family. My Wing Chun master was Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, who was the first to teach Wing Chun of the Choe family widely outside the family.
Sifu Choe Hoong Choy learned from Sifu Choe On, who brought Wing Chun from his native Ah Wu district in south China to Malaysia. Sifu Choe On learned from Sifu Choe Chun, who in turn learned from Sifu Choe Tak Seng, whose teacher was Sifu Choe Shun. Sifu Choe Shun learned from Sifu Yik Kam who was specially employed by the Choe family to teach the family members.
Sifu Yik Kam was originally a famous Choy-Li-Fatt master. After being convincingly defeated by Sifu Leong Yi Tai in a friendly sparring match which Sifu Yik requested, Sifu Yik became Sifu Leong's student. Sifu Leong Yi Tai was the classmate of Sifu Wong Wah Poh, from whom the Wing Chun of Sifu Yip Man of Hong Kong issued.
Sifu Yip Kin's lineage is different from mine. While I have no doubt that Sifu Yip Kin was a great Wing Chun master, I would disagree that he was the founder of Malaysian Wing Chun. Sifu Yip Kin taught a group of people in Kuala Lumpur, who later formed the Malaysian Wing Chun Association, led by masters like the late Sifu Wong Yim Sun and Sifu Yip Fook Choy, both of whom I personally know. Wing Chun of the Choe family was already established in Penang, although the Penang Wing Chun group taught Wing Chun only to selected disciples.
Editorial Note: Hian later wrote to clarify that he meant Sifu Yip Kin was the founder of the Malaysian Wing Chun Association, and not Wing Chun Kungfu in Malaysia in general.
Last year, one old master of this branch from Penang demonstrated a set in public in one national demonstration held in Penang.
The old master you mentioned is probably Sifu Yeong Cheong, my Wing Chun “siheng” (senior classmate) under Sifu Choe Hoong Choy.
Uncle Cheong, as Sifu Yeong Cheong is respectfully called in the Penang martial art circles, is the most senior Wing Chun practitioner in Penang today, and probably the most senior in the whole country as well.
From the list of all sets I have glanced thru, Penang Cho Family Wing Chun has a lot of empty and weapon and sparring sets including the famous Drunken set. Yet, my sources told me that the late Grandmaster who was the first to reveal the art to the public never really taught all the forms to his diciples including this Drunken fist. If Wong Sifu is the fortunate one to have learn this Drunken fist set, if Wong Sifu don't mind, can Wong Sifu briefly illustrate to me how do the concepts found in this set fit into the frame and structure of Wing Chun.
As Sifu Yik Kam, the master who transmitted Wing Chun Kungfu to the Choe Family, was originally a Choy-Li-Fatt master, many Choy-Li-Fatt kungfu sets are also found in the repertoire of Choe Family Wing Chun. The Drunken Eight Immortals set is one of them. There are, nevertheless, some sets that are originally Wing Chun, such as “Shui Ta” (Essence of Fighting) and “Fa Khuen” (Flower Set), which happened to be my favourites.
I did not learn the Drunken Eight Immortals but I saw my classmates performed it. Its techniques and principles are Choy-Li-Fatt's, with little resembling what many people would consider Wing Chun characteristics. This Drunken set generally employs wide stances and sweeping movements, much in contrast with the short, straight moves of Wing Chun.
Essence of Fighting and Flower Set have Wing Chun characteristics but use Choy-Li-Fatt footwork. It is perhaps worthwhile to add that Choy-Li-Fatt and Wing Chun Kungfu compliment each other very well. While Wing Chun Kungfu is excellent for close combat, and fighting at masters' level, it is not so suitable for mass fighting. Because of its innate characteristics, even a Wing Chun master, using purely Wing Chun techniques, will have difficulty fighting to escape an ambush, whereas Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu, with its long range techniques and wide-sweeping movements, is well suited for this purpose. We (disciples of Choe Family Wing Chun) are lucky to have the advantage of this Wing Chun-Choy-Li-Fatt combination.
