SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
MAY 1999 PART 1
I have been studying Tai Chi Chuan Yang style on and off for about six years and I came to the realization that I am a person in the category of someone who does Tai Chi dance.
— Gregory, USA
You are lucky to realize the diference between Taijiquan and Taiji dance after only six years of training. Many people have spent more than ten years on Taiji dance but imagine they have been performing wonderful Taijiquan.
Your six years of Taiji dance, however, is not without benefits. You should be more relaxed and graceful than what you would have been if not for the Taiji dance.What is more inspiring is that you can convert your Taiji dance into Taijiquan. The crucial difference is not what you practise, but how you practise. If you practise your Taiji forms with almost total attention to graceful movements, yours is Taiji dance. If you practise the same forms but with emphasis on developing internal force and combat efficiency, yours become Taijiquan.
What you need to do now is to forget about learning new forms, although you still practise your forms, but seek a teacher who can teach you how to develop internal force and apply your learnt forms for self-defence. It may not be easy to find such a teacher, but if you persevere you will find one.
To make matters worse I possess 4 different interpretations of the Yang style sequences and no two complete sequences are exactly alike. The sources are: my instructor of six years ago, yourself, Tsung Hwa Jou, and Yang Jing Ming. The last three sources are from illustrations in books. Most of the steps are similar, but the sequences differ. I am in the process of interpreting what sequences I have been taught and how they relate to yours and Tsung Hwa Jou sets, which are very similar.
Actually it does not matter much which sequence you choose for your practice, so long as it is a genuine Taijiquan set. As I have mentioned earlier, it is not what you practise, but how you practise it that is important.
Sifu Tsung Hwa Jou and Sifu Yang Jing Ming are world renowned masters. Any of their sequences will be good. But if you have a good teacher, even though he may not be as well known as the two mentioned masters, I believe you will benefit more from his personal teaching than learning from the masters' books.
My instructor included a crescent kick and a couple of back fist punches which doesn't seem to be duplicated in the other sets. Am I focusing on the sequences too much or is it common that the sets differ from instructor to instructor?
I think the cresent kick is the pattern called “Swaying the Lotus” found in the 108-pattern Yang Style Taijiquan set. I am not sure what did you mean by “back fist punches”.
Yes, you are over-focusing on the sequences. It is important to learn a suitable sequence well, but once you have done that you should progress to other more important aspects of Taijiquan training like internal force and combat application.
It is common that in the same kungfu style (including Taijiquan) typical sets of different masters and instructors differ. Sometimes, the same master may modify some patterns in his typical sets to suit his students' individual needs or abilities. It is helpful to remember that these sets are meant to familiarize you with the typical techniques of the kungfu style you are learning; they are not meant to be rigid rules enslaving you.
I am a little disappointed in my lack of progress in Tai Chi. One major reason for this is the lack of time that I can allocate to practicing it because of my working schedule. At the most I can allocate about 1 hour a day to practicing.
Practice, not new learning, is the essential key to progress in any martial art. But if you can devote an hour a day to your practice, provided that your practice is proper, you should attain a reasonable level in two years.
In the book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, you taught me 4 Chi Kung sequences that I have practiced for about a month. I can honestly say that I have felt more chi circulation doing chi kung than I have ever felt doing Tai Chi.
This is probably because you have been doing the 4 exercises as chi kung, and Tai Chi as dance. Should you reverse the process, you would find more chi circulation in Taijiquan than in chi kung dance.
The problem is that to get the true benefit of the Chi Kung sequences you need to do the 60 steps, (Lohan kicking oranges, dancing fairies, holding jar, etc.) and not an abbreviated form. Tai Chi sequences loosen up my neck, back and shoulders when I do them, but does not seem to have the same result of chi circulation.
The chi kung sequence you mentioned is only one of countless other chi kung sequences. If you are well trained, you need only one step to get your chi circulating. This is actually not difficult or advanced; many of my students can do this within one year after learning from me personally. And irrespective of what chi kung exercises they do, they can loosen their neck, back and shoulders quite easily.
On the other hand, as Taijiquan is also a form of chi kung, you can achieve the same results using Taijiquan movements. As I have mentioned earlier, especially in the internal arts, it is not what you do but how you do it that is important. A Taijiquan master, for example, can apply the characteristic Yang Style pattern “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” to loosen his neck, back and shoulders, or to circulate chi, or to overcome almost any attacks from an opponent. Those who practise Taiji dance can never understand how this is possible, but it is true.
