A beautiful wushu demonstration taken from an old magazine cover

Question 1

People these days simply refuse to believe that the elaborate techniques of Kungfu can be used for real fighting. The problem is that people — even serious martial artists — have no idea what Kungfu fighting looks like. They know what they see in the movies, or on TV, or in commercial Karate/Kungfu schools, but they simply can't imagine how such elaborate techniques could work in a 'real' fight.

— Anthony, USA


The elaborate kungfu techniques are actually “simple” — simple in the sense that they are trimmed of unnecessary frills. My webpage Is Kungfu too Flowery for Combat provides some relevant examples.

Those who have learnt thses elaborate kungfu techniques — or any martial art techniques for that matter — cannot use them for fighting because all the time they have learnt them as demonstrative forms to please spectators. If these “kungfu” or wushu students had learnt karate or kickboxing techniques instead, but practise them in the way they practise demonstrative kungfu, they would still be unable to use the karate or kickboxing techniques for fighting.

Real kungfu fighting is unimpressive to watch, especially if it is between a master and a typical modern day martial sportsman in a life-death combat. As soon as a Taekwondo blackbelt, for example, moves in with a high kick to attack a master like Sifu Wang Shu Jin, the blackbelt would have his sex organs bashed. As soon as a karateka moves in with a typical karate punch, he would have his arm broken. As soon as a judoka grips the master in an atempt to throw the latter, the former would receive a blow so powerful that he could not continue further. A kungfu master could finish the combat in just one or two moves. The long-drawn exchanges one sees on movies or TV are meant to entertain spectators.

Kungfu dancers, on the other hand, will be no match against any taekwondo, karate or judo exponents even if the latter have trained only for a few months. The “kungfu” of these dancers is not meant for fighting; they probably have never practised sparring all their “kungfu” lives. Their “kungfu” is meant for demonstration.

Question 2

My original style of Karate was more of an amalgam than a pure form of Karate. Although the techniques were not quite as elaborate as those seen in Shaolin, they were still more advanced than the basic punching and kicking of Karate.

I have also witnessed a Kungfu “master” sparring. The reason I put “master” in quotes is because I am not sure if he lives up to the title. Certainly, he is a proficient warrior, and a good practitioner of genuine Kungfu. But he is also extremely angry, picks fights, and does other actions which have no place in a Shaolin discipline. Although this sifu is quite knowledgeable, I would not want to study with him any more than I would want to fight him.


We are talking about, and are extremely lucky to be engaged in, Shaolin Kungfu in its ideal form. We are part of an elite tradition. On the other hand, there are many “masters” — from Shaolin and elsewhere — who are far from ideal.

Question 3

My point is that I am lucky to have seen elaborate techniques being used in combat (or rather, sparring) situations. By the time I met you in California last year, I was well prepared to reconsider my preconceived notions on fighting technique. I had seen enough to realize that there was much more to see.


There is no doubt that the elaborate techniques can be effectively used in combat or sparring. And there is also much more to be seen. I had occasions to teach kungfu to some international sparring champions. They were good fighters, but when they sparred with me — and I used genuine traditional kungfu techniques — they found to their surprise there was still a wide gap in combat efficiency between us.

If I were to spar with an ordinary Shaolin kungfu monk living two hundred years ago, I would have no doubt that I am no match for him and there would be a wide gap between us. If this monk were to spar with his teacher, there would also be another wide gap.

Question 4

Training under you in California, it did not take long for any remaining skepticism to disappear. It quickly became clear to me that the statements you made in your books were completely true. Although I have never seen Wahnam Shaolin Kungfu used in a combat/sparring situation, I can now use my imagination to see it in my mind. I do not doubt the techniques, nor the style, nor the method, nor the teacher. These things I have complete faith in. The only doubts I have concern the student.


The three essentials in the attainment of any art are the method, the teacher and the student. The main task of the student is to practise, practise and practise the method taught by the teacher. If you can spend 2 to 4 hours a day for training, you are more than qualified.

