Shaolin Kungfu

An old photograph showing Sifu Chan Hon Chung of Hong Kong, a direct descendent from the lineage of the legendary Southern Shaolin or Hung Gar master Wong Fei Hoong, demonstrating a pattern from the Tiger-Crane Set. Compare such a traditional kungfu pattern with a modern wushu pattern below.

Question 1

You said, “Do you really know what you meant when you said 'tap into cosmic love and wisdom'? Many people, especially those who have read much but have practised little, often use phrases like this without fully realizing their true meaning.”

I can easily answer your question: Yes, I know what I meant. I mean that I want to be able to fully use the entire range of my conscious mind. In every single task, I attempt to make full use of my thoughts, feelings and then act. To me that is a life time task, and actually I even believe that it is a very simple task! All it takes is that I am attentive — open minded and curious, like a baby — that I actually see, hear, feel, taste and smell all there is. Maybe it is the sum of the five senses.

— Kenneth, Denmark


Different people from different culture and training will understandably give different answers. Yours is a typical answer from an educated Westerner. Before I provide my answer from the perspective of my Shaolin training, I would like to give some comments to your answer. Needless to say, these comments are definitely not meant to criticize or belittle your answer, as here there is no such a thing as a right or a better answer — it is a matter of different perspectives. The comments are meant as sincere pointers to help you review your answer from a different perspective, and hopefully gain some depth from your review.

“I want to be able to fully use the entire range of my conscious mind.” What about your unconscious mind, or your supraconscious mind? Many western scientists themselves believe that the unconscious or supraconscious constitutes 90% of your mind, the conscious only 10%. Would you agree that tapping into the cosmos for love and wisdom would concern more of the supraconscious than the conscious?

“In every single task, I attempt to make full use of my thoughts, feelings and then act.” Many essential life tasks, like breathing, digestion and hormonal production, are done without thoughts, feelings and direct actions. They are done by your unconscious.

“To me that is a life time task, and actually I even believe that it is a very simple task!” Most of the simple, yet profound, tasks are done by the unconscious. Indeed the conscious often makes things complicated. Imagine how complicated it would be if you consciously try to regulate your breathing to adjust to constantly changing air temperature and chemistry. But why do you regard making full use of your thoughts, feelings and then act (which is also to you a simple, life time task) as taping into cosmic love and wisdom? In what ways, for example, has eating your lunch with full thoughts and feeling, anything to do with cosmic love and wisdom?

“All it takes is that I am attentive — open minded and curious, like a baby — that I actually see, hear, feel, taste and smell all there is. Maybe it is the sum of the five senses” Do you mean that when you are not attentive, such as when you are sleeping, you would be unable, or inadequate, to tap into cosmic love and wisdom? Do you mean that there is no cosmic love or wisdom outside your five senses?

More significantly, you have not attempted to clarify what you mean by cosmic love and wisdom. What you have explained can be applied to tapping into cosmic hatred and ignorance, or doing mundane jobs, or in fact to anything. What you have suggested is being attentive, in thoughts and feelings, in whatever you do, but you have not explained why or how this will lead to cosmic love and wisdom.

If I use the phrase “tapping into cosmic love and wisdom”, generally my meaning is as follows. Cosmic love is to be distinguished from personal love, and cosmic wisdom from worldly wisdom. If I go hungry so that my child could eat, it is a manifestation of personal love. Personal love is instinctive; every mother knows this very well. If a mother gives away her child's food, even though her child is hungry, to a stranger who needs the food more urgently, it is a manifestation of cosmic love. Cosmic love is usually not instinctive; it has to be acquired through cultivation.

All the knowledge we have gained through science and (Western) philosophy is worldly wisdom. Knowing that a molecule of water is a compound of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, is an example of worldly wisdom. Thinking that if a student studies hard, he will pass his examination well is another example.