Meditation also produced some good results, but again I am trying to do too much at one time. What do you recommend as the best alternative with the most benefit given this time constraint. Should I focus on chi kung or Tai Chi or meditation?
Every movement in Taijiquan, as well as in Shaolin Kungfu, as practised by masters, is a training of energy and mind. In other words, every movement involves chi kung and meditation.
Probably what you meant by “chi kung”, “Tai Chi” and “meditation” in your question are some form of gentle exercise, some external Tai Chi movements, and sitting upright with your eyes close. Strictly speaking, they are not chi kung (which involves energy management), Taijiquan (which is an internal martial art) or meditation (which is mind training).
My recommendation is that if you want the most benefit, you should stop practising the adulterated stuff and go for any one of the real arts. But you must be ready to put in a lot of time and effort.
I started studying Tai Chi because of the martial aspects which again were not taught by my instructor, but being familiar with Wing Chun Kung Fu, I was able to recognize a few patterns and their applications.
If you want to learn Taijiquan as a martial art, you must go to someone who teaches Taijiquan as a martial art. It is as simple as that. If you go to someone who teaches swimming although he may call it Taijiquan, you will learn swimming; if you go to someone who teaches gymnastics although he may call it kungfu, you will learn gymnastics.
The techniques and tactics of Taijiquan are very different from those of Wing Chun Kungfu. If you think you know Taijiquan from your transferred knowledge of Wing Chun Kungfu, then it is likely you know little of both. The halmark of Taijiquan in combat is to employ circular movements to lead away an opponent's attack before counter-striking him, whereas the halmark of Wing Chun Kungfu is to employ the shortest, fastest movements in both defending against and counter-striking an opponent.
Currently my hamstrings behind my knees are injured from stretching. Do you have any recommendations on how to heal them.
Yes, see an expert who knows how to heal them. Don't insult the experts by tacitly implying that those fools spend years on what you could easily obtain from an e-mail. If you do not wish to see an expert, the best alternative is rest, and let Nature do the healing, which usually takes a longer time than the experts.
I use ice packs and my meditation techniques and chi circulation to those areas are not helping them as much as I have hoped.
From the Chinese medical perspective, using ice packs on your injury will make it worse. Your meditation and chi circulation techniques did not work because you were not qualified to do so.
Here again you were insulting the experts, although you did not meant to and was never aware of it. You implied that those masters who could heal by using meditation or chi circulation techniques were big fools having wasted their time in their long years of training, because you could reproduce what they could do by merely reading from some books.
I appreciate any feedback that you can give me. As you can tell I have some years of frustration behind me, and the potential to discovering new mysteries ahead. I am just trying to figure out the best method of achieving health and security in the limited time that I have available.
Ironically, you have been wasting your time. Not only you have not obtained the benefits the arts you practise are supposed to give — such as vitality from chi kung, combat efficiency from Taijiquan, and inner peace from meditatuion — you have also hurt yourself, physically as well as emotionally.The best method to get the best results is to learn personally from a real master. If you want the best, you must be prepared to pay the price, including the effort to seek the master, the hard work you put into your training, and the expenses involved. If you are not prepared to make the necessary sacrifice, then you have to settle for something below the best.
Gregory promptly and graciously replied as follows:
Sifu Wong Kiew Kit,
Thank you for your time in answering my questions. I am truly sorry for having offended you and the masters, I did not mean to. My questions regarding healing through meditation and chi kung could have been stated better than it was which led to a misinterpretation of some of my questions.
Once again I am sorry. The question that I meant to ask was could you heal injuries through these methods? The answer from your response is yes. The way to do it is by seeking a master who can teach it.
It is gracious of you to reply promptly with an explanation and apology. Actually the questions on experts and masters are meant as much for visitors to my question-answer series, to which I intend to post them, as for you. In my teaching in many parts of the world, I was amazed that many people, especially in Western societies, had the impression that they could in a weekend seminar or from a book easily learn and then practise on their friends, students or patients what genuine masters had taken years to practise. Obviously, this is one main reason why arts like chi kung and Taijiquan have been so watered down to become mere dance.
