SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DECEMBER 1998 PART 2
For some time now I have heard and read about amazing feats of ability, some by Shaolin monks, some by people that were unassociated with Shaolin or Wushu. A very reliable friend of mine told me how he and his friends were studying under a 16 year old Shaolin boy who, after concluding a lesson, would walk right off the second story balcony of their barracks and would also periodically jump over an 8 ft fence. I have also read about men in Taiwan who can fall out of 3rd story windows and walk away.
Okinawan Karatekas are able to take powerful blows to a specified body part without taking any tissue damage, a phenomena that coincides with a story I read about a Ninjitsu Master who could make a chosen part of his body resist being cut by a sword. Aikido practitioners are fond of “anchoring” their legs and stand absolutely still while several men push on the practitioners' body.
Then there are Tai Chi masters whom I hear are able to generate great amounts of force. Last of all, I have heard of an exercise called “Shaolin Cosmos Hands” which when practiced enough, gives the practitioner very combative as well as healing abilities.
I have drawn the temporary hypothesis that Chi is capable of generating force and healing various illnesses, though I have never observed the phenomena first hand. As a Grandmaster you must have much experience with Chi, and I am sure that you know several things that must be kept away from the general public, which I understand and respect. However I was wondering if you could give me at least some of your thoughts and experiences on the subject?
Unfortunately in America, good, genuine Masters are rare, and similar documentations are even rarer. I wish to study some of the Chinese arts, Tai Chi Quan in particular, and although books on the forms are abundant, I am afraid to attempt to learn for fear of learning incorrectly and missing the “essence” of the art.
— Eric, USA
Although there are occasions where tricks are used by charlatans, the feats of real masters are true. I can say this with force and conviction because not only I have personally witnessed some of these feats, my own masters, myself and some of my disciples can perform some of them. I also know some tricks which stuntmen often employ for their demonstrations.
I hesitate to quote examples because, understandably, almost no one would believe them. I would also not want to elaborate, as you have correctly mentioned, they involve secrets strictly not meant for public consumption. But I would mention the following two cases.
My sipak, i.e. a senior classmate of my sifu or master, could walk through a wall! I did not witness this feat myself, nor had I the opportunity to meet my sipak in person. This and other fantastic feats performed by my sipak were related to me by people who had personally witnessed them and whom I have no reason to suspect. Placed in a different situation I would not have believed it.
The second case involved my sifu, myself and my student. My student, who learned kungfu from me many years ago, met my sifu and me having a snack at the esplanade in Penang (often called the Garden of the Orient). That studnet was in deep trouble; and he sought my help. I asked him to appeal for help from my sifu.
While the student was talking to me, I noticed my sifu mumbling something, possibly a mantra, then blew a breath onto the student. Almost instantly and visibly the student brightened up, and soon he left. My sifu, who is a highly spiritual person and has saved many people, told me that had the student not met us, the student would soon die! He asked me whether I had noticed a thin red line running down the student's forehead. I did, and I also knew it was not there before. That red line was my sifu's gift that saved the student's life.
The crucial factors behind the masters' genuine feats are energy and mind. Masters have developed tremendous amount of energy and their mind is very powerful. The Shaolin Cosmos Palm is one such art to develop energy and mind. I happen to have practiced the Shaolin Cosmos Palm, and have employed it to help many people recover from so-called incurable diseases like heart disorders and cancer.
Masters are rare not only in the West, but also in the East, including in China, not just nowadays but always. This is logical; it takes many, many years of hard work to become a master.
You are wise to want to learn from a master. Unless you are already familiar with the art, learning from books, even good ones, only give you the outward forms and not the essence. This, of course, does not necessary mean that books are useless. You can derive much benefit from a good book, which acts like a map, showing you not only the way but also what the destination will be like when you have finally arrived. But no matter how good the map is, you have to do the travelling.
I think I have a tremendous amount of chi, that is, energy that I have been building through time by concentration. My question is how can I use it properly.
