JOURNAL OF SABAH INTENSIVE CHI KUNG COURSE
I think at that glorious moment, all my doubts vanished. I began sending my qi to various parts of my body, and they responded almost instantly.
I thought I would write a fairly detailed account of my experience in the recent Sabah Intensive Chi Kung course (1st to 5th July 2004).
Before I attended the course, I found that there was a dearth of information on the way the course was conducted, the actual content and the experiences of the participants during the course (most of them related the benefits after the course, but not how they felt while still in the course). It was only after Sifu replied to my emails as well as Yixin's account that I had a clearer picture. Hopefully, this diary will help others who are thinking about going for the course to make an informed decision.
Before I learnt qigong from Sifu, I had already been practicing Tajiquan from some excellent instructors at a school in my area. Unlike some first-time students, I had experienced qi and knew what it was like. So, in a sense, my expectations were, rightly or wrongly, higher than most.
There was one thing about the course objectives that fascinated me and that was the promise that one could send qi to any part of the body one wished. I probably could not do this even in a million years without a master teaching me how to do this.
It took quite a long time for me to finally decide to go for the Intensive Qigong (Chi Kung) Course. There was of course the problem of money, as I had to save for the course. It was also necessary to make arrangements for my work. But more importantly, I had no idea if the course would deliver the benefits I expected.
I had carefully read all the testimonials on the website and certainly, it seemed those who did, benefited so enormously. I just was not sure if I would also attain the same results as them. What really sealed the decision for me was when Sifu replied to not one but two of my very lengthy emailed questions with even longer answers. He really took the trouble to explain every detail, no matter how small.
Thus, I was armed with the knowledge that I would be learning from a good master. (At that point, I still did not know yet he would turn out to be a great master)
Day 1The day began not with the first lesson but with breakfast at the same table with Sifu. One of the best aspects of the Sabah course, as fellow course-mates put it, was Sifu's accessibility. I got my first look at Sifu, whom I had wanted to meet for a very long time. He was everything I expected -- friendly, vibrant and full or energy. I simply could not wait for the first lesson to start.
After a heavy breakfast, we were transported to the Kota Kinabalu Park training ground -- a large multi-purpose hall. We were all told two very simple things. The first was to keep our minds open and the second, follow instructions closely and not ask questions during the practice itself.
Having read all of Sifu's Q&As, these instructions did not come as a surprise. I was already aware that there would be no verbose or lengthy instructions. In fact, there would be the heart-to-heart instruction I was looking forward to.
The first thing we learnt was how to relax. It seemed so deceptively simple that it did not require learning. The instructions were just to smile from the heart, relax and let go. Yet, there were quite amazing results from the students. A couple of minutes into the relaxation exercise, some were staggering around the hall with vigorous movements. I was frankly puzzled, since I was still standing still like a pole.
I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, just relaxing can create such movements. What will happen when we start the real stuff?"
After the "relaxation" session, we had a question and answer session. This would turn out to be the standard format of teaching. After each practice, there would be a time to ask questions. This was a great relief to me as I had many questions. It became clear that we were free to ask any questions we wished, but only at the right time. Practice was for practice, not to be distracted with questions. Asking questions during practice would hamper the transmission of skills by Sifu.
The next thing we learnt was how to perform the most fundamental technique of all, the Lifting the Sky pattern. Before I came for the course, I had already been practicing this pattern assiduously from Sifu's book, "The Art of Chi Kung". However, I was getting nowhere, and I hoped that learning personally from Sifu would allow me to reap the full benefits of the pattern.
When Sifu gave the instructions for performing the pattern, I was surprised to note that the instructions were less detailed than those in the book. We learnt how to perform the pattern correctly with the correct breathing technique. However, I felt nothing special, especially not the sensation of qi coursing through my arms and legs.
At the end of the morning session, I felt that I had not experienced any earth-shattering movements of qi in my body. But I told myself that it was early days yet. Sifu had said in his Q&A that many students felt qi on the first day. I fervently hoped I was not one of the few who did not..
Lunch was a most pleasant affair, having made friends with someone who had come all the way from Germany and who had attended the regional courses in Europe. I was keen to know the difference between the regional and the intensive courses. It seemed that for Lifting the Sky at least, there was no perceptible difference. That reinforced my belief that there was probably more to come.
During the afternoon session, we began on the mind aspect of Lifting the Sky. We were taught to visualize cosmic energy flowing into our bodies and washing out the toxic waste. Many of the students were by now in active qi flow. I was like a dead rock in comparison, with no feeling of qi. Again, I brushed it off as “my time has not come yet."