Worldly wisdom is bound by a set of conditions — a fact that many people may not be aware, and which often causes some scientists to be dogmatic. Water, for example, is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen only if we use the conventional Western scientific paradigm, which constitutes a set of conditions. Ancient scientists of other cultures, who were equally intelligent and capable but who used different sets of conditions, described water differently.

Even when we use the Western paradigm, but if we change the conditions slightly, such as studying the water under an electron microscope instead of using electroanalysis, water would no longer be a compound of hydrogen and oxygen but a mass of distantly spread sub-atomic particles. Thinking out conditions why studying hard does not definitely enable a student to pass his examination well, is quite easy.

Cosmic wisdom is transcendental, i.e. it transcends sets of conditions, and at the highest level is not bound by any conditions. Cosmic wisdom is almost always obtained by great masters from direct experience at heightened level of consciousness. Lesser minds learn such cosmic wisdom from the masters. When Jesus said that those who believe in him and follow his teaching, will go to heaven, Jesus was generously sharing some great cosmic wisdom.

I am not a Christian, and therefore do not follow a set of conditions normally applied to Christians, yet from my Shaolin training, which has nothing to do with Christianity directly, I can vouch with conviction that Jesus was stating a great cosmic truth. Indeed, Jesus is a shining example of cosmic love and cosmic wisdom.

How does one tap into cosmic love and cosmic wisdom? Through meditation, which is the training of mind to bring it to heightened levels of consciousness. In Shaolin terminology, it is entering Zen. Hence, meditation is not just sitting cross-legged, and Zen is not just speaking in riddles. Basically, meditation or Zen is mind training, and has to be properly learnt from a master — not read from a book and then teach others.

The most fundamental way to meditation or Zen is sitting in a lotus position thinking and feeling nothing. It is a most simple and profound task. It is difficult for those not initiated into Zen to appreciate, or even imagine, how such an apparently simple task can help the practitioner tap into the cosmos. On the negative side, it is easy for many people, especially in the West where traditional Zen training is rare but where Zen is usually studied (as distinguished from practised) from books, to learn it superficially and quickly teach others, thereby wasting their own and others' time, and sometimes bringing adverse effects.

In the Shaolin training, Zen is also attained through kungfu and chi kung. In fact kungfu, chi kung and Zen are integrated; it is in the much diluted kungfu and chi kung which are wide-spread today, that the energy and mind aspects are missing. When you, for example, perform a kungfu movement and directly experience (not merely recall having read) your energy flowing with your movement, or when you perform a chi kung movement and directly experience your mind (or spirit) merging into the universal mind, you are tapping into the cosmos.

But there are other forms of meditation which you can practise on your own. One such form is prayer. If you pray sincerely and deeply, especially if you do so habitually, you can raise your mind to heightened levels of consciousness, and tap into cosmic love. Another good example is chanting scriptures, sutras or mantras. At first you may not understand what you chant, but when your mind has reached heightened levels of consciousness through devoted chanting, glimpses of cosmic wisdom will flash into you.

Question 2

I have a question and a statement that I think would be beneficial to all readers interested in Shaolin kungfu, Tai chi, and Qigong. I have been involved with these disciplines for quite some time now. I am a student of one of the three only disciples of Yeung Sau Chung (oldest son of Yang Chengfu), and of Shi Guo Lin of the Shaolin Temple now residing in New York. My statement is this: I hope people consider your advice very seriously when you tell them that one has to find a “true” master of the art they pursue.

— Francis, USA


Yes, this is very important if they want to learn the real art, be it Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan or qigong. Most people do not spend enough time and effort seeking a master; they want to get to the art quickly. Ironically, and unfortunately, most of them end up wasting all their time doing gymnastics or dance.

On the other hand, finding a true master is very, very difficult. This is a fact which many people do not fully appreciate. It is understandable why they do not appreciate this fact — even though they may literally know the statement “finding a true master is very, very difficult”. It is because they do not have the direct experience to realize what a true master is.