— Eric, Canada
Use it for good, and never for evil. This may appear to be a simple and even trite statement, and you may think it does not answer your question, but I can tell you, in my capacity as a chi kung grandmaster, it is one of the best pieces of advice you can ever have.
I would like to know if anyone in your organisation has heard of Wu Zu Quan / 5 Ancestors Shaolin Kung-Fu and its grandmaster Chee (made a dato by China recently) from Malaysia.
— Mark, Ireland
Wuzuquan or Five Ancestors Kungfu is a style of Shaolin Kungfu initiated by Bai Yi Feng during the Yuan Dynasty. It is quite difficult to classify it as Northern Shaolin or Southern Shaolin. Athough it developed from the northern Shaolin Manastery in Henan (pronounced like “Her-nan”, and not “Hi-nan”), its features are closer to Southern Shaolin Kungfu than to Northern Shaolin.
This is because another master, Cai Yi Ming, who contributed much to its later development came from the southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian in south China. Hence, Wuzu Kungfu is sometimes called Yi-Ming Kungfu. As many of its exponents are Fujian speaking, Wuzu is also called Goh Chor, which is the pronunciation in Fujian dialect.
Wuzu, or Goh Chor, means Five Ancestors. It is so called because this style originated when Bai Yi Feng combined five of the best Shaolin styles of that time into one style. The five styles were White Crane, Taizu (or First Emperor Kungfu), Lohan, Monkey and Damo (or Bodhidharma Kungfu, in honour of the First Patriarch of Shaolin Kungfu).
The most important set in Wuzu Kungfu is San Zhan, which means “Three Battles”. This set is used to train internal force as well as teach combat techniques. The advanced set called Sanchin found in many karate styles is derived from the San Zhan of Wuzu.
The Patriarch of Wuzu Kungfu (in Malaysia) is Sifu Chee Kim Thong, who was also my Wuzu teacher. In recognization of his distinguished service to the community, Sifu Chee was made a “datok” by Malaysia, not China. “Datok” is a prestigious title bestowed by the King of Malaysia, and is equivalent to a knight. Wuzu exponents are well known for their internal force. Sifu Chee, for example, could stand causally in his stance, yet a few adults could not move him.
Sifu Chee's most senior disciple is Sifu Yap Cheng Hai, who is also a feng shui master. (Feng shui is the Chinese art and science of environmental energy flow.) Sifu Yap could hold his arms in front and adults could hang on them like hanging on a tree branch. As Sifu Yap is a wealthy man, he does not need to teach kungfu for a living; his involvement in it is for its love. Sifu Yap has played a leading role in the Wushu Federation of Malaysia, and was its Chief Judge in wushu competitions for many years.
I have been studying the martial arts for approx. 13 years. I am very interested in the Hoquan/Monkey style.
— Doqui, USA
Houquan is generally meant for the smaller size against physically bigger and stronger opponents, although there are versions suitable for the bigger size. Tongbiquan, or Through-Arm Kungfu, which draws its inspiration from the gorilla instead of the monkey, is one example.
Monkey Style Kungfu is well known for its agility, deceptive movements and ability to use minimum force against maximum strength. A monkey stylist, for example, does not normally block an attack, as in karate or taekwondo; he deflects it following the attacking momentum. If you push him or press him down, he almost never fights back, but pretends to fall and kicks you at your shin (if he is good-natured) or groin as he retreats. (Please refer to past series for more information on Monkey Style Kungfu.)
I am in my forties and I would like to learn how to stretch my tendons. What exercises or techniques are there that will promote the stretching of tendons so that I can do the splits and kick above my head. How fast should one try to stretch tendons, could I force myself into the splits or would this just tear the tendons and muscles.
— Paul, Canada
In your fourties you are comparatively young. Almost any stretching exercises, like those explained in my “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, will help you stretch your muscles and tendons. You should progress gradually; if you forcefully tear your muscles or tendons, your would hinder your progress.
