Sifu Wong demonstrating a Yang Style Taijiquan pattern called “Low Single Whip” against a Shaolin kicking attack called “Yellow Bird Hops up Branch”

Question 1

I have for the last 5 years practiced Kungfu, Tai Chi and a couple of other martial arts and I have noticed something. With the Tai Chi I have seen quite a few people (1-2 dozen) who can perform all the movements in Tai Chi with little or no difficulty (I know from experience that these movements are taxing on the legs and the mind) and have been told that Tai Chi has many benefits, one of which is physical fitness. Yet I have seen many people with weight problems who have been practicing for years.

I have also seen people who can perform the Tai Chi movements with great ease yet can't do a single situp without struggling and can't even run a few feet without wheezing. Now I am not knocking Tai Chi as a beneficial exercise, but I do have to ask if the benefits aerobically are all that great? Sure these people probally wern't getting a fat free diet but not all the ones I have seen were overweight, just unfit.

— Simon, Australia


Your observation is very apt. What these people practice is not real Tai Chi Chuan (spelt as Taijiquan in romanized Chinese) but a debased form, which for the sake of contrasting with real Tai Chi Chuan, I would call Tai Chi dance.

Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art. Hence, by definition, if someone does not have internal force and does not know combat application, he or she cannot be practicing Tai Chi Chuan.

Tai Chi dance is the external Tai Chi Chuan movements without any internal force and combat application. The unfortunate thing is that most Tai Chi dancers do not realize they are only dancing Tai Chi external movements; many of them are in the delusion they are practicing one of the greatest martial arts of the world.

Actually today very few people practice genuine Tai Chi Chuan; most people, including those in China, do Tai Chi dancing. Some even add music to the dance.

There are many reasons why Tai Chi Chuan has degenerated into Tai Chi dance. One reason is that there are very few genuine Tai Chi Chuan masters today. Secondly, students are not willing to undergo the tough training that genuine Tai Chi Chuan demands. Thirdly, Tai Chi dancing schools are quite plentiful everywhere. It is quite easy to become a Tai Chi dance student or even a Tai Chi dance instructor. If you know some external Tai Chi movements, even if you have just learnt them for three weeks, and especially if you are Chinese, you can easily start your own Tai Chi class.

In my oppinion, the benefits of doing Tai Chi dance is mainly social; its health and fitness benefits are minimal. Unlike other forms of dancing, like modern disco or classical dance drama, Tai Chi dancing does not need much stretching and vigorous actions. It is no surprise that many Tai Chi dancers cannot do situps or run a few feet.

But genuine Tai Chi Chuan practitioners are different. They are not only physically fit, emotionally stable and mentally fresh, they may even become stronger and healthier as they grow older. And they do not have to go on diet, do situps or run a few miles to be fit. They are fit because they do chi kung, which literaly means "energy work".

My website Taijiquan is Not a Dance will provide some useful information on how one may convert Tai Chi dance to Tai Chi Chuan. I wish to clarify that my answer here is not meant to belittle those who do Tai Chi dance; it is actually a sincere attempt to make them realize that in terms of health benefits and combat efficiency, they are wasting their time. But not all is lost. If they can put some internal force and combat application into their dancing movements, they may change their Tai Chi dance into Tai Chi Chuan.

Question 2

Although Taijiquan should incorporate the spirit of Qigong, how separate are they? Would it be advisable to start with Qigong, and then move on to Taijiquan and Kungfu?

— Graham, Ireland


Qigong (chi kung) is the art of energy training. Kungfu means martial art. There are many styles of kungfu, and Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) is one of the most important, although many people today practice Taijiquan, or Tai Chi as they call it, without the martial dimension. The most widely practiced form of kungfu is Shaolin Kungfu and its deriviatives, so much so that when the term kungfu is used unqualified, it often refers to Shaolin Kungfu.

Most kungfu styles, including genuine Taijiquan, employ qigong. This is only logical, for without energy training, a kungfu style would easily become a kungfu dance, especially when combat application is also not taught. When you learn genuine Taijiquan and other styles of genuine kungfu, you would also learn qigong, but today this is usually not the case because for various reasons qigong is seldom taught in Tai Chi and other kungfu classes.

