SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The is the Fifth issue of the Question-Answer Series
I have participated in a few of the local schools and cannot find one to my liking. I have received a black belt in Kung Fu and at this time I do not feel like I deserve it due to my lack of practice and not improving myself in my skills. Can you please send me any information that you may have?
— Joe, USA
At all times in all places real kungfu masters are rare. In China in the past there were many kungfu masters but very few of them would accept students. In kungfu, traditionally there were and are no belt system.
Today many people teach kungfu, or what they call kungfu, but finding a genuine master is more difficult than finding a gem in a hay stack. Please refer to Qualities of a Good Master for details.
What is taught all over the world today, including in China, is either a modernized form for demonstration or a debased traditional form that uses karate, taekwondo or kickboxing techniques for combat. In my opinion neither is genuine kungfu.
This does not necessarily mean that these demonstrative or debased forms are not without their benefits. They are magnificient to watch and is an excellent way to keep the exponents agile and fit, but they are not the same as the kind of kungfu traditionally taught in the past.
In my opinion, the bottom line to decide whether one is trained in genuine kungfu is whether he (or she) can use the kungfu forms he has learnt for some decent self defence. If he can fight well but uses other martial art forms instead of kungfu forms, he does not qualify to have practised genuine kungfu.
The bottom line of my definition is that the kungfu he has learnt must be capable of being used for fighting, even if he loses the fight. The crucial point is that his kungfu forms are more than sufficient for his self defence; he needs not borrow or "steal" other martial art forms, and he should be able to defend himself in a typical kungfu manner. Bouncing about as in boxing and kicking high as in taekwondo, for example, are not typical manners in kungfu fighting.
Good kungfu goes beyond mere fighting. One characteristic feature of good kungfu is the training of internal force for good health as well as combat efficiency. If you ask what internal force is, it is unlikely you have any experience in its training. It is like someone who has not eaten an orange, asking what the taste of an orange is.
As far as I know, this internal force training is not found in most other martial arts. Western boxing and wrestling, for example, pay much attention to external strength and physical mass, and their exponents train in ways which typical kungfu masters would consider detrimental to health.
Some Eastern martial arts like aikido and karate mention about internal aspects like chi (or ki in Japanese), but their exponents do not spend as much time or go as deeply as typical kungfu exponents do in these internal aspects. A typical traditional kungfu exponent, for example, may actually spend more time practising Abdominal Breathing or Stance Standing (zhan zhuang) than practising patterns or sets -- a practice that is not normally found in most other martial arts or modern demonstrative, debased kungfu forms.
The best kungfu, like Shaolin and Taijiquan, goes beyond the physical and leads to spiritual cultivation irrespective of race, culture and religion. The onus of spiritual cultivation is direct experience, not mere talking or book learning, and is practised according to the students' developmental levels.
For those who have so far wasted their time in unwholesome activities, or those who feel empty and lost despite abundant material wealth, turning to a happy, rewarding life here and now is a remarkable spiritual achievement; at the other scale, the spiritually advanced aim for the highest attainment known variously as return to God, unity with the Cosmos, enlightenment or in Zen terms simply going home.
It seems hard to imagine that when we are aware of the years the monks spend in training, what we could possibly learn in a few days of your intensive chi kung course?
— Jack and Steve, USA
You will learn in a few days what many others may not acheived in 20 years! It is hard to beleive it. Let me give you just one or two examples.
Try asking politely some masters and advanced students whether they can tap energy from the cosmos and direct it to wherever they will in their body, such as to their hands, feet and stomach. Probably they will tell you that this was a serect art of great masters, and is probably lost now although it is mentioned in books.
Ask them whether they could generate their own internal energy flow, or develop internal force. Anybody who has access to classical texts of internal arts would have known these are fundamental skills, but unfortunately not many people have these skills nowadays.
You are going to learn these skills in my intensive course. You can learn and experience the skills in a few days, but you have to practise conscientiously for at least a few months, if not years, before these skills become lasting.
After learning either one of these great arts, how do we know whether or not we are doing it correctly? Who gauges our progress ?
The best test is to access your results against the effects these arts are purported to give. As chi kung is purported to give good health, vitality and mental clarity, you should have these results if you have prcatised it correctly. If you do not experience any noticeable results, it is likely you have correctly practised not chi kung but some form of gentle exercise that pretends to be chi kung.
Such a situation is more obvious in Taijiquan. Virtually all Taijiquan classics mention that Taijiquan develops internal force and is very effective for self defence. If you have practised what you think is Taijiquan for some time but do not know what internal force is or how to defend yourself, it is certain that you have not practised Taijiquan although you might have practised it correctly.