Because of their own shallowness, they often, and honestly, mistake a popular instructor as a true master. For example, when someone can perform Taiji movements beautifully, has practised and taught the art for many years, and can philosophize on it, the public would often regard him as a master — when, in fact, he may not even be a true practitioner of Taijiquan, having for all his life practised and taught Taiji dance.

Question 3

My question is this: I learn Yi Jin Jing and I was wondering if this qigong is sufficient to keep my meridians open and prevent blockages for doing zhan zhuang.


The answer is about 60% yes and 40% no.

This means about 60% of the times Yi Jin Jing can keep your meridians open and prevent blockage even if you may have practised zhan zhuang wrongly.

About 40% of the times this doe not happen because other factors are involved. For example, if the adverse effects of your zhan zhuang are very severe, you Yi Jin Jing foundation may not be efficient enough to overcome them.

Question 4

I have experienced adverse effects while doing zhan zhuang before I learned Yi Jin Jing that I attribute to a build up of intense energy that was inhibited due to blockages in my body. Will Yi Jin Jing prevent this and allow me to continue zhan zhuang, or will I have to learn something like microcosmic orbit?


If you have prior blockage, practising Yi Jin Jing is more likely to aggravate your adverse effect, although sometimes it may overcome them; practising the Microcosmic Orbit is more likely to overcome the adverse effects although sometimes it may aggravate them; whereas practising self-manifested qi movement is most likely to overcome the adverse effects and unlikely to aggravate them.

These different types of qigong — Yi Jin Jing, Microcosmic Orbit, and self-manifested qi movement — produce different results because their nature and purpose are different. The emphasis of Yi Jin Jing is on building energy; that of Microcosmic Orbit on cleansing and building; and that of self-manifested qi movement on cleansing.

modern wushu

A young woman demonstrating a modern wushu pattern with two daggers. Compare this modern wushu pattern with a traditional kungfu pattern above.

Question 5

Also, how and when should I practice? Which one first, which last, how often etc? I'm learning each one from a different teacher; this is why I ask you.


Generally it is not recommendable to train Yi Jin Jing and zhan zhuang at the same time. You will get more results, and often in less time, if you concentrate on one type of qigong at one time.

It is best to start with self-manifested qi movement for three months or a year, depending on your time frame and standard aimed at. Then move to zhan zhuang for six months or two years. During this period, especially at the initial stage, practise self-manifested qi movement once a while.

At the third level, practise Yi Jin Jing for nine months or three years, during which time practise self-manifested qi movement and zhan zhuang once a while.

Question 6

Excuse me for my ignorance, but I don't know exactly what you mean by self-manifested qigong. Could you explain?


Self-manifested qigong, or self-manifested qi movement, is a genre of qigong.

For convenience, qigong may be classified into two broad categories: quiescent qigong and dynamic qigong. Quiescent qigong can be further classified into two main groups: meditation and qigong breathing.

Dynamic qigong too can be classified into two main groups: self-manifested qi movement and dynamic patterns. These classifications are arbitrary, and there is often much overlapping.

In self-manifested qi movement, the practitioner performs a serious of qigong patterns to induce his qi to flow. Then he lets go totally, letting his internal qi flow take over. His internal qi flow manifests as spontaneous external bodily movements.

Because of their different needs and other factors, these spontaneous movements may be different although the practitioners may initially perform the same qigong patterns.

Usually the practitioners sway about and swing their arms and legs, but sometimes the movements can be vigorous and extra-ordinary, such as making them hop about like a kangaroo or roar like a tiger. You would have to see, or better still experience, to believe it.

Obviously, self-manifested qi movement has to be learnt from a master, not practised from books or videos which may cause deviations if improperly learnt. It is non-religious or spiritualistic, and is very safe when learnt properly.

Although it appears fantastic, and actually is fantastic to the uninitiated, it is really a simple and very effective qigong exercise once you know it. It has helped many people to overcome so-called incurable diseases as well as relieve internal injury.

Question 7

It seems that you believe Yi Jin Jing is an advanced qigong method. Why would my teacher start students in this form? Is he only teaching certain levels of it and then elaborating on it in the future when students are ready?


