SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
SEPTEMBER 1999 PART 1
I have been practicing dynamic movements, induced chi flow and, gradually, abdominal breathing for only a few months now. But I have already experienced firsthand some of the benefits that this art can provide. Chronic pains in my ankles have all but disappeared. A recurring shoulder pain, which originated from a weightlifting injury I sustained nearly twenty years ago, seems to be slowly fading away. My blood pressure is significantly lower than it was when I was twenty-three years old — fifteen years ago!
I presently weigh about 240 pounds, which is 50 to 60 pounds more than my ideal weight. Although my weight does fluctuate, it appears to have become more stubborn with age, in that altering my diet and activity level seems to have less and less of an effect. I recall that you mentioned the gaining or losing of weight to be a viable personal objective in practicing chi kung. Can I in fact apply this art to achieve a healthier body weight?
— Michael, USA
Practising chi kung will enable you to achieve both an optimum body weight and an optimum body shape. The reference for this optimum, however, is not based on cultural taste but on life maintainence and performance. For example, many people in the West would like to have a flat stomach, but from the point of life performance, a small drum at the belly (where extra chi is stored) is a healthy sign. Hence, you will find that many kungfu masters, especially those who specialize on internal force, have a rounded, full abdomen.
Your weight is more stable now compared to the times in the past when you could influence your weight by altering your diet and activity level, because now with better functioning of your body systems as a result of chi kung training, your weight is affected by your internal body needs rather than by external mechanical means. In other words, although you may think that you are overweight when compared to other people, actually your weight may be just nice for your individual needs and conditions.
Precisely how do I achieve a healthier body weight through chi kung? Am I right in assuming that the key lies in building up my internal energy to a point where more calories are regularly burned off? In Western thought, we speak of increasing one's metabolism to achieve this effect. But the process, if it works at all, apparently involves either a higher level (intensity) or greater quantity (time) of physical exercise than I am capable of.
The view expressed above is typical of one schooled in Western thought and practice. From the Eastern perspective, such as that of chi kung, the reverse is the case. Let us take your questions or points one at a time.
“Precisely how do I achieve a healthier body weight through chi kung?” My answer is “if you are practising chi kung to correct your weight, don't do anything about your weight!” This is a good example of “wu-wei”, the Taoist teaching which is superficially explained as “if you do nothing, everything will be done for you.”
“Am I right in assuming that the key lies in building up my internal energy to a point where more calories are regularly burned off?” My answer is “No, you are wrong. You don't have to regularly burn off your calories to have your calories burnt off!” This is another example of “wu-wei”.
“We speak of increasing one's metabolism to achieve this effect. But the process, if it works at all, apparently involves either a higher level (intensity) or greater quantity (time) of physical exercise than I am capable of.” My view is “this process of increasing one's metabolism does not work well; if it does, reducing weight would not be such a big problem in Western societies. The chi kung method works well, and it does not involve high level or greater quantity of physical exercise!”
Many Westerners would say that the Chinese simply do thngs the other way round. But if you understand the philosophy behind all these, you may start to think that we, the Westerners, are doing things the other way round.
Chi kung is the art of energy management. At the bottom line, having excess weight is an energy problem; it is a case of locked energy converted into excessive mass, and is a manifestation of yin-yang disharmony. If yin and yang are in harmony, which in Western language means that if the body systems of a person can adjust to his changing environment, the appropriate body systems (many of which modern science may still not know) will naturally convert the excess mass back to energy.
The significant point is that the chi kung student, or even his master, needs not have to know how the body systems work, or what systems are involved, because their functions are natural. In the same way, irrespective of whether you know that the food you eat is proteins or carbohydrates or whatever you call it, or what types of gastric acids are involved, your body systems will still digest the food.
The forte of chi kung is to restore yin-yang harmony. Once your yin-yang harmony is restored, your body systems will convert the excess mass into useful energy, giving you your ideal weight. You will have all these done for you if you let your systems work naturally. If you, with imperfect knowledge, try to interfere with the natural working of your body systems, such as by restricting your diet or overburdening your heart with excessive physical exercise, you may distort your natural energy system and aggravate your problem.
