SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
NOVEMBER 1999 PART 1
I am at a stage of growth in my arts where I feel that my diligent practice is not achieving the best results. I train my forms, practice my techniques and occasionally spar. In order to accelerate my learning, I wanted to take up a jogging and/or weight lifting program. This is very time-consuming and I am almost reluctant to commit to it.
— John, Canada
As you mentioned sparring, I presume you were referring to kungfu. Yours is a very common problem among many students. For convenience, I have listed the possible causes of your problems as follows. They are inter-related.
- You have a wrong concept of kungfu. This is common. Most kungfu students today think that kungfu is mainly practising forms with occasional sparring, usually with techniques borrowed from karate or kickboxing. If you look at kungfu from its four dimensions — namely form, force, application and philosophy — and put some time on all the four dimensions instead of only on form, you will get better results.
- You are unclear about your aims and objectives. Different people, understandably, will have different aims and objectives, and these will be conditioned by their concept of kungfu. Yet, no matter what they are, if you bear them in mind and periodically access your progress or otherwise according to your aims and objectives, you will have a better perspective and control over your training.
- Your methods are inferior. Of course if you have a good teacher or if you have learned good techniques from good books, your methods will be better. But even if you only employ what is presently available to you now, you can improve your methods much by considering questions like the following. Why do I practise my forms and my techniques? Is the purpose for beautiful demonstration, for health or for self-defence? How do I fare when compared to my classmates, or to myself six months ago?
Consider also what traditional masters have said about kungfu training, and whether you are following their advice? For example, virtually all masters have said that to get the best results you have to learn personally from a master. Yet many people think they can do equally well from books or videos. Understandably, they do not get good results. On the other hand, virtually no traditional masters have recommended jogging and weight-lifting. Hence, if you spend a lot of time on them, you are likely to waste your time.
Reading your excellent book “The Art Of Shaolin Kung-Fu”, I am curious as to whether or not the chi-kung and kungfu exercises can be used in place of traditional western strength and endurance training altogether and in more economical time.
Yes, in terms of health and vitality, chi kung and kungfu exercises are far superior to western strength and endurance training, and can replace them altogether and achieve better results in shorter time. Here are some points to substantiate my opinion.
- The western methods deal only with the body. Besides the body, chi kung and kungfu exercises cultivate a person's emotion and spirit. If you have a muscular body but if your emotion is unstable and spirit low, you won't he healthy. In terms of performance at high levels, such as world class competition or life-death combat, it is your emotion and spirit that is more crucial than your body.
- In the western methods a lot of toxic waste is produced but is left inside the body with far-reaching consequences, such as blocking nervous energy flow. Chi kung and kungfu exercises cleanse the body off toxic waste.
- At the end of a western training session, the participant has less energy than before he started. He often has to rest for some time before he is capable of more physical or mental work. In chi kung and kungfu he has more energy after each training session, and is immediately ready for any action, physical as well as mental.
- In the western methods, women and old people are generally at a disadvantage when compared to men and younger people; but this is not so in chi kung and kungfu. Indeed, chi kung and kungfu masters above 50 are usually better, physically and mentally, than most young people.
- In the western methods, a person goes downhill once he or she reaches middle age. Age is not a limitation in chi kung and kungfu exercises.
- Western strengthening and endurance exercises are not suitable for the sick. Chi kung and kungfu exercises can overcome illness, including so-called incurable diseases.
- Even for healthy persons, the western methods put much stress on vital organs, like the heart, the lungs and the kidneys. Chi kung and kungfu exercises strengthen vital organs.
- The western methods operate only at the physical plane. Chi kung and kungfu exercises can lead to the highest spiritual attainment.
Will “Lifting the Sky” for 20 minutes, for example, develop power to the point where a 45-minute weight work-out is unnecessary? At the same time as I was reading your book, I was also reading Tao of JKD, in which weight lifting and jogging are emphasized.
Certainly yes. As far as I know, no kungfu masters in the past who were tremendously powerful employed weight work-out. I have not read “Tao of JKD”, and I would not want to comment on the author's opinions. You would have to decide which view to follow.