Yi Jin Jing is an advanced qigong method. In traditional Shaolin Kungfu, it is taught only to advanced students, although for specific reasons a few masters may teach it at the beginning.

I do not know why your teacher started students in this form. He must have his good reasons. Moreover, it is not proper for me to comment on his teaching.

Nevertheless, to answer your questions, I would take a hypothetically case why a teacher — any teacher — would teach Yi Jin Jing at the very beginning. Here are some possibilities.

  1. That is all he knows.
  2. It is his best art, and he wants to share only his best with his students.
  3. Given the time frame and current conditions, it is the best for the student's benefits.
  4. The student is ready, for example he has learnt qigong or kungfu before.
  5. The art has been much diluted that it has become an external physical exercise, instead of an internal energy management method. In this case, it does not matter much when it is being taught.
  6. The teacher, as you have suggested, teaches first the external forms, then when the student is ready, teaches the internal aspects later.

Question 8

It also seems you believe that true Shaolin kungfu is not taught in the temple today. My teacher states that there has been many misconceptions about monks and true arts being mistaken due to the wushu schools nearby the Temple. He states that there are still true monks being trained, but never in public, but nevertheless in the Temple. What is your opinion? Are there still true, traditional monks?


The following is only my opinion, as it is asked of me. I would not use the word “true” in this case because it is not appropriate to what we are discussing.

What is being taught in the Shaolin Temple today, be it kungfu or wushu, is certainly “true” Shaolin kungfu or wushu — if not for anything, at least for the fact that it is truly taught in the Shaolin Temple.

I would use the word “traditional”, referring to the type of kungfu that has been traditionally recognised throughout the centuries as Shaolin Kungfu. My terms of reference for what is being traditional Shaolin Kungfu are established records, teachings from past masters, and general consensus.

Based on these sources, as well as realizing that the concept of traditional Shaolin Kungfu might change through time, I have come to a conclusion that Shaolin Kungfu must meet the following three requirements in this order of progression:

  1. It is very effective for combat.
  2. It involves internal force in its training.
  3. It leads to spiritual cultivation.

Hence, in my personal opinion, any kungfu that fails to meet all these three requirements is not traditional Shaolin Kungfu. Nevertheless, I give allowance that due to various reasons some traditional Shaolin Kungfu might have been diluted, and might have lost the dimensions of internal force and spiritual cultivation, but it must be capable of effective combat using established Shaolin kungfu movements.

I believe traditional Shaolin Kungfu was at first practised in the modern restored Shaolin Temple in China, but I am not sure if it is still being practised now. It is a publicized policy of the Chinese government to promote kungfu, which is called wushu in China, as a modern sport, and not as a traditional martial art.

Given the current conditions in China today, I think the present government has acted wisely and pragmatically. Traditional Shaolin Kungfu was, and still is, an elite art; not many people can practise traditional Shaolin Kungfu.

The main concern of the Chinese government is to look after the interest of the mass, not the elite. Understandably, modern wushu that will benefit the mass, rather than traditional Shaolin Kungfu that will benefit a few, is promoted in the Temple.

I am also not sure if there are still true, traditional monks, by which term I mean monks who truly cultivate for spiritual development using established Buddhist philosophy and practice. My opinion is that given the huge daily influx of visitors to the Temple, it would be inadvisable for true, traditional monks to cultivate at the Temple; they would prefer to cultivate elsewhere.

I also believe, which is in line with traditional Shaolin teaching, that for a true, traditional monk to leave monkhood and return to lay life with wives and children and enjoy wine and hamburgers, and to professionally teach traditional kungfu or modern wushu to achieve these enjoyment, it represents his greatest defeat as it tacitly expresses his inability to resist worldly temptation and his failure to keep the vow he made when he entered monkhood.

Question 9

I have read the writings of one Master Nan from China who says that people are fooling themselves if they think that they are storing energy at the Dan Tian. He says that is like trying to compress air into a ball. What are your thoughts on this?