Hence, from the chi kung perspective, doing excessive physical exercise to burn off calories is not only wasteful, it is also detrimental to health. It is wasteful because instead of using the energy to produce useful work, it is burnt off unnecessarily. It is detrimental to health because vital organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys, which are already weak in an overweight person, are overworked in the unnecesssary burning. And later these organs are deprived of the energy they need to replenish themselves, as the person restricts his eating to prevent new calory intake.
This explanation is actually simple to someone with a sound knowledge of chi kung philosophy, and who views health in a person in terms of harmonious energy flow. But to a society that has no conceptual framework for life energy, but regards a human body as a machine, its approach to solving health problems is logically mechanical.
According to other websites that I have browsed through, the styles that Ng Mui came up with are Plum Blossom Fist and Wing Chun. Were there other styles that are credited to Ng Mui? What martial arts attributes was she renown for?
— Dave, USA
Ng Mui, or Wu Mei in Mandarin pronunciation, was the most senior, as well as the only female, of the five Shaolin grandmasters during the Qing Dynasty. The other four Shaolin grandmasters were Pak Mei (Bai Mei), Chee Seen (Zhi Zhan), Foong Tou Tak (Feng Dao De) and Miu Hin (Miao Xian).
The Plum Blossom Fist, or Meifaquan in Chinese, was her favourite kungfu set. In my webpages, I have referred to it as the Flower Set. Another Shaolin grandmaster who was famous for the Flower Set was Miu Hin. Different versions of the Flower Set have been passed down the generations till today.
The Flower Set or the Plum Blossom Fist is a kungfu set, that is a sequence of kungfu techniques arranged in some meaningful order. It is not a particular style of kungfu like Wing Chun, Praying Mantis or Taijiquan.
As far as I know, Ng Mui did not found any style of kungfu. What she practised and excelled in was Shaolin Kungfu. There is, nevertheless, a style of kungfu called Flower Style Kungfu, which is often attributed to Miu Hin, but sometimes to another Shaolin master named Kam Foong Chi, who was either a senior contemporary to or one generation earlier than Miu Hin.
Ng Mui also did not found Wing Chun Kungfu, which was named after her disciple Yim Wing Chun, who modified the Shaolin Kungfu she learned from Ng Mui to suit her needs. There is a style of kungfu called Ng Mui Kungfu. Ng Mui did not consciously invent this kungfu style, but later generations of kungfu practitioners who inherrited Ng Mui's tradition named this particular style after the famous lady Shaolin grandmaster.
Ng Mui's Shaolin Kungfu was both extensive and deep, and she was renown for numerous Shaolin arts like chi kung, the no-shadow kick, snake characteristics, and fast, deceptive meovements. She was a nun and spent much of her time in Yunnan Province of south-west China.
Why are two identical Yi Jin Jing exercises interpreted so differently by two Kung-Fu masters?
— Leong, Malaysia
This is because, besides the training techniques, many other variables are also involved. Some important variables include the philosophy and experience of the teacher, and the needs and abilities of the student. I have, for example, often taught the same exercises differently to different people, or differently to the same person at different stages of his development.
I hope you can find the time to enlighten me on the proper method of training.
The proper method to learn Yi Jin Jing, which is an advanced chi kung exercise, is firstly seek a master who himself has a high level of attainment in Yi Jin Jing and is willing to teach you, and then practise, practise and practise according to the way he teaches you.
Which do you think in your opinion and experience is better or correct between these two methods?
Only using the mind (yi) without any muscular contraction.
Tense gently as suggested in your book and breath normally.
The first method is better if you already have attained a very high level in Yi Jin Jing or a similar art. The second method is better for most people training under the guidance of a master or at least a competent instructor. Both methods are unsuitable for beginners learning from books or videos.
Please refer to my other webpages, including question-answer series, for more information on Yi Jin Jing.
Hello, I am currently a student in High School. I find myself hard pressed for free time. After visiting the shaolin-wahnam.org page, I am wondering if there is any way that I could learn some basic kung fu in my free time. I would greatly appreciate any advice that you could give me. Thank you very much.
