SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JUNE 1999 PART 2
Could you please tell me how archery refers to Zen. Is it just a part of Zen, or does it belong to a total program? Also could you recommend some good internet pages where I could read this. I am already archering, but just with the olympic bow. This doesn't satisfy me any more, because I would like to learn some more about the whole sport.
— Treier, Switzerland
While Zen can be found in everything, there is no special relationship between Zen and archery. We can employ Zen teachings and practice to improve archery, but archery is not an essential part of Zen — in the same way we can use weight-lifting to improve football or swimming, but football or swimming is not an essential part of weight-lfting.
Archery does not belong to a programme of Zen training, but it may be used in Zen training if handled by a master who is well versed in both Zen and archery — in the same way as playing football or swimming does not belong to a training programme of weight-lifting, but may be used to enhance performance in weight-lifting if the instructor is proficient in both.
Many people in the West relate archery to Zen, or relate motor-biking to Zen, because of the best-selling books, "Zen and the Art of Archery" and "The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance". I read these books many years ago, but I am not sure if I have remembered the titles correctly.
While these two books are enjoyable to read and actually provide some glimpses of Zen — personally I think they are better in providing glimpses of Zen than many Zen books written by Zen teachers who seem to make Zen more puzzling — paradoxically I think the authors did not understand Zen in the way Zen is meant to be by Zen masters. It would, for example, not make much difference had the authors used titles like "Tao and the Art of Archery" or "The Kungfu of Motorcycle Maintenance".
You may increase your knowledge of archery by reading about it, but no matter how much you read you cannot be proficient in the art unless you practise and practise it. This is one of the biggest mistakes of many students, especially in western societies — they read about their art but do not practise enough.
Please help me with understanding. I have undertaken a study of kungfu, but for one reason. That reason is my inability to reconcile what I perceive to be distinct philosophies. Please help, as I would like to be able to integrate both philosophies if possible.
— Jeff, USA
First, you need to know why you wish to practise kungfu. You may find it odd, but you may not have thought of it. Once you have defined your original purpose more clearly, you can examine whether what you are practising will fulfill your purpose, and make whatever changes or modifications if necessary.
I beleive that at our fundemental essence, we are all of one energy, the Self. One can experience oneself as the Self when that person lets go of the ego mind and its attachments/aversions. What is experienced then is the true nature of the Self, bliss and peace. When one walks in this bliss, all around him is influenced by this peacefull bliss — to the point where those with aggressive intentions may be calmed.
Yours is a good example of knowng the hollow words but not understanding the real meaning of what the words mean to convey. This is a very common situation with many people, especially in the West, probably due to frequent reading of many philosophical or spiritual terms which have become cliches but not experiencing what the terms mean. Do you, for example, know what you actually mean by saying “our fundamental essence”, “ego mind” and “true nature of the Self”?
Your statement that "one can experience oneself as the Self when that person lets go of the ego mind and its attachments/aversions“ is a great spiritual truth; but your subsequent statement that “when one walks in this bliss, all around him is influenced by this peacefull bliss — to the point where those with aggressive intentions may be calmed” shows that you have not understood fully the real meaning of this truth. When you experience the Self, which is undifferentiated and infinite, there will be no dualism of those with aggressive intentions.
Yet, at a much lower dimension of our dualistic world — the dimension at which most people (including some writers of spiritual books) superficially interpret that spiritual truth — you may be right, and at other times you may be wrong. When you let go enough of your ego mind — but not enough to reach the Self yet — you would have attained a level of calmness that can radiate positive energy. When this positive energy surrounds those with aggressive intentions, the soothing energy radiated by you may inflence them to an extent that they become calm. But if your radiated energy is not strong enough, or their aggressive energy is too strong, they would still attack you.
While great kungfu at its highest level can produce this form of spiritual energy, kungfu as it is ordinarily practised does not, nor is this achievement its mainstream objective. The mainstream objective of ordinary kungfu is at the physical level, i.e. if aggressive persons attack you, you overcome them with your physical kungfu movements, not with your radiated spiritual energy.
If, for some reasons, you wish to develop spiritual energy instead of physical self-defeence, you should turn to more appropriate arts like Zen or yoga mediatation instead of kungfu. You should also bear in mind that overcoming aggressive assailents is not the mainstream objective of Zen or yoga meditation; it is only a bye-product. Hence, it may be ten years of dedicated training or more before you can stop an aggressor with your spiritual energy, whereas you can do so in less than a year with effective kungfu techniques.
When you can understand what I have just explained, you may realize that there is no contradiction between philosophies, nor is there distinct philosophies to be reconciled. Actually the philosophy of great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan is clear and unified. Fundamentally the philosophy explains a comprehensive programme of personal development in all the exponent's physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions in the best possible order. That is why at the earlier stages of kungfu training, the emphasis is on the physical, including overcoming aggressive attackers.
