combat application

Combat Application of Shaolin Kungfu

Question 1

Today is my first day back at work after 10 days of vacation. I find myself greatly refreshed, partly because I was able to get more sleep during the vacation, but mostly because I have been practicing Chi Kung every day. I regret to say that I have been slacking in my training for several months as I was adjusting to the lifestyle of a 9-5 job. Now, however, I am ready to renew my commitment to the Shaolin arts.

— Anthony, USA


Practising chi kung always keeps you fresh and revitalized.

After spending about 15 hours flying from Malaysia to Europe, I spent my time while waiting for three hours in Frankfurt for my transit to Madrid, to write a paper on Chi Kung in Holistic Medicine. As soon as I arrived in Madrid, I set down to answer my back-log of e-mails. Numerous people have asked me how I get so much time to do so much work. I answer that I practise chi kung.

Our chi kung, being very powerful, is ideal for people with much work to accomplish but little time to spare. Just 15 minutes of practice every morning is sufficent to keep you fresh and healthy the whole day. Sometimes, if you do not even have the 15 minutes — like I did when I was crammed onto a site of a plane — just visualizing and experiencing a few times your chi flowing harmoniously down your body, is an adequate practice.

Question 2

You will be happy to know that my depression has receded, that I am feeling healthier every day, and that my job is going well. The foundation is now strong enough for me to build upon. All that remains is for me to, as you say, practice, practice, and practice.


If you practise chi kung regularly, I would be very surprised indeed if you do not feel joyful and alive.

It does have to be, because chi kung being the art of energy, harmonizes your energy flow. Life, at all levels from the cellular to the macro, is a meaningful flow of energy.

Question 3

Practice, of course, is up to me, but I feel obligated to inform you of my present status. Aside from sporadic questions that come to mind as I continue my training, I find that the bulk of what needs to be done can be done alone in the confines of my room. I do not mean to suggest that I do not need you as a Sifu, but I do see the wisdom of the advice you give on your webpages. Practice is more important than learning. I have already learned a great deal. I need to practice.


I am glad that you have realized this. This realization is probably the single most important benefit you have accomplished.

Looking back with hindsight, it often amazes me to see how much time and effort many people have wasted in chasing after more techniques and theoretical information when what they really need is to practise, practise and practise what they have already learnt.

But I wouldn't blame them because I was like them before. It took me many, many years to come to this apparently simple but tremendously important realization, and benefit from it.

Question 4

I have asked practitioners of Tai Chi on the combat applications and have never received any satisfactory answers, either from pure ignorance or maybe secrecy. If it is not inappropriate to ask, will the combat applications be illustrated whilst learning the form or will combat applications only be shown to selected individuals? I have refrained from learning Tai Chi thus far for I believe that Tai Chi only for health is incomplete. Could you kindly tell me where I can find one of your instructors for further inquiries?

— Akasyah, Malaysia


Probably more than 90% of Tai Chi practitioners today, including in China, do not know how to apply what they practise for combat; neither do they have internal force. Hence, what they practise, in my oppinion, is not genuine Taijiquan, because Taijiquan is by definition a martial art. It is therefore no surprise that they cannot give you any satisfactory answers, and the reason is from pure ignorance.

It is not only not inappropriate, but actually every intelligient student should ask whether combat application is incorporated while learning the forms. If the teacher is teaching genuine Taijiquan and if he has accepted you as a student, he has no other way but to incorporate combat application while teaching the forms, or else what he teaches is not Taijiquan.

You may like to know that the word “quan” in “Taijiquan” means martial art. Taijiquan is therefore Taiji Martial Art. But if he teaches Tai Chi dance, althought he may call his art Taijiquan, he will have no combat application to teach even if he has selected students.

You are perfectly correct in saying that Taijiquan is incomplete if it is only for health. In fact, not a single great Taijiquan masters in the past practised Taijiquan for health; they always practised it for combat efficiency. But they were of course fit and healthy, as these qualities are prerequisites of any great martial art.