Question 5

I would like any information on the cosmos palm. Is it anything like the Buddhist Palm of Choy Li Fatt? Is it a technique or a form? What is the theory behind it? How is it done or practiced?

— Chris, USA


The Cosmos Palm is an advanced Shaolin art that is sometimes mentioned but little known. As it could cause severe internal injury if inflicted on an opponent, masters were careful to teach this art only to tested disciples. The Cosmos Palm is also very useful in healing others.

It is different from the Buddha Palm of Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu. While the Buddha Palm is “hard”, the Cosmos Palm is “soft”. The method of training is also different.

The Cosmos Palm is a “skill” or ability, and not a technique or a form. Once you have acquired this Cosmos Palm skill or ability or force, you can implement it using any technique or in any form, although in combat it is usually implemented in the form of a palm strike. I mention “skill or ability or force”: because there is no English equivalent term for what it is expressed in Chinese as gong (pronounced as “kung”).

It is called Cosmos Palm because the force used in its application is derived from the cosmos. Through years of appropriate practice, the exponent has stored a tremendous amount of energy which he has tapped from the cosmos, in his dan tian or abdominal energy field. Much of the training concerns mind and energy; the outward form is bafflingly simple. When needed, the exponent uses his mind to channel his energy from his dan tian to strike an opponent or to heal somebody. Strictly speaking, it is not the palm that strikes, but the energy from the exponent that distorts the energy field of the opponent. The oponent can be seriously injured, and the damage is delayed (i.e. it may come many days after the strike) and there may be no external marks.

Different external forms can be used to acquire the Cosmos Palm, and “Pushing Mountains” is one such form. But even if you practise Pushing Mountains for 20 years, you will not acquire the Cosmos Palm unless you also know the mind and energy dimensions involved. The mind and energy dimensions must be taught by a master; faulty practice, which is not uncommon in such advanced arts, causes serious problems.


Another beautiful wushu demonstration. Any real kungfu practitioner fighting the way any one of the demonstrators shows here would either be joking or asking for suicide.

Question 6

For the past two years my girlfriend has been very susceptible to coughs, colds, and flu. She was repeatedly told by her doctor that her illness was stress related, yet considering that over the past year she has become more content, we both find this difficult to believe. From what I have read in your Web pages I get the impression that her illness may be due to a problem with her chi flow. I would be very greatful for any advice you could offer on this matter.

— Peter, UK


In Chinese medical thought, there is only one dis-ease of the body, although there may be countless symptoms, and ultimately it is caused by blocakge of chi flow or energy flow The intermediate causes may be many, such as bacteria attack, stress or external injury. Chinese physicians are not concerned with the intermediate causes; they overcome the root cause. In other words, once harmonious chi flow is restored, the dis-ease disappears, irrespective of the intermediate causes.

Question 7

I am also curious as to your opinion with regards to the genuine kung fu skills or otherwise of wu shu players. I heard that wu shu practitioners in China placed heavy emphasis on chi kung, and received “Shaolin” training. I would appreciate it if you could clarify this.


I believe wushu players generaly have little kungfu skills. A typical wushu player with five years' training is likely to be defeated in free sparring by a typical karate or taekwondo brown belt with five months' training. I do not know much about the “Shaolin” training for wushu players in China.

Question 8

I was wondering about your thoughts on weight training and if it is counter-productive to the principals of Tai Chi. I would really like to restart a weight training regimen, but have read several articles that have been negative with regards to Tai Chi.

— Cyrus, USA


I fully agree with the view held by virtually all past masters that weight training is counter-productive to the principles of Tai Chi Chuan, spelt as "Taijiquan" in Romanized Chinese. The reason is quite simple, although it may not be apparent to most Westerners who generally think that power can only be built through muscles.

Weight training works on muscles, which is physical, whereas the force of Taijiquan is derived from energy flow, which is internal. Tensing muscles which is quite inevitable in weight training, constricts energy flow, which is therefore detrimental to Taijiquan force development.