While one should have flexible and strong muscles and tendons, I consider that unless you intend to become a performing acrobat, the time spent to accomplish doing the splits and kicking above your head, will be better spent to attain good health and vitality for everyday living. Take note that those who can do the splits or kick above their heads may not necessarily be healthy and full of vitality. The best way to good health and vitality is practicing genuine chi kung.
Do you still hold the abandoned practice of past masters preserving part of their art as their own martial knowledge?
— Jeffrey, USA
Preserving part of their art from deserving students has never been the practice of true masters. On the other hand, bogus masters create the impression that they are holding back secret teaching often because they actually do not have much to teach.
Different masters may have different concepts of what deserving students are, but most, if not all, will agree that they must have at least the following two criteria. The students must be of good character and must have attained the required developmental stage.
In the teaching of the Small Universe, for example, students must first have accumulated sufficient vital energy at their abdominal energy field at qihai, before their master will teach them the next stage of directing this energy to the lower energy field at huiyin. If the students are not ready, jumping to the next step may not only spoil their chance of acquiring the real effect of the art (although they may know the technique) but may sometimes be harmful. Many students do not realize this fundamental fact, and think that their teacher holds back the secret of the art when actually they themselves have not followed their teacher's instruction to practice adequately.
It may be a surprise to many people, but the crucial point in the making of a new master from the student level is not his teacher's teaching but his own practice. The one point that most masters will agree, even though their views on other things may be drastically different, is this: the key to being a master is not learn, learn and learn, but practice, practice and practice.
Also, can you tell me the lineage of Sifu Lai Chin Wah's Hoong Family Kung Fu lineage from Chee Seen?
My sifu, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, was not only a great fighter but also highly righteous. He was actually better known by his nickname Ye Sook, or Uncle Righteousness. He learned from three masters, namely Ng Yew Loong, Chu Khuen, and Lou Chan Wei. All these three masters were the best known Southern Shaolin masters of their time.
My sifu, Uncle Rigteousness, was an idealist; he sought and learned from the best. Ng Yew Loong learned from Chan Fook, a Shaolin monk from the southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian province, who returned to lay life. I could not trace beyond Chan Fook.
The Venerable Chee Seen was the last abbot of the southern Shaolin Monastery before it was razed to the ground by the Qing army. Hence Chan Fook could have learned from one of Chee Seen's disciple in the monastery.
My sifu, Uncle Righteousness, passed on to me as a legacy a secret kungfu set known as “Essence of Shaolin”. This kungfu set is reputed to be the special set of the Venerable Harng Yin, the most senior disciple of Chee Seen. It was from this kungfu set that I learned the poetic couplet I mentioned in the webpage Amazing Techniques in Shaolin Kungfu, namely, in Cantonese, “miu fatt fatt chong shang miu fatt, kei kung kung seong kin kei kung”. It means “marvelous techniques beget marvelous techniques; wondrous skills generate wondrous skills”.
I've heard of Hong Xi Guan combining Black Tiger Kung Fu and White Crane Kung Fu into one style now known as Hoong Family Kung Fu. Is that true?
It is true that Hong Xi Guan combined Black Tiger Kungfu and White Crane Kungfu into one style, but it is not true that this was how Hoong Family Kungfu came about.
Hoong Family Kungfu is actually Southern Shaolin Kungfu. It is named after Hung Xi Guan, prononced as Hoong Hei Khoon in Cantonese. Hoong Hei Khoon was one of the most distinguished disciples of Chee Seen. After the burning of the southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian, Hoong Hei Khoon escaped to Guangdong, possibily in the district town of Fatt San, and set up a kungfu school called, in Cantonese, Siu Lam Hoong Koon, which means Hoong's Shaolin Institute. The kungfu taught here was later referred to as Hoong Family Kungfu.