Some masters used weights as supplements, such as practising with“stone-locks”, wearing copper rings on their arms, or tying weights to their legs, but they did not use weight work-outs as in the west. Others used jogging, but it is often used in conjunction with chi kung to neutralize the adverse effects of mere physical jogging.
I wonder whether by JKD you meant Jeet Kwon Do. It is well known that Bruce Lee, the founder of Jeet Kwon Do and who is often regarded as the Kungfu King, employed weight work-outs and jogging. But, it may be surprising to many people, personally I do not consider Bruce Lee's methods as those of traditional kungfu; indeed I do not even regard Jeet Kwon Do as traditional kungfu. This is only my personal opinion, which I have discussed in more details in my other webpages, and which many people may vehemently oppose. In terms of internal force training, 20 minutes of “Lifting the Sky” is better than 4500 minutes of weight-lifting — and this is not an exaggeration. In fact, the more weight-lifting you do, the worse will be your internal force training. That is why chi kung and internal art masters tell their students not to use strength in their internal force development.
Of course you must do “Lifting the Sky” as a chi kung exercise, and not as a physical exercise. Although you have learnt from my book which, as you said, has taught you much, it is obvious to me that you have not performed “Lifting the Sky” or any other exercises as chi kung. If you had, you would not have asked me the question; you would have felt the flow of energy down your arms. That is one of the reasons why if you want good result you have to learn personally from a master.
Many people who learned chi kung from me for just a few days in my intensive courses, were amazed they could be so powerful from practising chi kung exercises like “Lifting the Sky” and “Pushing Mountains”. The power is distinctly different from that of weight-lifting. When I was still studying in school, I did some weight-lifting, so I could speak from some personal experience. The power derived from weight-lifting, by comparison, is locked and dead, and the weight-lifter feels dull and tired. The power from chi kung training is vibrant and alive, and the chi kung exponent feels fresh and energetic.
Sifu, as far as I know, Chi Kung can help people lose weight for those who want to. But, is there any chance that Chi Kung helps people to gain weight if they want to? I have great difficulty gaining weight. I've tried by eating a lot but it has not helped.
— Adrian, Malaysia
Yes, chi kung can help people gain weight if that is good for them. In fact, there are many more thin people who have gained weight through chi kung than there are fat people who have lost weight. I myself is a good example. I certainly do not consider myself fat now, but I have put on considerable weight since practising chi kung.
If you observe carefully, you will notice that many thin people eat a lot while fat people eat little. This, incidentally, suggests that loosing weight through dieting, which is a very common practice, is not sensible. The root cause is not with the food, but with what the body does with the food. You may eat a lot, but your body breaks down your food into energy too effectively, giving you little left as mass. In Chinese medical terms, this is yin-yang disharmony.
I was lactose intolerant when I was a baby (vomiting blood after drinking any type of milk) till my adolescent years. But there is not much problem of me drinking milk now, only the unpleasant feeling of going to the toilet every morning.
Your being lactose intolerance was also an example of yin-yang disharmony, but manifested in a different way. Here your body failed to produce the right chemicals to break down the lactose. In the other case, your body produces too much chemicals to break down the food. Your unpleasant feeling after taking lactose now, is also a case of insufficient production of the right chemicals to work on the lactose, but not as serious as when you were a baby.
It is said that thin people have high metabolism rate, which makes it hard for them to gain weight. Is this true? And can Chi Kung do anything about it?
Yes, it is true, and chi kung certainly can do something about it. In fact that is what chi kung is good at, i.e. generating energy flow to restore yin-yang harmony. And the best thing is, you don't have to know what causes the disharmony or where the disharmony is. Your task is to generate the energy flow. Once that is accomplished — and it may take a few months — your yin-yang harmony will be restored.
In other words, you don't have to know what chemicals are lacking or where the production of these needed chemicals are not happening, or what else. Your task is to get your body (including your mind) work the ways it is supposed to work. Once you have done that, you will produce just the right chemicals to work on lactose and countless other things, or to put on some weight if that is what you need.