Confusion and frustration occur when people have a superficial understanding, usually as a result of learning from instructors or reading from writers who themselves have no direct experience of the deeper dimensions of the arts. If you conduct a random check at the Shaolin and Taijjuan books in any big book shop, you will find that most of them only show external forms, and usually without even showing their self-defence application. Strictly speaking, they are not Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan; they are only Shaolin gymnastics and Taiji dance.
If you learn from an instructor who after showing you some kungfu forms, gives you a pair of gloves and asks you to spar with your partner — which in reality means haphazardly punching and kicking each other — you are likely to be more aggressive than calm at the conclusion of your training. If you — which, in this case, means any person — after attending a few lessons, viewing a few videos and reading a few books, regard yourself to be knowledgeable and experienced enough to formulate your own philosophy to supercede those evolved by great masters over centuries, you only add to the confusion.
I see the obvious truth and advantage of focusing the innate energy that is us and “around us”. But how do I reconcile my desire to learn and experience the truths of kungfu, while the art is obviously meant to utilize the chi and its disciplined focus against aggressors.
Do you actually know how to focus your innate energy that is you? What was the truth of fucusing energy which you were talking about? And what were the truths of kungfu? Why do you feel a need to reconcile your desire to learn kungfu with its utilizing chi against aggressors?
If you find that you are unclear about the answers to these questions, or worse, you do not even understand these questions (although they are formed from the words you used), you would have a better idea of what I mean by knowing hollow words but not understanding the meaning behind the words.
It seems that it uses aggression to counteract aggression. I know only a little of its history, but I understand that Bodhidharma trained the monks to defend themselves. I have no need on a regular basis to defend myself.
Kungfu exponents may or may not use aggression to counteract aggression. And you have got your history wrong.
Bodhidharma did not train the monks to defend themselves. In fact, Bodhidharma did not even teach the monks kungfu. The great teacher taught Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis, which were later developed by masters in the Shaolin Monastery into kungfu and chi kung.
If you have no need to defend yourself, you need not worry about kungfu. But why were you so sure of doing away with self-defence? Moreover, there are more important benefits besides self-defence in kungfu training.
Besides, while I have so much “farther to go” in letting go of the daily workings of the ego mind, I have seen times when the rages of aggressors have been calmed by my calmness.
What has the letting go of the working of your ego mind anything to do with your kungfu training? Have you let go much of your ego mind? Is your ego the same as your mind? If you were calm, would there still be rages of aggressions for your calmness to calm them? Answering these questions yourself will help you in your development.
Is my philosophy in keeping with understanding, or am I missing something?
No, your philosophy, presuming that you have one, is not in keeping with understanding, and you are missing a lot of things. First, are you clear about what your philosophy is? Your uncertainty about the theoretical ideals and the practical functions of kungfu is your confusion, not your philosophy.
You are missing a lot of things, yet you may not know what you have missed because you do not know what you want and what you are doing in kungfu (or in reading about kungfu). The best course for you is to stop philosophizing about kungfu for the time being — leave that to the masters, or if you wish to philosophize, attempt that only after you have practised sufficiently and have attained a reasonably high level so that you know from direct experience what you are talking about — and focus on practising kungfu from a master or at least a competent instructor.
How do I reconcile what I perceive to be opposites?
What is it that you wish to reconcile? Is it the apparent contradiction resulting from on one hand your thinking that kungfu is meant for personal development (preferably in a peaceful manner), but on the other hand your discovery that kungfu is used aggressively to counter aggression from an assailent? These two perceptions may or may not be valid. For example, kungfu may or may not be used for personal development, and kungfu may or may not be used aggressively to counter aggression. Even if we presume the two perceptions are valid, they may or may not be opposite.
In reality, kungfu masters are not worried about the many “mays” and “may nots”. What they are concerned is that through their kungfu training they become fit and healthy, and if assiliants attack them they are able to defend themselves effectively. Only after (not before) they have experienced these basic benefits of kungfu, would they, if they so incline, philosphize on questions like whether they have let go their ego mind, or whether they should overcome aggression with no aggression.
I am a trial lawyer. My question is whether, and if so how, chi can be focused and used to make a person a more persuasive advocate.
— George, USA
Yes, chi kung will make a person a more persuasive advocate. Amongst numerous factors in the making of a successful advocate, two stand out crucially, namely he must have abundant energy and he must have a sharp, clear mind. Chi kung, being an art of energy and mind training, is excellent for fulfilling this need. But it is very important that you practise genuine chi kung, and not some chi kung external form.