It is therefore a very good move if you learn qigong first, before registering yourself in a Tai Chi or (other) kungfu class. However, make sure you learn genuine qigong, which is not easy to find, as what is taught today in both the East and the West is generally qigong gymnastics or qigong dance. The crucial difference between genuine qigong and qigong gymnastics or dance is that the former works on energy whereas the latter works on muscles albeit in a gentle way.

Besides serving martial arts, qigong has other useful functions too, such as health promotion, mind expansion and spiritual cultivation. Hence, many people who may not be interested in martial arts may also practice qigong.

Question 3

What do you think of the following opinions expressed in an interview? “It's now pretty widely accepted that unless you have a martial background in your Chinese, you really can't translate written stuff about the martial arts”.


It depends on the level of the martial art to be translated. If it is straight-forward material like physical movements, which actually form the bulk of translated martial art works in the West, translators without a martial art background can still do a good job.

If it involves internal dimensions, like energy and mind, which are halmarks distinguishing genuine Chinese martial arts from martial arts of other nationalities, not just a martial art background but one with direct experience with these internal dimensions, is necessary.

It would be difficult, for example, for an author without any experience of internal force to explain how internal force is acquired in Chinese martial art training. If he merely translates, even correctly, from classical Chinese martial art texts, the significance of which he himself does not understand, his readers will also find his words hollow.

Question 4

“The two teachers who I've spent the most time with speak pretty functionally and mechanistically to me, and they're obviously carrying on a tradition within the training that they've had. One of them is a member of the Beijing Chen style society and one of them is a widely recognised martial arts master in China, so I think what you're calling ”traditional“ would fall more under the term ”Western perspective".


I am not exactly sure what the author means in the crucial line about “traditional” and “Western perspective”. If he meant that what Westerners considered “traditional” of the Chinese were actually the same as their (Westerners') own ways of looking at things, I would disagree.

For example, the common and fundamental qigong expression “yi sou dan tian” which is literally “will guards energy field” is perfectly intelligible to a Chinese student steep in traditional qigong language, but would be meaningless to anyone (including a Chinese) looking at the expression from a Western perspective.

Even the figurative (and expanded) translation of the term, “forget about eveything else, and put your mind (or thought) at the spot about two inches below your navel”, does not make much sense to anyone from a Western perspective, but those (including Westerners) who have some knowledge of traditional Chinese concepts would know its meaning.

One-finger Shooting Zen

Unless the author himself has direct experience of internal force, it would be difficult for him to explain or translate that internal force can be developed through practicing One-Finger Shooting Zen

Question 5

“A lot of things have been glorified and mystified which are considered more straight-forward by the Northern Chinese in particular. Actually, one of my teachers uses terms that I don't like because they're too reductionist: Where I will refer to Peng strength, a lot of times when he and I are doing things, he will say ”Oh, yes, bring the leg strength here,“ and I balk at just ”leg strength“: he's more simplistic than I am!”


The Chinese have been known to be practical. A term like dan tian, or energy field, may appear to the unintiated as glorified and mystified because they do not know what it means. Actually the term says simply and directly what it is intended to say, i.e. a field (which is an area, to be distinguished from an energy point) where a pearl of vital energy accumulates. I do not know what to do if someone asks me to bring the Peng strength here, but I would understand if he uses the term leg strength.

Question 6

“Wang Xiang Zhai, the founder of I-Chuan, was also well known for talking in terms of force vectors and so forth in exactly the same way, saying that most people are distracted by all the talk about Qi and nine thises and five thats and he went right to it.”


Again, I am not sure what the author wishes to say. But I am quite sure that what Sifu Wang Xiang Zhai meant was “don't just talk about qi; do real qigong and get the practical result”.

Question 7

What is your oppionion of the following to train combat. First of all take the fighting combinations your sifu gives you and those derived from your forms, and practice them slowly in the air. Later on have a non-resisting partner play the target or the attacker depending on the offensive or defensive nature of the combination. As the months go by increase the speed and the degree of resistance your partner gives you, as well as varying the combinations in target and angles.

— Shang Wu, USA


This is a good approach to combat training. In addition, you should also spend some time developing force, such as practicing the Three Circles Stance daily for at least a few months, as well as employ useful tactics and strategies, such as avoiding the opponents' strong points and attacking their weakness.

Question 8

I also started a small tai chi club, and the first day I had a student with no years of training, who only saw books and videos, and he also had improper technique. Despite this he questioned everything I said, told me I was teaching things in the wrong order, and that my curriculum was wrong. I was so angry and put off by his presumption that I told him he should either change his attitude, or go away. He did go away, for which I am glad.