The three fundamental kungfu sets in Hoong Family Kungfu are “Kung Tze Fook Fu”, “Fu Hok Seong Yin” and “Tit Seen Khuen”, which means “Taming the Tiger”, “Tiger and Crane” and “Iron Wire Set”. The “Tiger and Crane” set was derived from the combination of the tiger style of Hoong Hei Khoon, and the crane style of his wife, Fong Chet Leong. The “Tiger and Crane” set is also the fundamental set in the Hoong Family Kungfu taught by my sifu, Uncle Righteousness.
From the Internet, a 9th generation disciple of Hoong Family Kung Fu says that actually Hong Xi Guan invented Hoong Family Kung Fu, naming it after the first emperor of the Ming dynasty.
This could be possible, but personally I don't think it was so. Hoong Hei Khoon, or Hung Xi Guan in Mandarin pronounciation, did not invent any kungfu style; he taught what he had learned from Chee Seen. Chinese literature also shows that during and after his time, his style of kungfu was called Shaolin, and not Hoong Family. The term Hoong Family Kungfu, or Hoong Ka Khuen, became popular only recently.
Today, the kungfu style of Wong Fei Hoong, who was two generations behind Hoong Hei Khoon, is generally regarded as typical Hoong Family Kungfu. But Wong Fei Hoong himself called his kungfu Shaolin, and not Hoong Family. More significantly although it may not be generally known, Wong Fei Hoong's succession line did not come from Hoong Hei Khoon but from Luk Ah Choy, who was Hoong Hei Khoon's classmate under Chee Seen.
In a similar way, present students of Chin Wah Kungfu Association, named after my sifu Lai Chin Wah, call their kungfu Hoong Ka or Hoong Family, but I am definitely sure that my sifu called his kungfu Shaolin.
I can still remember clearly that one night, although I was then only about 10 years old, my sifu told us (my classmates and me) as follows, “Many people have asked me what ”ka“ (family) our kungfu is; I told them ours is Shaolin.” Anyone visiting our training hall would have no doubt about that. Every night before our kungfu training, every student would offer a joss stick to Chee Seen, the First Patriarch of Southern Shaolin Kungfu, and whose name means “Extreme Kindness”. I can remember that clearly because I was the one who tidied the altar and lighted the oil lamp.
Sifu, I've started learning Taiji. We went to 5 schools that offered it but after seeing their interpretation of the Lohan pattern (extremely karate-like) we decided to learn from videos. I know it sounds vain but we decided to learn by ourselves first so we could properly tell what to look for in an instructor.
— Ron, USA
The Lohan set is not found in Taijiquan. It could be added by someone who did not fully understand Taijiquan or Lohanquan (Lohan Kungfu). If you examine the issue historically, it was precisely because the great Zhang San Feng found Shaolin Lohanquan not ideal for his purpose that he modified it, which led to the development of Taijiquan.
Others, whose purpose and situation are different from Zhang San Feng's, may find Lohanquan more suitable. One should, therefore, practice Taijiquan or Lohanquan, or any martial art (not necessarily Chinese kungfu) which is ideal for his purpose.
Genuine Taijiquan and Lohanquan are complete arts themselves; they do not need to incorporate anything from outside, and good Taijiquan or Lohanquan is never karate-like.
One who introduces Lohanquan into Taijiquan, or vice versa, is an example of what the Chinese proverb says as “knowing the surface but not knowing the inside”. Because of his limited knowledge (although this limited knowledge may be much, when compared with what his students and the general public know) he honestly thinks he is doing his art and his students a great service, when actually he is doing a great dis-service, because without his knowing he is hindering the potential development of his students (although his studnets may have some little gains initially), and he is debasing his art, undoing the many centuries of development past masters have accumulated.