On the other hand, if you feel uncomfortable, painful, nervous, weak or sickly, what you practise may or may not be chi kung, kungfu or taijiquan, but you have practised it wrongly.
The best person to gauge your progress is your teacher -- if you have a good teacher. Because of his experience and wider perspective, he is usually a better person than you yourself to gauge your own progress. But if you have chosen a mediocre instructor as a teacher, who himself has little experience of what he teaches, obviously he is not a good judge.
But in your case, after you have completed the intensive course from me, you yourself would be a good judge as you would know exactly what to look for in your own accessment. Your friends too would be able to gauge your progress. If you have practised correctly what you have learnt from me, your friends would not fail to notice the good health and vitality in you.
Could we have the training recorded in Malaysia so that we could go back for reference?
You may record the training on video. But you should bear in mind that what you can see on video is only the outward form, which is probably the least important aspect of the training. What is more important are the fundamental skills, which are formless and "invisible". Once you have acquired them, you can apply them to almost any forms.
It is amazing how many people in the West have written to ask if I sell tapes and videos so that they can learn from them. It shows many people in the West fail to realize that the onus of mastery in any art -- be it chi kung, kungfu, taijiquan, playing football or practising medicine -- is deepening skills and not learning forms. It is like asking a surgeon to sell them videoes of his surgical operation so that they can learn to become surgeons.
This unfortunate situation, in both the East as well as the West, is the result of so many mediocre instructors teaching the outward forms of the art rather than the art itself. In the case of chi kung, it is teaching physcial movements rather than how to manage vital energy. In the case of Taijiquan, it is teaching how to dance gracefully rather than to develop internal force for both effective daily living as well as self defence.
Is it possible that we can generate our chi to, say, our shin or inner forearm and it solidifies like the example a woman who does not train hardening and building scar tissue on her shin or forearm yet can generate power or energy to that part of the body for an intended purpose?
Certainly, this is one of the basic skills you will learn in my intensive course. But you will have to practise for some time -- a few months or a few years, depending on various factors like your intended purpose and your diligence in training -- before the effect has become lasting for practical use, like breaking through an energy blockage inside your body or breaking a brick on your head.
What's the need for, say, Iron Palm if thru chi kung a person can accomplish it?
There are different ways to achieve similar and different purposes. If you want to break a brick with your bare hand, you may achieve this with 6 months of Iron Palm training, whereas using chi channelling may take 3 years. If you wish to channel chi to heal others, you may achieve reasonably good result in a year with chi channeling exercise, whereas you may not be able to do so with Iron Palm even if you train for a life-time.
I have heard on several occasions that kung fu was kept secret and private, and I assume that that is true since it has not blown up all over the world. For instance I go anywhere and you see karate and tae kwon do schools but you never find any kung fu schools, they are very rare. I just wanted to know how you felt about the publicity that kung fu is now getting? (I must admit I got interested through the Shaw Brothers kungfu films.)
— Lemeul, USA
As in everything there is the good and the bad side of it. The good side is the fame and honor accorded to it which it rightly deserves, although it can also be debated whether fame and honor are good things. The bad side is that unqualified people cash on its popularity and teach kungfu dance instead of genuine kungfu.
The Shaw Brothers films have contributed a lot to the popularity of knngfu, but it is worthwhile to realize that real life kungfu training is laborious and demanding, and unlike the glorified practice suggested by the films.
What type of "body" type would a person have to have in order to do well in White Crane?
Preferably he or she should be slender and tall with long arms and legs. But White Crane Kungfu, like all styles of kungfu, are comprehensive; even if one is fat and short but is willing to train hard under a good teacher, he still can become a formidable White Crane Kungfu master.
Although I must shed a few pounds, I'm around 6 ft and I have a pretty wide torso but my arms and legs are skinny. What style would you suggest?
From the long term perspective, it is better first either to shed off a few pounds or to strengthen your arms and legs, or better still do both, before you start kungfu proper. Self-manifested chi flow and appropriate dynamic patterns like "Merry-Go-Round" and "Drawing the Moon" (please refer to my chi kung books) can help you shed a few pounds without having to follow a strict diet. "Golden Bridge" is a wonderful exercise to strengthen your arms and legs.
If you have to start kungfu now, Wuzu Kungfu or Yang Style Taijiquan is a recommended choice. But you have to practise genuine Wuzu Kungfu or genuine Yang Style Taijiquan.
What kinds of exercises would you suggest to build speed and strength?