I would strongly advise against a weight training regimen. Even if you leave aside Taijiquan force development, but look at middle aged people who had weight training in their younger days, it is not uncommon to find many of them weak and sickly. On the other hand, those who develop their force through energy flow, in Taijiquan or other arts, are still fit and healthy at eighty.

Question 9

Sifu, for some time now I have read that Chi can be aided in speeding up the arms for strikes and I have found in a book written in the 1960s an exercise that is said to help do this.

For 15 minutes a day, every day, you sit in a relaxed position, begin breathing from the stomach with no more than 10 breaths a minute, and place your left palm over your right ear for 5 minutes, than your right palm over your left ear for another 5 minutes, and then finally combine both postures and place each palm over the opposite ear for 5 minutes, making 15 minutes total.

I was wondering if you could validate the usefullness of this exercise. Is it a truly useful exericse for developing Qi, particularly in the arms?


Yes, this is a useful exercise, and you should obtain the power of chi (or "qi" in Romanized Chinese) after a few months of daily practice. If you feel dizziness in your head, or pain in your chest as a result of this practice, stop for a few days. You may continue when the dizziness or pain has disappeared.

Question 10

The author was not a Master by any means but rather a knowledgable martial artist who collected some of the many things he had seen on his travels around the world and put them into a book. He says it's a great exercise, though I am not sure so I ask your expertise.


I would say it is an effective exercise for developing powerful arms and palms, but not a great exercise for it does not give you good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy, as some chi kung exercises do, besides developing power in the arms and palms.

Question 11

Also, I was wondering if perhaps you would be willing to describe to me an effective exercise for developing Qi. I am not asking for anything secretive or extremely powerful, but perhaps a basic exercise that will readily give me swifter movement, perhaps help me sleep better (definitely useful before a Calculus test!) or help me develope something better within myself that I can notice. Something that you would have a beginner do.


One of the best exercises in all chi kung is “Lifting the Sky”, which you can find in my chi kung books. Even if you practise it at a physical level, and miss the energy and mind dimensions (which should be done under supervision), you can still attain reasonable good effects if you have the patience to practise daily for six months.

Another simple yet profound exercise is as follows. Stand upright and be relaxed, preferably in a natural, open surrounding. Breathe out gently and slowly. then breathe in gently and slowly. It is important that your breathing should be GENTLE and slow. Repeat about 10 to 20 times. Do this daily for six months.

Many people may not believe that such an apparently simple exercise can bring much result. But if you can practise this daily for six months, I can safely predict that you will have swifter movement, sleep better (before and after a calculus test, and at other times) develop something better within yourself that you can notice.


Illustrations of Pakua Kungfu (or Baguazhang) from an old book. It is obvious to the initiated that the patterns shown here by the master are meant for fighting, and not for pleasing spectators. Notice the force as well as elegance of the master

Question 12

There are many martial arts schools that advertise and claim to be Shaolin. Examples: Shaolin Hapkido, Ancient Shaolin Kempo, Shaolin Aikido, Ancient Shaolin Kickboxing, Shaolin Shadowboxing, and so forth. Now, how do we know which is a genuine claim?

— Naree, USA


If it is Shaolin Hapkido, Shaolin Aikido, Shaolin Kickingboxing or Shaolin Shaodowboxing, it cannot be genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu. Shaolin Kempo, or usually called Shorinji Kempo, is the modern Japanese version of Shaolin Kungfu. While it has many genuine Shaolin features, Shorinji Kempo also has many karate features. On the other hand, Shaolin Wing Choon, Shaolin Praying Mantis and Shaolin Eagle Claw are genuine martial arts derived from Shaolin Kungfu.

A good way to test whether what is claimed is genuinely Shaolin is to compare what is taught by that school with what has been recorded in classics on Shaolin Kungfu. The comparison can be made under the headings of philosophy, form, force training and application.