We then moved on to Pushing Mountains, one of the exercises I was really keen to learn, since it would develop internal force. The exercise was simple enough though a little more complicated than Lifting the Sky. I found it telling that Sifu stressed quite forcefully the correct positioning of the hands when performing this exercise. From everything I had read and heard from Sifu so far, I got the impression that form was the least important of all, and making minor mistakes would not affect the qi flow. But since he took great pains to harbour these points, I realized this part of the form movements was very important and was careful to follow them to a T.
I had a very mild sensation of qi flowing to my hands but I was a little disappointed at how faint the sensation was. I had felt more powerful qi flows in my arms when practicing my Taijiquan. I expected (in retrospect, wrongly) a more obvious qi sensation during this course.
By the end of the first day, I was slightly disheartened. I did not feel that I had achieved much. The feeling was made worse when Sifu said (when making a general point) that he had successfully taught the skills to many students, and it may be the student that is the problem.
Notwithstanding my concerns, I wanted to persevere. I sought out the course organizer, Dr Kissey, and asked if it was normal to feel nothing. I was most gratified to hear his own experience. He too had felt nothing for the whole duration of his first course (he had attended 5!!!). What was most enlightening was his comments that violent movements are not necessary a sign of great accomplishment. They may just mean a great deal of blockages in the body. Someone without serious problems may only experience gentle waving.
Though I felt better about the day, I was feeling distinctly unwell during dinner. I realized that this could be a result of energy build-up throughout the day (and this is a good sign). I asked Sifu and he and Dr Kissey very kindly helped to open my energy points right there in the hotel lobby! I was self-conscious but they didn't seem to notice at all. (For those who are interested about these things, the points were probably baihui, fengfu, lingtai and mingmen -- I cannot confirm if these were the points that were opened since Sifu did not tell me which points Dr Kissey opened, so don't take my word for it). This was supposed to allow my qi to flow more freely and indeed I felt better but still slightly nauseated.
We learnt Carrying the Moon today. This was one exercise I wanted to learn personally as well. When I had learnt this from the book, I felt giddy all the time so I dropped it from my daily routine. Again, the instructions given by Sifu were less detailed than those in the book, but I was confident I did it right this time. Actually, my frank opinion is that this exercise cannot be learnt from a book at all. There are little nuances to this pattern that make it impossible to execute correctly without personal supervision. We spent the whole morning on this exercise, from the pure physical form to the mind aspect.
A few words on the difference between the form and the mind aspect. Sifu's books keep nothing back (those who ever had that suspicion can dispel it now. For the record, I never did (Smile). Sifu's books cover the full gamut of form, breathing and visualization. Yet, even something like "breathe in, pause, and breathe out" can only be understood fully when explained by Sifu.
As for the mind aspect, which involved visualization, I can report that it is not something that can be achieved within the 3 days of the course. 2 months after the course, I am beginning to get a feel of the mind aspect but even then, I am still meandering around the periphery. But at least now I know I am on the right track. All I need is to persevere in practice.
The greatest fear is that one practices a whole lifetime only to find that it was all for naught -- like my 10 years of Karate training. This brings me to a point that Sifu pointed out in his website, and that is not to expect the course to make you a master in 3 days.
Once again, I had no wonderful experience unlike most of the rest who were really getting into the flow of things. I can honestly say that by this time, I was getting worried, but I did not dwell on it. We had a really pleasant surprise when Sifu asked those who practiced Taijiquan to stay back. We got a bonus lesson as Sifu corrected our Taijiquan and taught us how to generate a qi flow in our forms. I was really grateful that Sifu sacrificed precious lunch hours to teach us something outside the course.
After lunch, we began Self-Manifested Qi Movement, one of the most mysterious of the qigong one can learn. It is also embarrassing easy to learn -- provided you have the right teacher. All that was needed to induce the flow was to do the 3 forms very quickly and qi would start flowing. For the first time, I had an experience of the energy flow mentioned in the website, although at that time I did not know it yet.
After doing the 3 forms with about 20 repetitions each, we simply let go. The effect was quite spectacular. Some students practically traversed one end of the hall to another, moved by the gushing qi within them. One was thrown off her feet and landed safely on her back (or head -- I heard a loud sound when she landed). As for me, I merely swayed on the spot. Sifu came up to me and told me to "Let go some more". I sincerely tried to and it seemed I had already done my best in letting go.