The Eastern approach to building speed and strength is quite different from that of the west. Hence you may find my answer unusual. Philosophically speaking, any exercise can be used to build speed and strength, because speed and strength are "skills" (or "gong" in Chinese), in contrast to "techniques" ("fa") which correspond to the physical form of the exercise. For example, executing a thrust punch or a side kick is a technique; how fast and powerful the punch or kick is involves skill.
To increase speed and strength, the following factors are necessary: the mind is focussed and relaxed, the muscles are flexible, chi is flowing harmoniously (which in this case and in western terms, particualarly refers to the uninterrupted flow of mental impulses along the nerves), energy can be channelled to the required parts efficiently, toxic waste can be disposed off adequately, and there is sufficient reserve of energy.
If you understand this, you will understasnd why running and weight lifting are not typical kungfu ways to develop speed and strength (although they are sometimes used as ad hoc means). Running and weight lifting, among other things, make the mind and muscles tensed, interrupt smooth energy flow, and extravagantly expend energy instead of conserving it. The ability to run fast and lift heavier weight is the result of improved speed and strength, not the cause.
Let us take a simple kungfu exercise called "Thirty Punches"; you shouldn't have any difficulty seeing how it promotes the necessary factors mentioned above, thus increasing speed and strength.
First the student performs "Lifting the Sky" for about 10 to 20 times. If this is done correctly (which of course is more than merely performing the external form), his mind will be focussed and relaxed, his muscles flexible, and his chi flowing harmoniously. (Incidentally, this illustrates why this Lifting the Sky exercise is so wonderful; you can acheive so many things in such a simple, direct and effective way.)
Then he "sits" on the Horse-Riding Stance. He should have practised this stance alone for a few months previously so that by the time he employs it as a base for his Thirty Punches, he would have a fairly solid base without tensing any muscles, and have accumulated some vital energy at his dan tian or abdominal energy field. He closes his eyes for a while and focuses his mind at his dan tian; if he has done his home work well in his previous stance training, he would feel the vibrancy of his ball of energy there.
He takes a slow deep breath, feeling the energy flowing in from the cosmos through his nose into his dan tian. Then he executes a thrust punch, shouting "herit" in the process with the sound coming not from his throat but from his abdomen. This shouting is one effective way to dispose off "stale energy", or in western terms, the waste product of the work done.
Surprising it may be to many westerners, initially the studnet should NOT use any strength in executing his punch, but visualize a stream of energy flow from his dan tian through his shoulder, elbow and arm, and shooting out from his fist in the direction of his punch. He repeats the procedure for thirty punches, then proceeds to Standing Meditation with his mind gently focussing at his abdominal dan tian.
If he practises this Thirty Punches daily for six months, he would have developed remarkable speed and internal force. If he does this devotedly for six years, he would be so fast and powerful that he could kill an ordinary person with just one punch (although by then he would not want to do it), without the victim knowing where the strke comes from.
Nevertheless, after a few months of practice, his teacher would probably advise him to proceed to another type of training because such speed and power to injure is not applicable in our modern world, and the student's time will be better spent on something more rewarding for himself and for others.
Can you please tell me something about qin-na?
— Ron, USA
Qin-na is a wonderful art and manifests the Shaolin philosophy of compassion. When you use qin-na, you can effectively subdue an opponent and stop him from further fighting even when you have let go the grip, without having to hurt him unnecessarily. This is because the "na" aspect of qin-na eliminates the opponent's fighting ability, but, unlike in other forms of stopping the opponent from further fighting such as breaking his neck or leg, the qin-na injury can be remedied very quickly, sometimes within minutes.
Firstly, it is worthwhile to know that qin-na is quite unique, and different from holds and locks although superficially they may appear similar. When holding or locking an opponent, you cannot effectively stop him from further fighting, because once you release your hold or lock, which you have to eventually because you do not want to be held or locked to the opponent all the time, he is free to fight again.
There are three categories of qin-na techniques, which are, literally translated from the Chinese, (1) separating tendons, (2) wronging joints, and (3) gripping vital points.
When you separate your opponent's tendons, which actually means tearing the muscles that control crucial movements, you stop those movements. For exanople, by tearing the muscles of the shoulder, you disable the movement of that arm.
Wronging joints is dislocating joints. If you dislocate an opponent's ankle, he would be unable to fight effectively.
Gripping vital points refers to gripping important energy points which can cause numbness of the respective limb or more seriously damage internal organs.
The compassionate part of qin-na is that all these injuries, including damaged internal organs, can be remedied by a master.
Perhaps more important than the qin-na techniques is the internal force involved. If you don't have sufficient internal force, you may be unable to tear muscles, dislocate joints or damage vital points. Such force is often developed through Eagle Claw or Tiger Claw training.