You did the right thing. Anyone who disrespectfully questions the ability of the teacher to teach has no right to enter the training ground. Even if a student is more knowledgeable or skillful than the teacher, he should still be respectful to the teacher if he wants to learn anything from him.

Question 9

However, since I am not a master like you, I must ask what your view on such behavior is. Was I too harsh? What was he thinking by coming in on the first day with no knowledge and correcting the instructor?


You are certainly not harsh. Someone else would have thrown him out of a window. If you face a similar situation in future, tell the disrespectful student firmly that in kungfu, which includes Taijiquan, a teacher does not merely teach techniques, he teaches a way of living according to kungfu values, and the most important value in kungfu culture is showing respect to the teacher. If he does not accept these values, he is free to leave.

That rude student might be thinking he was doing you a favour by coming to learn, or that instructors knew not much than their students. Or he might be thinking that learning Taijiquan was like reading a novel or doing ballroom dancing. He definitely did not realize that learning Taijiquan demanded much discipline and effort, and a willingness to listen to a teacher.

Drunken Kungfu

Sifu Wong just manages to avoid a sophistiated kick from Goh Kok Hin. Both the attack and the defend patterns are from Drunken Eight Immortals.

Question 10

Why do many students shy away from learning the fighting aspects of the art? I for one would feel cheated if an instructor said he would not teach pushhands, tai chi self defense, or san da.


One main reason is that many people, especially in the West, do not know that Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art.

Another reason is that they expected some gentle exercise for relaxation, and are not prepared for the hard work that practicing the fighting aspects of Tai Chi Chuan would demand.

Thirdly, there are few Tai Chi Chuan masters, although there may be many Tai Chi dance instructors who have given the false impression that Tai Chi is play.

Question 11

Could you give me more information on Choy-Li-Fatt Kung Fu and Drunken Kung Fu? I would appreciate it if you could give their form, force or skill, application, and philosophy and history.

— Jeffrey, USA


Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu is a style of Southern Shaolin Kungfu founded by Chen Harng in honour of his three masters, Choy Ah Fook, Li Yau San and the Venerable Ching Choe (“Fatt” means “Buddha” and referred to Ching Choe). Chen Harng was a patriot who contributed much in the premature Taiping Rebellion and later the successful Chinese Revolution led by Dr Sun Yat Sen.

In fact, the original kungfu sets of Choy-Li-Fatt were named after the following eight Chinese characters (spelt here in Cantonese pronounciation, as most of the Choy-Li-Fatt exponents were Cantonese speaking): Tai, Ping, Tien, Kok, Cheong, Sau, Man, Lin — which means “Long Live the Heavenly Kingdom of Eternal Peace”. (“Taiping” is “Eternal Peace” in Chinese.) Many westerners may be interested to know that many Choy-Li-Fatt exponents were Christians.

Choy-Li-Fatt kungfu forms are long-reaching, wide-spreading and “hard” — ideal for revolutionaries fighting mass warfare. Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu is famous for its variety of weapons, like the staff and the Big Knife. The Big Knife techniques used by the elite 18th Chinese Kuomintang Army were from Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu.

Force training in Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu usually uses the hard approach; the soft approach like chi kung and medittation, which takes a longer time, was not suitable to the early Choy-Li-Fatt masters in their revolutionary enviroment.

Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu is very effective for combat, especially for fighting against many people at the same time. The comparatively long-range movements of Choy-Li-Fatt techniques may expose some vital spots of the exponent and therefore may be a weakness for a novice, but in the hands of a master the exposure may be a trick to trap his opponent as the master can readily cover up and counter-strike the opponent when the latter tries to exploit the exposure. Fundamental themes in Choy-Li-Fatt philosophy are speed and power. Choy-Li-Fatt movements are also very useful to sportsmen for loosening their joints and stretching their muscles.

Drunken Kungfu is found in most kungfu styles. Usually it is incorporated in a kungfu set or sets in a particular style. For example, in the Choe Family Wing Choon that I learned from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, there is a set called Drunken Eight Immortals. I believe that it is actually not a Wing Choon set, but a Choy-Li-Fatt set, as the master who transmitted this line of Wing Choon Kungfu, Yik Kam, was originally a Choy-Li-Fatt master.

