SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
FEBRUARY 1999 PART 1
This is a cry for help. For the past five or six years I did not have a single day of good health. Now it's getting worse and no medicines seem to help me. I heard about Tai Chi Chuan and I began dreaming that this would be my cure. This dream is so powerful in me right now. I am willing to work as an unpaid worker, to work as hard as I can in order to receive the most modest place to sleep, some food and most of all, the opportunity to study Tai Chi. Please reply to me, I must know what to expect. I must study Tai Chi. Help me do it, even if only with some useful information.
— Catalin, Romania
The following is probably the best advice you can get regarding practising Taijiquan, although at your level now, you may not fully comprehend it.
Be aware that Taijiquan is an internal martial art, which means that any practice that does not develop your internal force and combat efficiency is not real Taijiquan. Find a real Taijiquan master and learn from him. Don't try to be samrter than the master, and tell him what to teach you. Faithfully practise, practise and practise what he teaches — even if he teaches you just one move in three months.
You can be sure that it is very, very difficult to find a real Taijiquan master today. Most people now teach Tai Chi external forms or Tai Chi dance. Real Taijiquan will overcome all the problems you mentioned, but Tai Chi external forms or dance will not. For various reasons, including the interest of the student, I am not accepting students who work for me instead of paying their fees.
If you want to get the best benefits from a real master — any master — you must learn his art according to his terms. If a master asks you to carry a bag of rice to him everyday for three months, you just do that. You don't tell him, for example, that rice is not good for him and he should eat potatoes, or that you have no money to buy rice. If you cannot carry the rice or have no means to acquire it, it means you are not ready for his teaching.
Most people, especially from western societies, will consider such an attitude slavish or silly. This is understandable because only very few people have the chance to meet real masters, and most people are actually not as dedicated to learn the master's art as they think they are. In your case, for instance, if you are as determined to learn Taijiquan as you have made it to be in your e-mail, you would have read all my webpages on Taijiquan, which are free and easily available, and consequently would want to learn “Taijiquan” instead of “Tai Chi”. But someone who has gone through the long path from being a student to being a master, will realize how invaluable the advice is.
I just finished reading the answers for the December (1) serial, and I am quite alarmed by your response to Jeff of USA, concerning his practice of zhan zhuang. I wasn't aware of the possibilities of internal damage caused by its practice. I have been practising the Golden Bridge for the past two months, and I would like to know what are the warnings I'll receive if I have been practising incorrectly.
— Max, Malaysia
A tell-tale symptom would be pain in the chest. If this persists, stop the exercise. On the other hand, pain in the arms and legs are part of the developmental process.
I am not under the supervisation of any genuine qigong master, so I try to be careful in my practice. I have been practising for about 4 months now, starting with Pushing Mountains (20 times) and Lifting the Sky (10 times). At the moment, I am practising Lifting the Sky (20 times), Pushing Mountains (50 times) and Golden Bridge every night. It has only been two months or so since I began practising Golden Bridge. If you don't mind, I would like your comments or opinion on my practice habits.
So long as you progress slowly, your schedule is fairly safe.
Is it okay if I don't practice self-induced chi movement? I don't really enjoy it. I do feel myself swaying but it cannot compare to the feeling of “aliveness” I get when I practice the dynamic patterns.
You can do without the self-induced chi movement, but it is advisable to do it, especially at the initial stage, as a precaution against faulty practice. Generally, self-induced chi movement is enjoyable; if you didn't enjoy it, you might not have performed it correctly. Dynamic patterns usually generate more “static” energy; this is probably the reason why you felt more “alive”.
Another question pertainis to Golden Bridge or the Horse-riding stance. How long or how much practice does it take to achieve 10 minutes in the stance?
After two months, I can stand just about two minutes without too much discomfort. I don't know whether to continue at two minutes until I feel no discomfort at all or to push myself constantly for more.
It depends on a few variables, such as how properly and regularly you practise. Generally, if you practise daily, you should be able achieve 10 minutes in Golden Bridge or the Horse-Riding Stance between 6 months to a year.
Two minutes of performing the Horse-Riding Stance or the Golden Bridge after two months of training is good progress. But make sure your stance is sufficently low.
For further progress, gently push yourself. Go for 2.1 minutes after three days, then 2.2 minute after 5 days, etc. Refuse to stand up until your set time. A stop-watch or an alarm clock would be helpful to keep time.
I also have a slight problem which I hope you can help me with. Last November, during a training session, my sparring partner swiped my left leg, behind and left of the knee. I didn't think much about it then, but it was earlier this year, when I wanted to practice taijiquan, that it began to give me problems. I couldn't stand in the goat-riding stance at all; it really hurt and my leg was in constant pain. The pain stopped me from practising the Three Circle stance.