In my recent teaching trip to Europe, I learned that one participant in my chi kung class taught his students how to cleanse their nerves soon after learning the skill and technique from me, despite my repeated serious warning that such an advanced art had to be taught by a master. I made it very clear that knowing the technique to cleanse the nerves and also having the skill to do so correctly is not enough for a person to teach it. To teach something, a teacher must know much more than what he teaches, and is much deeper in the required skill. It is not just repeating the external movements which he has learnt. He must also have practised it at least for two or three years, and is satisfied that it works safely.
That teacher who taught the advanced method of cleansing nerves before he was qualified to do so, was both unprofessional and irresponsible. Faulty practice, which is likely if the teacher is unqualified, would distort the students' energy field and cause insidious harm with far reaching consequences. In another case, someone who just learned about “Golden Bridge” from me orally, taught the technique to a pregnant woman to help the latter increase her energy level. Luckily I knew about this in time and asked the pregnant woman to discontinue her practice immediately, otherwise it might lead to a mis-carriage.
This leads to why I wrote in the first place. Do you know of any Chi Kung or Tai Chi masters in my area? Having been to three martial art studios before and basically wasting my time with them, I am a little reluctant to try again.
No, I don't know of any Chi Kung or Taijiquan masters in your area. I don't mean to be presumptuous and many people would not like the following statement, but basing on my observation very few teachers today are genuine masters.
A real master is as rare now as of old. The difference, however, is that in the past there were few imposters but today many people claim to be masters, or have the title bestowed upon them by the public if they have been teaching, even much diluted forms of the arts, for some time.
Your books were written as self guiding instructions, but you have made it totally clear that the best way to learn is to seek a master and masters are hard to find. Since I have been feeling some benefits from the chi kung and meditation practices from your books such as body tingling and gentle involuntary swaying, I was inspired to continue these practices.
Those are some of the objectives of my books: providing simple exercises so that readers may practise safely and rewardingly on their own, and having directly experienced the described benefits, seeking a master to continue further if they are ready to devote their time and effort.
But there is one big setback: despite my clear warning that advanced arts must be learnt personally from a master, which is also the warning given by virtually all masters, many readers, wittingly or unwittingly, consider themselves smarter than the masters and attempt the advanced arts on their own, often hastily.
I have made more progress through your books than I did with instructors thus far.
Actually this is no surprise, and many people also have said the same thing. It is not because my books are superb teachers, but because what I describe in my books is real chi kung, whereas what is taught on the open market is usually some form of chi kung gymnastics or dance.Even if the teachers on the open market are excellent, the best their students can get are benefits that gymnastics and dance can give; and even if my books are poor teachers, practising faithfully the methods described in them will give chi kung benefits, albeit at a low level.
Is the best course of action to continue with these practices until I can find a master who can help with chi circulation, possibly yourself if you are willing, or is it wiser to start afresh with instruction from a master if I can find one in the area?
As you have experienced benefits from your practice, the best course is to continue until you find a master to help you. The master will be in a better position to advise you whether to start afresh with his instruction, or use your current attainment as a spring board for further progress.If you wish to learn from me personally, please refer to my webpage describing my intensive courses stated on this webpage.
In regards to Tai Chi, being an engineer who analyzes things for a living, it appears to me that my total benefit from Tai Chi as a form of self defense is severly limited doing sequences, if correct, alone. Sparring and Pushing Hands are very important functions in developing Tai Chi as a form of self defense. Is this correct?
Yes. If you only practise sequences, including pre-arranged sparring sequences, you will never be able to defend yourself even though you may practise for a whole lifetime. This is happening to 90% of people who practise Tai Chi today, including in China. This is what past masters referred to as fa quan xiu tui or “flowery fists and embroidery legs”, beautiful to watch but useless for combat.
Besides Pushing Hands and sparring practice, you must also develop force, and in the case of Taijiquan it is internal force. Without force, which can also be external as in some great kungfu like Choy-Li-Futt, you will fall into the category of what past masters described as lian quan bu lian gong, dao lao yi chang kong or “if you only practise techniques but do not develop force, you will be futile even if you practise for your whole life”. Again, 90% of those who practise Tai Chi all over the world today, do not develop force.
