Bird's Eye View of the northern Shaolin Monastery

Question 1

As you have informed us, most of the Shaolin kungfu you teach is the southern Shaolin system of Hoong Ka, or Hung family kungfu. Hoong Ka is a style of southern Shaolin, characterized by solid stances, powerful arms and elaborate hand techniques.

You have also informed us that most of the world-famous martial arts techniques are found in the repertoire of Shaolin kungfu. It has all the kicks of Siamese Boxing, and Taekwondo, all the throws of Judo, and all the holds of Aikido. Based on the information you provided, Hoong Ka is not a southern Shaolin system.

— Jeffry, USA


In terms of logic, your argument above may be expressed as follows

  1. A = B (where A represents Shaolin Kungfu, and B Hoong Ka);
  2. B = C (where C represents a kungfu style characterized by solid stances, powerful arms and elaborate hand techniques);
  3. A = D (where D represents a kungfu style with all the kicks of Siamese Boxing and Taekwondo, all the throws of Judo, and all the holds of Aikido).
  4. But C is not D.
  5. Therefore A (which = B = C) is not A (which = D).

In Buddhist philosophy, which provides the inspiration and explains the wisdom of the Shaolin arts,

Just a simple example, you may call this world we live in heaven, or you may call it hell, or you may call it both heaven and hell, or you may call it neither heaven nor hell, and in all the four cases you are relatively correct.

Interestingly, the latest science, quantum physics, is saying the same thing. In his classic proposal, the great modern scientist, Schrodinger, seriously says that when a live cat is placed in a box with a vessel of deadly poison, before you open the box, the cat is at the same time alive, dead, either alive or death, neither alive nor dead. The relative reality of the cat depends on your state of mind at the very moment you observe it, which actually is a basic statement in Buddhist philosophy.

Hence A can be C and also can be D, when C is not D. Shaolin Kungfu can be “characterized by solid stances, powerful arms and elaborate hand techniques”, and also can have “all the kicks of Siamese Boxing, and Taekwondo, all the throws of Judo, and all the holds of Aikido.”

If you reread the previous sentence, you may also find out a fault in your argument, which is equalling a sub-set (such as C or D) to a set (such as A). This fault becomes clearer if you translate your argument into logical terms as I have done for you at the start of this answer, and compare with what it should be as follows:

Question 2

Do you actually teach all the kicks of Siamese Boxing, and Taekwondo, all the throws of Judo and all the holds of Aikido?


No, I do not do so, and I don't need to. Doing so is a good example of wasting my students' and my time. Although I can safely say that I know a lot of Shaolin Kungfu, actually I do not even know a small portion of Shaolin Kungfu — and this statement has nothing to do with modesty or the lack of it.

And although I know only a little compared to the total amount of Shaolin Kungfu in existence, it is more than sufficient to enable me to enjoy all the benefits that I look for in my martial art training, namely combat efficiency, good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy.

My students are even luckier. If they are willing to devote the necessary time and effort to their training, they can enjoy the same benefits even if they have spent less time than me in training and know less than what I know. The onus of excellence in any art — be it in cooking or playing the paino — is not how much you know but how well you make use of what you know to achieve your purpose.

If you know hundreds of recipes or hundreds of musical scores, but cannot prepare a decent dish or play a lovely tune, then you have wasted your time. You may know all the kicks, throws and holds — and perform them beautifully in solo demonstrations — but cannot even defend yourself against a simple attack, then you have missed the fundamental purpose of practising kungfu.

Question 3

Could you briefly illustrate the concepts so that this misunderstanding can be overcomed with?


I guess you are referring to the concepts of

  1. southern Shaolin Kungfu or Hoong Ka Kungfu being characterized by solid stances, powerful arms and elaborate hand techniques, yet having all the kicks of Siamese Boxing, and Taekwondo, all the throws of Judo, and all the holds of Aikido
  2. I know all these kicks, throws and holds (as the result of my knowing Shaolin Kungfu), yet I am not teaching all of them.