As I reflect on that moment today, it was clear that I only thought I had let go. Now that I can really let go, it is now obvious to me how tensed I still was, despite my best efforts.
At the end of the second day, I felt a little better but still had doubts about how much I had learnt. My qi flow was still uninspiring and up to then, I still had not felt any tangible sensation of qi in the course. I was quite discouraged, but I kept thinking there was still Day 3.
When we began training, I was thinking to myself this was the last chance I had. Actually, come to think of it, this sort of thinking probably contributed to a lot of the tension and slow progress.
This was the day we would learn what I had really come for -- directing qi in the body. Once I began the first repetition of Lifting the Sky to induce the qi flow, I was already off-balance from the qi flowing inside. I suddenly grasped the meaning of "letting go". I think it was something as prosaic as not tensing my calf muscles when my qi prompted me to move back. Once I let go of those muscles, I started prancing around in odd movements!
Then, Sifu gave the instructions. "Send the qi to your hand". I remember waiting for more instructions. I mean, surely there must be more to it than that one line. This was supposed to be the most difficult skill to acquire in this course.
Then Sifu continued, "Swing your hand". I was still waiting for the qi to move my hand of its own accord, because it would be cheating to use my muscles to move it. I was getting slightly concerned because there was no response.
Then, Sifu told us to direct our qi to somewhere else (I can't recall where) and when I did, that part started moving with an unmistakable qi flow! I cannot describe it in words, but I finally understood what Sifu means by “you will know qi when you experience it.”
I think at that glorious moment, all my doubts vanished. I began sending my qi to various parts of my body, and they responded almost instantly. Then, remembering the failure of the hands to move, I sent qi there and this time each hand started swinging automatically.
After about 10 minutes of experimenting, I heard Sifu asking us to slow down gently and think of our dantian. I was practically bubbling over with enthusiasm at this point, having gone through 2 days of disappointment and finally experienced beyond any shadow of doubt a powerful energy flow, totally manipulated by my mind.
After lunch, we took the directed qi exercise to another level, when we were taught to regulate the speed and intensity of the movements. A casual onlooker may well have thought that there was no teaching going on because Sifu actually said very little. It was something like "Tell your hand to slow down" - no esoteric or mystical Zen or philosophical pronouncements as one might expect. They were all very functional commands. And they worked. At the end of the session, I was in full control of my qi flow.
We concluded the day by practicing any combination of exercises while Sifu watched us. This time, my patterns took on a different dimension. I really felt the intense qi flow when Lifting the Sky, unlike my insipid attempts on the first day.
Immediately after the last session of the course, I suffered great pain in my sinuses (which is a perennial problem for me) and had to lie down while Sifu was doing a "debriefing". The timing was too neat to be coincidental. It was the cleansing process triggered by my self-manifested and directed qi movements which skills I had finally acquired.
The pain was quite incredible and much as I hated to, I had to pop a few painkillers. I figured it would be stupid to be stubborn and eschew Western medicine. After all, qigong takes time to effect its cure, and one of the hallmarks of a Shaolin Wahnam disciple is to focus on the practical. If Western medicine would help while qigong is working its magic, why not use it?
Looking back, I think the most crucial thing I learnt was just how to relax and attain a qigong state of mind. Imagine, 3 days just to learn to relax. But being relaxed opened up all the doors that had hitherto barred me from a real experience of qi. It seems even now that just being relaxed can wash away any mistakes in the form. In fact, once I relax, I can go into instant qi flow without the need to perform a single pattern.
Returning from the course, I found my Taijiquan improving by leaps and bounds as I sensed the qi flowing in each posture.
I cannot end this account without thanking Sifu for his generosity and kindness. He was never too busy for us, even though we hardly gave him any breathing space. Every chance we got, we waylaid him with questions and he happily answered everyone.
The qigong skills he taught us are also incomparable. There are probably more powerful skills around but as Sifu said, these are the best available techniques. After 2 months of practice, I can attest to this. Self-Manifested Movement for example has taken away every ailment I have ever suffered from. It was certainly a wonderful experience to learn these great skills, and to meet a great teacher and make unforgettable friends. Ah, Sabah.
For those who think that the course will provide them with super-immunity from all illnesses, well, perish the thought. I don't think the benefits come so quickly. I myself fell sick twice since the course, and I have to admit I began to doubt the effectiveness of qigong. But at the same time, the absence of shoulder and neck pain, and the gradual easing of my sinus problems encouraged me to press on. After all, it has only been 2 short months.
Monday, 30th August 2004.