The above explanation applies to those practicing genuine Taijiquan or Lohanquan. If one is doing Taiji dance or Lohan dance, which is actually the norm today, adding something from one art to the other is generally beneficial. Further, the explanation applies to arts, like Taijiquan and Lohanquan, that have already reached a very, very high level of development. In the case of a low level art, incorporating something useful into it is generally good. A very rough analogy is as follows. If you can speak Chinese very well, you need not worry about putting English grammar into your Chinese, or vice versa. But if you hardly knew Chinese or English, mixing the two languages together might sometimes serve your purpose better.
In your particular case, learning some Taijiquan (but not Lohanquan) may be useful. This of course does not imply that Tsoi Li Hoi Kungfu or its parental Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu is a low level art. In fact, Choy-Li-Fatt is highly developed, and is one of the most famous martial arts in the world today. It was modified from Shaolin Kungfu by by the great masters Chen Harng and Cheong Hoong Sing for a particular purpose -- combat efficiency, especially fighting en mass in revolutionary warfare.
If one's aim is combat efficiency, which in fact is why one practices kungfu, Choy-Li-Fatt is an excellent choice. But if you wish to go beyond combat efficiency, such as internal force training and spiritual cultivation, Choy-Li-Fatt and many other kungfu styles by themselves may be inadequate. This is because the early Choy-Li-Fat masters, in their revolutionary situations, did not pay much attention to such dimensions as these did not serve their purpose well, and their decisions, thoughts and practice have set a definite direction for the development of their art.
The energy flow and meditative aspects of genuine Taijiquan will provide where Choy-Li-Fatt may lack. I must mention that this is not a slight on Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu. In other aspects, such as stretching muscles and improving agility, Choy-Li-Fatt may be better than Taijiquan. But you must practice genuine Taijiquan where energy flow and meditation are integral features. If you merely do Taiji dance, you would probably waste your time because your own kungfu style can provide you with agility, balance, gracefulness and stamina more effectively than Taiji dance can provide.
Alternatively you can practice genuine Shaolin Kungfu instead of Taijiquan for your purpose. Personally, all other things being equal, I think this is a better approach because both the philosophy and practice of Shaolin Kungfu are more conducive to Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu.
Choy-Li-Fatt was evolved from Shaolin Kungfu, which originally had (and still have) all the internal aspects. Choy-Li-Fatt masters did not make use of these internal aspects not because they were not there but because they were not needed. Now, when situations have changed, you may want to go back to your source and make good use of the treasure which was originally there.
It is a good idea to learn from video for your mentioned purpose, so long as you remember that unless one is already familiar with the art, learning from video only gives him the outward form, which is in many ways the least important aspect of the art.
The more imporatnt aspects of Taijiquan and Lohanquan as well as other kungfu styles are the energy and the mind aspects, if we view kungfu from the perspectives of form, energy and mind. If we view it from the perspectives of form, force, application and philosophy, the more important aspects are force and aplication. In other words, one's kungfu form may be beautiful or his philosophy convincing, but if he has no kungfu force or is unable to apply what he has learnt in combat and his daily life, all his form and philosophy are useless.
I learned the 13 Grand Preservers several years earlier as part of my qigong training but focus-wise I like Taiji much better. At the moment I and my partner want to start at the very beginning.
I reckon that by the 13 Grand Preservers, you refer to “Shi San Tai Bao” or “Sap Sam Tai Poh” in Cantonese, the hard chi kung (qigong) exercise whereby the practitioner can take unarmed as well as armed attacks without sustaining injury. This is an advanced chi kung exercise in Choy-Li-Fatt and some other “external” Shaolin styles. It is a very good exercise for combat efficiency, and will also promote health and vitality, but it is different in nature and purpose from the flowing energy and mind concentration of Taijiquan.
You need not and should not start at the very begining of Taijiquan or any art you wish to take. You may learn and practice the external Taijiquan forms which a fresh beginner may learn, but your focus of practice as well as rate of progress will be very different.
As you are already a master yourself, you will not be bothered with such intricacies as how to move your hands and legs with grace and balance which a beginner must pay careful attention to, but focus on how to use your physical movements to generate energy flow and develop mind.