An e-mail answer is obviously inadequate to give details of Shaolin philosophy, form, force training and application as recorded in classics. Nevertheless, the following very brief guidelines will be helpful.

Philosophically, and ideally, Shaolin Kungfu is a way of spiritual cultivation. Shaolin form is of great variety, and pays much attention to stances and different hand forms. Much of Shaolin force training involves mind and energy. Shaolin Kungfu is very effective for combat as well as daily application.

Because of various factors, many of these genuine Shaolin features may have been lost. Hence, today many schools may be teaching genuine Shaolin form, but not typical Shaolin philosophy, force training or application.

Question 13

We have personally checked out all five of these schools mentioned and all the instructors claim to have trained at the Shaolin Temple in mainland China and have pictures to prove it. However, as all these schools advertise the name “shaolin” in all their advertisements, banners, and business cards....NONE of these instuctors provide their students with the material taught to them from the Temple!


It may be true that these instructors had some training at the Shaolin Temple in today's China, but if they teach Hapkido, Kempo, Aikido, Kickboxing, or Shadowboxing, they cannot be teaching traditional Shaolin Kungfu, although they have prefixed the term “Shaolin” to their arts.

They may have added to their arts what they learned at today's Shaolin Temple, but it is most likely that this addition is only a neglible portion of their repertoire. More importantly, what is taught in today's Shaolin Temple is not traditional Shaolin Kungfu but modern wushu, which is also taught in all other parts of China. The Chinese government has explicitly stated that it promotes wushu as a sport and not as a traditional martial art.

Question 14

As we visited the Shaolin Hapkido, Ancient Shaolin Kempo, and Shaolin Aikido schools, we found that they taught Karate and were more Japanese oriented. They had a good structure in their curriculum and it was well organized. However, this was not what we were looking for! We were very disappointed that many martial arts schools are using the Shaolin name to lure in prospective students.


This is unfortunate, but quite inevitable. When the name “Shaolin” has become famous, it is inevitable that many people may exploit the name for their own interest. It also happens in Taijiquan and chi kung.

In my opinion, even amongst those who teach genuine Shaolin, Taijiquan and chi kung forms, much of what they teach is only Shaolin, Taijiquan and chi kung gymnastics.

These outward forms have lost the essence of the arts; they do not give the benefits that these arts are purported to give. In Chinese terms, “they have only the skin but not the substance”.

Question 15

To me Martial Art is no laughing matter. Its not a sport, its not a hobby, its not something I do because its in the movies. In October a girl was raped here while walking to her dorm, last week 4 more girls were raped, 2 of them during daylight hours, and my best freind whom I have known for several years was also raped several months ago.

I helped put some men in prison and every now and then I hear about how their freinds who are still free hate me. So you see, Sifu, combat is not a joke to me, it's literally dead serious. Some martial arts instructors disapprove of me because I don't participate in their class, not because I think I am better, but because I think that they teach their art 'watered down'. Many of them are good people, I am afraid that they just don't know what they are doing, and I continue to look for some one who does.

So for now I just practice my punches as well as some Judo throws that I think are effective, because of all the techniques I know they are the only ones that I think are dependable. I try to teach myself parrying as well (such as the kind of blocks found in White Crane style). Any advice you have on anything would be useful and appreciated.



I agree with what you have said, including your mention that many good people teach their art “watered down”. It is best if you can personally learn from a real, good kungfu master. Otherwise, continue your training in punches, parrying and judo throws.

Add the following. Daily practise the apparently simple exercise of breathing in and out slowly and deeply. At the end of this exercise, close your eyes gently (if you have not closed them earlier), and gently visualize that you are radiating good energy so powerful that — in some mysterious ways which you need not have to know why or how — even if the crooks found you, they could not harm you.

Meanwhile, think of good thoughts and do good deeds whenever you can. Good energy is simply incompatible with minds and deeds that are evil.


January to June 1999

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