— Richard, USA


Perhaps the master has been mis-translated or quoted out of context. If one does not know that energy is stored at the dan tian, he is certainly not a chi kung master; he is not even a chi kung scholar or true practitioner.

Moreover, chi is not air. Many people, including many Chinese who practise chi kung, mistakenly think that chi is air. It can be reasonably concluded that what they practise is not genuine chi kung, or just chi kung at a very low level.

Anyone examining classical chi kung texts would never fail to find many descriptions of storing chi, or energy, at the dan tian. The term “dan tian” itself is self-explanatory; it literally means “elixir field”. The term “elixir” is used to describe energy compressed into a pearl. Hence, “dan tian” means “field of energy that has been compressed into a pearl”.

Many of my students and myself have directly felt a ball of energy at our abdominal dan tian. If you pay some attention, you will observe that the abdomen of many chi kung and kungfu masters swells gently like a small drum. This is because of the ball of energy compressed at the dan tian.

But actually I won't be surprised if some masters from China make that statement. The concept and content of chi kung and of kungfu, known as wushu, in China today are vastly different from those in the past.

Many chi kung instructors today, including those who have learnt from masters in China, have no experience of chi. And many wushu instructors today do not know self-defence. The reason is simply because energy management or self-defence is never a part of their training.

This is a fact which anyone can easily check out for himself. Just visit ten modern chi kung or wushu schools at random and politely ask the instructor whether energy management or self-defence is part of the training curriculum. You will probably get at least five “no's” from the ten chi kung schools, or ten “no's” from the ten wushu schools.

Standing Zrn

Standing Zen, which we practice at the end of each chi kung session, is an excellent way to store energy at the dan tian

Question 10

Your book explains chi kung methods which you claim are quite effective, and I don't doubt you, but you say that I cannot practice any of the techniques without a master.

— Alex, USA


You can practise some of the simpler techniques without a master and still achieve good results. For advanced techniques where I specifically mention that a master's supervision is necessary, it would be foolhardy to ignore my advice. But if you wish to achieve the best results even in simple techniques, you still have to learn from a master.

Question 11

I really want to learn chi kung and/or an internal martial art like Baguazhang or Hsing-I or learn Shaolin like the way you recommend: emphasis on internal force and combat technique application.


In principle, what you have said is like somebody saying “I really want to learn playing football as a world-class footballer”, or “I really want to become a millionaire”. Nobody will stop you from achieving your wish — of course, so long as what you do is legitimate and honourable — but you have to fulfill the conditions required for the achievement.

If that person merely learns football or making money from reading a book or viewing a video, but never bother to work hard in a football field or in his chosen career, he would not realize his wish. Similarly when it is required that you have to learn from a master if you want the best results in chi kung or kungfu, but you stubbornly insist that you could get the same results from books and videos, you would probably end up with chi kung dance or kungfu gymnastics.

One who imagines he can be proficient in chi kung or kungfu by learning from books, clearly does not understand what chi kung or kungfu really is.

Question 12

Also, why can't I practice the chi kung techniques like abdominal breathing and visualization without a master's help? I feel quite disheartened to find out that I cannot learn any authentic arts.


You can practise those techniques on your own if you want to, like many foolhardy people do, but you are likely to get poor result or hurt yourself.

Abdominal breathing and visualization involves internal energy flow and mind. Without a master's help, you will not only not obtain good result but you may also distort your energy field or your mind.

Of course you can learn any authentic art, more so now than ever in the past. There are three requirements.

One, you must have the right methods of the authentic art. In the past this requirement was difficult; but now it is quite easy — you can find many right methods in good books.

Two, you must find an authentic master willing to teach you. This is very difficult, although it is easy to find mediocre instructors teaching much diluted arts.

Three, you must be a good student. This is the most difficult. Many people merely wish to learn an authentic art, but are unwilling to put in even the barest time and effort.



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