Did the so called “Five Ancestors of Shaolin” — Jisin Simsi (Zhishan Chanshi), Ng Mui (Wu Mei), Baakmei (Baimei), Miuhin (Miaoxian) and Fung Dakdou (Feng Daode) flee from the northern or the southern Shaolin Temple? Can you briefly tell us something about these individuals and about the legends of destruction of both temples? Who was the traitor — Baakmei? Ma Ningyi?
— Pavel, Czech Republic
According to legends these Five Ancestors of Shaolin escaped from the first burning of the Shaolin Monastery, but there was no mention whether it was the northern monastery in Henan Province or the southern monastery in Fujian Province. Jisin Simsi, or the Venerable Chee Seen as I spelt the name elsewhere in my webpages, rebuilt the monastery, which was recorded to be at the Jiulian (or Nine Lotus) Mountains in Fujian Province This monastery was also later burnt by the Qing Army with the help of Lama monks from Tibet. Many masters today think that the Five Ancestors of Shaolin escaped from the northern monastery
It is illuminating to compare this popular legend with available facts. It is now established that there were at least two Shaolin monasteries in China, one in Henan which is now restored by the present Chinese government, and the other in Fujian which is no longer standing but its original site has been found.
Historical records show that the northern Shaolin Monastery was burnt three times. The first two times were in the distant past, and the last time was in 1928 when a warlord set the temple burning for more than two months. But before this time, Shaolin Kungfu was no longer practised in this northern monastery. The third burning was because a rival warlord used the temple as his base. Not much was recorded about the southern monastery except that Shaolin Kungfu was keenly practised there and it acted as a revolutionary centre to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.
As the last burning of the northern monastery was during the early Republican period (1911- 1945) and not during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was not feasible that the Five Ancestors escaped from this northern monastery. There could be a remote possibility of another burning of the monastery before this but not recorded in history. However, even this remote possibility is negated by the fact that the type of kungfu practised and passed on to posterity by all the Five Shaolin Ancestors is characteristically southern Shaolin, not northern.
There are two more relevant and interesting facts. One, the southern Shaolin Monastery was at Quanzhow, and not at the Jiulian Mountain. Modern Chinese archaeologists have found its site, and the present Chinese government has erected a stone-tablet to mark the site. Nothing, yet, has been found at the Jiulian Mountain. Two, historical records show that this southern Shaolin Monastery at Quanzhow was built by imperial decree during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and not by the Venerable Chee Seen during the Qing Dynasty.
Piecing together evidence from both historical facts and legends, I believe that the Five Shaolin Ancestors escaped from the southern Shaolin Monastery at Quanzhow. The Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery was then a rallying centre for revolutionaries against the Qing government. According to legends, the Manchurian prince Yong Cheng infiltrated into the southern Shaolin Monastery as a kungfu monk. After familiarizing himself with the secrets of the monastery as well as of Shaolin Kungfu, and after becoming the Qing emperor, he dispatched an army with the help of kungfu experts from Tibet to raze the monastery to the ground.
Later, a lady kungfu master named Lui Sei Leong infiltrated into the palace, fought her way single-handed through layers of imperial guards and assassinated the emperor Yong Cheng, who himself was a kungfu expert. Lui Sei Leong then renounced worldly life and became a nun. Some people believed she was Ng Mui. Ng Mui wandered over China but spend much of her time in Yunnan. Her two favourite disciples were Yim Wing Choon, who later founded Wing Choon Kungfu, and Foong Sai Yoke, whose mainstream training was from the Venerable Chee Seen.
Pak Mei was a Taoist priest although he trained in the Shaolin Monastery which was Buddhist. He escaped to Er-mei Mountain in Sichuan where he developed Pak Mei kungfu. His two outstanding disciples were Li Pa San, who later initiated Li Ka (or Li Family) Kungfu, and Kou Chun Choong, the military governor of Guangdong and Guangxi.. Later Pak Mei supported the Qing government and led the attack on the Shaolin Monastery built by Chee Seen. Pak Mei was a great fighter. He was expert in many arts, including Golden Bell and Tongzigong, or Child's Art. Dragon Style Kungfu was initiated by him.