— Jon, USA
If you are not willing to spend time and effort, kungfu is not for you. There is no short-cut in kungfu training. Your teacher may teach you useful techniques, and good books may give you excellent information, but basically you have to practise, practise and practise to acquire even elementary kungfu skills.
I am reading your book on Zen, and it is excellent as I've come to expect from you. However, I notice when I read the gong-ans that are supposed to be difficult and profound I understand them, but the ones that are professed to be less profound totally baffle me. Several sutras you wrote in your book are described as “the essence of the teaching” with commentary saying if you can understand this you understand Zen/have had glimpses of cosmic reality. I find myself understanding those from the humble experiences I've had with cosmic reality, but the gong-ans I find truly baffling are ones such as the “Go and wash your bowl!” Why is this, master?
— Daniel, USA
Simplicity and profundity are relative. Telling a lie, for example, can be very simple to some people, but very difficult for others. Standing upright and relaxed with eyes close is simple to most people, but can bring profound effects on others.
When the master asked his student to wash his bowl, he was demonstrating both the simplicity and profundity of Zen. Zen cultivation can be found not only in chanting sutras and sitting meditation, but more significantly in our simple, daily tasks, including eating our food and washing dishes. When a student is ready, in a moment of thoughtlessness while eating or washing dishes, a majestic glimpse of cosmic reality may flash onto him.
Usually when I meditate, specifically zhan zhuang, I let my body totally relax into position, and let “my spiritual bud blossom”. I lose all awareness of my body, it just disappears (a strange sensation!), but strangest of all are the lights. A fantastic show plays itself upon my “eyelids”. I also feel joy when this occurs. I've had this experience for a year, and for a year of research I still cannot find any specific meaning for it. My only guess is either virtue or qi.
But tonight something different happened. I saw eyes when my eyes were closed! It was most strange, I'm still not sure if they weren't just some sort of reflection of my eyes. The feelings I got from them were sort of an encouraging self knowledge and confirmation of infinity. But the most dramatic effect of all was when I opened my eyes again. They seem illuminated, like a row of very tiny stars are on the rims of my eyelids.
Every one of these phenomena I swear I've experienced, as odd as it my sound, though probably not to you, which is why I'm writing about it to you. Are these phenomena real, or some creation of my mind to entertain me somehow? And if they're real, what exactly do they mean?
Your experiences show that you have made some remarkable progress in your training. Almost every consistent practitioner has experienced similar happenings as he (or she) progresses deeper in his Zen or chi kung practice. The advice given by masters in the past in such situations was telling their students not to be tied to these happenings or to attach any meanings to them. Just continue the training deligiently. When the time is ripe you yourself will have the answers you asked.
Ive been practicing Tai Chi for the past 7 months at 30 minutes per day. I would like to focus my taiji to the level that I can use my chi to heal my relatives of common ailment like stomach ache or muscle spasms. Please instruct me which of your books is the most suitable for this matter.
— Tim, USA
You attitude towards Tai Chi Chuan and other Eastern arts is quite common among many people in the West. There is no question about your and the other people's sincerity in wanting to help others, but obviously you have a grossly mistaken concept of both the philosophy as well as the practice of these arts.
Let us take Tai Chi Chuan as an example. As Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art, the primary purpose of practising it, is — or was, according to all its masters, before it has been so ridiculously diluted — combat efficiency. It has never been the intention of real Tai Chi Chuan masters to train their students to be healers.
Nevertheless, some real Tai Chi Chuan masters and advanced exponents do have the ability to use their chi, or vital energy, to help friends and relatives recover from ailments like stomach ache and muscle spasms. The reason is actually simple. At the most fundamental level, all ailments are caused by energy blockage, and because the energy flow of the masters and advanced exponents is so powerful, it can help to clear the blockage. But this ability to overcome ailments with their chi is a bonus, not the focus of their Tai Chi Chuan training.
It is really amazing that so many people in the West think that such advanced skills of energy management, including developing one's vital energy and using it to help others, can be readily learnt from reading a book or viewing a video. Sometimes I receive e-mails from people who have no chi kung experience before, but asking me to describe chi kung exercise to them so that they can teach their friends to overcome cancer! It is as ridiculous as asking a surgeon to recommend his favourite text book so that they can read up on surgery and then operate on their friends.