But when I started the Horse-riding stance two months ago, it was fine, so I assumed it was healed. It was only a few days ago, when I tried to sit in the goat-riding stance again, that I realized the pain was still there. The pain is rather strange; it never hurts when I am walking, jumping, running, or in the Bow-Arrow stance or any of the other stances, except for the goat-riding stance. I hope you can suggest something to help.
There is some energy blockage at the spot where you felt the pain. The position of the goat-riding stance pressurizes on the spot, aggrevating the blockage. The problem can be easily overcome with self-induced chi movement.
First perform deep knee bending while on your toes about 20 times. Then go to self-induced chi movement. While you are in the midst of the chi movement, gently think of your injured spot. Chi will fow there to help clear the blockage. Continue the chi-movement for about 15 minutes. Perform once in the morning and once in the evening or at night. Your problem should be overcome in 2 to 4 weeks.
I am wondering about another thing, Sifu. You have often mentioned that a good book is not a substitute for a good teacher, and I have read that in a few other places too. However, there are quite a few stories about people finding ancient qigong texts and learning from them. And even more movies, I am sure, about people fighting to get a kungfu manual or something like that. Please don't take offence; it's not that I don't trust your word, but I would like to know whether there is any truth in those stories, fanciful as they are.
Yes, the stories are true, although many of them may have been exaggerated in movies. Sifu Zhang Zhi Tong from Taiwan, for example, found an ancient chi kung text, practiced it diligently and invented Waitankung, a school of chi kung that is very popular today, especially in South East Asia.
But these people who benefited from chi kung texts were already familiar with chi kung; the texts provided knowledge or techniques to enhance what they practised. Moreover, had they learned from the masters of the texts instead, their achievement would be much more.
The big problem facing those unfamiliar with chi kung but who learn from books, is that they tend to pay attention to chi kung external forms, and miss the inner essence of chi kung. In other words, they perform gymnastics or dance, and not energy management.
Last of all, I would like to thank you, not just for taking the time to read this e-mail, but also for all the joy you brought into my life. I cannot afford your classes, so I really appreciate the fact that you decided to share your knowledge in the form of books. Qigong has made me feel alive, vibrant and happy. Before, I was constantly depressed, easily tired and once even contemplating suicide.
Although I know qigong will never be the same without personal guidance, it does not matter. I am happy with what I have now. Life is worth living again. Thank you, and thank you again. May your life be a long and blessed one.
I am very happy that my book has helped to restore your health and bring joy to your life. Keep up with your practice and you will gradually find that every word I have written in my book is true — words like those extolling that apparently simple chi kung exercises can bring profound benefits.
Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me, although, as in this case, it may take me some time to reply. But if your questions are urgent, call me by phone. As you gain vitality and mental freshness from your chi kung practice, you will certainly find life a joy to live.
Thank you for your sincerity. While a good chi kung book is a poor substitute for a genuine chi kung teacher, it is certainly better than hundreds of bogus instructors who teach chi kung gymnastics or dance. While my fees are very high, some of my best chi kung is taught to deserving students without any charges. Perhaps in future when the time is ripe you may learn chi kung from me without having to pay fees.
Since I have done the exercises I feel that my character is changing. Before I was always tried and tried not to be angry with anyone. But now I can lose my temper easily. For my work this may be good, because I can make clear what I want.
But when this happened to my family it made me very sad, because I don't want to hurt the people I love. They have never thought that I am able to do this.
Mentally I am stronger now Sifu, but do I have to go through all of these to get my inner peace? I just want to be calm, to be able to understand people better and have peace with myself.
— Lanny, Holland
Don't worry. All these problems will soon pass. You are passing through a transitional developmental stage. Chi kung gives you courage, and this is one of its many manifestations.
It is not easy, and sometimes unpleasant, to do the right thing, such as upholding principles or telling the truth. You are directly expereincing the benefits of chi kung developing confidence and courage. This development may cause conflict with those who have been habitually treating you as someone weak and undecided, and hence took you for granted in the past.
Inner peace comes in many ways, and often it comes after you have built up confidence and courage. Obviously someone who is unsured of himself (or herself) and is usually afraid, has little inner peace.
You will certainly acquire these good qualities of being calm, understanding and having inner peace. But before the calm there is often the storm; before understanding, the doubt; and before peace, the conflict.
About my health, I feel well. But sometimes I can not breathe easily and have some problems with my eyes. It's strange, though some people tell me that may be I have too much chi. I have never stopped doing the exercises. My intuition tells me that I have to go through all of these to attain what I aim at.
Chi is cleansing out your toxic waste. I told you about such discomfort before-hand. Your intuition is right. It will be a great pity if you stop at this stage, as you are about to make a break-through.
Editorial Note: Lanny did have a break-through. Please read her feed-back which she sent to Sifu Wong about two months after asking these questions stated above.