Misunderstanding occurs only when you enslave yourself to the words, instead of understanding what the words actually are supposed to say. Once you have overcome this problem, and also realize that words are often limited in saying what they intend to say, your misunderstanding will disappear. You will have a clearer perception if you translate your ideas into symbols, as I have done for you in Answer 1 above.

A better way than merely using logic, or understanding the concepts intellectually — which appears to be what you delight in — is to enjoy their practical benefits. When you actually practise southern Shaolin Kungfu, you will find that while there are numerous kicks, throws and holds (but kungfu dancers may not recognize them although they perform their external forms), your typical training involves solid stances, powerful arms and elaborate hand techniques.

While you may come across many, many techniques (including kicks, throws and holds), your master asks you to concentrate only on a selected few so as to perfect them. In this way you will directly experience both the validity and the purpose of these concepts.

Question 4

When you say Shaolin kungfu as the style you teach, do you mean that Shaolin is a style of kungfu, or a generic term covering all kungfu styles originating from Shaolin monastery?


Depending on the particular situation, I may mean one or the other, one and the other, and neither one nor the other.

For example, when I say Shaolin Kungfu is the greatest martial art, I mean the genre. When I say I teach Shaolin Kungfu, I mean my particular style. When I say Shaolin Kungfu gives you radiant health, I mean one and the other. When I say the performers gave a beautiful demonstration of Shaolin Kungfu at the birthday party, I mean neither one nor the other.

Such examples are plentiful not only in the Shaolin arts of kungfu, chi kung and Zen, but also in other disciplines, although many people may not be aware of them. Your question therefore may be a rewarding awakening for some people.

Question 5

By the way, Sifu Wing Lam stated that there were two separate branches of Hoong Ka kungfu, mainly, Ha Say Fu (4 lower tigers) and Canton Hoong Ka, the primary branch most modern kungfu schools teach nowadays. It was also stated that Canton Hoong Ka was derived from Ha Say Fu Hoong Ka in his webpage. Would you please comment on the statements?


I do not know much about Ha Say Fu.

To be more exact it is Kwangtung (Guangdong) Hoong Ka, and not Canton Hoong Ka. Kwangtung is the province, and Canton its capital. Both Hoong Hei Khoon (Hung Xi Guan) and Wong Fei Hoong, probably the two best known Hoong Ka patriarchs today, did not come from Canton but from Futt Shan (Foshan), a district capital a short distance from the provincial capital.

Personally I do not think Kwangtung Hoong Ka originated from Ha Say Fu; the reverse was probably true. But it may be true that Canton Hoong Ka was derived from Ha Say Fu. (Both Canton Hoong Ka and Ha Say Fu are sub-sets of Kwangtung Hoong Ka.)

Hoong Ka Kungfu

Application of Hoong Ka Kungfu. Chee Yong attacks Mogan with an elbow attack. But this attack is a feint move. As soon as Mogan brushes aside the attack, Chee Yong “leaks” his hand below and strikes Mogan's groin with a reversed tiger-claw.

Question 6

From the sources I obtained, I believe that Hung Xi Guan escaped from Fujian Shaolin Monastery to Fa County of Guangdong, a large district north of its neighbour, the city of Guangzhou (Canton). My uncle, a Wing Chun expert, informed me that Hung was a native of Canton. Where is your point of view towards the above statements?


Chinese records state that Hoong Hei Khoon (Hung Xi Guan) was a native of Fujian. The original surname of his forefathers was not “Hoong” but “Choo”, being decendents of the Ming imperial family and changing the surname to avoid the prosecution of the Manchurian government.

After the burning of the southern Shaolin Monastery at Fujian, Hoong Hei Khoon escaped first to Fa Yuan (Flower District), then settled down at Futt Shan (which means “Mountains of Buddhas”), where he established his kungfu school called Shaolin Hoong Khun, which means “Shaolin Kungfu of Hoong School”). Later generations referred to this style of Shaolin Kungfu as Hoong Ka Kungfu.