I clearly remember I asked my Wing Chun teacher, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, the following two questions. Why was it that the Wing Chun of Sifu Yip Man of Hong Kong comprised of only five sets — the three unarmed sets of Siu Lim Tao, Cham Kiew, Phiew Chi, and the two weapon sets of Eight-Chop Knives and Six-and-a-Half Staff — whereas our Wing Chun had so many other unarmed and weapon sets besides these five sets? Why were our stances not Wing Chun stances?
Sifu Choe's answers, befitting of a master, were as follows. Different schools and different masters had different ways of doing kungfu. Moreover, besides Wing Chun Kungfu, our school also had the advantage of inheriting the Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu of Sifu Yik Kam.
Regarding the stances, Sifu Choe said that I was referring to the Wing Chun of Sifu Yip Man. Our stances were Wing Chun stances, he said. In our school of Wing Chun, we used the horse-riding stance, the bow-arrow stance and the false-leg stance besides the four-six stance and the goat-stance. These were the stances Ng Mooi Si Tai (Lady Grandmaster Ng Mooi) used when she taught kungfu to Yim Wing Chun.
Interestingly, I had some old kungfu magazines with stories and pictures of Leong Chan, the famous Wing Chun master of Fatt-Shan in south China, from whom Sifu Yip Man's line of Wing Chun descended. The stories and pictures mentioned and showed the use of many different types of weapons, including the knife, the spear and the soft-whip, and of the horse-riding stance, the bow-arrow stance and the false-leg stance.
But having a lot of kungfu sets is not necessarily an advantage. The various styles of Taijiquan has only one standard set each, yet that one set can be applied to counter any combat situation. Wing Chun practitioners of Yip Man's line have only three unarmed sets, yet they are formidable fighters. If a person knows too many sets and pays too much attention to them, his kungfu is likely to become merely dancelike forms.
The old man in Penang denied the fact that he knew all the sets. So if there are still some survivors of Penang Wing Chun out there, it will be nice to know how are they going to pass the art to the next generation.
Sifu Choe Hoong Choy had many students, most of whom are in Penang. Although they do not teach kungfu publicly, they have their own privately selected students.
I have been reading and beginning the practice of the sun and moon exercises and induced Chi flow for about a month. Is there a natural progression from induced chi exercises? What would you recommend that I try next to extend from where I am.
— Ted, USA
There is no fixed direction for chi kung progress, as many variables are involved. These variables include the needs and abilities of the student, the level of attainment aimed at, and the kind of teachers and instructional material available.
It is not recommendable to practise induced chi flow without proper supervision. I would strongly recommend that to extend from where you are, you should try to seek a master or at least a competent instructor.
Second, is there a particular exercise or set of exercises that you would recommend for a prostate problem?
There are many exercises for your purpose, but it is best to learn them personally from a competent instructor. Faulty practice, which is not unlikely in your case, would make your problem worse.
When I bend down to do Carrying the Moon, do I breathe out or in?
— Estung, Malaysia
You should neither breathe in nor out, but hold your breath gently. Breathe in when your rise and raise your hands, and breathe out when you lower them.
I would like to also ask you if your Shaolin Wahnam Institute conducts Tai Chi Classes, particularly the Yang School. Anyway, I hope I have not been a trouble to you. Being English educated but have no knowledge of Mandarin, I find myself missing out so much on my subjects of interest, ie. Tai Chi and Chi Kung.
I usually teach Shaolin Chi Kung and Kungfu, but sometimes I teach Taijiquan (both the Yang and the Chen styles) when some students specially request it. I have a small group of Chen style Taijiquan students in Kuala Lumpur.
It is a pleasure and duty to help those who are sincere to learn. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you think I can be of any help.
The master I saw did not strike me as particularly healthy since he was overweight. In my ongoing search for kungfu masters, health and vitality are major priorities for me.
A master should be an example of what he teaches. If one is unhealthy, unable to defend himself or unscrupulous in his dealings with others, there is no justification to call him a master.