You will be pleased to know that this force you have develped in real Taijiquan, is useful not just for fighting but also for your daily work and play. You will, for example, have the energy to work hard and have mental clarity.
Doing the sequences alone probably does not provide an adequate defense even if you mentally go through fighting scenarios. Is this also correct?
Yes. An analogy is learning swimming techniques from a book, instead of from a competent instructor, then imagining swimming in a pool or sea. When you are thrown into water, you will go to the bottom, no matter how much you have learnt and how well you have imagined. You should now have a better understanding why many people who have learnt so-called kungfu (including Tai Chi) for years, yet fight like children.
Discussing this on paper, I have come to a decision that seeking chi kung instruction is probably the most benefical for me for overall health and well being. Would you agree?
Yes, if your aim is good health, chi kung is a better choice than Taijiquan, because basically Taijiquan is a martial art. Here I use the terms “chi kung” and “Taijiquan” in the sense most people would conceptualize them.In a wide sense, Taijiquan is also chi kung. But chi kung gymnastics and Tai Chi dance are not chi kung; they probably give you less health benefits than swimming or disco dancing.
What should I write for the sifu to answer my question?
— Name and Country Not Stated
Ask anything sensible, but you must address the sifu properly, and state your name, country and webpage reference. An e-mail without proper addressing and without the writer's name, like the one above, will probably go to the thrash bin.
Your FAQ is amazing that I know something of what is real Kungfu if I have a chance to learn. But why Kungfu, Chi Kung and Taijiquan are not suitable for AIDS patients or HIV positive? Could you tell me?
— Guilherme, Canada
AnswerI have addressed the questions of AIDS and HIV before in my question-answer series, the latest being in Answer 12 of the April 1999 (Part 2) issue.
Firstly, please note I have never mentioned that chi kung, kungfu and taijiquan are not suitable for AIDS patients and those who are HIV positive. In fact, I believe that chi kung will provide the best chance of overcoming AIDS.
But I mention that the intensive courses I offer are not suitable for AIDS patients and those with HIV positive. This is because I do not know enough of the effect of chi on the HIV (virus). In particular I am not sure whether the chi resulting from my chi kung course might activate the HIV, thereby causing AIDS.
As I have always maintained that a good teacher must be both professional and responsible, I would not be practicing what I preach should I accept AIDS or HIV students. Teaching something which I do not fully understand is being unprofessional, subjecting students to possible risk is being irresponsible.
The onus of professionalism and responsibility rests with the teacher, not with the students. In other words, even if students with AIDS or HIV approach me saying, “Sifu, we know the risks and are willing to bear them”, I would not accept them into my courses. It is like pupils telling their teacher, “Sir, we accept the risk of drowning, but please let us swim in the sea”.
I also have a responsibility towards other students. Unlike in hospitals or special centres where safety measures are adequate, there are none in my courses. If an accident happens, such as during a self-manifested chi movement exercise an AIDS patient falling onto a healthy student and unwittingly stretching him, the former might pass on the HIV virus to the latter.
It is worthwhile to mention here that should any HIV patient think that since he (or she) is already afflicted with the disease, he would not care about the welfare of others, and join my courses under the pretence that he does not have AIDS or is not HIV positive he would be unwise and doing himself a great dis-service. As I have said that I do not know the effect of chi on the HIV, the risk of him aggravating his problem is real.
Moreover, what is certain is that if his heart is malicious, he will not only deny himself the chance of a possible cure (which he may get somewhere else), but also deny himself of living his remaining life in a wholesome manner. If he can open his heart, despite his illness, he needs not be miserable. In fact the Chinese terms for being generous and being happy are “opening the chest” and “opening the heart” respectively.
Another legitimate question is “If I believe chi kung may turn out to be the best solution for AIDS patients and those who are HIV positives, then why don't I teach these people?” The answer is as follows. I am a teacher, not a researcher. I know my limitations, so I leave the important job of researching into chi kung cure for AIDS for people who are better qualified than I am.
I want to spend my time in areas where I am sure my effort will bring good results, not in areas where I think it may bring good results. I am confident and competent when dealing with people suffering from diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disorders, as I know what I am doing and have good track records. The need of these people is even more urgent than that of AIDS patients — the spread of incidence is wider, and the rate of death is higher and often quicker. Cancer affects one out of five persons, and cardiovascular disorders is the top killer.