The Venerable Chee Seen (Jisin Simsi) was the only Buddhist monk of the Five Shaolin Ancestors. Through hard work he rebuilt another southern Shaolin Monastery at Jiulian (or Nine Lotus) Mountain, but the Qing Army caught up and burnt it too, led by Pak Mei and his disciple Ko Chun Choong. Chee Seen had many distinguished disciples, and his best ten are mentioned below.
It is not surprising that no archaeological evidence has been found for the Shaolin Monastery at Jiulian Mountain. Even in modern times before the northern Shaolin Monastery was restored by the present Chinese government and the site of the Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery found, many people, including many Chinese, though that the Shaolin Monastery was only a myth, without concrete reality.
The fourth of the Five Shaolin ancestors, Fung Tou Tuck , was also a Taoist priest. After the burning of the Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery, he fled to Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province, where he developed the Wudang version of Shaolin Kungfu . This Wudang Shaolin Kungfu is usually shortened to Wudang Kungfu, which is different from the Wudang Kungfu of Zhang San Feng a few centuries before him. Fung Tou Tuck sided with Pak Mei and joined in the attack on the Shaolin Monastery at Julian Mountain.
Miu Hein was the only lay person amongst the Five Shaolin Ancestors. He escaped to Guangdong where he spread his Shaolin specialty, the Shaolin Flower Set. His only daughter, Miu Chui Fa, a lady kungfu master, was one of the two female disciples of Chee Seen, the other being Li Choi Ping. Miu Choi Fa's third son was Fong Sai Yoke.
According to the southern Shaolin tradition, once a year disciples engaged in free sparring to choose the best ten fighters who would sit in ten special chairs on both flanks of the monastery hall. (This tradition was carried on by my master Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, but was later discontinued.) The “ten great disciples”, or “sap tai tei tze”, of the Venerable Chee Seen were the Venerable Harng Yien, the Venerable Sam Tuck, Hoong Hei Khoon, Luk Ah Choy, Miu Choi Fa, Thoong Chein Kern, Lin Swee Hin, Fong Sai Yoke, Li Choi Ping and Ma Ling Yi. Please see more information below.
The tenth great disciple was responsible for filling a gigantic symbolic oil lamp, which would last for a full year. One year, Ma Ling Yi was drunk and broke the lamp while performing his duty. He was punished, but he bore the grudge deeply. He left the monastery secretly and told its secrets to Kou Chun Choong, who later organized an attack on the monastery.
According to Lam Sai Weng's brief history of “Kung Tze Fok Fu Khuen” (“Gong Zi Fu Hu Quan”) or Taming of the Tiger Set. monks from the Fukjian Shaolin helped the Ching (Qing) government to stop Japanese invasion to Taiwan. Other sources claim it was an invasion of Tibetans, Mongolian tribes etc. Do you know something about this?
It was the Ming government that the monks from the Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery helped. During this time, the Japanese had numerous naval expeditions to attack China, including Taiwan, but each time they were pushed off by the Ming army or navy. Two outstanding generals, who were also two of the best known in Chinese military history, were Yu Da Yau and Chi Ji Guang. Both of them were Shaolin disciples, and both were experts in using the long spear.
I have heard about “Ten Tigers of Shaolin Temple”, layman disciples of Fujian Shaolin — Hung Heigun (Hong Xiguan), Fong Saiyuk (Fang Shiyu), Wu Waikin (Hu Huiqian) etc. Can you briefly tell us more about these southern heroes?
What you mean are the Ten Great Disciples of Shaolin or “Sil Lam Sap Tai Tei Tze” in Cantonese, “Shao Lin Shi Da Di Zi” in Mandrine. Different grandmasters at the Shaolin Monastery logically had different sets of ten top disciples, but the most popular in kungfu legends were the ten great disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen.
These ten great disciples of the Shaolin Monastery were not placed according to their seniority in learning from the master, but according to their performance in a grand annual free sparring competition. This tradition was practised in the southern Shaolin Monastery; I am not sure if it was also practised in the northern Shaolin Monastery.
Wu Wai Thein was not one of Chee Seen's top students. In his haste to avenge his father's death, he stole out of the monastery via a ditch before he could complete his basic training. Even so, he was a good fighter, specializing in the Flower Set. The Ten Great Disciples of Shaolin during the time Chee Seen was the abbowere as follows.