It is commendable that you wish to develop your chi so that eventually you may help others. But you have to bear in mind three things. One, you must learn personally from a master. Two you must be willing to put in much time and effort in your training. Three, you have to make sure you yourself are healthy and full of vitality before you think of healing others. Incidentally, the third point is not frequently observed in the West. Many of the healers, usually self-trained, I have met in the West are themselves suffering from pain and illness.
After being lucky enough to see the Shaolin monks performing their skills at Wembley Arena in London a few years ago, I packed my bags and left everything behind in UK and headed to the Far East to learn kung fu and Mandarin.
— Alison, Malaysia
As you are determined, as indicated by your willing to leave everything behind, you should go to China to learn kungfu and Chinese (Mandarin). I have no doubt that you will learn Chinese easily in China, but although I still think that you would still get the best kungfu masters in China, I must add that you have to search very, very hard.You will find a lot of modern wushu teachers in China today, and most of them will be too glad to teach you — of course you have to pay a fee — but meeting traditional kungfu masters can be difficult, and persuading them to teach you is even more difficult.
I now live and work in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I try to be a good Buddhist and meditate at the temple. I have been fascinated by the Chinese culture for many years and one of my dreams is to learn Kung Fu — Shaolin style.
I have never learned Kung Fu before and therefore realise that this will be very difficult. But after seeing your website, I would like to ask your advice: where in Malaysia can I study Shaolin kung fu, or would you suggest I learn another kung fu style, until I am advanced enough to learn the Shaolin technique? I am prepared to study very hard, practise and listen. I can travel to Kedah without problem.
Malaysia is a beautiful place with beautiful people. There are many schools here teaching traditional Shaolin Kungfu, not modern wushu, but most of these schools, as elsewhere, emphasize on forms, with little or no attention to internal force training, combat application and spiritual cultivation.
If you are thinking about kungfu forms, as is the norm, it is easy to find a teacher to teach you; but if you are thinking about other aspects of kungfu (which, to me, are more important), it can be very difficult, not only in Malaysia but in all parts of the world. This is because kungfu with emphasis on combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation, as it was in the Shaolin Monastery in the past, is now also obsolete.
You can practise Shaolin Kungfu from stratch. There is no need to learn other styles of kungfu as a pre-requisite.
If you wish to learn from me, please refer to Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course for details. Nevertheless, it will be more cost effective for you first to learn kungfu forms elsewhere, then come to me for the other kungfu dimensions.
My teacher primarily taught the Lee family style of Tai Chi Chuan, which I have found to be almost unknown amongst other practioners. Is it known to you?
— Tom, UK
I have heard of the Lee style, but I do not know much about it. Through the years, Tai Chi Chuan masters, generally of the Yang style originally, have sometimes used their own surnames to describe their styles, but these styles are usually known only within their own circles. The Lee style is probably one of them.
I bought a copy of your book 'Tai Chi Chuan — a Comprehensive Guide to Principle and Practice'. Your book is invaluable to me and will be looked to for information throughout my life for help in all matters. If all the knowledge that you display in the book you can also use practically, then you are indeed a modern master and a hope for the future of the older martial arts.
— Alistair, Australia
It may be inspiring for you to know that all the arts I have written in my books — Chi Kung, Shaolin Kungfu, Tai Chi Chuan and Zen — are meant for practical use, not just once awhile, but everyday.
For example, if you practise Tai Chi Chuan, you should be graceful, agile and fresh not when you are doing your Tai Chi Chuan set, but more significantly in your daily work and play. This, unfortunately, is not often the case. I have seen, for example, people who have taught Tai Chi for years but cannot run up a flight of stairs.
The amazing thing is that few people stop to reflect if a person does not even have the strength to run up a flight of stairs, how effective can he (or she) be in teaching an art that purports to give health and vitality, leaving aside its combat aspects. Indeed, one main reason why I wrote those books was to enable people willing to spend time practising the arts, and be able to derive legitimate benefits from the arts.