SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
MAY 1999 PART 3
I would like to know what do you think of jogging and weightlifting from a Chinese martial artist's perspective. Are they actually detrimental to health? Olympic participants usually have lots of health problems when they grow older. However, would an average amount of jogging still be more beneficial than detrimental?
— Lim, Singapore
From the perspective of Chinese martial arts, both jogging and weight-lifting are detrimental to health. A jogger, even if he does an average amount of jogging, not only tosses his internal organs about when he jogs, each step he makes sends shock waves of chi along meridians from his feet to his internal organs. Habitually shocking internal organs in this way is not healthy. But walking is healthy, especially if you walk leisurely. Humans are born to walk; running is meant for emergency.
Weight-lifting is unhealthy because its training procedure places excessive burden on the heart and lungs without preparing these organs beforehand. Notice how a weight-lifter progresses. If his limit is 200 lbs at this moment, he adds more lbs for the next moment. If he cannot lift the new weight, he violently throws the weight onto the ground. He has to do so because he has been stretched to his limit; he does not even allow his heart and lungs an oz of reserve. If he can successfully lift the new weights, he adds more weights until his muscles and organs can stand no further.
Notice also that when he successfully lifts his weights, he closes his mouth tight and holds his breath. From the chi kung perspective, this is extremely unhealthy. Not only this may build up a lot of stress harmful to his internal organs, the toxic waste produced as a result of work done (in lifting weights) is not disposed off, but left inside the body with far-reaching consequences, such as disrupting the flow of chi necessary for the working of his body systems.
Chinese martial arts also use running and weights in their training, but the philosophy and approach are crucially different. While the western concept would use jogging and weight-lifting to promote health and strength, the Chinese regard them as the result of health and strength, not the cause. While the West would use jogging and weight-lifting as ends themselves, the Chinese martial artists use them as means to improve stamina and train force.
In their training, while the West stretch to the limits, the Chinese emphasize gradual progress and always provide for a wide margin of safety. For example, if a Chinese martial artist can run 500 metres or lift 200 lbs, he would not run 550 metres or lift 250 lbs the next day. Instead he would run only 200 metres or lift 100 lbs for a few days, and then add a few metres or lbs after every few days. At the same time he would practise appropriate chi kung exercises (or take medicinal herbs) not only to strengthen his body system to prepare for the new demand, but also to clear off injuries sustained unwittingly. Progressing gradually over a period of consistent training, he may eventually run 5000 metres or lift 400 lbs.
While in the western approach, little attention is paid to breath control and mental state, the Chinese pay much attention to regulating the breathing and attaining a relaxed and focussed mind. Indeed, running and weights are aids in the training. In other words, the purpose is not to run or lift weights, but to use running and weightlifting as means to train energy and mind so as to increase stamina and force.
I ask this as I am attending school, which requires us to attend exercise lessons. We are also tested on jogging as one of the physical proficiency tests and a fail certainly would not look good.
It is understandable that modern governments adopt practices of the West, as westernization is usually taken as the way to modernization. Moreover, the philosophy and practice of kungfu masters in the past, which I have described above, is not generally known by the public. Even amongst kungfu instructors who should know better, many employ western jogging and weight-lifting methods in their training. School administrators and policy makers would be less informed.
But what is surprising is that although many of these people claim to be scientific, and tacitly consider traditional martial art training as primitive, they seldom take into consideration the fact, as rightly mentioned by you, that Olyimpic participants who represent the cream of western physical training, have lots of health problems when they grow older, whereas kungfu masters are still healthy and fit in their old age.
I was looking over your website and was wondering if I may ask you about the southern Chinese style of Hung Fut. I do apologise if you have answered similar questions before regarding this style. I did not have a thorough look through the Questions/Answer section. I am very interested to know if this style actually exists as a recognised system. I have never been able to find any information on Hung Fut other than it being a left handed style approximately 400 years old.
— Paul, Australia
Hung Futt is a southern Shaolin kungfu style based on Hung Gar Kungfu and Futt Gar Kungfu. It uses the tiger claw of Hung Gar and the Buddha Palm of Futt Gar.
This style actually exists. It is not a left handed style — it is like other styles where both hands are used, although the right hand is more often used for attack and the left for defence. I think it developed in the later part of the Qing Dynasty in China, and therefore only about 200 years old.
Does this style originate from south China and does Hung Fut have a signature move or form, in the way that Hung Gar is well known as a tiger claw system? How could you tell if a person knows or practices Hung Fut? Actually, rather than ask you a lot of questions, I would be grateful if you could tell me anything you may know of this style.
This style originated from Guangdong Province of south China. Its notable features are using the left hand in a Buddha Palm, and the right hand in a fist. Sometimes the tiger claws of Gung Gar are used in one or both hands. The left palm, right fist feature may reveal that the practitioner is a Hung Futt exponent, but one should also bear in mind that exponents of other styles may also use the left palm and right fist. Hung Futt exponents do not use kicks often. Their stances are usually solid and wide, but they are also agile.