The prototype of Drunken Eight Immortals is found in Taoist Kungfu. There are no Drunken Kungfu sets in Taijiquan and Baguazhang, the two internal styles that draw inspirtation from Taoist philosophy, but some movements in Taijiquan, such as those used for “fa-jing” or manifesting internal force, and the famous agile footwork of Baguazhang resemble, and probably originated from, the respective skills and techniques of Taoist Drunken Kungfu.

Drunken Kungfu is also found in kungfu styles of the Buddhist tradition, such as Drunken Lohan in Shaolin Kungfu; and Drunken Mantis in Praying Mantis Kungfu. Praying Manits Kungfu actually has both Buddhist and Taoist traditions.

Besides unarmed sets, there are also Drunken weapon sets in the various kungfu styles. Tthe most famous of the Drunken weapon sets are Drunken Sword and Drunken Staff.

The halmarks of Drunken Kungfu are deception and agility. Its kungfu movements resembling those of a drunken person are deceptive; it may not be easy for an opponent to anticipate the movements of the Drunken Kungfu exponent. The movements allow the exponent to be very agile, often dodging an opponent's attack with body motion, without moving the feet. Waist power is essential for Drunken Kungfu movements.

Drunken Kungfu makes good use of internal force. Force training in Drunken Kungfu is quite different from that in Choy-Li-Fatt, which frequently employs sandbags, poles and weights. Depending on the kungfu style from which the Drunken Kungfu is found, it may involve special chi kung exercises, meditation, stance standing, and gripping and breaking small, round objects like nuts and stones.

Question 12

As an art of self defense, do you think that kungfu has gotten better or worse through the year. In other words, if we were to take the best kungfu fighter of today and match him against the best kungfu fighter a few thousand years back, who would win?

— Danny, USA


As an art of self-defence, kungfu, I mean real kungfu, has become worse through the years. A real kungfu master today, for example, would be no match for an ordinary Shaolin kungfu monk two hundred years ago. This monk in turn would lose against another Shaolin kungfu monk a thousand years ago. I am not sure about the outcome between a typical kungfu figher a thousand years ago and one a few thousand years ago.

Question 13

I ask this because kungfu seems so beautiful, yet today it does not seem to be practical in term of actual hand to hand combat. Kungfu seems to be more of a dance, whereas karate, boxing, wrestling are more practical. I'm not a martial artist. But it seems that the beautiful kungfu styles if actually work in real combat would be fantanstic.


You are perfectly right if you refer to kungfu dance, and not real kungfu. Although real kungfu today is not as effective as in the past in combat, it is still beautiful and practical for self-defence. Without being disrespectful to other martial arts, I sincerely believe that real kungfu masters have a higher chance of beating other martial art masters in combat.

B. K. Frantzis' book, “The Power of Internal Martial Arts”, gives some interesting descriptions of encounters between kungfu masters and masters of other martial arts in modern times. He describes, for example, that although he was a karate champion at his prime age, he was not only handled like a child by the 83-year Baguazhang master Wang Shu Jin, but “several of his students, from fifteen to seventy of age, beat the stuffing out me. I could not believe it! Men and women both were able to hit me with no pulling of my punches. ... I remember distinctly thinking, what are they going to do next, bring out a small child to beat me up?”

He also describes that 3rd, 4th and 5th dan black-belts, who represent the strongest active black-belts in combat, go to the Japanese master Kenichi Sawal to further their fighting abilities, and what they learn is not karate or jujitsu but Hsing Yi Kungfu, one of the internal Chinese martial arts.

Real kungfu styles actually work in real combat — now as well as in the past. There is nothing fantastic about this; it is to be expected — fighting styles that had been used effectively in real fighting, and not just friendly sparring, by the largest population of the world for the longest period of known history must be effective.

What is fantastic is that today over 80 percent of those who say or think they practice kungfu, actually practice kungfu gymnastics, kungfu dance or kungfu-like karate, kungfu-like taekwondo or kungfu-like kickboxing. Real kungfu is very rare today. Not many people have the opportunity or perseverence like B. K. Frantzis and Kenichi Sawal to learn from real kungfu masters. In his training with Sifu Wang Shu Jin, for example, Frantzis, who is now a well known Baguazhang master in America, was asked to remain in a Bagua stance until further instruction; he persevered until he collapsed, only to be drenched with cold water and asked to resume the static position again. Many students today expect tea and cookies instead of perseverence at their training.



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