Question 7

I have both your books “The Art of Chi Kung” and “Chi Kung for Health andVitality”. But I don't know which exercises to follow, because I do have a lot of ailments, so I don't know if I have to do all of them. I have a lot of stress, sadness and guilt. I also have a chronic degenerative disease in the knees called condromalasia, my back hurts, and I have gained a lot of weight.

— Rosalina, Mexico


Practise only one or two exercises at one time daily for a few months before proceeding to another one or two.

As chi kung is an internal art, it is difficult for you to learn how to manage energy from reading a book. The exercises I describe in my book, “The Art of Chi Kung”, are among the best I know. But if you do not perform them properly, you are likely to perform them as dance, which, though beautiful to watch, will not help you to overcome your health problems.

It will be better for you to seek a chi kung master, or at least a competent instructor, in your area. Make sure he teaches chi kung, and not just chi kung dance. If you wish to learn from me, please refer to my website.

Question 8

I was pleased last term to train with a good instructor at the university. I have learnt more advanced sparring techniques and he encourges us to employ technique within sparring rather than just kicking and punching. I was the only student last term to complete the basic training of the the first form. However I would like to spend more time on this than continue with the higher level training. The basic training was in Hung Gar, which is wonderful.

— Giles, UK


Your instructor has given you good advice, i.e. employing your kungfu techniques in your sparring rather than just kicking and punching. Congratulations for being the only student to complete the basic training.

You have made a wise choice, though most people would rush to “higher” level training. I use inverted commas because actually they would not proceed to a higher level; they merely learn more techniques, and as the extra learning would take up much of their training time they would probably drop to a lower level in skills. It is in practising over and over again what you have learnt, especially the basic training, that you really progress to a higher level.

Hung Gar is a wonderful style. In fact it is the Southern Shaolin Kungfu.

Question 9

I'm now learning Southern Praying Mantis (Chow Family) and I've found that I prefer the internal essence of this to Chi Kung.


Chi kung is an umbrella term; it means energy management. The internal essence of Southern Praying Mantis, as it involves energy management, is chi kung.

Whatever chi kung exercises you do (including the ones in Southern Praying Mantis, and the ones I teach), if you do them without managing energy, they become gymnastics or dance.

Question 10

Yet I have a problem in that I've now learnt the basics of 6 styles of Kung Fu and I do not have the oppurtunity to get to a more advanced level in one style.


Here you are confused between progressing to a more advanced level and learning new things. As I have mentioned above, learning new things may actually result in your dropping to a lower level. The following simple example will make this point clear.

Let us say you have decided to devote six months, or 24 weeks, to learning how to defend against Taekwondo kicks.

You spend two weeks in learning three or four relevant techniques, 10 weeks in practising these techiques on your own without learning anything new, another 10 weeks to practise these techniques with a friend who attacks you with Taekwondo kicks, and the remaining 2 weeks in actually trying your techniqes on Taekwondo opponents.

In this way, you would have progressed in six months from a level where you would be quite helpless when a Taekwondo opponent attacks you, to a higher level where you would be able to defend yourself reasonably well.

But suppose that after the 2 weeks of learning the relevant techniques, you proceed to learn many other techniques and other things for the remaining 22 weeks. You may have learnt a hundred techniques, many of which you may have forgotten or can hardly perform well, yet when a Taekwondo opponent attacks you, you will be quite helpless.

Indeed, had you not learnt “kungfu”, you would with your natural instincts defend yourself better, such as jumping away from his kicks as an untrained person would do, but when you attempt to use your “kungfu” techniques you would find yourself awkward and hesitant, and be kicked a few times before you realize what has happened.

Today it is a norm that those who have learnt so-called kungfu techniques for many years and can perform them beautifully in solo demonstrations, are quite helpless if attacked by a Taekwondo brown or even blue belt who has trained for only a few months.

Question 11

I know I am competent. But I practice forms and techniques from 6 styles and I feel that I have no blend, esspecially between the northern and southern.