While the beginner cannot even perform the external forms properly after a few months, you should, if your training is correct, be able to experience energy flow and an increase of internal power after a few weeks. Because of your knowledge and ability, you need not follow the standard path a typical Taijiquan student will follow; you can, if you have an understanding teacher, select those aspects of the art, or sometimes reverse the normal learning procedure, to suit your aims and objectives.
Note to readers : The advice “you need not and should not start at the very begining” is given here for this particular situation. Elsewhere, when the situation is different, I may advise that “it is best to start from scratch”. If you think the two pieces of advice are contradictory, you would have failed to realize that different situations often call for different advice.
It is significant to point out that in higher teachings, such as in spiritual cultivation, words are often used provisionally. In one situation, for example, the Buddha may say that the world is an illusion. In another situation the Buddha may say that the world is empty. If you, trying to be smarter than the Buddha, argue that if the world is an illusion, it is an illusion and therefore cannot be empty, and vice versa, you would have failed to realize the Buddha's provisional use of words. In this example, the Buddha refers to the phenomenal dimension in one situation, and to the transcendental dimension in another situation.
Can you explain the structure of Taijiquan? I have basic knowledge of the difference between the Chen and Yang style, short and long but I also saw videos on the 24 forms, the 32 forms, etc.
There are a few ways to approach this topic. One way is to approach Taijiquan, or any kungfu, from the perspectives of form, energy and mind. Basically, you use the form to develop energy and mind.
The form can be mobile, such as the 24-pattern set or the 36-pattern set you mention; or static, such as zhang zhuang using the Three-Circle Stance or jing-zao which is silent sitting. When you move an arm in a moving form, for example, you focus your mind and direct your energy to flow along the arm to the fingers. When you remain in zhang zhuang, you expand your mind and increase your energy level.
Another way is to approach from the perspectives of form, force, application and philosophy. Basically, with an understanding of the philosophy of Taijiquan, you employ form to develop force for combat as well as everyday application.
For example, from its philosophy if you appreciate that Taijiquan is an internal martial art, which many people pay lip service to but do not really understand, you will realize that you cannot be practicing genuine Taijiquan if what you do, does not contribute to internal cultivation and combat efficiency.
Roughly speaking Chen Style Taijiquan is more conducive to combat efficiency, and Yang Style Taijiquan to health promotion. This, of course, does not means that Chen Style does not contribute to health, nor Yang Style is not effective for combat.
The 24-pattern set and the 36-pattern set are just two of the many tools one can use to achieve the aims and objectives of Taijiquan. One can be proficient in Taijiquan without having to know these two sets. In fact not a single great Taijiquan master in the past knew any one of these sets because these sets were invented only recently.
But these sets are very useful — if you know how to use them correctly. They can help you to become proficient in Taijiquan in a shorter time had you followed the older, othrodox sets.
The big problem is that many people who say they practice Taijiquan do not know how to use these sets correctly. Instead of using them as tools to develop energy and mind, or to develop internal force for combat and everyday application, they regard them as ends by themselves. They mistakenly think that Taiji form, which constitiutes only a part of Taijiquan, as the whole of Taijiquan. As a result they become Taiji dancers, or at best Taiji gymnasts, instead of genuine Taijiquan exponents.
To be fair, the fault often is not entirely theirs. People in general do not appreciate, or refuse to accept, the fact that genuine Taijiquan or any kungfu style was, is and will be rare; and even if one has the rare opportunity to learn from a real master, he has to put in a lot, a lot and a lot of hard work.
The situation today, especially in the West, is that one thinks he can, without any prior experience, learn genuine Taijiquan from a book or a video, and after three months start to teach it. If a genuine master is kind enough to point out his mistakes, he regards it a an insult; if he is asked to bow to his master, he thinks it outrageously beneath his dignity, especially so when there are now so many Taiji dance instructors ready to flatter him and offer tea and biscuit instead of hard work when he attends their classes.