The following three techniques are very useful. One, focus your chi or energy at your dan tian, or abdominal energy field. With abundant chi at your disposal, you can raise your voice voluminously when you stress a point, or impregnate your voice with strength and conviction even when you lower it into a whsiper. Two, use your chi to attain a one-pointed mind, with which you can not only present your case pointedly but also lead the audience as one unity to the one point which is the focus of your presentation. Three, and this is the most important, use chi to purify your spirit so that with a purified spirit you will present your case not just for money or fame but with a clear conscience.
These techniques, of course, have to be learnt from a master, and practised diligently on your own so that you can implement the techniques with a high level of skill. Learning them from an e-mail is only a starting point to show where and how you may employ chi kung rewardingly in your career as a successful advocate.
I have a few issues for questioning regarding the Q&A I have viewed regarding Wing Chun and its different lineages. Firstly, you claim that Yip Man's lineage disregards certain forms and techniques. This may be true.
— Flex, Australia
That was not actually what I said. I said that many forms found in the style of Wing Chun I practised, i.e. Choe Family Wing Chun, were not found in Yip Man's style of Wing Chun.
I do not know whether this difference was due to addition in the Choe Family lineage, or subtraction in the Yip Man lineage, or due to other factors.
But basing on numerous sources, such as old pictures and classical texts, I believe that many of the features found in Choe Family Wing Chun but not in Yip Man Wing Chun, were in the Shaolin Kungfu that Nun Ng Mooi taught to Yim Wing Chun.
I do not claim to know, but what I DO know is that in my experience in fighting with Wing Chun practitioners from different lineages, they fail to include in their training regiments vital aspects of the traditional system. Such aspects include fighting from the "blind side", i.e. outside of the attacking limb.— ALWAYS, a key element to our system.
Most Wing Chun fighters fight head to head, thereby exposing themselves to attacks from all limbs, and therefore must fight force with force more often. They do not abide to the principles of BOEC, Balance Openings Elbows and Crossed Arms, to never fight force with force, nor do they believe in pinning the elbow of the attacking limb (or the one that does not attack, depending on which direction you wish to go) while stepping to the blind side (since they don't step to the blind side at all), thereby controlling (if done properly) movement, balance, chi sao, etc.
We also use stances that provide 50/50 weight distribution a great majority of the time, stress interruptability of all techniques and movements at all times and the avoidance of over committing movements. It is as if they are almost different styles altogether merely sharing similar hand/leg techniques.
You have made a very crucial observation in kungfu development, or degradation. This happens not just in Wing Chun but in virtually all styles of kungfu. In short, what kungfu practitioners (including some “masters”) do in solo practice is one thing, what they do in sparring is another. Modern wushu players go one step further — they do not even bother to spar.
It is my opinion that on the whole the methodology in teaching kungfu sparring, i.e. the numerous steps between solo practice and free sparring, has been lost. What is normally done in kungfu classes today is like teaching swimming techniques to students seated in a classroom, then pushing them into a pool leaving them to struggle to keep afloat.
I realize from your writings that you are a man with a vast wealth of wisdom and knowledge, but rather to inquire whether your version of Wing Chun includes any or all those principles, and if any other systems of kung fu include these principles, for all I see all over the web, videos, and books, is head to head fighting, eccentric stances in which I do not understand their purpose (due perhaps to my ignorance, or simply lack of knowledge) and approaches to fighting that are far different than mine/ours. I am committed to excellence in Kung Fu training/fighting/way of life, and realize I have much to see outside of the confines of my great system.
Yes, Choe Family Wing Chun, as well as other styles of authentic kungfu, have all — or at least most of — those principles you mentioned, and which are not found in Yip Man Wing Chun.
Imagine someone who has been trained in Yip Man Wing Chun, and all his exposue, including the sparring with his classmates and the books he reads, has been to his style of kungfu only. If he then sees other styles of kungfu, such as Choy-Li-Fatt and Baguazhang, or other styles of martial arts, such as Jujitsu and Taekwondo, he would be shocked. He would wonder how on earth could such systems of fighting be possible.
On the other hand, if a martial artist of any style who has never been exposed to Yip Man Wing Chun before, suddenly see its performance, he would also be shocked. He would also wonder how on earth could such an art be used for fighting. How would, for example, such an exponent defend against high kicks from Taekwondo or locks from Jujitsu?
The fact is that the many movements, considered as outlandish by a Yip Man Wing Chun exponent, are actually effective, authentic movements in the respective martial art styles; and Yip Man Wing Chun, considered as prosaic by the uninitiated, is a formidable fighting art. If a Wing Chun student cannot defend himself against kicks and locks, it is due to his lack of understanding and proper training; a master of Yip Man Wing Chun can easily overcome these attacks using genuine Wing Chun patterns.