If the point of reference for your competency is beautiful demonstration of forms, or theoretical knowledge of kungfu styles, I would not question the validity of your statement. But if the point of reference is combat efficiency, which is the most basic purpose of kungfu -- any style of kungfu, including Taijiquan -- anyone with some common sense for reflection, would question how could anyone find the time to be competent if he has six different kungfu styles.

For me, with my knowledge and experience of kungfu, without having to know your background I can safely say you are not competent in combat — even though you might have learnt “kungfu” for thirty years. The reason is simple: had you been combat competent, you would not have thought of blending the six styles, or between the northern and the southern styles. Actually, it was for the sake of better combat efficiency, besides some historical factors, that kungfu branched out into different styles.

shaolin knee jab

Shaolin Kungfu is comprehensive. It has all the kicks of Siamese Boxing and Taekwondo, all the throws of Judo, and all the holds of Aikido. This Shaolin attack, "Jade Girl Kicks Shuttle", is like a Siamese Boxing knee jab.

Question 12

I have considered developing forms and a style (just for my own personal training, not for anyone else) of what I prefer. But I know that this could make my art less effective. I have considered that it was sussessful with the development of Northern Praying Mantis. But I know I do not possess the skill of a Shaolin monk.

Should I continue to practice all the styles individually, concentrate on one style or blend them?


Not only you do not possess the skill and knowledge of the Shaolin master, Wang Lang, who synthesized 18 styles into Praying Mantis Kungfu, you do not even know enough of any one of the styles you have learnt to comprehend what you would be doing. So why do you want to waste your time and effort? This recalls a statement made by my senior European disciple, Douglas, who said that if you were given a treasure by a long tradition of great masters, why be so foolish as to ignore this treasure and waste time hoping to find another treasure somewhere else.

In the West, it is not uncommon that many people start to teach an internal art like Taijiquan and various forms of chi kung after having learnt it for only a few weeks. Such disfiguring of the great arts is bad enough, but some further insulted the masters by making modification to the arts to “improve” them!

Your best choice, if you want to derive real benefits from great arts, is to select one among the many you have learnt, and then concentrate on it. A great art is to be treasured for life — unlike a commercial package which you may change every now and then.

Question 13

I have been taught a set of moving Chi Kung, basically of Tai Chi by my Chinese master. In the course of practicing each day, I feel like electric current moving in my palms which now are becoming warm. Though I slowly move my body while practicing, it seems my legs are trembling. When I stop practising and stand still in a Chi Kung posture, my body shakes vigorously.

I reported this to my master last year and he suggested I kept practicing for quite some time first and he would teach another step. I follow his advice and find it improper to ask further. However, as you are a true master of this long lasting internal arts, I hope you would be kind enough to clarify my case.

— Bodhi, UK


You have a good teacher. Treasure and respect him, and follow his advice. Don't try to learn anything new if he does not teach you; doing so — though you and other people may not comprehend the rationale behind — would hamper your progress.

Your feeling of electric current in your palms is an indication of your having developed internal chi flow. Your trembling in the legs and vigorous shaking of your body indicate that chi is breaking through some energy blockage. If you try to learn something new at this stage, you would deny yourself this wonderful working of chi for your benefit, which your practice is meant to produce.

Question 14

My aim of practicing Chi Kung, apart from making my body healthy, is to channel chi for therapy or to cure illness of patients, especially those with low incomes as I am a Buddhist, side by side with teaching Buddhism.


Before you attempt to teach or heal people, you must make sure you yourself have acquired a high standard in your chosen art. This is the most basic requirement of a teacher or healer — a requirement which is very seldom observed in the West, where many people think of becoming a teacher or a healer even before they begin learning the art.

Question 15

My question is : do we need to attain a Big Universe to be able to channel chi to relieve pains of others or just a Small Universe? Also, could you please elaborate on the practising steps of those who acquire such a skill?


Both the Big Universe and the Small Universe are not essential conditions for becoming an effective healer, but it would be very useful to have the Small Universe. Irrespective of the skill, after you have learnt it correctly the three essential steps to attaining a high standard are: 1. Practice. 2. Practice. 3. Practice.


January to June 1999

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