Sifu, what are the qualifications for being a Master and/or Grandmaster? I have heard those titles for as long as I can remember but I don't know what they exactly mean.
— Rob, USA
Today, the terms “master” and “grandmaster” have been so loosely used that they often have lost their actual meaning. Almost any Tom, Dick and Harry, after having attended a weekend Chi Kung or Tai Chi class, may start teaching others and calling themselves masters. After teaching for a few years, especially if they are Chinese, they may promote themselves to be grandmasters.
There are no official qualifications enforced by any authoritative organizations regulating the award of the titles “master” and “grandmaster”. The title “master” is given by public consensus to someone who has great skills in his art. A master is usually but not necessarily knowledgeable, and he may or may not be a teacher. A master of Tiger Claw or of Abdominal Breathing, for example, is one who has great skills in the application of the Tiger Claw, or in the art of Abdominal Breathing. He may or may not know much about the theory of the Tiger Claw or Abdominal Breathing. But nowadays, the title “master” is usually given to a teacher out of courtesy, rather than as a recognition of his great skills.
One of the following three conditions may qualify a person to be called a grandmaster. One, his students have become masters. Two, he is the head of a system. Three, he is widely acknowledged as an authority in his art. In the Chinese language, these three titles are called respectively “shi gong” (“si gong” in Cantonese), which means the master's teacher; “zhang men”, which means the patriarch of the system; and “da shi”, which means great master.
I wonder if it is healthy to exercise on both Tai Ji & Qi Qong and Kung Fu. I ask this because some people say “you better make a choice between internal or external”, while some say “never mind”.
— Mario, Belgium
Your question involves an interpretation of the terms “tai chi”, “qigong” and “kungfu”. Basing on what they are commonly used today, Tai Chi refers to a system of gentle exercise with slow, graceful movements; qigong refers to a system of exercise often with regulated breathing for health; and kungfu refers to a system of Chinese martial art generally with fast, forceful movements.
In this case, it does not really matter whether you choose one, or practise any two, or mix them all up. The question of internal and external becomes irrelevant, because as they are generally being practised today there is nothing internal about them. They are all physical exercises: Tai Chi being the most gentle, qigong being more exertive, and kungfu being the most vigorous.
Strictly speaking, judging from the way they are being practised today, they are not genuine Taijiquan, qigong or kungfu. Basing on their original meanings, Taijiquan is an internal martial art, qigong is an art of energy management, and kungfu is the usual western term for Chinese martial arts. But today, there is nothing internal or martial about Tai Chi, there is hardly any energy management in qigong, and much of kungfu today has lost its martial function.
If we use the terms as they were originally used, Taijiquan is a form of kungfu, and all forms of kungfu involve qigong. And all of these terms involve both the external and the internal. In other words, if you practise genuine Taijiquan, you are doing both kungfu and qigong, both internally and externally. If you practise other types of kungfu, such as genuine Shaolin Kungfu and genuine Praying Mantis Kungfu, you are also doing qigong, but you are not doing Taijiquan, which is actually Taiji Kungfu.
It is better to stick to one type of kungfu, such as Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan, and make sure that the kungfu you practise includes qigong. On the other hand, you can practise qigong without practising kungfu. For example, if your purpose is to imporve your health and vitality, and you are not concerned about self-defence, you may practise types of qigong like the Eight Pieces of Brocade and Eighteen Lohan Hands without worrying about their martial application.
All these arts, if they are practised as their masters did, involve form, energy and mind. Form is the external aspect of the arts; energy and mind are the internal. In any of the arts, if you only practise the external form, they would degrade into mere physcial exercise, which, unfortunately, is the situation today.
Wong Sifu, I hope you could explain to me what the feeling of chi is. So far, I've been told that chi feels different for different people. Some feel heat, cold, numbness, or a circulating movement but it seems difficult for me to grasp. Sometimes, I think I can feel heat, but I can't be sure if it's just my imagination. When you clap your hands hard, don't you also feel something like that too? Can we conclude that we are more sensitive to chi at that time? Or is it not chi, and is this arguement like the A=B but B is not A reasoning?
— Xiang Hui, Singapore
Feeling of heat, cold, numbness, circulating movement, neddles pricking, sourness, mild pain, expansion, being charged, stream of warm water flowing, and electric impules are examples of chi sensations as a result of chi kung practice. Different people, owing to various factors, will have different sensations.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that if you feel warm, cold, numb or painful, you have sensation of chi. Yet, on a deeper level, it is also true to say that they are sensations of chi. Feeling of warmth indicates the presence of chi or energy, which may be due to other factors, such as having exercised physically or taken hot food, besides practising chi kung. Feeling of cold, numbness and pain indicates insufficiency or blockage of energy. Hence, it is like A is B, and A is not B.
When you clap your hands hard, you will feel warm as you will have generated chi to your hands by your action. But whether you can feel chi better is a different matter, as other considerations are involved.