Even now, every single move in a Taijiquan set is there because of its combat function, although most Tai Chi players today may not know it. They also do not know that not a single Taijiquan move was ever created by past masters to please spectators.

I have not been trained by any instructors who teach Taijiquan. Also, I myself do not generally teach Taijiquan because I feel that I would do better by teaching Shaolin Chi Kung and Shaolin Kungfu, although I have taught Taijiquan to some people in response to their earnest request.

Question 5

I have been a zen student for 10 years. I just started Shaolin Kung Fu. I just learned that I will need to learn 108 forms. I remember doing 108 bows in zen. What is the significance of 108? I thought it had something to do with the 10 directions but I don't remember.

— Alice. USA


Different schools and teachers have different approaches in therir teaching. In my school, Shaolin Wahnam, forms are comparatively not important.

In chi kung, for example, if one can overcome his problems with two forms, it is unnecessary to learn 20. While all our forms involve Zen, we have only two main forms for specialized Zen training, namely Standing Meditation and Sitting Meditation.

108 is a significant number in Shaolin Kungfu. Many long kungfu sets are composed of 108 patterns each. This has its origin in the original 18 Lohan Hands, the fore-runner of Shaolin Kungfu. 18 is multiplied by 2 to form 36 patterns of a short kungfu set. 36 is multiplied by 2 to form 72 patterns of a medium-length kungfu set. 36 patterns are added to 72 to form a long kungfu set.

I don't think 108 has something to do with 10 directions, and I do not know about the 108 bows in Zen.

combat application of Taijiquan

Taijiquan without combat application is incomplete

Question 6

I'm very happy to inform you that Gi gong is doing effects and the nodule has nearly desappeared. The doctor was very surprise that he could not find it. Thanks a lot. I'll go on!

— Dolos, Spain


I am very glad of your progress. If you continue practising your chi kung, not only will the nodule completely disappear, you will always be fresh and healthy.

Dolors' earlier letter and my reply may as published below would add more meaning to the above question and answer.

Earlier Question

I'm interested in Qi gong. I've read your books and I'm going to attend your seminar of Qi gong in Barcelona.

I want to consult you about a health problem. I have a nodule in the left breast. I know that it is possible to get rid of it doing Qi gong, but I've heard that some exercises are not recommanded. I would be grateful if you could mention the ones I can do, and the ones I shouldn't.

Earlier Answer

The root cause of your nodule may not be at your breast, but you need not worry where it is because spontaneous chi flow which you will get when you practise genuine chi kung will flow to your problem area and eliminate the nodule.

Just practise the chi kung exercises you have learnt from my course. They will not only overcome your problem but also give you good health and vitality. Please contact me if you have further questions.

Question 7

I have read everything on your webpage related to the combat application of Kung Fu and have the sneaking suspicion that the master I study under may be one who teaches “flowery fists and embroidery kicks.” Let me explain. Along with physical conditioning, learning forms (I believe you call them sets), and knowing (at least superficially) how the forms would be applied, we also have started to spar.

— Edward, USA


This is a good procedure. The next consideration is to examine how sparring is taught and how much time is devoted to it.

If, for example, you are not taught how to systematically apply your kungfu patterns into sparring, and not given sufficient time to practise this so that the kungfu movements become natural, it is easy for you and your sparring partner to revert to spontaneous fighting, which would not be much different from children's fighting.

Question 8

I have only taken lessons for a little less than six months and you say on your webpage that a student should not go directly from forms to sparring to learn how to apply kung fu. This makes perfect sense and I am beginning to see that those students who spar, do so like the kickboxers that practice in the next room.


Ideally, one should spend at least a few more months on force training before learning how to spar, and there are many steps in pre-arranged sparring before one can free spar.

Nevertheless, in today's world where most people usually do not have the time to train in such an ideal way, one may attempt pre-arranged sparring after six months of form training. He should also have done, or at least will do, force training at the same time.

Pre-arrange sparring will take a few months. If one attempts free sparring too soon, it is inevitable that he will fight like children even though he may have learnt (but without sufficient practice in) kungfu application for combat.