The Venerable Herng Yien was the most senior as well the foremost of Chee Seen's disciples. Unlike the others who were frequently involved in fighting, he was also the most peace-loving. He placed spiritual cultivation far above combat efficiency. Paradoxically, or perhaps because of this spiritual focus, he was also the best fighter among the ten.
The Venerable Sam Tuck was the second best. He and Harng Yien were the only two monks among the top ten disciples; the other eight were laypersons. Later Sam Tuck became the abbot of Sai Sim (or Xi Chan) Monastery in Guangdong, where many Southern Shaolin heroes gathered after the burning of the Shaolin Monastery.
After the burning of the Shaolin Monastery, Hoong Hei Khoon escaped to Fatt San in Guangdong where he set up his kungfu school called Siew Lam Hoong Goon, which means the Hoong School of Shaolin Kungfu. His style of kungfu is now popularly known as Hoong Ka (Hung Gar) or Hoong Family Kungfu.
Luk Ah Choy was a Manchurian, not a Han Chinese. But, of course, although the Shaolin disciples vowed to overthrow the Manchurian government, they loved Luk Ah Choy as a brother. He was instrumental in spreading Shaolin Kungfu to posterity.
Miu Choi Fa was Miu Hein's daughter. She herself and all her three sons, How Yoke, Mei Yoke and Sai Yoke learned from Chee Seen. She was expert in the Plum Flower Single Knife. Sadly, she was killed by a rain of arrows while defending the monastery from burning.
Thoong Chein Kern was another Manchurian. His surname was “Thoong”, and “Chein Kern” which means “Thousand Pounds” in Cantonese, was his nickname because his arms and horse-stance were very powerful.
Lin Swee Hin was a son of Lin Karn Yew, a great general who helped the Manchurian government to subdue rebellious Tibet and Mongolia. But he was later killed by the emperor who feared his extraordinary military talents. His son, Lin Swee Hin, first learned from Fung Tou Tuck but when he found out that his teacher sided with the Qing government, he turned to Chee Seen.
Fong Sai Yoke was often known as Len Chye Yoke, or Handsome Yoke. His most celebrated occasion which also shot him to fame instantly happened when he was only about fifteen years old. A kungfu master nicknamed Tiger Lei with his insulting slogan “Hitting all Guangdong with a fist, and striking Suzhow and Hangzhow with a kick” was unbeaten for weeks, yet was defeated by Fong Sai Yoke.
Li Choi Ping and Miu Choi Fa were the only two woman disciples of Chee Seen. Li Choi Ping was very good with the Shaolin sword.
Ma Ling Yi was the last of the ten top disciples. He was an orphan picked up by Chee Seen and brought to the monastery. Yet, he betrayed the very people who had cared for and loved him.
Can you tell us something about Hung Heigun (Hong Xiguan) and his wife Fong Wingcheun (Fang Yongchun)? Was she a relative of Fong Saiyuk? Can you tell us more about their son, Hung Manding (Hong Wending)?
When Hoong Hei Khoon was teaching Shaolin Kungfu in Guangdong, he met his wife Fong Wing Choon, who was also known as Fong Cheit Leong, meaning Seventh Lady Fong, as she was number seven in her family. She was not related to Fong Sai Yoke, and was not the same person as Yim Wing Choon.
Fong Wing Choon was expert in the Crane Style of Shaolin Kungfu from the Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery. Hoong Hei Khoon incorporated the Crane style of his wife into his own Tiger style, resulting in the famous Tiger-Crane Set of Hoong Ka Kungfu. Later, his son Hoong Man Ting, and Wu Wei Thein's son, Wu Ah Piew, whom Hoong Hei Khoon had adopted as his own, using the Tiger-Crane Set together killed Pak Mei. Unfortunately, little is known about Hoong Man Ting and Wu Ah Piew, or about their lineage.
Note : These questions and answers on the legends of Southern Shaolin will be continued in the next issue, November 1999 (Part 2) with information on the Tiger-Crane Set and the Ten Tigers of Guangdong.