In your work you mention that Wuzu Kungfu goes back to the Yuan Dynasty. This peaks my interest because you seem to be the only one that has information that goes back so far. I write to ask you for information on the style's history that you did not put in your book. Anything will be greatly appreciated.
— Eduardo, USA
Wuzu Kungfu, or Five-Ancestor Kungfu, was invented by the great Shaolin master, Bai Yi Feng, during the Yuan Dynasty by combining the five Shaolin styles of White Crane, Bodhadharma Kungfu, Lohan Kungfu, First Emperor Kungfu and Monkey Style Kungfu. Later during the Qing Dynasty, Cai Yi Ming popularized it in the province of Fujian in south China. Hence, Wuzu Kungfu is commonly called Goh Chor Kungfu, which is the Fujianese pronounciation.
In Fujian, Wuzu Kungfu was also known as Goh Chor Hok Yeong Khoon, which means Five-Ancestor “Yang” Crane Kungfu, because amongst the five composite styles, the “hard” features of the crane was the most emphasized. It was also known as Gaik Beng Khoon, named after Cai Yi Ming — “Gaik Beng” being the Fujianese dialect of “Yi Ming” which is in official Chinese pronunciation.
The Fujian master, Sifu Chee Kim Thong, from whom I learned Wuzu Kungfu in my young days, brought Wuzu Kungfu from China to Malaysia, from where it spread to various countires, including in Europe, Australia and America. Sifu Chee first learnt kungfu from her grandmother, then from Du Yi Chuan, Lin Xian and finally from the famous lady Wuzu master Lin Yi Liang. Sifu Chee's disciple, Chan Si Ming, won the sparing championship in the first South East Asian competition.
Please refer to other of my question-answer series for more information on Wuzu Kungfu.
I also have been interested in Monkey Boxing, specifically Tai Shin Mun, or Great Sage style. But I have trouble finding information on this as well. I only have seen one website out of Finland with limited information.
Monkey Style Kungfu is reputed to origiate from the Five-Animal Play of Hua Tuo. (The Five-Animal Play is a famous form of chi kung, and Hua Tuo, who lived in the 3rd century BCE, is regarded as a saint of Chinese medicine.) Monkey Style Kungfu has been mentioned in many kungfu classics, such as the New Book of Discipline by the famous Ming Dynasty general, Chi Ji Guang, who discussed numerous kungfu styles of his time.
What many people may not realize is that there are many styles of Monkey Style Kungfu. This should not be surprising if we consider its long history, as well as its effectiveness in fighting. The term Monkey Style is a generic name. Most of these monkey styles belong to the Shaolin school.
There are, as far as I know, no monkey styles in the “internal schools”, such as in Taijiquan and Baguazhang, although the monkey features are found in Xingyiquan or Hsing Yi Kungfu, which is an internal school derived from Shaolin.
One notable monkey style that is not from Shaolin is Lama Kungfu from Tibet, although it is generally not known as a Monkey Style Kungfu. Nevertheless, its derivatives, Hap Ka Kungfu (or Kungfu of Knights) and White Crane Kungfu are so much influenced by Shaolin that they are somtimes regarded as derivatives of Shaolin. One of the Tigers of Canton, Wong Yien Lam, was a Hap Ka master, and he was also known as a Shaolin master. It should also be noted that there are also many styles of White Crane Kungfu, and the Lama White Crane Kungfu mentioned here is different from, for example, the Fujien White Crane Kungfu which contributes a significant part to Wuzu Kungfu and Hoong Ka Kungfu.
Some readers may be confused by such description here like “monkey style is not Monkey Style”. This is because of the limitation of language, and it also illustrates that in kungfu, as in many eastern topics, one should not be rigid and dogmatic in classification, or what Zen masters would say as not have dualistic thinking, which implies that if something is A, it has to be A and cannot be B. The monkey style is a specialty of my master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, but he does not tech Monkey Style Kungfu; he teaches Shaolin Kungfu.
Ta Shin Mun, or Great Saint School, is one of the major styles of Monkey Style Kungfu. Ta Shin refers to the Monkey God, famous for subducing demons and devils. While both are monkey styles, Ta Shin Mun Kungfu is very different from Lama Kungfu. The former is short range with elbows usually bent, whereas the latter is long range with sweeping straight arms.
A popular kungfu style today is Ta Shin Phet Kua Mun, which is a combination of Ta Shin Mun and Phet Kua Mun, which uses sweeping and chopping techniques. A number of Ta Shin Pek Kua Mun exponents won titles in the now defund South East Asian sparring competitions. The current patriarch of Ta Shin Pek Kua Mun is Sifu Chan Sou Chong of Hong Kong. His accomplished disciple, Chan Koon Thye. who was one of the earliest South East Asian sparring champions, played the role of the great Shaolin master Hoong Hei Khoon extremely well in numerous Hong Kong movies on Shaolin heroes.
More information on the Monkey Style can be found in postings of my question-answer series.