Indeed, I believe that the main reason for the inability of many people (including so-called “masters”) to spar with the kungfu patterns that they can perform beautifully in solo, is not that they do not know (theoretically) how to apply these patterns in combat, but that they do not have the right methodolgy to train so as to actually apply the patterns spontaneously.

Question 9

In order to spar, one must have gloves, head protector and feet protectors just like the kickboxers. I cannot afford this equipment so I learn with the other students who do not have them.


Training with gloves, head protectors and feet protectors is most unkungfu-like, although, for various reasons, gloves are used in most kungfu sparring competitions. It is no surprise that these competitors fight like children, or at best like kickboxers and taekwondo exponents.

Question 10

We are shown a specific technique against a partner and practice it repeatedly until it is fairly fluid and then learn another. The next lesson, we go back somewhat to the first technique and repeat the process. This sounds like a more systematic way to approach sparring, but both are taught by the same teacher.


This is a good approach to sparring. If what is taught and actually practised are kungfu techniques, given sufficient practice (say over three months) you and your partner should be able to spar in kungfu.

I do not know what you mean by “both”. If you mean that both you and your partner are taught by the same teacher, this is logical as he is teaching both of you sparring. If you mean that both kickboxing (mentioned earlier) and kungfu sparring are taught by the same teacher, it is likely that your kungfu sparring is like kickboxing.

In my opinion, unless there are other valid reasons such as teaching kickboxing is more lucrative, if one is well versed in kungfu sparring he will not do kickboxing.

Question 11

Since I assume myself to be less than wise about how to teach kung fu, I can only think that perhaps my Sifu knows something I do not.


This is logical, otherwise you would not have learnt from him.

free sparring

An old picture showing Sifu Wong's classmates engaged in full-contact free sparring without wearing any protection gears, yet injuries were very rare

Question 12

If, in fact, my Sifu is not teaching in a correct and systematic way, what would be the correct way to deal with the situation? Should I mention my thoughts to him? This seems confrontational and disrespectful.


Yes, you should mention your thoughts to him, but it is important to do so respectfully. Whether you are confrontational and disrespectful often depends not on what you say but how you say it. Depending on your tone, when you tell someone that he is terrible, you may be complimenting him.

You may say something like this, of course in a respectful tone: “Sifu, may I ask you something? I would very much like to spar like a kungfu exponent and I am ready to work hard for it. But so far I have been sparring like a kickboxer. Perhaps I have not been practising correctly. I have read a method recommended by a Shaolin master. What do you, sifu, think of his method? Should I give it a try?”

Question 13

Or should I leave the kwoon and search for another?


Try out my suggestion and stay a bit longer with your present teacher. Only when you are certain that your training does not help you to acheive your aim, do you leave, but do so with grace, and do not insult him by telling him and others that you have found a better kwoon or school. As a courtesy, do not join the new school immediately; allow for some time to lapse.

Occasionally visit your former teacher (but do not tell your former classmates who are still with your former teacher, what a wonderful time you have in your new school). Continue to respect your former teacher even when you have become better than him.

Question 14

But it is most likely that I shall merely find another “flowery fist master” since masters of any kind are few and far between in my area.


You have more than 80 percent certainty. Masters of any kind are few and rare not only in your area but everywhere.

Question 15

And if I do find another master, how can I be certain that he will teach in the correct way without studying under him for a long time?


I reckon you mean how you would know at the start that the teacher you intend to learn from, is a real kungfu master who can (if he wants) teach you effective kungfu sparring. Here are a few ways:

  1. examine his background and lineage.
  2. find out his philosophy on kungfu sparring.
  3. find out whether his students can spar using kungfu.
  4. politely ask him some relevant questions.

Question 16

Are there some specific questions to ask besides, “Do you teach in the right way?”


It is extremely rude to ask someone whether he is teaching in the right way. But if you do so, among other things, you will inevitably get yes for an answer, for no one (perhaps with the exception of great teachers in special situations) would say his own teaching is wrong.