A better alternative than clapping hands is to rub your hands together vigorously. A common method chi kung practitioners use is to rub their hands and then place their warm hands over their eyes before opening their eyes after meditation practice. Rubbing your hands and placing them on a painful area of your body is a simple but useful way to relieve pain, because the transferred chi from your hands may help to remove energy blockage which causes the pain.
Asking what is the feeling of chi is like asking what is the taste of rice. Although chi flows in your body all the time, and you eat rice everyday, you may have much difficulty to describe the taste of rice just as you have difficulty to describe the feeling of chi, but even if you can describe rice or chi correctly, another person who does not have the experience of eating rice or of feeling chi in his chi kung training, will not know the taste or feeling although he may understand all the words in the description.
I would like to know what the first few lessons of a good Tai Chi Chuan teacher might be like. Would we only learn the external forms as beginners? Or will there be internal aspects combined in such an early stage of learning? Hence, when will we be able to distinguish the lessons of a true master from those of a charlatan if both only teach external forms in the beginning?
Classical texts reveal that before teaching any techniques, all past masters taught their students how to develop force. There is a kungfu saying as follows: “wei lian quan, xian lian gong”, which means “before practising techniques, first train force”.
The fundamental force training in kungfu is zhang zhuang, or stance standing. In Tai Chi Chuan it is the Three-Circle Stance; in Shaolin it is the Horse-Riding Stance.
My teacher, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, told me, “I had to practise the Horse-Riding Stance and One-Finger Zen for more than three years before my teacher taught me the first kungfu set.” Yet, before that my teacher was already an accomplished fighter, having learnt from six other masters, and having won titles in professional Siamese Boxing rings. Similarly, although I already had more than 15 years of kungfu behind me when I first learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the first things he taught me were Lifting the Sky, Horse-Riding Stance and One-Finger Zen — all of which are fundamental force training in Shaolin Kungfu.
External forms are necessary. Whether you do Three-Circle Stance or One-Finger Zen, you need external forms. But the crucial difference is that a charlatan teaches external forms of patterns and sets as ends themselves, whereas a master teaches external forms as means to train energy and mind.
Although the training of energy and mind is present in the very first lessons of Tai Chi Chuan, it may not be obvious to the uninitiated. A useful guideline is as follows. If the teacher merely teaches forms, without paying attention to the inner significance behind the forms, and especially if the forms are done in a staccato, tensed manner, he is most likely to be a Tai Chi dance instructor. But if he uses the forms as means to show you how to rotate your waist, how to transfer your weight from one leg to another, how to focus on your “dan tian”, and how to move “effortlessly”, he is likely to pave the way for internal energy flow in later lessons.
Honorable Sifu Wong, I have started training Choy Le Fut Kung Fu some time ago. I find it interesting and fun, although the resemblance of the basic techniques of Tae Kwon Do is sometimes astonishing. (I have studied Tae Kwon Do for a couple of years.)
— Aallon, Finland
Perhaps it is a matter of oppinion, but I find that the basic techniques of Choy-Li-Futt Kungfu and of Taekwondo are characteristically different. There are, for example, ten different types of fist techniques in Choy-Li-Fatt, but Taekwondo uses mainly the thrust punch. Choy-Li-Fatt exponents typically use the wide Bow-Arrow Stance in their fighting, but Taekwondo exponents generally bounce about. The high kick, flying kick and roundhouse kick in Taekwondo are seldom used in Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu, which generally prefers the organ-seeking kick, the side kick and the thrust kick.
How do I “unlearn” the Tae Kwon Do techniques? They just come out of my body when trying to execute techniques. I have not learned Choy Le Fut before. Will time solve my problems?
A useful way is as follows. Spend more time initially in practising your basic Choy-Li-Fatt kungfu set, and do not spar with your friends until you can perform your Choy-Li-Fatt techniques quite naturally.
Then, at least after three months, when you spar, do not use any kicking techniques; just focus on your hand techniques and Choy-Li-Fatt footwork, especially your Bow-Arrow Stance. At least spend another three months for this process.
Take note that for this six-month period, your sparring performance may be worse than before. This is your foundation period; once you have laid your foundation you will find that your Choy-Li-Fatt performance, including your sparring, will improve. Time will solve your problems, provided, of course, your training is appropriate.
What would be a good reference for all the Chey Le Fut techniques? All the names are in Chinese, and I would like to practice new techniques at home, but be sure that I execute these correctly.
The best reference would be Choy-Li-Fatt masters of the past. A good reference will be modern Choy-Li-Fatt masters, or even instructors, whose performance you may obtain from videos. But remember that videos show you only the external forms. After checking your outward forms from videos, you have to learn the inner essence of Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu from real life masters or instructors; otherwise you may be doing Choy-Li-Fatt gymnastics instead of Chy-Li-Fatt Kungfu.
If you search around, you may find English translations of the Chinese Choy-Li-Fatt terms. It is wise to ensure your techniques are genuine before you devote time to their practice.