In over three years of searching, I've visited countless schools. The sad truth, as I'm sure you know, is that there are very few masters. Perhaps they are hiding, or perhaps I have not found them yet. The search goes on.
There are very few real masters in kungfu or any arts in any place at any time. Even in China in the past, real kungfu and chi kung masters were rare, although there were certainly more then than now. This is understandable; it takes many, many years of hard, consistent training to become a master.
There is, however, one crucial difference between the past and now regarding masters. In the past no one, not even amongst the masters themselves, would call himself a master; the honour was bestowed upon him by public consensus. Nowadays many people would not hesitate to call themselves masters once they start teaching, after learning the art barely for a few months.
There is today one popular art dealing with energy where you can officially become a master in an unbelievable short time. You will be confirmed with a master's certificate if you pay a hugh fee for a master's course to learn a secret symbol. Learning this secret symbol can virtually be done in 5 minutes!
Although I know that I must make these decisions on my own, I wonder what advice you might give considering my situation? The major obstacle that stands in my way right now is money. All things considered, money is not terribly difficult to come by.
Most people my age are interested in a career, finding a spouse, starting a family, buying a car and a house, etc. I am not interested in such things. I want to practice the Martial Arts. I am willing to do what is necessary to get what I want, even if it means moving to Asia.
I would think and do like what you have described if I were at a raw age of 20. It is not only noble but just the only sensible thing to do for an idealist at his tender age. But now mellowed with more than half a century of life's experience behind me, and still have sufficient idealism and energy to live the remaining century meaningfully, I would give you the following sincere advice.
Train yourself for a rewarding career, find an understanding spouse, start a loving family, buy a reliable car and a comfortable house, and at the same time pursue your life-long hobby, be it martial art or any worthy pastime. While there are many things more important and rewarding than money, we cannot deny that having sufficient money is essential to accomplishing many of our life's goals and visions. If your mind and effort are constantly troubled by how to overcome money problems, there will be little left of your mind and effort for accomplishing other things.
Having a rewarding career can fulfil this need. Moreover we also have to meet our obligations. Raising a family is, in my oppinion and in various degrees, an obligation you owe to yourself (unless you are a monk), your parents and society. Providing well for your family, including material provisions like a house and a car, besides intangible provisions like love and care, is an obligation you owe to your family. Only when you have fulfilled your obligations, you can justify yourself spending all your time and energy, if you choose to, on your hobby.
But if you wish to make kungfu your career instead of a hobby, you must be sure that it is rewarding, i.e. it will provide you with an adequate income besides giving you joy. Incidentlally I may be able to help you make kungfu a career if a project offered to me turns out successfully.
Someone offers me a hugh piece of land and another offers to raise the necessary funds to build some sort of a Shaolin Temple in Malaysia to preserve and teach the traditional Shaolin arts. They are kind, generous offers, but I have to consider carefully whether I can commit myself to the project before I can accept the offers. If this project is successful, you may consider applying to become a kungfu instructor in the Shaolin Temple of Malaysia. But before this hapens, you still need money to sustain your livlihood as well as pay for your kungfu training.
The question on my mind is whether I should stay in America to earn money, or go to Asia. There is no doubt that I could earn good money here if I were willing to make serious compromises (which I have yet to do). So far, I have avoided those jobs because they do not qualify in my mind as Right Livelihood. Teaching, on the other hand, appeals to me. I could find a job in downtown New York, work 9-5, wear a suit. Or I could go to Asia, teach English, experience a new culture, learn a foreign language.
It is easier to earn more money in America than in Asia. But you must never ever earn any money, no matter how large or small, by any dishonest means.
Teaching is a noble job, though it does not pay well. Malaysia and other Asian countries need good English teachers.
It gives me hope to know that, somewhere in the world, authentic Shaolin Kungfu is still being preserved. Perhaps someday I can contribute my own effort to the cause.
Authentic Shaolin Kungfu will be preserved. You will be able to contribute to the cause. Right now you have to prepare yourself well for the occasion by training conscientiously.