Here are some suggested questions for your purpose. Notice that you lead the teacher to your targetted question; you do not shoot the question at him bluntly.

  1. Sifu, do you think that combat efficiency is an important consideration in kungfu training.
  2. I have been looking at numerous kungfu schools, but all of them emphasize form training. Only a very few have sparring, and even that their students spar like kickboxers with little or no kungfu patterns used in their sparring. Do you think that kungfu patterns can really be used in sparring?
  3. I would very much like to spar using kungfu patterns. Can you help me?
  4. What will be my training procedure like, and how long do I need to train before I can use kungfu patterns for self defence?

Question 17

If I cannot find another good master, is it worth it to stay under one who would only teach “flowery fists and embroidery kicks.”


No, if your aim is combat efficiency in kungfu and if you are ready to put in some hard work.

But if your aim is to learn some kungfu forms to please spectators, or to please yourself, in addition to the claim that you are part of a martial art tradition that goes back a few thousand years, “flowery fists and embroidery kicks” expecially in its modern form as “wushu” is actually a good choice.

If you are ready to forgo combat efficiency, it is also, in my oppinion, a better choice than karate, taekwondo or kickboxing, in keeping you in some form of physical fitness.

Question 18

Or perhaps this is all part of my Sifu's plan and I am just not at a high enough level to begin to learn to spar or learn chi kung. I am, after all, only learning my fourth form (or set). Please advise me Sifu Wong, I am uncertain of the right path.


If you are already learning your fourth form and yet cannot use your kungfu patterns to spar, it is evident that your teacher pays much attention to form practice and little attention to combat efficiency. But this is the norm today. Often it does not mattter whether a student has learnt for 6 months or 20 years. After 20 years, the student (although he might have used the term “master” for himself long before this time) might have learnt, say, 50 forms or sets, yet he could not effectively use his kungfu patterns to spar.

The norm in the past was different. Kungfu students in the past knew how to spar using kungfu pattterns after they had learnt their first form or set. From the stories told to me by my own masters as well as from reading classical kungfu literature, I know that kungfu students (both monks and secular disciples) at the southern Shaolin Monastery in China could use their kungfu patterns to spar before they learned their first form.

The great Yang Style Taijiquan first patriarch, Yang Lu Chan, had only one kungfu set, and it was just called Taijiquan. It was much later that other sets were invented for Tai Chi dancing. The great lady kungfu master, Yim Wing Choon, practised only one set, which she developed from another set called Flower Set that she had earlier learnt from her teacher the Shaolin nun Ng Mooi. Yim Wing Choon did not even have a name for her special kungfu set; later people named the set Wing Choon Kungfu after her.

My master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, told me that he had to spend more than three years on force training, especially on “One Finger Shooting Zen”, and some fundamental kungfu patterns, before his teacher taught him an apparently simple kungfu set called “Sap Tze Sei Moon Khuen” in Cantonese. This “Sap Tze Sei Moon Khuen”, which means “Crossroads at Four Gates”, was the kungfu set taught at the southern Shaolin Monastery in the past.

Informal chi kung is taught together with the forms right at the beginning. Chi kung, which is energy management, is an integral part of real kungfu. Formal chi kung, which generally take the form of specialized force training, is usually taught much later.

Being able to use kungfu patterns for self defence is a fundamental kungfu objective taught at the very beginning. At the intermediate level, the emphasis is on force training. If you read classical kungfu literature, you will inevitably find that the main preoccupation of most kungfu students and masters was how to enhance their “gong” (pronounced as “kung”, and which may be conveniently translated as kungfu force). At the highest level, where only a few could attain, the emphasis is on mind expansion and spiritual cultivation.

Even amongst kungfu styles whose aim was solely combat efficiency, using kungfu patterns for combat was taught at the beginning. Then the students progressed to train force as well as to learn tactics and strategies for more efficient combat. Hence, if a kungfu teacher keeps his teaching of combat application for his advanced programme, it is likely that he does not have much scope and depth to teach.


January to June 1999

Courses and Classes